Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I know a good bit about Florida because my grandparents retired to New Smyrna Beach from New Jersey in the early 90s so over the next decade, my family spent plenty of time on the east coast of Florida.  In addition, I’ve visited other places in Florida with friends or work.
Photo taken by me.
St. Augustine, in northeast Florida, is the nation’s oldest city.  My family visited the Fountain of Youth (http://www.fountainofyouthflorida.com/index.php) and the St. Augustine Lighthouse (http://www.staugustinelighthouse.com/).  While there, you can visit the oldest store, drugstore, and house.  I remember having a great time visiting the oldest city and I love lighthouses.  For more information - http://staugustine.com/visitors-guide.

Just south of St. Augustine is Daytona Beach.  Later this week, March 9th, it’ll be transformed into the home of one of the biggest biker events in the country, Daytona Biker Week – (http://www.officialbikeweek.com/).  It’s been held every year since 1937!  My grandfather loved to go people watching there.  I think everyone should experience a biker event sometime in his/her life.  I’ve never been to the Daytona Biker Week, but I’ve seen a few in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (they have two biker weekends each May).  Now, if you’re a NASCAR fan, then Daytona Beach is the place to be!  It has been home to the Daytona International Speedway since 1959 - (http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/?homepage=true).  It’s a huge speedway that brings millions of people and millions of dollars to the area every February!

Another lighthouse in the Northeast that my family has visited was the beautiful Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse and museum (http://www.ponceinlet.org/).  It’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida and it’s been around since 1887.
Picture of the Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthoue from the internet.
Also in the Northeast, you’ll find Lake Okefenokee (http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/).  I think it’s just funny to say!  I’ve never been there, but in my research, I found it to be really pretty.  Okefenokee Adventure Company (http://www.okefenokeeadventures.com/index.html) offers organized boat tours where you can see alligators, bears, and egrets or you can go kayaking on the lake.  I might have to do that the next time I’m in the area.
Picture of Lake Okefenokee from the internet.
Moving down the coast, we come to Cape Canaveral.  This year, the Kennedy Space Center is celebrating 50 years of space history.  Despite there being no more shuttle launches and NASA switching to more commercial type launches, you can still go in the visitor center and take the 2-hour bus tour.  My family went and it was a great learning experience!  They now have an astronaut hall of fame that I don’t remember being there so there is even more to see.  For more info - http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/home/index.html.
My mom at Cape Canaveral
Zooming down I-95, hours later we come to the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale area.  You can do the clubbing and sunbathing there, but the next time I visit the area, I want to visit the World Heritage Site of the Everglades that boasts rare and exotic species (http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm).  They offer both boat tours and tram tours of the HUGE park.  When I'm in the area, I like to eat at Pollo Tropical (http://pollotropical.com/default.aspx) – fried plantains are yummy!  I also like to eat at Bahama Breeze - http://www.bahamabreeze.com/ - which has excellent seafood with a Caribbean flair.  Both of these restaurants are Miami area chains.

One area of Florida that I haven’t visited yet is the Florida Keys.  If I ever get there, I’m definitely checking out Porky’s Bayside BBQ Restaurant in Marathon, Florida.  I recently saw them on the Travel Channel with conch fritters and deep fried key lime pie.  Those dishes sound yummy!  http://porkysbaysidebbq.com/ 

Picture of Porky's Deep Fried Key Lime Pie from the internet.
The Keys have such an interesting history with Ernest Hemmingway (the author), treasure hunts, Harry Truman’s Little White House, etc.  One site everyone has to check out though is the Southernmost Point in the USA marker.  One site in this area that I had never heard of is the John Pennekamp Corral Reef State Park - http://pennekamppark.com/.  It looks beautiful and I didn’t know something like that existed in the USA.
Picture from the internet.
Heading up I-75 north you'll find Sarasota.  I had never thought to visit there till I saw the Sarasota Jungle Gardens in my research – (http://sarasotajunglegardens.com/jungle/).  You can hand feed their free roaming pink flamingoes and hold the alligators for pictures!  How cool is that!?  I added this place to my must-visit list.

In the center of the state is Orlando, and there are PLENTY of websites that can tell you all about Disney World and specifically the Epcot Center (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/).  So, I’ll leave that to them. 
Picture of Disney Castle taken by someone in my family
However, nearby in the town of Silver Springs is my family’s favorite theme park in the area, Silver Springs (http://silversprings.com/index.html).  They have glass bottom boat rides, botanical gardens, wildlife exhibits (they now have a white alligator), shows, a play land, plus shopping and dinning all in one park.

Let’s move onto to the northwest part of Florida also known as the Panhandle.  Despite Florida being in the southeast part of the United States, most of Florida does not act like a Southern state.  You might mistake part of Florida for Cuba, a Caribbean island, New Jersey, or New York City for that matter.  The Panhandle is the exception.  They sound southern, they act southern, and the food is southern.  It’s just amazing they are in the same state.

In the Panhandle is the state’s capitol, Tallahassee.  You can visit Florida’s beautiful historic capital museum (http://www.flhistoriccapitol.gov/).  They have plenty of exhibits and have audio tours for a self-guided tour.  Plus, free admission.

Further into the Panhandle is Pensacola.  Pensacola is the home of the US Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron also known as the Blue Angels (http://www.blueangels.navy.mil/).  While in town, there is a good chance you’ll get to see them practice.  I’ve been there twice and both times I saw them in the sky.  It’s a pretty cool awe inspiring sight. 
Picture of a Blue Angel plane at the Pensacola Regional Airport taken by me.
While in Pensacola, check out the Naval Aviation Museum and IMAX Theater (http://navalaviationmuseum.org/).  I didn’t get to check this out last time I was there, however it’s now on my list.  After visiting the museum, head over to McGuire’s Irish Pub (http://www.mcguiresirishpub.com/).  I’ve stopped here both trips to town and have never been disappointed in the Irish cuisine, specifically their mouth smacking Sheppard’s pie.  Yummy!

I do have one note of warning for staying in Florida hotels.  You need to keep track of the weather and know the hotel’s cancelation policy.  Florida does get hit with many tropical storms/hurricanes each year.  If one is on the way to the area that you are going to be staying at, you might want to postpone your trip, but will you get a 100% refund if you do decide to cancel?  A few friends of mine have had problems with this issue so check into it before making a reservation.  Also, if a storm has hit the area you’re visiting in the past year or two, check reviews of the hotel to make sure they were restored correctly and there were no complaints of black mold.  This is a note from personal experience.  I once stayed at a hotel in Florida that had been restored from a hurricane that had hit the summer before, but was full of black mold because they did not restore it correctly.  I came home with a severe sinus infection that lasted for a good two weeks at least.  That’s not a fun souvenir to bring home!

With such a big state, these are just a few of the places you need to know about in Florida.  If you know of anywhere else in Florida we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you next week when we explore what’s just round the corner just north of Florida in Georgia.

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