50 Florida Faves: Where to go and What to do – The Northwest Florida Daily News

Posted: October 11, 2019 at 4:48 pm

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Florida may just be the best destination for a vacation in the United States.

Florida is the perfect place for a vacation, whether you are from out of town or a local. It has award-winning beaches, museums, and world-renowned theme parks.

Whether you want to fish, snorkel, swim with dolphins, check out historic architecture or relax surfside, we have gathered it all here for you.

The best part of a Florida vacation is no passport is required! So skip the TSA line and hop in your car or the Amtrak because you need to see Florida.

Your travel adventure awaits!


What to see:

1. CEDAR KEY, Way Key

Why go? When Floridas first railroad connected Cedar Key to the rest of the U.S. East Coast, the pretty little town 50 miles southwest of Gainesville and four miles out into the Gulf of Mexico became a major supplier of seafood and timber to the Northeast.

Notable fact: Cedar Key is a cluster of islands named for their once abundant red cedar, and evidence suggests that people lived here as early as 500 BC.


Why go? Because the Kennedy Space Center is where humans marshaled intellect, knowledge, and ingenuity to build a craft capable of leaving the planet to touch the stars.

Notable fact: The Vehicle Assembly Building is so big that it actually can produce its own weather. It measures 716 feet long, 518 feet wide and 525 feet tall.

3. LIGHTNER MUSEUM, St. Augustine

Why go? Where else can you see a shrunken head, a mummy and Sir Winston Churchills stuffed lion? In addition to a treasure trove of Victorian arts, the setting is fantastic: Its inside the former Henry Flaglers Alcazar Hotel, which was built in 1888 and closed in 1932 during the Great Depression. Wandering through the museum allows you to travel back to 1900, when wealthy Gilded Age tourists visited St. Augustine.

Notable fact: You can lunch at the Caf Alcazar, which used to be the hotels pool.


Why go? Built in 1914 the bridge's steel-frame spans over the Chipola River and is one of the oldest surviving bridges in Florida. It's also the site of one of the state's best-known ghost stories: The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. Elizabeth Jane Bellamy roams the swampy grounds around the bridge, a spectral figure in a long white gown. Though the stories vary, one tale says she died as a result of burns sustained when her wedding dress caught fire after her wedding in the rose garden to Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy. The real Elizabeth is buried in an overgrown family cemetery not far from the old bridge.

Notable fact: The bridge isn't accessible by car, but the Chipola River is a popular paddling trail and a half-mile walking path leads to the bridge.


Why go? This venue is known by a single name, "Daytona"; thats the sign of a true icon. Whether you plan to see a big race, like the annual Coke Zero Sugar 400 or go to the track just for the tour, you wont be disappointed. The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America features race memorabilia and displays honoring all forms of motorsports, including stock cars, sports cars, motorcycles, drag racing, land speed records, power-boating and aviation.

Notable fact: Before the speedway, races were held on the beach.

Where to stay:


The charm of Old Florida can still be found at resorts such as Perrys, but with modern essentials that guests want. The oceanside pool provides an uninterrupted view of the flat Daytona Beach and wide Atlantic Ocean beyond.


This oceanfront property offers tons of water activities, like surfing, boogie-boarding and beach volleyball. When you tire of the waves, relax on the oceanfront deck at Longboards Tiki Beach Grille, while the kids cool down in the splash pad. Orlando theme parks are an hour away, and its just 30 minutes to Kennedy Space Center. Dine on fresh seafood at the Salt Restaurant, and work it off in the fitness center.


This luxury resort boasts 1,350 acres with 3 miles of secluded beach. Its got the largest poolscape in northern Florida, with an infinity-edge adults-only pool; a 10,000-square-foot family-friendly pool and two hot tubs. There are several dining options, from casual to gourmet; a full-service spa; and two championship golf courses and 23 tennis courts. Kids can enjoy Camp Amelia, and teens have access to a gamers lounge.

9. BLACK DOLPHIN INN, New Smyrna Beach

Southern charm and hospitality await at the Black Dolphin Inn, a AAA Four Diamond boutique inn with rooms, each individually designed with vintage furniture, fine art, and spa baths. Wildlife love it too: Manatees, shoreline birds and pelicans, dolphins and sea turtles thrive in the mangrove-lined islands. New Smyrna Beach offers the most consistent surf break in Florida, and its been named one of the best towns for surfers.


What to do


Why go? It offers climbing tours of the 1860 lighthouse. Get a lesson in local history with this carefully curated museum and Hiking tours. You can even take a yoga class on the deck. The museum is a restored World War II naval-housing building. You can also visit the lighthouse keepers workshop, the Tindall pioneer homestead and a Seminole chickee.

Notable fact: The range of the light the distance that the light can be seen on a ship at sea is 24 miles. To someone in an airplane, the light would be visible 40 to 50 miles away.

11. FLAGLER MUSEUM, Palm Beach

Why go? Its full of the romance and grandeur of the Gilded Age. Whitehall the museums name when it was Henry Flaglers home was built by the Standard Oil co-founder in 1902 as a wedding gift for his wife. His granddaughter, Jean Flagler Matthews, rescued the estate, which had fallen into disrepair, and established the Flagler Museum on June 5, 1959. Her herculean effort was not in vain. "National Geographic Traveler" called the museum "an absolute must-see."

Notable fact: You can climb aboard Flaglers private rail car, No. 91, in the Pavilion. When it was built in 1886, the rail car was called a "palace on wheels."


Why go? Its a carefully preserved barrier-island sanctuary that is home to several endangered plants and animals, including three species of sea turtles.

Notable fact: It gets its name from its shoreline that shoots plumes of saltwater skyward when the sea is forced through holes in the limestone rocks during the incoming tide.

13. CLEWISTON INN, Clewiston

Why go? Clewiston is the "Sweetest Town in America" according to the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce. The Clewiston Inn was built in 1926 by a company that became, in 1931, the U.S. Sugar Corp. Destroyed by a fire in 1937, the inn was reopened in 1938.

Notable fact: The 360-degree mural of the Everglades in the lounge was painted in the 1940s.

14. PALM BEACH ZOO, West Palm Beach

Why go? The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society is home to more than 550 animals,190 species many endangered. The 23-acre zoo offers education on the habitats of animals, an interactive play fountain, a carousel, the Tropics Caf, and hosts special events throughout the summer.

Notable fact: The city bought the land where the zoo is located from the state for $100 in 1951. It was a bargain. The land, called Bacon Park, was formerly a landfill and tent camping ground which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1928.

Where to Stay


Spanning the Atlantic ocean and Intercoastal Waterway the Diplomat offers a little something for everyone. Hang out by their waterfront pools which offers complimentary towel service, cabana rentals and feast on their full-service lunch. Or hit the beach and kayak or or hop on a paddleboard. If you are traveling with kids they can make a splash and the Dip +Slide water play area. At night dine on food from one of their eight r culinary experiences helmed by celebrity chefs like Geoffrey Zakarian and Michael Schulson.


Tucked along A1A in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Plunge Beach Hotel is a quirky and understated beach retreat for lovers in search of an off-the-radar getaway. Nestled on the ocean it shuns pretenses and caters to the creative soul. The food is uncomplicated and ranges from tacos on the beach to small plates, infused cocktails and small-batch beers in its gastro pub. It evokes memories of hanging out in a great American beach town.

17. FOUR SEASONS, Palm Beach

This luxurious resort on South Ocean Boulevard offers guests cool water spritzes and chilled towels so you can stay cool while lying by the freshwater pool. The contemporary resort also offers a spa, nature inspired meals at their onsite restaurant Flories. It has amenities for kids and couples making it a great choice for a family holiday or a romantic getaway.


Located a little off the beaten path, guests can celebrate nuptials, have a business trip, or enjoy some R&R at the resort. Unplug and rewind by the pool, or try one of the treatments at the spa. Kids can take part in activities at the AquaNuts kids' program, or the COAST teens lounge, where they can learn how to DJ.


Where to go:


Why go? This zoological park allows visitors to interact with about 400 free-roaming primates. While on this 30-acre reserve take in one of their fun shows like the King of the Jungle. You will leave understanding how much we have in common with Gorillas. Or experience the southeast Asian Java Macaques as they wade into ponds for treats. This park allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty of southern Miami-Dade County.

Notable fact: Monkey Jungle was started by Joseph DuMond in the 1930s, an animal behaviorist and former New York commercial artist. His original intention was to study the behavior of monkeys. Due to the Depression, he was unable to get the grant funding he needed. He decided to let the public in to see the monkeys and the rest is history.


Why go? See how one of Americas greatest writers lived and worked. Lured by the Keys big-game fishing, Ernest Hemingway wrote: "To Have and Have Not" (his Key West novel) and other works here. He bought the house in 1931 and lived in the Keys during some of his most productive years. But watch out for the roaming polydactyl cats! Just kidding. They are the offspring of Hemingways six-toed cats, and they still act like they own the place.

Notable fact: Hemingways second wife, Pauline, added a swimming pool, much to Hemingways dismay. Its noteworthy because it was the first residential swimming pool in the Keys.

21. SHARK VALLEY, Everglades National Park

Why go? This scenic bike loop makes a 15-mile round trip through the "river of grass." At the halfway point, visitors can climb an observation tower to get a sense of what the first settlers may have seen. Dont want to pedal? Take the tram instead. Youll likely see plenty of gators sunning themselves along the path, but dont worry. Just keep your distance.

Notable fact: There arent any hotels, but camping enthusiasts are welcome to enjoy two campgrounds: Long Pine Key near Homestead, or the Flamingo campground farther south which offers Eco Tents that include beds and linens. There are also back-country (wilderness) camping sites.

22. CORAL CASTLE, Homestead (unincorporated Miami-Dade County)

Why go? Edward Leedskalnins legacy located in Homestead, south of Miami, features 1,100 tons of Florida coral, in pieces ranging in size from 6 to 30 tons, all assembled by a 5-foot, 100-pound man. The Latvian immigrant worked in obscurity and died in 1951.

Notable fact: The 3-ton (6,000 pounds) gate can easily be opened by a child. There is a table in the shape of Florida that is geographically correct; it includes an indentation representing Lake Okeechobee which is kept filled with water.


Why go? Built by agricultural industrialist James Deering in 1916, the estate has hosted international leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, former President Ronald Reagan, and King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. The property features a main house filled with exquisite treasures, 10 acres of formal gardens and native forest. The museum hosts a variety of events, including yoga and meditation classes, wine tastings and family art-making workshops.

Notable fact: Vizcaya could be called the "house that tractors built." James Deering was an officer of the Deering Harvester Company until the business merged interests with the International Harvester Company where he became Vice President.


Why go? Its a transplant, like many Floridians. The original buildings were constructed in the 1100s near Segovia, Spain. William Randolph Hearst had the structure dismantled, stone by stone; then shipped to the U.S., where it was eventually reassembled.

Notable fact: It took more than 11,000 wooden crates to ship the structure to Miami. Due to the stock market crash, the Great Depression and World War II, Hearst never got around to reassembling. Two businessmen from Ohio bought the Monastery and had it put back together in 1952.

25. PIGEON KEY, Marathon

Why go? As headquarters for "Flaglers Folly the Railroad That Went to Sea," the five-acre island under the famous old Seven-Mile Bridge housed workers for the engineering marvel that, in 1912, connected Key West to the mainland for the first time.

Notable fact: The island was originally called Cayo Paloma because of the large flocks of white-crowned pigeons that roosted there.


Why go? Pennekamp and the adjoining Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary accounts for about 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, sea-grass beds and mangrove swamps. The park is part of the National Register of Historic Places, extending three miles into the Atlantic Ocean. This is a prime birding and snorkeling destination, with scuba and glass-bottom boat tours as well as boat, kayak and paddle-board rentals.

Notable fact: Pennekamp, the first undersea park in the U.S., was named for John D. Pennekamp (1897-1978), a Miami newspaper editor whose efforts contributed to the establishment of Everglades National Park and to the preservation of what would become John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Where to stay:

27. CARILLON MIAMI, Miami Beach

Boasting the largest spa---70,000 square feet--- and wellness facility on the Eastern Seaboard, the Carillon offers a dedicated concierge that guides guests on a custom path to relaxation. Try a fitness, rock climbing, and/or Tequila and Mescal tasting class. At the end of an active day cool off and relax at The Strand, its oceanfront restaurant and lounge. This pet-friendly resort also offers dog walking services if needed.

28. NATIONAL HOTEL, Miami Beach

This Art Deco treasure in the heart of Miami Beach has been wowing guests since opening Christmas Eve 1939. The hotel is home to the longest infinity-edge pool in Miami Beach 205 feet. This tropical oasis is full of native plants and offers a deck thats perfect for poolside dinner or cocktails. The National also offers yoga classes, relaxing massage services and live music five nights per week when in season.


Located in the heart of Old Key West, Ocean Key Resort & Spa perhaps has the most desirable view on the island. Overlooking the pristine waters where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean, the resort embodies the charm, energy, and eclectic vibe of the island. Its 100 rooms and suites, waterfront dining, access to the Liquid Pool * Bar * Lounge and spa treatments at Spa Terre are designed to fulfill your getaway plans.

30. AMARA CAY RESORT, Islamorada

Situated along the Atlantic shoreline in the "Sport-Fishing Capital of the World" lies the chic but laid-back respite of Amara Cay. Hit the beach and enjoy the gentle sway of palm trees while resting in one of their hammocks. Or cool off in their zero-entry pool before feasting on fresh seafood at Reelburgers Tiki Bar. Its the treat you deserve.


Youll find stylish rooms for the modern traveler at this "gateway to Key West," which features a popular rum bar. The Hotel has a massive event lawn where concerts, private functions and public festivals take place. Feast on the Caribbean inspired food from the Blind Pig Food Truck which is parked on-site from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Gates is pet-friendly so no need to leave Fido at home.


What to do:

32. CITRUS TOWER, Clermont

Why go? As one of Floridas first attractions, this 22-story tower was something so noteworthy, people drove out of their way to see it. Officially opened in 1956 and boasting a dizzying height of 226 feet, the structure towered over citrus fields, which indeed were a sight to see when heavy with fruit or when the orange blossoms bloomed in the spring. You also have a birds-eye view of beautiful lakes in the surrounding eight-county area.

Notable fact: The original plans called for the tower to be 75 feet high, but upon completion, it was instead 226 feet, equivalent to 22 stories.


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50 Florida Faves: Where to go and What to do - The Northwest Florida Daily News

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October 11th, 2019 at 4:48 pm

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