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?
Growing up, our home was on an island just across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. (Yep, I know, lucky me.)
During my adolescence, we lived in a run-down pink cypress rental cottage. Every evening we watched the sunset, ate dinner and listened to the waves gently wash onto the beach.
As an island kid I was always playing outside. And as kids often do, I would get a scrape or a cut or a bruise, maybe poison ivy, or a bee sting. Even when I came down with a cold, my mother always said:
“Go jump in the Gulf and it will be fine.”
Simple as that.
And I knew that at a young age, if I had any ailment, I needed to go for a swim. Immerse myself in salt water, and everything would go away. And it did.
Saltwater, or saline, has been a home remedy for many things, and is widely used in health care. I’m no doctor, but I’ve seen the results. Sore throats, sinus infections, head colds, tooth aches are just a few of the common ailments that can be soothed with saltwater.
But does this saltwater therapy really work? I’ve heard that salt draws moisture from bacteria and any swollen tissues - thus relieving inflammation. It not only destroys bacteria, it prevents it from growing.
And saltwater is also nourishment for the soul. A simple morning swim is not only great exercise, but it revitalizes and energizes our core being. Or even the simple practice of floating in the water can deepen relaxation. Head partially immersed, arms out stretched makes me let "it all go", one moment at a time, without a care to the world.
Just being near the water can be therapeutic. Like many Floridians, I find that going to the beach is like meditation. Gazing at the water while sitting in my beach chair, walking by the water’s edge, or just doing "nothing" centers me. I call it Florida’s “chicken soup for the soul”.
There’s no doubt in my mind, that since the Florida peninsula is surrounded by saltwater, we have a lot of healing potential. No matter where in this state you live, you are within a couple of hours of salt water.
Florida really does seem to have it all. So just jump right in! You’ll feel so much better.
At least that’s what mom says.
(Photo: Robin's mom, Beth Arthur)
I am often asked what inspired me to create Authentic Florida.
The truth of the matter is that my inspiration probably began in the womb. I think my DNA was tattooed “F-L-O-R-I-D-A” from the get-go. Born and raised on a Florida island, I spent many days as a toddler on sandy beaches at the water’s edge. The mangroves became my playground, the pine forests my getaway, the rivers, lakes and springs offered peace, serenity and beauty.
Much later, after college, I married and moved out of the Florida - planting me far away from my birthplace. Looking back, it was nice to discover a new place but I was quickly homesick. That sojourn turned into 20 years. There were many visits home but Florida never was far from my mind.
Eventually, whether it was the stars or an awakening of my Florida genes, or merely my destiny, something inside me led me back home. While living away from my birthplace, I created a deep longing to rediscover the land I so dearly loved and Authentic Florida not only became a searching, but also a soulful mission.
Florida has so many treasures, some of which are imbedded in my memory like old photographs. The sunsets, smell of orange blossoms, the quiet swaying of pine trees, an afternoon rainstorm, a pink roseatte spoonbill in flight or even the chance sight of a night-blooming cereus.
“Real” Florida is everywhere we turn. The stillness of a kayak ride through a Florida mangrove tunnel, a swim in the world’s deepest fresh water spring, a swamp walk through the Big Cypress, horse riding on a real cracker cattle ranch, scalloping on the Nature Coast, diving for lobster in the Florida Keys, or hiking through the towering pine flatwoods of Ocala National Forest.
Besides discovering Florida, I love to live “Florida” in all I do. My kitchen bustles with delightful dishes of Florida Roasted Shrimp Salad, a Tomato-Mozzarella Tart, fresh Key Lime Pie, Orange Cream Pie, freshly caught Florida fish, stone crab and clams and everything in between.
I relish my time in my garden growing and creating a yard that looks and feels like Florida. I enjoy curling up with inviting Florida books written by local writers and I love art and artists who remind me of the state’s beauty. I also love exercising in the Florida outdoors – hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking or even some yoga on the beach. Add to that a curious appreciation of Florida homes that incorporate old (and new) ideas while visiting authentic communities and neighborhoods.
Authentic Florida – for me it is a way of being, a way of life, and a source of inspiration. It’s my home, maybe it’s yours too. But even if you live elsewhere, join me as we continue our journey together.
News Release. Florida native, Robin Draper, creator of the website AuthenticFlorida.com, blogs about many topics – “real” Florida travel, lifestyle and food. But this time, her articles about food proved to be a recipe for success at the Sunshine Awards competition in Orlando January 11th where she was recognized for the “Best Food Blog” in Florida. The Sunshine Awards are part of an event called Forum 2014 produced by FlBlogCon, or the Florida Blogger and Social Media Conference.
The awards recognize the very best bloggers, tweeters, instagrammers, pinners, and facebookers in the state of Florida. More than 100 nominees were submitted and narrowed to a ballot of three in each of 20 categories. A “people’s choice” style vote was conducted via the FlBlogCon website last year to choose the favorites. Winners were announced at the recent Central Florida Conference January 11th.
Draper shares, "I am incredibly grateful for the readers and peers that voted for Authentic Florida. I am an accidental food blogger but love to cook (and eat!) and am so motivated by those who share and inspire me daily."
Florida native Robin Draper is the owner of AuthenticFlorida.com, a travel and lifestyle blog devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. Authentic Florida is intended to inspire discovery of the accessible, yet under-appreciated reaches of the state. The blog also invites readers to simplify – whether traveling, cooking, gardening, enjoying art and authors, homes & neighborhoods while discovering uncomplicated ideas for living.
Reclaiming her authentic Florida heritage has become her life passion and inspirational compass through her blog. Draper’s book, Authentic Florida features her favorite places to travel, available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.
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.