Florida Is The Home To Some Unexpected Museums

When people think of Florida attractions, they think of amusement parks, alligator farms, aquariums, and the local history and art museums.   Yet Florida has dozens of lesser known museums, some of them quite unexpected.

Downtown Saint Petersburg is the home of the Dali Museum, the largest collection of works by the wild Spanish surrealist artists outside of Dali’s hometown personal gallery.  Even Dali would be excited to discover this collection is housed in a new building and surrounding gardens that are as bizarre and even shocking as the inside art work.

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The Dali Museum resembles a box of exploding Jello

When A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse of Cleveland started collecting Dali art, they could not imagine they would have 7 of the 18 “masterwork” Dali works in their house.  They had to go to Florida to find a place for 96 oil paintings, 100 watercolors, and 1,300 other Dali creations.

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The Dali Garden Maze Offers Benches (sic) For Fans

Winter Park is the home of the Morse Museum, home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of jewelry, art glass, leaded-glass lamps, and windows by the amazing Louis Comfort Tiffany.   When Tiffany’s Long Island country mansion Laurelton Hall burnt to the ground in 1957, Hugh and Jeanette McKean rescued most of the windows and art.  The works are here.

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The Morse Museum Is Winter Park’s Treasure

In 1893 Tiffany created a chapel interior for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The interior setting was reassembled here in the Morse.

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The Beautiful Aurora Window by Tiffany

Ocala, Florida, north of Orlando, is Florida horse country and lots of equestrians go to the Grand Oaks Resort in nearby Lady Lake for dressage events and other horse shows.  It is also a place where you can take a ride in a vintage carriage along the hilly roadways of Marion County for Grand Oaks is the home for one of the world’s largest private collections of carriages and equine artifacts.

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Grand Oaks Is Not Just About American Carriages

There are over 160 European and American carriages ready to be hitched to horses for this is after all a true equestrian resort.  The 1850 Armbruster Dress Chariot was once the love of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria.

The Grand Oaks Resort & Museum in Weirsdale, Fla., is known as "America's Equestrian Resort" complete with equine accommodations, equine events, RV and cottage lodging, an equine museum, gift shop and bistro.

The Grand Oaks Resort & Museum near Weirsdale, Fla., is known as “America’s Equestrian Resort” complete with equine accommodations, equine events, RV and cottage lodging, an equine museum, gift shop and bistro.

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The Best Florida Literary Landmarks To Visit

Visiting the homes of famous people can give you an insight into what inspired their creativity and success.   This is certainly true about Florida-based writers.

The greatest attraction is Cross Creek, the rustic farm cottage where Marjorie  Kinnan Rawlings wrote The Yearling, probably Florida’s most beloved book.  The small village off I-75 south of Gainesville has not changed much and the state maintained property will take you back to rural Florida in the 1930’s.  Look for her typewriter and her automobile.


Cross Creek Looks Like Rawlings Is Still There

Florida’s most literary community is Key West where dozens of famous writers and artists spent their winters and no one is more of a super-star than Ernest Hemingway. His 1851 Spanish colonial-house where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls and Death in the Afternoon is a worthwhile tour even if you just want to see the stoic bathroom and the famous Hemingway cats.

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A Cat Doesn’t Share the Hemingway Bedroom Today

Less known to Key West visitors is Casa Antigua Hotel where in 1928 Hemingway and his second wife Pauline first visited Key West.  They fell in love with the island and stayed at the then Trev-Mor Hotel where Hemingway completed a novel called A Farewell To Arms.


Hemingway’s First Key West Residence

Zora Neale Hurston is Florida’s most famous African-American author and her works about growing up in Eatonville, America’s oldest incorporated black community, became classics.  Just off I-4 north of Orlando, Eatonville has a Zora Neale Hurston Museum and the Moseley House, where she later visited as an author. It is standing as a historic site typical of life in the town.


Part of the Zora Neale Hurston Tour in Eatonville

While Jack Kerouac’s last house and apartment are in Saint Petersburg, the Jack Kerouac Cottage on Clouser Avenue south of Shady Lane Drive in northwest Orlando is where in 1957-58 Jack finished the last type of On The Road and started the first chapters of Dharma Bums.  Appropriately the house is the residence of writers from around the world inspired by the author’s works.

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Jack Kerouac’s Literary Hideaway

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Florida’s Outdoor Building Murals Have Become Big Attractions

More and more Florida towns and cities of all sizes are recognizing that giant building murals not only can become attractions even in the least attractive areas of town, they also teach locals and visitors about the history and people of their community.

Lake Placid, down US27 on the slow road to Miami is so famous for its murals, there are guided tours and mural tour books for 45 major murals. Mural painting is a contagious art so there are not only independent artists springing up in the area, nearby towns like Sebring have started their own mural collection.

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There is a door into this drug store but not here.

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Here a real door becomes a 3-D building.

My old town of Punta Gorda not only recovered from a direct hit by a 125 mph hurricane, the locals rejuvenated the downtown district, not just with new buildings, but added colorful murals both historic and entertaining.

floridatraveler mural on punta gorda

Entering the city you see the long-gone hotel and famous guests.

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Cattle drives again go down Marion Street to the docks.

Not all themes are old-fashioned or nostalgic.  Saint Petersburg has replaced its rustic green park benches with some wild murals that really pump up the Central Avenue Business District.  With the old pier temporarily being replaced, I guess these murals can be called new landmarks.

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Saint Petersburg Art Has Gone Big, Funny, Colorful.

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Sebastian Collidge Is One of St Pete’s top muralists.

The City of Jacksonville has developed a mural art program fostered by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, utilizing local high schools artists to make murals for buildings like the downtown Florida Theater.


My favorite Jacksonville muralist is Shaun Thurston’s whose themes usually require a little soul searching or deep thought.

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This frog is supporting the whole world and mankind.

In case you think that major murals are simply a new art trend across the nation, here was one of the greatest murals ever painted in Florida.  It was the 1985 Richard Haas mural of the Fontainebleau seen right through an existing building.  Sad to say when they built a new Fontainebleau II condo hotel in 2002, the wonderful mural was torn down.

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Gone but not forgotten: the Fontainebleau Mural

A sad fact: when the building is torn down, the mural art will also go away.

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Most Romantic Things To Do At Walt Disney World

It’s quite difficult to get to be very romantic  when every inch of the World seems packed with camera-toting tourists accompanied by screaming, crying kids.  I’m not a big fan of crowds so I am leaving out parades, special events like New Years, and that great bastion of profitability known as the character meal.  For romantics, consider these tips:

Victoria and Albert’s is WDW’s most expensive and elaborate dinner place and reservations are usually made months in advance.  Each table gets a “Victoria and Albert” to distribute the multi-course meal and cater to your whims.  You get a personalized menu. The ultimate is getting to sit at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen (I have not done that.)

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The Ultimate Table at WDW: the Chef’s Table at V&A

The California Grill is still the best place to get to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks, even though I dislike the new seating arrangements.  Great food and the good news is if you have a CG reservation, you can go on the Contemporary rooftop when the fireworks blast off.  You won’t be alone, but you will feel up in the sky in a balloon.

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Rooftop of California Grill (photo by Neilon)

Carriage Rides at Port Orleans Riverside: I have always viewed the Port Orleans Riverside as the best moderate WDW resort for you can boat down to the clubs at Disney Springs AND you can rent a carriage with goes along the canal and thick forests.  It is better than the Fort Wilderness carriages.

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Carriage Rides Without Crowds at Night

Watch the fireworks from a private yacht.  If you have $700, you can jam up to 17 friends (or fellow romantics) and climb onto the Grant I yacht 52 Sea Ray for a three hour sail along the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, finally stopping to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

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Ready to Catch the MK Fireworks On a Yacht

or on a pontoon boat.  You can rent a night pontoon cruise for the Magic Kingdom fireworks or Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks and light show.

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It Works Best When the Pontoon is in the Lake

I realize some people will just want a full day at one of WDW’s great spas, like the Grand Floridian’s Senses or the Mandara Spa at the Dolphin.  But other people find their romance in excitement and unique vacation activities, so here are a few tips for “active” romantics.

Take a three hour Wild Africa Trek at Animal Kingdom where you cross the animal-infested Savanna, climb along a cliff, and cross a rickety rope bridge over a pool of crocodiles none of which care if you’re not Captain Hook.


Just Ignore the crocs … they can’t jump this high.

And there is the underwater adventure of Epcot’s DiveQuest which is a two and one-half hour program for licensed scuba divers.  It includes a forty-minute visit to the Caribbean Coral Reef where among the 2,000 residents are some sharks and rays.

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Find Nemo at WDW’s Divequest

Whether it is just staying at a honeymoon suite at the Grand Floridian or watching the sunset at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sunset Lounge or tracking down the secluded whirlpools at the Yacht Club, there are a lot of romantic places at WDW where you won’t find surrounded by other guests.

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The Dickman Family of Ruskin

I just recently refinanced two houses in Tampa and I noticed that the real estate growth in Florida, particularly in upscale properties, is still going strong.  Downsizing is also on the rise and I noticed several estates up for sale online, none more intriguing than the Dickman mansions on Dickman Island in Tampa Bay in Ruskin.

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The 212 acre Dickman Island in Tampa Bay

Few Florida families have had a bigger influence in the development and growth of a Florida community as the Dickmans in the town of Ruskin along Tampa Bay’s eastern shoreline.

In 1906 a utopian socialist college President named George McA. Miller wanted to start a college based upon the ideas of the English writer John Ruskin.  Previous institutions had failed up North, but this time Miller had the support of A. P. Dickman and his two brothers.  They helped Miller acquire a staggering 13,000 acres for the school and surrounding community by trading all their Missouri farmland.


President George McA. Miller’s Swiss Style House

Dickman played a major role in the setting up the Ruskin Commongood Society where college students could pay their tuition and fellow farm members could purchase more land by working in the Society’s fields and workplaces.  Ruskin was an isolated and unusual community for a decade, but that situation would quickly change.


The A. P. Dickman House off US41

A forest fire destroyed all but three of the college buildings in 1919 and the intrusion of US41 and the Florida Land Boom undermined the development of the community.  Ruskin soon became just a small, farming community between Tampa and Bradenton.

The Dickmans, however, continued the spirit of Ruskin.  Son Paul B. Dickman organized the Ruskin Vegetable Cooperative in 1941 and helped make Ruskin one of the most famous tomato growing places in the world.


In Summer The Ruskin Vegetable Coop

If you drive through Ruskin on US41 today you will still see the name of Dickman on real estate and business operations and if stop off in the Ruskin Library, you can see journals of the college and the days of the Commongood Society.

Master Bath/Spa

The Glenn Dickman House Bathroom has an Oriental Touch

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Florida In Summer Means More “Springs” Days

It’s summertime in Florida and millions are speeding  to the Sunshine State’s 663 miles of real beaches to escape the heat and humidity.  This makes sense since no place in Florida is more than an hour and a half drive to the coast.

Yet thousands of Floridians are heading to Florida’s springs, where cooling waters between 70 and 75 degrees offer swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing, and tubing.  Florida has more first magnitude springs (that’s 64.6 million gallons of water every day) than anywhere else in the world.

And the good news: most of the top springs are in Florida State Parks or county parks where picnic facilities and campgrounds add land recreation. Since many people would prefer to stay at a motel or bed and breakfast, we’ve selected our favorite Florida summer springs located near towns.

ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS STATE PARK, off US 27 near Gainesville, is the best tubing spring with 3.5 miles for tubes, canoes and kayaks and an in-park shuttle. Scuba is allowed only in winter and this place gets jammed with University of Florida college students on weekends.


Ichetucknee’s Sheltered River Is Cool Summer Fun

WEKIVA SPRINGS STATE PARK , just 10 miles north of Orlando, is a delightful water oasis in an urban area. Kayak and canoe to the headquarters by the St. Johns, family swimming, and twenty miles of hiking and biking trails. It’s too crowded, however, for tubing and scuba.


The Family Swimming Hole at Wekiva

RAINBOW SPRINGS STATE PARK, off I-75 east to Dunnellon, was once a famous private tourist attraction, but now it’s Florida’s second best tubing spring with rentals and a tube launch 1.4 miles south of the head spring where swimming is the key.  There is a huge campground and nearby motels.

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Rainbow Springs In Summer

DeLEON SPRINGS STATE PARK, off I-95 north of Daytona, is probably the most kid-friendly spring with its huge pool and lifeguard staff.  There is kayaking, canoeing, paddle boating, and snorkeling.  The old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant allows everyone to make their own pancakes.


DeLeon Springs Has A massive Swim Area

BLUE SPRINGS State Park (Volusia), off US 17-92 to Orange City, is not a giant spring, but it has a spectacular swimming area, a slow tube float, fun snorkeling area, and kayaks and canoes in the adjacent ST. Johns River.  The manatees will be gone in summer. This park is a short drive from Daytona Beach.

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Less Crowded, Less Expensive Summer Beach Alternatives

Summer is beach time in the Sunshine State for Floridians, but not only are as many tourists now coming to Florida in summer as in winter, there is a higher percentage arriving by automobile.

If your pocketbook is a little low this year and you don’t like crowded beaches you might want to consider these alternative beach destinations.

Instead of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, think of visiting the Florida  Keys .  The summer image of hot, humid, and hurricanes seems to scare people away from the Keys.  Last year 106,000 tourists packed Key West in March, but only 36,000 arrived last August.  Do you really think hurricanes can’t hit Miami?

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Beach at Fort Zack Taylor in Key West

Instead of Daytona Beach, visit nearby New Smyrna Beach where there are summer concerts, a boardwalk, good restaurants, and a similar beach.  Dr. Beach calls NSB as one of the ten best beach towns in Florida and Travel and Leisure lists the town as the only Atlantic Coast town that is a “cool surf town.”

Besides, if you are a history buff like me, you can stay at the 1885 Riverside Hotel and Spa – something that Daytona Beach does not have.

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1885 Riverside Hotel & Spa in New Smyrna Beach

If Sanibel and Captiva Islands are too rich for your blood, an alternative is Fort Myers Beach.  If you want a beach village of shops and restaurants, stay at the north end of the Fort Myers Beach.  If you want the rustic tropics, stay at the southern tip so you can go into Lovers Key State Park where you can canoe, kayak, or swim.


Lovers Key State Park at Ft Myers Beach

Instead of Sarasota, visit Venice or Englewood (the Charlotte side).  The shops and sites of Venice are near the hotels and condos near Venice Jetties.  Laid back with great fishing and boating at Stump Pass State Park is Englewood, where giant condos don’t block the sky.

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A Lazy Day at Stump Pass, Englewood

Saint Petersburg Beach and Clearwater Beach can be packed with automobiles from commuting mainlanders, but, despite popular Johns Pass with its restaurants and shops, most of Treasure Island is family-oriented and resembles vacations at the beach from the past.

Panama City and Pensacola Beach get really packed on weekends, and while Destin can get its crowds, Destin Beach spreads out to less developed beach sites.  It is the same great white sands and home-spun fun.


Destin With Its Great White Sand

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