Things to Do in Florida - page 5
A veritable ode to a bygone era, the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum helps visitors step back into time and immerge themselves in the nautical and maritime heritage of what once was the richest city in the United States of America. Unusually so—Key Westers became extraordinarily wealthy by savaging treasures and luxury goods in the numerous and frequent wreckages, a questionable habit that provided for the livelihoods of the early pioneers on the island. Wrecking masters would then control the salvage operation and later on auction off their finds in wrecking courts, with each good being awarded a profit depending on how long or dangerous the salvage operation had been.
Actors, films and artifacts tell the story of the treacherous Florida Keys reef and the many wrecks it caused, including the infamous 1838 Isaac Allerton vessel. The ship was 137 feet long and weighed 594 tons and served as merchant ship in and around the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean for almost 20 years, before it was caught in a hurricane off Saddlebunch Keys in 1856. Visitors are invited to discover the perils of shipwrecking and to climb the 65-foot lookout tower—where they can alert the authorities in case of a wreck and watch out for Spanish galleons!
Created on the site of what was once a miniature golf course, the Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum is now home to more than 500 palms and cycads, representing more than 150 different species from around the world. Starting with just 60 palms representing 10 different species, the two-acre park has continuously expanded since its 1977 dedication. From massive specimens that are too big to fit in private yards to popular types that can be found along Florida’s beaches, the Palm Arboretum is an ever-changing, never-ending project that grows and expands organically. Take the time to stroll down the pathways, learning about the specimens, or simply perch on one of the conversation benches and enjoy the peace of the palms.
Right on the waterfront of downtown St. Petersburg, North Straub Park offers a quite respite from the city. The small 4.8-acre park features trails, picnic spots and a stage where community events are held. Locals recommend visiting the park during holidays, like Christmas, when it’s lit up with lights and decorations, or on the Fourth of July and New Years, when it offers a great vantage point for fireworks shows. At the southern end of the park, you’ll find the local Museum of Fine Arts and the St. Petersburg Museum of History, and nearby Wheel Fun Rentals is a good spot to rent a beach cruiser or surrey.
Consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, St. Pete Beach occupies the entire space of Long Key, a barrier island at the east central edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Featuring white sand beaches and crystal clear water, St. Pete Beach is the ultimate destination for sun worshippers and active vacationers alike. Activities like skim boarding, kite boarding, sailing, fishing and even surfing (it's one of the few spots on the Gulf Coast where you can surf) can be found on St. Pete Beach. There are a wide variety of lodging options, from mom and pop establishments to more swanky digs, but be sure to visit the Don Cesar Beach Resort at some point during your vacation. Built during the Jazz age, celebrities have flocked to the Don for more than 80 years and the spot is now perhaps one fo the most famous landmarks on the beach.
This stunning contemporary church is widely considered one of the eight religious wonders of the world. Perhaps that’s because its stunning façade with towering spires, royal arch and smooth white stone are truly a sight to behold.
Visitors who appreciate breathtaking architecture and attention to stonework detail with find a stop at Memorial Presbyterian Church worth the trip. Trained docents can unlock the art and history of the interior during a free tour, and religious travelers can participate in a Sunday morning worship where all are welcome.
The first opportunity for information and assistance when you arrive in Everglades National Park, the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is worth a stop when visiting the park. With educational exhibitions and plenty of maps, the Coe Visitor Center is the perfect place to get an overview of the extensive offerings in the Everglades. Be sure to stay for a showing of River of Life, a 15-minute film that provides an excellent park overview. The Coe Visitor Center also provides information on park ranger-led activities (mostly talks and some walks) as well as details about boat tours and canoe rentals.
No coastal city would be complete without its own shipwreck legends, and Key West is no exception. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum allows you to explore artifacts from some of the most famous ships that went down in the Florida Keys.
The shipwrecks are mostly from merchant and slave ships in the 17th and 18th centuries. The artifacts on board serve as a window to the past, revealing a great deal about trade, colonization, slavery, and even daily life from the time period. One of the most famous ships to run aground in the Keys, the Henrietta Marie, is believed to be the world’s largest source of tangible objects from the early years of the slave trade. A visit to the museum lets you view historical artifacts in an new way, as the shipwreck legacy casts an eerie and exciting feeling over the objects.
At Clearwater’s Sim Center, you’ll find cutting-edge technology in the form of incredible simulator programs that make it possible experiencewhat it’s like operating otherwise out-of-reach vehicles like jetliners, race cars and fighter planes. The simulators are highly realistic; in fact, the Boing 737 simulator is like the ones used to train actual pilots and Sim Center even offers airline interview preparation programs. Some of the most popular simulators among visitors are the fighter jets and a 360-degree 3D space simulator that lets you pilot a virtual spacecraft form an orbital carrier and fly through the solar system. Sim Center also has kid-friendly activities, including an electric race car track.
Known as the Econ River for short, Econlockhatchee flows from Lake Conlin through three counties in central Florida. Its name originated from “river of many mounds,” named for the Indian mounds located along its waterfront.
The area has a unique, densely forested landscape. Water levels vary based on rainfall, but there’s usually plenty of wildlife to see. The upper section of the river is swampland, and resident alligator sightings tend to be frequent. Canoe and kayak padding is a common way to enjoy the natural beauty of the river.
Other wildlife that calls the river home includes bald eagles, sandhill cranes, ospreys, and other wildfowl, as well as deer, turkey, and river otters. The river was deemed an Outstanding Florida Waterway and is one of few unspoiled rivers in Central Florida. Flowing through moss-covered cypress and palm forests, it comprises some of the state’s most beautiful natural scenery.
Sunken Gardens is a four-acre botanical garden located in the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida. At more than 100 years old, it’s recognized as St. Petersburg’s oldest living museum and is home to over 50,000 tropical plants, representing more than 500 species, along with flamingos and other exotic birds.
Look for various areas like a Japanese garden, cactus garden, butterfly garden, and the Chilean flamingo garden. Stop at scenic points like the Wishing Well, Photo Ring, waterfall, and the Wedding Lawn. Don’t miss the Growing Stone, a fossilized limestone rock has a sign that says: “Legend has it that ‘he who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’”
Sadly, the flamingo population at Sunken Gardens has dwindled. There is a non-profit fundraising campaign currently underway to raise money in order to bring 20 more flamingos to Sunken Gardens. Flamingos thrive (and breed) in flocks; therefore breeders typically only sell them in lots of 20 or more. The city has already agreed to design and finance new housing for the flamingos as well.
More Things to Do in Florida
Go back in time to the night of April 14, 1912, when the “unsinkable” ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. With full-scale room replicas, hundreds of objects recovered from theTitanic, and immersive interactive exhibits, Orlando’s Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition offers a real-world connection to a defining moment in history.
Walt Disney World®, the world's biggest amusement park, is a self-contained city, covering an area twice the size of New York's Manhattan. Four main parks comprise the bulk of Walt Disney World®—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios®, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom®—each with its own themed areas, shows, rides, and attractions. More than 50 million visitors pass through the gates each year into the self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth” and home of Mickey Mouse.
Fort Matanzas was built in the mid-1700s to protect the Spanish colony of St Augustine. St Augustine was vulnerable by river access to the south and Fort Matanzas helped the French protect it from the threat of British attacks. At the time, Florida was a much sought after area of the world due to being a profitable shipping lane from the Caribbean. The fort successfully protected St Augustine on multiple occasions and eventually became property of the United States. In 1924, it was declared a national monument.
The construction of Fort Matanzas is interesting to behold as it’s made from coquina, a type of limestone that is made of tiny pieces of shells and sand – a likely choice considering the geography of where Fort Matanzas was constructed, but one that can also be quite fragile. Despite that, it has upheld and today visitors can take a ferry to the fort, which is located on Rattlesnake Island and tour the grounds. The ferry has a guide who will tell you about the history of the fort on your way over. Once at the fort, be sure to climb the ladder to the observation level for excellent views of St Augustine and the ocean.
Picture a pristine island beach complete with mangroves, sand dunes, palm trees and—most remarkably—no development. Such a place exists off of Florida’s Gulf Coast, just west of the town of Dunedin and near the city of Clearwater: it’s Caladesi Island. One of the few completely natural islands on the Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island is part of Florida’s park system and is home to a wide variety of activities.
Bask in the sun on the white sand beaches, or search for shells along the water’s edge. Fishing is plentiful, either by boat or off of the shore. Explore the three mile nature trail across the interior and keep an eye out for some of the island’s aviary denizens like sandpipers, blue herons and black skimmers. Paddlers will enjoy the three mile kayak trail through the mangroves and the bay. There is a snack bar and gift shop, plus a few picnic tables and shelters, but despite the modern conveniences, Caladesi Island retains its wild and unspoiled allure.
Break away from the throngs of tourists crowding Miami Beach, and discover the revitalized district of Wynwood. Once nothing but run-down warehouses, the now-hip neighborhood is known for its mural-lined streets. Visitors also enjoy the numerous art galleries, coffee shops, craft breweries, and Puerto Rican–influenced eateries.
Epcot Center, part of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, is a theme park packed with internationally and futuristic-themed attractions, rides, pavilions, shows, and entertainment. Created from a concept developed by Walt Disney himself, Epcot is dedicated to human achievement, technological innovation, and international cultures.
Disney Springs™(formerly known as Downtown Disney®) is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment center in Florida’s Lake Buena Vista, near Walt Disney World®and other Orlando theme parks. When you need a break from amusement park rides, head to Disney Springs™to pick up souvenirs, dine, or see a show.
Magic Kingdom Park is the heart of Walt Disney World®. The iconic Cinderella's Castle is the park's centerpiece, surrounded by seven different magical lands. Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the most popular, takes passengers on an indoor boat ride through the dark and shadowy world of pirates, complete with snazzed-up special effects and a dash of Johnny Depp. The ride at Space Mountain hurtles you through the darkness of outer space, while over at Frontier Land, the wild and wooly America unfolds past cacti and hot-spring geysers.
Mickey's Toontown Fair and Fantasyland are a hit with smaller kids, as they can fly to Never Neverland, ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant, or travel around the globe by boat while singing “It’s A Small World.” Fireworks displays light up the sky nightly, and many nights end with a parade. At Tomorrowland, kids can discover a space-age science fiction-inspired community inhabited by humans, aliens, and robots. Unique shops and themed restaurants round out the attractions.
The Miami Design District is dedicated to innovative fashion, design, architecture and dining. The area juxtaposes design brands with restaurants, international art collections and permanent and temporary art installations, while its new buildings exist with transformed historic ones. Design showrooms fill the area, including Holly Hunt, Knoll, Luminaire Contract and Ann Sacks, while retailers like Christian Louboutin, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Prada also saw the potential for the area and have opened stores here.
The district continues to evolve, and new renovations continue with additional luxury brands like Givenchy, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Van Cleef & Arpels slated to open shop. The long-term dream for the district is for it to exist as a renowned destination for cutting-edge fashion, art, design and culture, while maintaining its commitment to creative experiences.
The Hard Rock Cafe is famous for its many locations in cities around the world, and its Hard Rock Key West is the Southernmost member of the chain in the continental United States. The cafe is primely located in the center of the action on Duval Street, and features the American cuisine and rock ’n’ roll memorabilia of its other restaurants — but with a tropical twist. Boots from Jimi Hendrix, a velvet jacket from Stevie Nicks, and a Les Paul guitar that was broken in concert by the band Nine Inch Nails are showcased, among others.
It’s particularly evident how special this Hard Rock Cafe is when dining al fresco on their patio, where you can feel the ocean breeze. Whether you go for a fruity cocktail or a full dinner, the Hard Rock Cafe Key West blends seamlessly into its surroundings. Accompanied by music playing from the stereo or one of the live entertainment acts, it may be the ultimate cheeseburger in paradise.
IMAG History and Science Center teems with interactive fun and gives both youngsters and their parents a chance to participate in hands-on demonstrations on the wonders of nature. Feel the power of a hurricane, run through a rainstorm, observe rays and sharks, or be a weather forecaster for the day in this family-friendly museum.
Travelers don’t have to worry about walking the plank at this popular attraction located in St. Augustine. The Pirate and Treasure Museum is filled with galleries and exhibits that showcases the life and times of sea greats like Sir Francis Drake and Robert Searles. Visitors can learn about the role pirates played in early colonial America and gain a deeper understanding of life on the high seas.
Travelers will venture back some 300 years to Port Royal, Jamaica when they enter this unique museum that’s perfect for the whole family. Children will love the well-designed treasure hunt that leads the younger set on a real life adventure.
Boats glide alongside actual swans on Lake Eola, at the heart of Lake Eola Park. The site isn’t big by many standards – a mile around – but it packs a big punch as an oasis in the middle of bustling, crowded Orlando. Locals and visitors flock here – like the geese they feed out of hand – to take in a little nature. The Orlando skyline rises in the distance, a stunning contrast to the peace and quiet of the park and a beautiful reminder of the nearby city.
There are countless things to do in Lake Eola Park, including a weekly farmers’ market to visit, complete with fresh produce and live entertainment. Children run amok on the Lake Eola playground, and the iconic swan boats are a favorite for all ages. The park also has its own performance space, the Walt Disney Amphitheatre, which hosts events throughout the year. There’s even a restaurant on the premises; the Relax Grill promises to live up to its name.
Set on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is best known for its population of West Indian manatees. The park is primarily a rehabilitation center for the creatures, which swim in the freshwater spring while they are treated. On land, native Florida wildlife thrives in the dense surrounding forest.
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