A Fresh Start with 17 Authentic Adventures for 2017
Author: Robin Draper
Date: December 31, 2016 12:00 am
Category: Where to Go
Region: Central East Florida
A Fresh Start with 17 Authentic Adventures for 2017
Usher in the New Year with joyous fresh beginnings and 17 Authentic Florida adventures for 2017.
Canoeing the Wekiva River, Apopka
As we turn the page of a fresh, new calendar, we have a chance to move forward with new goals for a happier and healthier year and to find more physical and spiritual renewal.
At Authentic Florida, that begins with discovering the simple pleasures for Florida living - especially along the roads less traveled.
Everglades Mangrove Tunnels
Get To Know the “Real” Everglades
South Florida’s Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve are two of the state’s most beloved natural resources. For those who want to truly experience these stunning treasures, try an immersive eco-tour. Begin with a guided kayak trip through the state’s most extensive mangrove tunnels, experiencing a magical forest, birds and wildlife from the seat of a kayak. Next, take a Big Cypress Swamp Walk where you’ll trek through slow moving fresh water shrouded by dense hammocks of Bald Cypress within a pristine, quiet world of tropical bromeliads, orchids and blue skies above. And finally, board a guided boat ride through the 10,000 Islands, a stunning wilderness in a protected national wildlife refuge. Try Everglades Area Tours (for all 3 tours) and the Clyde Butcher Gallery (for the Big Cypress Swamp Walk). For more information on things to do in the area: Paradise Coast.
Take a Jungle Cruise on the Silver Springs River
Located in Central Florida, Ocala is an adventurer’s paradise and home to one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions, Silver Springs State Park. Enjoy a nostalgic tour of “old Florida” in a vintage glass bottom boat on the Silver River as boat captains tout the history and ecological features while peering down at the bubbly springs and wonders below. Those who want to be on their own should consider a kayak paddle of the Ft. King Waterway by taking the two-mile loop over the springs and past the Ross Allen Island and remnants of a bygone roadside attraction that featured Ft. King and a Florida Cracker village. Admire the alligators, otters, manatees and even the non-native monkeys brought in years ago that still swing from tree to tree. For a guided eco tour, go to Silver Springs Kayaking.
Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine
Beach It at Anastasia State Park
Whether planning a romantic getaway or a seaside vacation, there are plenty of things for you to do and see in the charming old town of St. Augustine on Florida's northeast coast. The “oldest U.S. city” draws most travelers because of its rich history, but after visiting St. Augustine’s attractions you may be ready for a walk on the beach, and the local Anastasia State Park has one of the best. Miles of gorgeous, wide-open beaches are accessed by long, wooden walkways across towering sand dunes. It’s a perfect and picturesque place to take in a view of the vast blue Atlantic as you breathe in the fresh salt air. Nearby is a tidal salt marsh, called Salt Run, with an upland hammock to observe coastal birds and wildlife.
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
Climb a Fort in the Dry Tortugas
Seventy miles west of the Florida Keys is a cluster of small coral islands called the Dry Tortugas. Surrounded by clear turquoise water and rimmed with crystalline sandy beaches, these islands were discovered by explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513 who found the area filled with sea turtles, thus calling it Las Tortugas (The Turtles). Today, this rare combination of marine wildlife refuge, national park, and 19th century historical fort in a tropical, exotic setting make it a trip you don’t want to miss while visiting the Florida Keys. Surrounded by a moat, the fort was home to thousands of soldiers and as civilians who lived in the remote setting. Tour the grounds, admire the old cannons, walk through arches, and up staircases to a spectacular 360-degree view and breathtaking scenery.
Florida Scrub Jay, Photo courtesy, Jim Boland
Get to know Florida’s Birds at the 2017 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival
Florida is rich in native populations of wildlife and birds, but it is also on a busy route for migrating birds stopping over for the winter. Florida’s Space Coast, home to the Kennedy Space Center, is one of the best birding locations in the United States because it is situated at the convergence of two zones - temperate and tropical - creating a natural diversity of unique habitats that attract varied bird species. Have you ever wanted to know more about the world of birds? Celebrating its 20th year, the 2017 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival will host its annual event January 25 through 30. Based at the Titusville Eastern Florida State College, the event features the bird industry’s most renowned experts including international tour guides and photographers - as they conduct immersive field trips, host classes and discussions. For a crash course on Florida’s wildlife, this Festival is ideal for all ages, from beginners to veterans.
Florida Manatee, photo courtesy William Garvin
Observe Manatees in Citrus County
North of Tampa and west of Orlando, Citrus County is known as the Manatee Capital of the World. More than 1,000 of these gentle mammals congregate near the springs, especially during the winter as they seek the warmer spring water when Gulf water temperatures dip below 68 degrees. The area’s abundance of freshwater springs offers many places where visitors can observe manatees. Crystal River Kings Bay draws the largest aggregation of manatees, especially at the Kings Spring known as the Key Hole; or Hunter Springs, a local county park that provides a walkway for viewing. The emerald blue-green Three Sisters Springs has surrounding boardwalks for viewing manatees in crystal water and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park offers an underwater observatory. Also, manatees are often sighted at the Chassahowitzka Springs & River.
Apalachee Council House, Mission San Luis, Tallahassee
Step Back in Time at the Mission San Luis
During the mid-1500s and the late 1600s, Florida was home to more than 100 Spanish colonial missions. One of those missions has been recreated to portray the fascinating times when more than 1500 Apalachee Indians and Spanish colonists coexisted. It was there that, by invitation of the Apalachee tribe, Spanish friars, soldiers and civilians built the Mission San Luis, thus establishing the western capital of Spanish Florida now Florida’s capital, Tallahassee. Visitors gain a close-up view of two cultures living together with costumed re-enactors. The spacious grounds include a council house, chief’s house, Spanish home, a fort and a Franciscan church. The most impressive structure is the thatched, pyramid-shaped, five-story Apalachee Council House where ceremonial rituals and dances were performed.
Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid, photo courtesy, John Athanason
Meet a Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Florida’s Adventure Coast, an hour west of Orlando, is well known for its beautiful mermaids. Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has captivated families and children with underwater mermaid shows. A first-magnitude spring bubbles up from the Florida aquifer providing a fish bowl stage. Guests are entertained in a glass theatre as fish-tailed mermaids perform synchronized underwater themed ballet shows set to music. After the show, kids can meet a Weeki Wachee mermaid in person. This “old Florida” attraction still remains one of the best bargains in Florida also offering a riverboat cruise, animal show and a water park.
Dade City Kumquat Festival
Get “Down Home” at the Dade City Kumquat Festival
Pasco County’s Dade City celebrates its “Ode to the Kumquat” during the January 28, 2017 Kumquat Festival, an event that honors its distinction as the world’s leading supplier of the tasty petite fruit. Amidst green hills and pastures an hour north of Tampa, you'll find groves of Florida’s “golden gem," the kumquat. Orange in color, this small bite-sized member of the citrus family packs a flavorful, pungent sweet and sour taste. The Kumquat Festival, held in downtown Dade City, is a homegrown family event providing fruit tastings of every imaginable combination including kumquat pies, cookies, ice cream, marmalade, marinades, vinaigrettes and salsa. And there is plenty of fruit to purchase for creating your own signature dishes at home.
Seminole Inn, Indiantown
Step into the Past in Martin County’s Indiantown
Martin County, is a Florida gem on the “Treasure Coast” with a mixture of charming and friendly coastal towns coupled with a distinct “rural” vibe on its western side. Consider a trip west to Indiantown surrounded by miles of ranch lands, citrus groves, sugar cane fields and pine trees. Hang your hat at the Seminole Inn, a 1926 restored historical inn built during the Florida Railroad boom and learn about history and bygone eras. And don’t miss the Inn’s restaurant, where the menu is legendary and Sunday Brunch is a must, mainly known for its fried chicken, sweet potato casserole and “the best fried green tomatoes anywhere.” For an outdoor fix, visit the nearby Allapattah Flats, an open preserve with wild country where cowboys roam in open pastures, cattle graze, and bird watching is premium surrounded by groves of Cabbage Palms.
Flagler Beach Pier
Hang Ten at Flagler Beach
Flagler Beach is a 7-mile stretch of beautiful beach located on the Atlantic Ocean in northeast Florida between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine. The 800-foot Flagler Beach Pier is the heart of this unspoiled “old Florida” beach town where tourists and locals gather to watch sunrises and surfers, and to catch up on the daily happenings. Base your stay at the tropical Si Como No Inn beachside motel or camp on the beach at the Gamble Rogers State Park. Here there are no chain hotels or restaurants, so for good eats try the Flagler Fish Company for the local catch, or Kokomo’s Café for a fresh salad. If you are interested in testing your skills on the waves, local native and surf pro Lisa Tanner runs Flagler Surf Lessons for your own Hang Ten experience.
Sarasota's Jungle Gardens
Hang with the Flamingos at Sarasota’s Jungle Gardens
Sarasota's Jungle Gardens, one of Florida’s oldest roadside attractions, is still one of the most popular family destinations. Sounds of birds chirping, squawking, and screeching, and happy children fill the air as guests stroll along winding pathways through lush gardens to view wildlife, watch reptile and bird shows and feed flamingos. Standing under palm trees, in a picturesque Florida setting are a flock of bright pink American Flamingos that will pose for a handout while snapping the iconic Florida “selfie.” But stick around for the decades-old bird show that includes Macaws, parrots and white cockatoos named Frosty, Andy, Amber and Pip as they roller skate, unicycle, and play basketball. With all this fun there is a reason Jungle Gardens has been entertaining families for decades.
Pick Your Own at a Florida Orange Grove
A Florida orange is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Sunshine state. During Florida’s growing season bright oranges, grapefruit, tangy tangerines, succulent tangelos, lemons and limes line the groves. Years ago, Florida citrus groves and U-pick operations were common, dotting the rural landscape throughout the state. But nowadays, citrus disease, weather, water and economic woes have reduced the number of smaller family-owned businesses. But take heart, your citrus picking dreams can still come true. So grab your bucket and visit three Florida U-Pick citrus farms: Hilltop Groves south of Ocala in Weirsdale is owned by Bill Reed and open daily offering Navels, Satsuma, Ruby Red, Valencia Oranges and Tangerines. Clermont’s Showcase of Citrus, near Orlando, owned and operated by the Arnold family, touts 50 varieties of citrus. In Ft. Myers smell the fragrant orange blossoms at U-Pick Citrus, owned by the Johnsons, where Florida sweets, pink ruby reds and tangerines are ready for the picking.
Rainbow Springs State Park, Marion County
Swim in a Florida Natural Swimming Pool
Central Florida's Rainbow Springs State Park, located in Dunnellon, is home to the Rainbow River’s headspring, feeding into one of the most beloved waterways in the state. The park has enjoyed an “old Florida” reputation as a scenic and popular playground since opening in the 1930s as a family-owned amusement park. The spring and surrounding land was later purchased by the State of Florida park system. Known as Florida’s “natural swimming pool,” the white sandy bottom of the spring lies between areas of smooth limestone creating a “pool” like effect. A roped swimming area make the spring ideal for a refreshing swim. After the swim, take a picnic lunch and stroll through park along the shady, fern-lined, hilly pathways leading to waterfalls, ponds, butterfly gardens and scenic vistas surrounded by luscious gardens.
Enjoy a Weekend North of Orlando
Thirty minutes northeast of Orlando, in Seminole County, the quaint small town of Sanford is an ideal weekend getaway. Base your stay at the Higgins House, an 1891 Victorian Bed & Breakfast, where innkeepers Patty and Mike Ribera will make your visit extra special with beautifully appointed rooms and an unforgettable gourmet breakfast. The Inn is within walking distance to Sanford’s redeveloped downtown with shops, craft brew bars, and locally owned restaurants including the ever-popular German Hollerbach’s Willow Street Café. After dinner, enjoy an evening at The Alley, the local blues bar. And for a sunset stroll head to the Sanford Marina on Lake Monroe. For adventure, head to the Wekiwa Springs State Park for a dip in the refreshing bubbly springs or paddle down the scenic Wekiva River.
Barberville Pioneer Settlement
Discover Florida Cracker History at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement
On the edge of the Ocala National Forest, west of Daytona Beach, the Barberville Pioneer Settlement illustrates life in rural Florida during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Open to the public, it is one of the largest authentic historic villages in the state, inviting you to experience and explore a collection of historic buildings that provide a glimpse of Florida’s past. The 1919 Barberville Central High School, the 1926 bridge house, 1875 log cabin, with sugar cane grinder and boiler, the 1890 Midway Methodist Church, 1885 post office, 1879 blacksmith shop, a railroad depot and caboose, a post and beam barn, 1924 turpentine still, 1900 commissary and general store all set the stage for this extensive exhibit of Florida’s past. The Pioneer Settlement hosts special events, and provides scheduled demonstrations and workshops highlighting traditional crafts.
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
Visit Cedar Key for Charm & the Outdoors
Florida has many unique destinations, but Cedar Key, 50 miles southwest of Gainesville, is a true original. Filled with authentic “old Florida” charm, it’s a place that has remained relatively unchanged, giving visitors a feeling that “time stands still.” Cedar Key does not have the touristy, tropical vibe found in many places in Florida but its rustic uniqueness is unmistakable. Many are discovering the exceptional birding and wildlife viewing in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and the Suwannee and the Waccasassa Rivers. Get outdoors for kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and hiking. Tidewater Tours offers a range of experiences - from the Cedar Key Island tour to Suwannee River tours, where Bald Eagles and Ospreys often fly overhead.
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About the Author: Robin Draper is a Florida native and blogger devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. This article is connected to Robin's Google+ profile.
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