Gratitude gives me a joy for living. I am grateful and passionate about living an authentic Florida life. I am also grateful for my loyal Authentic Florida readers and friends. You give me inspiration and wonderful ideas for travel and living.
My short gratitude list is: faith, family, friends and Florida. My other list is really long, so I won't bore you. Like most of us, I have a lot to be grateful for. It’s about a joy for living, appreciating what we have and sharing our blessings with others.
When it comes to Authentic Florida I am grateful for
- Florida’s top quality state parks, preserves and wildlife which are so precious to our circle of life
- Florida’s locally grown produce, seafood and fresh products
- Native flora & fauna, especially food bearing plants, trees and herbs, creating a connection from the Florida soil to my home and kitchen
- The Florida outdoors and the ability to exercise year around whether hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, horseback riding or yoga on the beach
- Florida artists and authors who inspire us with their creativity
- Authentic Florida homes and decor – bringing the outside beauty into everyday living
All these deepen my passion for Florida living, while appreciating our beautiful and delicate state.
Thank you for sharing the good life in Florida. From my family to yours, have a delightful Thanksgiving.
Fall is in the air. In most areas of the country, there is an obvious change of seasons as leaves begin to change colors and drop from trees, the air becomes crisper and cooler, and sweaters come out of the closets. But in Florida, fall arrives in much more subtle, less obvious ways.
You really have to know what to look for to observe the seasonal change.
At some point in late September or more likely mid October an early season cool front will push through, bringing drier air and cooler, if only slightly, temperatures. The rainy season comes to a close and the skies take on a richer, more intense bluish color. The days grow shorter as the sun heads south, the angle of the light changes and shadows lengthen. It is time to get outdoors.
The biggest change will be the lower humidity. If you want to go outside to play this is an ideal time of year – swimming, tennis, golf, running, biking, walking, equestrian riding – you name it. It’s time to take full advantage of the shift in seasons.
Go Bird Watching
Birds from the north are beginning to fly to Florida, and points south, for the winter. Now is an especially good time to begin looking for hawks and other birds of prey as they return to build their nests. And they are just one species of many birds arriving.
Butterflies, Wildflowers and Beautyberries
As the heat subsides and you get outdoors, you will notice butterflies popping out amongst the flowers flitting around in the fall blooms. Florida is blessed with many fall wildflowers. The best place to see wildflowers is along the hiking trails of our local and state parks. Purple muhly grass begins to blanket the area, especially on back roads, adding color to the grasslands that have begun to transform from lush green to vibrant amber. Also adding a touch of purple, and a sure sign of fall, are the bright purple beautyberries growing under shady trees along the roadsides and trails.
Get Fresh at the Farmers Market
Mild weather in Florida allows two growing seasons for produce, fall and spring. While it is too cool up north, local farms here are bringing in fresh juicy tomatoes and harvesting our fall vegetables. Beautiful crops of broccoli, lettuces, peppers, herbs, and other delicious fresh produce begin to fill the tables at local markets.
The Fish are Biting
During hot summer months, fish can be lethargic, just like humans. But as the milder weather moves in, fish activity increases. Knowledgeable charter captains are always ready to take you out. Fall is the best time for the prized saltwater red fish. Big schools will push onto the shallow flats by the hundreds.
Get Out There
It’s time to open the windows and let the fresh air in. Whether enjoying a milder morning on the lanai or going outside to play, let us remind ourselves how wonderful it is to enjoy our authentic Florida.
I always try to keep things simple. Why complicate life? I have learned that by keeping ideas, concepts and routines simple, my life doesn’t get sidetracked with unnecessary clutter that makes me feel overwhelmed. Simplicity helps me feel grounded. And that's good.
So that’s why Authentic Florida is dedicated to sharing simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. Through it, I celebrate and share simple joys for enjoying Florida, and the result is that everything becomes so much more meaningful - at least for me. And another thing I have found is that the simple joys can be really affordable.
As a Florida native, I love to discover the “hidden gems” of my home state. I also like to share basic ideas and “tips” for authentic Florida living. The following are some of my favorite ideas to help you find more ways to love life in our wonderful state.
Tip #1: Travel Florida
I believe Florida’s state parks are some of the best bargains anywhere. Just recently, I was visiting Central Florida’s Rainbow Springs State Park. We kayaked, swam, saw waterfalls, luscious gardens and learned Florida history – all for $2. Now that’s a deal.
Do yourself a favor. Google your nearest state park and go. Take a lunch. Take a friend or family and just go. You won’t be disappointed. There’s so much to do. Read a little about what the park offers and consider a hike, a bike ride, kayak trip or picnic, or just do nothing – it will still be an opportunity to take in Florida’s natural beauty.
Tip #2: Cook Florida
Visit your nearest farmers market, produce stand, or even a locally owned grocery store. Look for fresh ingredients from Florida. What’s in season? Unlike other states, Florida has two major growing seasons, Fall/Winter and Winter/Spring, so there’s plenty to enjoy from October all the way through mid-June. Florida seafood, fruit and vegetables, would be a good place to start.
By using what’s fresh and in season, you’ll find yourself in good company. The greatest chefs in the world always start with fresh ingredients, especially when they can source them locally.
Tip #3: Garden Florida
A year ago, I didn’t know how to plant a tomato. Now I’m a certified Master Gardener! Even if you don’t have a back yard, consider growing fresh herbs in a pot or planter. The freshness of homegrown herbs makes any meal better.
Tip #4: Exercise Florida
When it cools down this Fall, take advantage of enjoying a new sport that gets you out – paddle boarding, yoga on the beach, horseback riding in the pine flatwoods, canoeing or kayaking in the Florida mangroves or springs, or biking in one of the state’s 160 state parks. Trying something new will give you a new perspective on Florida!
Tip #5: Read Florida
If you read nothing else when it comes to Florida literature, do read A Land Remembered, an Authentic Florida favorite. You’ll fall in love with this endearing Florida tale by Patrick Smith. You can usually find it on the “Local Interest” shelf in your favorite bookstore, or check it out at just about any public library.
Tip #6: Enjoy Florida Art
Look around you. Find your community’s art center. Go to an art show, visit a gallery. There are Florida artists everywhere who create art reflective of our Florida environment. Local art is unique and special, and purchasing it supports our creative artisans.
Tip #7: Use Florida Decor
Does your home reflect your Florida surroundings? Does it bring in the light? Florida is special because we have lots of sunshine year around. Your home is your castle and creates your mood. Lighten it up!
And finally: Love Florida
I suppose living an Authentic Florida life has always been my passion. The joys of discovering “real” Florida allows me the opportunity to discover new things and practice what I love in all areas of my life – from travel to cooking, books to gardening, art to decorating my home. Even better is sharing my passion with all of you, my Authentic Florida readers and friends.
So, it really doesn’t matter whether you were born here, or came south to escape colder weather, came for a vacation and never left, or even moved here from another country. Anyone can live an authentic Florida life.
Are you living yours?
I love Florida summers. Yes, they are warm, no doubt, but like most places, Florida summers are laid-back, slower paced and relaxed. People are more inclined to take it easy while kids laugh, play and eat watermelon.
Have you ever noticed that summer has a certain scent? It’s clean, and hot - almost steamy, grassy and earthy. It has to do with the humidity and freshly cut grass and leaves, a kind of Florida "jungle smell". And let’s not forget the sweet floral smells of jasmine and magnolia flowers. Or, my personal favorite, the salty smell of low tide.
There’s also a certain color to summer. I see pastel-colored Hibiscus, Crape Myrtles and Oleanders. I see vibrant Bougainvilleas, majestic red, yellow and orange Poincianas, Frangipanis in tropical tones and delicate, bright purple Jacarandas. At sunset I see many of the same colors in the clouds and sky before it fades to lavender then gray then blue and black. And when I venture out after dark I see Night Blooming Cereus (see picture) dangling from spindly cactus crawling up Florida’s Sabal Palms.
What I love the most about summer is the daily rainstorm that quenches the flora’s thirst and cools the earth with heavy downpours. Watching a summer rain roll in from a screened-in porch is one of the greatest joys of Florida living.
Even smelling rain on its way, or feeling an incoming cool summer breeze as the rains begin is a classic authentic Florida moment. As the dark menacing clouds approach, the booming sound of thunder and fantastic displays of lightning entertain us more than any motion picture – and it’s live and free.
No matter how you spend your summer, or where, it’s your time to find yourself where the living is easy. Tell me what you love most about your summer. I’d love to hear from you.
My Florida map is stretched out on the table along with a list of state and national parks. I’m planning another authentic Florida staycation, my favorite getaway.
A staycation is a special trip where you get away, but remain close to home. Why not stay in Florida and take advantage of our glorious natural resources? Florida’s state and national parks are my go-to destinations for fun and relaxation. Most of our parks remain undiscovered and underutilized yet filled with tremendous beauty, adventures and new discoveries. And if you are looking for serenity and relaxation, I promise you’ll find it. You just have to know what you want to do and how far you want to travel. When I feel the need for a Caribbean vacation, I just head to the turquoise waters, blue skies and colorful coral reefs of the Florida Keys for the underwater marine sanctuaries and tropical parks. When I need to cool down and pack in some family fun, I head to Florida’s natural water parks – our refreshing springs and rivers. When I want a romantic beach vacation, I find lesser-known island hideaways. When I want a more vigorous natural getaway, I look for the parks that offer adventurous hiking, biking and kayaking fun - and anything in between.
Did I mention affordable? Entrance to most Florida State and national parks will cost you less than $10 – and that’s usually per carload, not an individual ticket price. How many places can you go for that price?
For accommodations, you can choose to stay in a park or find lodging nearby or outside the park. I have been amazed with the offerings within the parks that feature anything from campsites to ultra-deluxe cabins and even a few lodges.
So, where to go? Well, it depends on where you live and where you want to travel. There are around 11 National Parks and 160 State Parks in Florida, plus a number of preservation and recreation areas, so you might want to do a little advance planning. The State of Florida has divided its parks into five Districts – there’s the northwest, northeast, central, southwest and southeast regions – and they all feature a unique part of Florida.
Beginning with northwest Florida, I am huge fan of the parks south of Tallahassee. If you haven’t been to Wakulla Springs State Park, don’t miss its translucent blue spring and the wild Wakulla River with its Tarzan-like riverboat cruise. Farther south, try the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, with spectacular views from the crystal white sand dunes. Add to that the pristine St. George Island State Park near Apalachicola. Plus two of my all-time favorite destinations are the St. Vincent and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuges, both of which are on Authentic Florida’s “bucket” list.
Some northeast favorites are the Suwannee River State Park or the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, a legendary tubing river and University of Florida “rite of passage.” One of the sweetest and best state parks is Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s historical home where the famed author wrote The Yearling. If you haven’t been to Florida’s Nature Coast, don’t miss the Crystal River Preserve and the Homosassa Springs State Park.
The Central Florida region is my personal favorite for family fun. The Ocala National Forest is hard to beat and there is no better kayak trip than a ride down the Juniper Springs Run. On the eastern edge of the forest, is the scenic Blue Spring State Park. (It’s always worth a stop but if you’re there during the winter, you’ll see a huge concentration of manatees.) Going south from there, stop at the Wekiva Springs, the Lower Wekiva River and Rock Springs River Preserve State Parks, and you’ll have covered some of our state’s finest. Head toward the east coast and you will find another authentic Florida reader favorite, Tomoka State Park at Ormond Beach.
Crossing back to the Gulf side and heading south, where I live, there are plenty of parks from which to choose. If you want authentic beaches, head to the Caladesi State Park, north of Clearwater, or Don Pedro and Stump Pass Beach State Parks south of Sarasota. For one of my all time favorites, head to Cayo Costa State Park near Sanibel Island – accessible only by boat, it is a real Florida island with a pristine beach. If you are ready to get cool on a river, try unplugging on the scenic Hillsborough River near Tampa (Sargeant Memorial Park is a good starting point), or the Estero River (while taking in the Koreshan State Park) near Ft. Myers. The aptly named Peace River flows through four counties as it meanders to Charlotte Harbor. Arcadia is a good place to gain access to the Peace River.
Be sure that Everglades National Park is on your list, but plan a fall or winter trip for maximum wildlife viewing, not to mention more comfortable temperatures. Nearby, check out the Fakahatchee Strand State Park (where I saw my first Florida panther in the wild), and take in a swamp walk at the Big Cypress Preserve with famed photographer Clyde Butcher who has a unique gallery near Ochopee.
Summer is the best time to visit Florida’s east coast to see the nesting turtles between New Smyrna Beach and Boca Raton. Book a Florida Sea Turtle Walk (soon) at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Preserve, Canaveral National Seashore, Sebastian Inlet State Park or John Lloyd and John D. MacArthur State Parks. Or if you need tropical island time, head to the Florida Keys and take in the John Pennekamp State Park to explore the underwater reef, or enjoy the outstanding island parks of Indian, Lignumvitae and Long Keys, or one of the best, Bahia Honda State Park.
Authentic Florida staycations are both easy and affordable. No airport travel, no lines, and no fuss. You don’t need a lot of planning, just a desire to seek authentic Florida at it’s best. Isn't it time to get away?
Robin Draper, Siesta Key
As a native Floridian, Robin grew up on the barrier island of Siesta Key, off the Gulf Coast of Sarasota. Blessed to have had a unique upbringing, Robin fondly remembers spending countless days on the beach, in the sun and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
Once Robin graduated from high school and college, she joined the Peace Corps and found herself assigned to an island in the Pacific Ocean – Ifaluk in Micronesia, a remote culture without electricity or modern conveniences. Outrigger canoes were the primary mode of transportation, and home was a thatched hut. Bathing was in the ocean and rain provided the drinking water. Children went to school if there was an abundance of food, otherwise they were a part of the subsistence culture of fishing and gathering.
After two years overseas, Robin returned to the United States, married and moved to California. California was another treasure in her life, but she was homesick for Florida for 20 years. She and her family finally moved back to Florida only to rediscover the land she longed. Her childhood memories are of days gone by - but continue to inspire new and renewed discoveries. This website is an homage to Florida, the home her heart has never left.