Rent An RV And Camp on Florida’s Best Beaches

My neighbors are planning retirement and going to move from urban Tampa to a more rural county.  This, however, does not mean a total downsize of their activities for they recently purchased an RV and discovered they could less expensively travel the nation and vacation in some cool places.  They also found that you could stay on some of Florida’s best beaches at shocking amounts of savings.

Florida is extremely RV friendly with no special drivers licenses needed.  Many RVs are manufactured here and their used RV lots are as large as the automobile lots.  Besides, you can rent RVs and camping tents from pioneer rustic to family resort size almost anywhere in Florida.  Even if you are looking for a beach and plan to stay at a nearby motel, these are great summer beaches.

Here are my favorite beach-side spots with RV and tent facilities.  Florida’s State Parks had great facilities and lower rates and in many cases better location than commercial campgrounds.  Some have cabin facilities.

Fort Clinch State Park is located at the very northeast tip of Florida looking across the Saint Mary’s River into Georgia.  The park has 32 RV or tent facilities and a historic fort seized by the Union during the Civil War.   The big bonus here is the wonderful Victorian port village of Fernandina Beach with a fun downtown, dozens of notable bed and breakfast sports, and Florida’s oldest saloon (The Palace) and oldest small hotel (The Florida).

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Fort Clinch – Campground is to the right on the bayou

You can rent horses at Amelia Island State Park at mid-island, the only state park where you can ride on the wide and hard Atlantic beach, but if you want another great RV and tent park you need to travel ten miles south to Little Talbot Island State Park with its five miles of beautiful , almost deserted sandy beaches.  The bonus here is the estuarine waters of Myrtle Creek and Simpson Creek, ideal for kayak or canoe.

FLORIDATRAVELER Amelia-Island-DEP

Riding Along Amelia Island Beach

Fifty miles southward is Anastasia State Park, just ten minutes from historic Saint Augustine.  The park has great facilities and a nice, wide Atlantic beach, but the north end is near the Inlet so rough currents are a serious issue if you have small kids.  The bayside, however, is a good boating and kayaking site.

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Anastasia Island Has A WIDE Beach

Where are the best RVing and camping beaches?  The Panhandle has some neat beach spots – perhaps less crowded in winter when the water is colder.

At the extreme western tip of Florida’s beaches is the Fort Pickens Campground on Pensacola Beach next to the fort the Confederacy could never conquer. This is the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The campground has 200 full facility sites and boat access on the Intracoastal Waterway.  Historic Pensacola is a bay boat trip away and the summer is when the restaurants and clubs on Pensacola Beach is most active.

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Fort Pickens Campground – Water On Both Sides

  The Destin area has great beaches.  Topsail Hill Preserve State Park on Santa Rosa Beach has 140 RV sites and 29 cabins, 1,640 acres of nature trails, and access to three miles of very white sandy beaches.  The park is named for a 25-foot sand dune.  Perhaps the state’s best commercial campground is not far away.  Check out the beach-side Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park in Destin .

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Camp Gulf Holiday Park at Destin Beach

If you really want to get away from the tourist traffic and walk on a deserted beach ranked third best in the USA, look up St. George Island State Park. There are 60 campsites here and full facilities.  The Park is on the far east end of the island so the only visitors are staying in the park.

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Follow The Lone Gull to St. George Island Beach

 On the Gulf Coast we in Tampa Bay can’t stop suggesting Fort DeSoto County Park located southwest of downtown Saint Petersburg on a series of islands jutting into the entranceway of Tampa Bay.  Rated one year the best beach in the nation by Mr. Beach, this park has RV sites inches from kayak and boat launch, three large beaches, food facilities, two big fishing piers, and a massive Spanish-American War fortress.

FLORIDATRAVELER fort desoto campground

Having A Water View Is Not An Issue

Although the park is extremely popular with day-trippers, it is so large and the campgrounds so isolated , you will feel you are in a rural campground. The amount of recreational activities and rentals are high since there is the added market of visitor renters.

If scuba and snorkeling are high on your agenda then you need an RV park in the Florida Keys.  There are lots of private RV campgrounds in the Upper and Middle Keys, but two lower cost state parks have great locations.

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Beautiful Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park deserves its national reputation due to its location, kayaking and boating opportunities, and two nice beaches.  With the giant US1 Bridge nearby, you won’t think you are in a wilderness, but you will feel you are staying in a neat beach resort.

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At Long Key State Park You Snorkel Next To Your RV

Lesser known is Long Key State Park with 42 waterside RV hookups.  The beach is not so good but if you kayak or boat, it is a wonderful location.  Where else can you catch your evening meal just minutes away from the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida Hot Weather Is The Time To Kayak A Tree Sheltered River

Most of Florida is in a drought and the temperature is flying over ninety degrees almost everyday.  And it’s only May.  While light coastal winds are making  temperatures a little lower of Florida beaches, it is still hot.

Last weekend I took a trip along Florida’s Nature Coast and stopped for lunch at the Upper Deck restaurant which delightfully overhangs the Weeki Wachee River at the US19A Bridge.  Adjacent is a large kayak rental spot and across the clear cool river is a county park.  The river was packed with kayaks, some canoes, fishing boats, and even some friendly manatees. FLORIDATRAVELER WEEKI WASHEE river

Upper Deck Restaurant on Weeki Washee

I noticed that kayakers who stayed on the sides of the river were in the shade of the riverbank trees.  You’re not only staying away from the motorized craft, but you are in a cooler breeze.   It convinced me that a kayak or canoe ride makes a perfect weekend trip.  Here are some of the top places to kayak.

People in Palm Beach County are fortunate to have the Loxahatchee River, one of Florida’s two Federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers.  The narrow, twisting river is lined with tall cypress trees and thick air plants and ferns which seem to muffle all sound.  Spending several hours along this jungle river so close to huge populations should lower your blood pressure.

 floridatraveler LOXAHATCHEE RIVER

Please note that the kayak trail at nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is great in the cooler months but when you kayak along wet prairies and sawgrass marshes, you are out in the sunny open.  So remember I am talking river not refuge with Loxahatchee.

People in Miami-Dade County have a kayaking treasure in Oleta River State Park, the largest urban park in the United States. You can rent a kayak and even get supplies at the park.  You might want a good park map for Oleta River has numerous inlets and coves filled with lusty mangrove forests.  There is even a 200-foot sandy beach in the middle of the area.

 floridatraveler kayak oleta-river

You Are Actually Minutes From Downtown Miami

There are dozens of good kayaking spots in the Florida Keys, but ocean kayaking is a rougher sport when the lightning season starts. Two kayaking spots where you can hung a coastline of forested inlets and see lots of wildlife are the mangrove trails at  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the shoreline of Big Pine Key.  The latter is the home of the cute and tiny Key deer, but as a refuge the shoreline is swarming with birds and animals.

Central Florida has lots of lakes and coastal islands, but if you want a scenic route along crystal clear waters, you should head to Blue Springs State Park near DeLand.  The kayak and canoe trail passes a huge manatee refuge area along Hontoon Island.  The river heads to the huge St Johns River.  The park has rentals as well as neat swimming and picnic facilities.

 FLORIDATRAVELER kayak Blue-Springs

Kayaks and Manatees At Blue Springs

Tampa Bay is open waters but the area has several neat padding areas.  The Little Manatee River has a great Canoe Outpost that rents boats and has maps.  This river can get very rough if there is a huge storm.  The nine mile Upper Manatee River from Fort Hamer County Park to the Manatee Dam has taller vegetation and less steep banks.

 floridatraveler kayak LITTLE MANATEE

The Little Manatee River Gets Narrow And Quiet

Jacque Cousteau called Ichetucknee Springs “the clearest water in the world” and the crystalline, quite cold river is open year round for kayaking and canoeing.  The Ichetucknee Springs State Park is where all the fun is.  It is often crowded on the weekends when the tubing and swimming crowds pile in.

 floridatraveler kayak ichetuckneesprings2

Rainbow Springs was once a tourist attraction complete with glass bottom boats, but today you can kayak along the clear waters for six miles until it flows into the Withlachoochee River.  The wildlife and the flora along the banks of this protected wilderness area are outstanding.  The park has rentals, picnic areas, and restroom facilities.

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Rainbow Springs: Clear and Cool

Coldwater Creek, outside Milton in the Panhandle, calls itself the “Canoe Capital of Florida” and in the summer it seems everyone owns a canoe or kayak.  The latter can be rented at the Coldwater Recreation Area.  The river has sandy river rock bottoms and dozens of sand bars for swimming dips.  The river is so relaxing with its skyline of ancient pine and hardwood forests you might not realize that at 3 mph this is one of Florida’s fastest rivers. It does require some arm power to go upstream past

Hope these places give you some ideas for a future kayak or canoe trip in Florida.

 

 

 

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Some Things Visitors Don’t Know About Walt Disney World

This will be a booming summer at Walt Disney World for Disney’s Avatar attraction has opened at Animal Kingdom to do battle with the Wizard and Dragon at Universal.   Don’t expect the tradition Fast Pass to work well if you are there for the day for people staying at Disney resorts can reserve attractions sixty days in advance.  You will not be able to avoid giant lines in the Florida sunshine.

This is not a travel guide, but I think people like to read about some unusual and unique WDW items. People who avoid Orlando and Disney will probably use this article as evidence to stay away and people who love WDW like to gobble up every fact they can find. That has become the nature of the giant Mouse and his domain.

My family has been annual pass-holders for years; I’ve been a stockholder and never missed a Florida convention (now they hide meetings in non-park states); and I once even owned a condo on Water Street in Celebration, a town built by the Mouse. At a local pub I once sat down next to the British couple that played Mickey and Minnie for years.  So let me tell you some things even most Floridians don’t know about “the Happiest Place on Earth.”

FLORIDATRAVELER REEDY CREEK

Welcome to Walt Disney World

You don’t read much about legal problems in the media in WDW.  That is because all the land at WDW is under the jurisdiction of the Reedy Creek Improvement District set up by Disney in the 1960’s and given almost complete autonomy by the State of Florida.  State land use regulations do not apply to Reedy Creek which makes its own contracts for police and fire and some other services.  Since they own their own power plant, Reedy Creek gets no electric bill.  The 39 actual residents within WDW are all Disney employees and they have no vote over who supervises Reedy Creek.  WDW indeed operates like a different kind of world compared to the rest of Florida.

WDW may have been built on the shoulders of a mouse, but at night Disney has used a team of feral cats and released them to wipe out the field mice and other nearby rodents.  Disney loves nature as long as they control it so they even have a Federal permit to shoot vultures.  I wonder if vultures would be spared if they land at the Tower of Terror?

floridaytraveler TINKERBELL FLIES

It’s A Bird; it’s a Plane; it’s Tinterbell!

Cinderella’s Castle, Mount Everest, and the Tower of Terror are all just under 200-feet high for another foot higher, they would be required to have airplane warning lights and that would ruin night effects at the attractions.  The Castle is also Florida’s highest zip-line, where every night a five foot 105-pound woman dressed as Tinkerbell flies down a wire at 35 mph onto a Tomorrowland rooftop mattress landing the cast has named “Neverland”.  She carries a backpack to control her illumination and she can turn off the lights if high winds prevent her from reaching her destination.  Unfortunately, modern cell-phones can shoot in the dark and sometimes visitors capture Tink struggling going hand over hand high over the crowds.

There is one thing you won’t find at any Walt Disney World park – gum.  Once Disney had an exclusive with Coke, but I’ll let you figure out the official drink where and when at WDW.

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Most visitors to Main Street in the Magic Kingdom know the names on the second floor windows are the names of notable Disney employees.  But don’t waste your time looking for the name of former Disney President Michael Eisner unless you want to travel to Burbank or Paris.

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The fastest ride at WDW is the Aerosmith Rock and Roll Coaster at Disney Studios at 65 mph.  It was supposed to be the U-2 Coaster but U2 did not want to put their name on the coaster.  Don’t ask me why.

In the competition of great amusement parks, few things are sacred. Old rides and old memories fade away as Disney replaces rides with new attractions.  The entire back lot of Disney Studios is gone as the Star Wars and Pixar areas are built.  Avatar replaced an entire theme section of Animal Kingdom.  There are always protests when a ride vanishes. Even the space-wasting 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride had its supporters.  I still weep when I see the empty Discovery Island.

Perhaps the biggest outcry came when the funky Mr. Toads Ride was replaced by Winnie the Pooh in the Magic Kingdom.  The Toad ride continued in the California park where I guess having a cheating British toad sending riders on a reckless ride to Hell is acceptable children’s fare.  As a lame concession to Floridians, riders at the Winnie the Pooh ride should notice a mural on the wall that shows Toad turning over the deed to the property to Owl, Pooh’s associate.  This good will didn’t last long when Toad fans discovered some nasty Disney employees gave Mr. Toad a  grave stone at the Haunted Mansion.  And it is in the PET Cemetery!

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Toad Gives Up His Empire and …

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Gets Buried In The Back of the PET Cemetery!

Disney not only replaces rides, they replace live characters.  When Disney “canned Push”, a talking trash can in the Tomorrow land section of Magic Kingdom, Push’s supporters launched a big Facebook campaign. Disney people told newspapers that the “canning of Push” was a rumor, but two days later Push was gone.  If you witness any people talking to a WDW trash can, they are not escapees from a mental institution, but Push fans are probably making a little symbolic protest.

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The Fifth Largest Parking Lot In The World

The parking lots at the Magic Kingdom in Florida are larger than the entire Disneyland complex in California with some 500 car spaces to spare.  Yet, here comes the horror show that is not in October.  The Magic Kingdom park closes its gates about six days per year due to overcrowding: usually at Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, July 4, and New Years. Epcot closes only about once a year and Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom about twice per year.  Blizzard Beach is twice more likely to close due to capacity crowds than Typhoon Lagoon.  Disney has a Four Phase plan with Phase One eliminating people with no ticket or one day tickets.  Phase Two prevents one day ticket people from transferring (like by monorail from Epcot).  We have annual tickets and 50% of the time are staying at a hotel and would not be turned back unless there is a Phase 4, a total closure.  Here is a secret to prevent being a park victim: get to the park early for closures usually starting at 11:00 AM.  The park often reopens at 4 PM when people start leaving but that is not a guarantee.  Don’t get mad at Disney because it is so popular: remember some National Parks out West also close their gates during the popular summer season..

 

No one has ever reported a ghost at the Haunted Mansion, but when an imaginer named George was killed during the building of the Pirates of the Caribbean, workers began to see ghostly images.  Today every night the last person to close the attraction says “Goodnight George” as a superstition to prevent the ride from breaking down the next day.

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“George, where are you? George?”

When you ride the Kilimanjaro Safari, which is 3 acres larger than all of the Magic Kingdom, there is an obvious African animal missing from the open plains.  The zebras were removed.  They were banished because they picked fights with other smaller animals and in the morning took out their wrath on ride vehicles. There are zebras at the Animal Kingdom Lodge if you love zebras.  You might also note some eggs on the ground.  They are fake eggs, which calm older birds who sit on them.  Some birds will even lie down on the fake eggs of the other birds.  I guess WDW has a bird psychologist.

 

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Sarasota Is Still The City of The Arts

In 1936 circus magnate John Ringling died.  The man once worth over $200 million dollars had just $311 in his bank account. Yet in his will he gave to the State of Florida Ca’d’Zan, his 1.2 million dollar waterfront mansion, his 21-gallery museum with one of the world’s largest private art collections of Masters, and his gardens and grounds.   He wanted his Florida home town of Sarasota to be a center for the arts.

floridatraveler RINGLING COMPLEX

It took the State of Florida ten years to fight over the estate with Ringling’s many creditors.  The State and Sarasota not only got one of the great art museums of the nation, another legacy was the Ringling College of Art and Design, started in 1931, and rated as the #2 American animation school by Animation Career Review.

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Ringling Gave Sarasota One of the World’s Top Art Collections

If Ringling came back to Sarasota today, he would be very pleased.   The St Armand’s Key shopping center out by Lido Beach is still lined with sculpture as is most of downtown Sarasota.  Main Street is filled with art galleries and bookstores and quality antique shops.

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Everywhere in Sarasota There Is Art

Most of all, few cities the size of Sarasota has the vibrant environment of the arts whether it is theater, art, motion pictures, music, or anything creative.  The waterfront Van Wezel Hall with its purple shade hosts the big traveling shows, but local talent abounds in this community.

The Florida Studio Theatre (1973) in downtown Sarasota isn’t just a stage at 1241 North Palm Avenue, it is a village of theaters – the historic Keating and Gompertz Theatres, the European-style Goldstein and John C. Court Cabarets, and the Bowne’s Lab Theater.  The FST has over 30,000 subscribers, making it the third largest subscription theatre in the United States.

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Florida Studio Theater Lights Up Downtown

FST’s Mainstage Series has produced 33 world premieres and 89 regional premieres.   The Cabaret Series has 40 world premieres to its list.  Stage III hosts the annual Sarasota Improv Festival.  But the most impressive program to me is the “Write A Play” celebration in its 26th year.  School kids across Florida from grades Kindergarten to 12th grade write original plays and the winners get to see them in production.  Over a million Florida children have participated or have seen these plays.

There are enormous turn-outs in Sarasota County for every event in the arts and the town has thus attracted more than its share of artists, writers, actors, and show people.  I remember years ago going with my father, a newspaper editor in nearby Charlotte County, to an arts meeting in downtown Sarasota and seated next to us was mystery writer John D. MacDonald and Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor.

Despite the town’s size, the Sarasota Opera is in its 59th season at the 1926 Edwards Theater (now the Sarasota Opera House).  Also downtown is the Jazz Club of Sarasota which was founded in 1980 by Benny Goodman’s publicist Hal Davis.  The Club runs fifty events every year, including the Annual Sarasota Jazz Festival which attracts visitors from across the globe.

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The Sarasota Opera House

The Ringling complex contains the Asolo Repetory Theatre (Florida’s largest Equity theater) and Florida State University’s MFA Acting Conservatory.  Not only does the center have a huge stage; there is the 1798 original Asolo, Italy, theater, and the 1900 Dunfermline Opera House built right into the complex.  You can say Sarasota’s arts are very international!

The Asolo complex is home to the Sarasota Ballet which produced 141 separate ballets last year, including many original works.

floridatraveler SARASOTA BALLET

The Sarasota Sculpture Center (SSC) sponsors the Sarasota Season of Sculpture where the downtown area of the waterfront has showcased 140 sculptures representing 18 states and 13 foreign countries.  The amazing Embracing Our Differences exhibit, with its 45 giant billboards, attracted  271,000 visitors.

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Asolo Has All Kinds of Historic Theaters

Sarasota has always appreciated all the creative arts.  Sarasota High School operates the Sailor Circus Academy and performs routines that you would expect on a big stage in Las Vegas. Very unique is McCurdy’s Comedy Theater and Humor Institute.  Their Green Room is a traditional comedy club often hosting famous TV comedy acts.  The Politically Correct Comedy, the Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp, and the Kids Komedy Kamp has turned hundreds of locals into comedy performers.

Most reflective of how Sarasota treats the arts as a gathering for all its residents, Les McCurdy started in 2005 Special O’Laughics, a workshop that teaches mentally challenged adults the art of stand-up and sketch comedy.  When it comes to the creative arts, Sarasota is truly a “City of the Arts.”

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Florida’s Unique Ghost Towns Are Not Invisible

It should not surprise Florida visitors that the Sunshine State has over one hundred “ghost towns” – some of them just a note on a map while others reveal the remains of a more prosperous past.

Florida ghost towns all tell a story of hopeful beginnings and sad endings.  Much like the gold ghost towns of the West, Florida has ghost towns when the phosphate ran out.  Other places are the remnants that lost their purpose when the railroad closed or went the other way.  Some towns were lumber camps and when there was no good trees, the town was gone.

And then there are the others whose story deserves at least a mention in an article like this.  Please note that civilization has slowly crept into the backyard of some of these hidden places.

There are some of my favorite Florida ghost towns:

INDIAN KEY

To get to Indian Key, you’ll need to hitch a ride on a boat at MM 78.5 at Robbies Marina on Islamorada or if you are daring rent a kayak to sail to Indian Key State Park and its dock on the Gulf side.  The park ranger will probably meet you to tell you a story of death and destruction as well as how to travel the many trails.

floridatraveler indian key state park aerial view

Indian Key Is A Mysterious Round Speck In The Keys

Indian Key was once the county seat of Dade County.  That was back in 1836 when there was a booming port and village thanks to the notorious Jacob Housman, who made a living as a wrecker gaining the spoils of sinking ships in the Keys.  Some say he lit bonfires to confuse ships going along the Florida Straits.  The island had a hotel, stores, warehouses, and wharves when the Second Seminole War broke out, making the island a dangerous place.

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The Indians Did Not Burn Everything

On August 7, 1840, with the Florida Naval Squadron patrolling elsewhere, a band of Indians attacked Indian Key.  They killed 13 of the town’s 70 residents, including noted naturalist Dr Henry Perrine who was U.S. Consul to Mexico.   The Indians burnt the buildings to the ground, but the State of Florida had maps to show what the ruins and cisterns represent.

KORESHAN UNITY

 I have recruited visitors to this waterside park south of Fort Myers for years for few states have a complete ghost town of a 19th century utopian community: homes, meeting places, stores, and more.   In 1894 Cyrus Reed Teed, “the Great Koresh”, brought his followers to tiny Estero to establish a “New Jerusalem” under his Koreshanity.

floridatraveler koreshan-state-historic the PLANETARY

The Planetary Was A Key Building

I won’t even try to explain the tenets and lifestyles of this group except to say the colony grew into an agricultural village of several hundred by 1920 and declined.  In 1961, the last surviving members donated the eleven neat historic structures and their gardens to the State of Florida.  Since this is both a State Historic Site and a lovely State Park with camping and boating on the Estero River, it is an interesting spot to stay.

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The Home of the Great Karesh

HAMPTON SPRINGS

 If you are near Perry, Florida, in Taylor County, you can see the ruins of what was once one of the great Dixie spa and hotels of the South – the Hampton Springs Spa and Hotel, which finally burnt down in 1954.  The resort, off US98 west of Perry was a popular health spot in the early 1900’s.  Teddy Roosevelt did a few laps in the sulphur swimming pool.

floridatraveler HAMPTON SPRINGS SPA

Today you’ll see the hotel ruins, the swimming pool, the goldfish ponds, and some of the riverfront remains.  Cracker farm houses still dot the vicinity and there is a foot bridge over the river the last time I went.  I believe people want to make the spot a county park.

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A Resort In Ruins

PINE LEVEL

 Located on FL 70 north of Arcadia the town of Pine Level was once the county seat of Manatee County for eighteen months.  Ironically its tiny wood courthouse is sitting in a historic park in East Bradenton.  This was a lawless cowboy town where Saturday night bar fights were too common for the good coastal people.    The cemetery of Pine Level is a beautiful sight and the area still has rustic farmhouses, some in ruins.  The Pine Level Methodist Church stands as the pillar of the remaining community.

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Strange: That Courthouse Is Now 40 Miles Away in Bradenton

SLAVIA

 floridatraveler store in SLAVIA

Photo by Mike Woofin, Mr. Florida Ghost Town Writer

North of Orlando and southwest of Oviedo on FL 426 is Slavia, a good example of the many ethnic groups that came into Florida when the railroads connected the state in the 1880’s to the North.  Unlike Tarpon Springs with its Greeks and Ybor City with cigar-makers from around the world, Slavia remained a small farming village started in 1911 by Lutheran Slovaks from Cleveland.

floridatgraveler st lukes lutheran church 1939-Church-+-Parsonage

St. Lukes Is Still Around But The Center of the Complex

Driving around the area, you will identify stores and street names with Slovak names and the St. Lukes Lutheran Church has grown from a simple brick structure to a huge complex with school facilities.

 

 

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Florida Architecture Is An Attraction In Itself

Not everyone comes to Florida to enjoy the beaches, the sunshine, or such natural attractions as the Everglades and the St Johns River.   People find the diversity of cultures and lifestyles of the Sunshine State an interesting tour.

In this blog, I have written about most of the famous man-made structures of Florida such as Ed Leedskalnin’s mysterious Coral Castle in Homestead, the Underwater Hotel of Key Largo, the spiritualist village of Cassadega, and the utopian colony that existed in Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero.

Here is just a potpourri of buildings that always seem to fascinate or amuse or attract me. This is just a wide range of places you should visit if you’re in that part of Florida.

The award for most entertaining public building goes to the 1940 Church by the Sea in Madeira Beach ar 495 137th Avenue Circle.  The Spanish style church was originally designed with a light to be used as a nautical landmark for boaters in the nearby Gulf.  The light was ineffective and replaced with a large lighted cross.  What the architect never realized the church resembles “Chicken of the Sea” – a humorous cute chicken, as seen from almost every angle.

floridatraveler DUCKY CHURCH BY THE SEA

It is not the Chicken of the Sea Church

Most important symbolic public building is the Opa-Locka City Hall, built in the 1920’s by airplane pioneer Glenn Curtis, who wanted an exotic Middle Eastern look with its onion dome and colorful minarets.  With streets like Sharazad Boulevard (the hall) and Ali Baba Avenue, Curtis had a Land Boom dream for this development.  Today the town is usually cast as a nightmare – in financial straights, a high crime rate slum and blight of poor people.  A few years ago Miami-Dade County stripped the town of funding after money was misused.

floridatraveler OPA LOCKA CITY HALL

But people in Opa-Locka are trying to restore the town with a lot of art projects and new housing and restoration.  Their City Hall reminds them of their origins and dreams.

For my I have to look architecture I choose the remains of Stitsville in Biscayne Bay off Key Biscayne.  There are only seven of the original 27 fishing cabins left of Eddie Walker’s and everytime I am in Miami I have to look to see if the latest storm has cut down the numbers.  For deteriorating structures now owned and left to decay by the National Park Service, they sure are wanted as sites for movies and TV shows.

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One Mile Off the Miami Coast Survivers

My favorite exotic restaurant design is The Bubble Room out on Captiva Island.  Taking and old rustic beach cottage and jamming it with more curios than the Smithsonian has exhibits, the original owners started decorating with classic dolls and toys, but over the years everything nostalgic from old fashioned Christmas items to Hollywood glamour shots has plastered every inch of the building.  If you can stand the pumped in pre-Laurence Welk music, you like the American menu for lunch or dinner.

floridatraveler the bubble room

The Inside Is Actually More Colorful

Most unusual historic building is another interior shocker.  The 1856 Haile Homestead on the plantation called Kanapaha, just outside Gainesville, looks like a classic vernacular structure until you enter the house.  Nearly every wall in the plantation is covered with 12,500 words and selected art works.

floridatraveler HaileHomestead

The Hailes Even Wrote On Their Own Photographs

This is not graffiti drawn by some wild street gang that broke into the building.  The words were written for decades by Thomas Evans and Serena Chesnut Haile and their fifteen children and it’s a strange family album of life in agrarian Florida.  The house is now a historical site so the private wall writing is now sponsored by the State of Florida.

Florida’s most beautiful house reflects by bias as a historian.  I have never found a home new or old, big or small, that matches James Deering’s 1916 Viscaya mansion.  The gardens resembles a walk on a regal Tuscany estate until you are confronted with the tropics of Biscayne Bay.  I saw a manatee cruising along the Renaissance boat dock.

FLORIDATRAVELER vizcaya

The Pride of the Coconut Grove

Every one of the 34 rooms open to the public is a magnificent showcase of exquisite taste in furniture and decoration.  Regardless of your architectural taste, you will be impressed. It is not shocking that I discovered it was voted the most beautiful building in Florida by the website Thrillist.com.

 My most impressive museum is the modernistic Tampa Museum of Art by Stanley Saitowitz.   Sitting on the Hillsborough River across from the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa), the structure has glass and panels that reflect different views from every angle of the building, from the riverfront to the rising skyline of downtown Tampa.  At night the museum is a panorama of changing colors.

floridatraveler TAMPA ART MUSEUM

I will admit the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg with its DNA helical staircase has the most exciting interior.  The glass enigma of 900 glass triangles looking like two giant space craft eggs crashing into the building would make Dali proud.

Polk County seems to have the monopoly on education with  the most impressive college campus.  Small private schools like Rollins and Stetson have more attractive campus designs than the gigantic cities formed by Florida’s big universities.  Lakeland’s Florida Southern University campus contains the Child of Sun collection, the largest gathering of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world.

floridatraveler florida southern

My favorite building remains the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.  After Wright’s death, his protégée Nils Schweizer added six more buildings including the Library to Wright’s ten original buildings.

Ten miles east on I-4 is my most impressive education building – the Innovation, Science, and Technology building of the new Florida Polytechnic University.  From the distance it looks like a multi-armed robotic armadillo or space ship.  The view will change for the roof and walls move.  You have to walk into the structure to really appreciate its design.

floridatraveler FLA POLY TECH UNIV

If you want to talk about modern architecture, you have to visit Miami, whose booming skyline is the third tallest in the United States.  I will confess I agree with those who state that the view has become in places a condo cluster of curved edifices with little concession to nearby structures.

Still I love seeing the twenty story Atlantis condo with its five story square hole down the middle.  Made famous by shows like Miami Vice, the Atlantis triggered a global list of buildings with empty spaces.  Actually if you have binoculars, you’ll see the square palm court contains a Jacuzzi and a red spiral staircase.

floridatraveler THE ATLANTIS holy condo

My favorite skyscraper is the second tallest building in Florida.  The789-foot Four Seasons Hotel and Tower goes up 64 smooth looking floors of steel. concrete, and glass.  A bank and offices are located on the first six floors, the 221 room hotel is on floors 7 to 36, and the 84 luxury condos do the upper floors.   The southeast side is the most photographed angle.

floridatraveler Four_Seasons_Miami_complete_20100206

All this makes me want to take a trip around Florida.

Posted in attractions, environment, florida history, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, mcbobleonard, museums, travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Fish With A View: My Best Seaside Seafood Restaurants In Florida

Vacationers in Florida are shocked that some areas of Florida are thin on quality seafood restaurants and even disturbed when people start recommending chain restaurants available back home.  Despite a coastline of 1300 miles, seafood is not inexpensive in Florida.

So here are our favorite seafood restaurants with an island location or sea view or at least some water to see, for we feel that people come to Florida to eat seafood with a location better than a parking lot.  That location may mean jacked up prices, but even in Florida the rising cost of seafood is why you see so many Floridians on bridges and piers and boats with a rod in their hand.

I admit Joe’s Stone Crab isn’t on the waterfront at Miami Beach, but I would be expelled from the Florida writing fraternity to not mention the most profitable family owned seafood place in the nation.  Even more shocking it closes down when the crabs are out of season.  This is an institution not a restaurant.

floridatravelerJOES STONE CRAB

The Most Profitable Private Restaurant In The Land

Another seafood institution is Jacksonville Beach’s Marker 32.  Since 1992 diners have come for the creative seafood dishes as well as a second floor dining-room panorama of a sunset over the intracoastal waterway.  Don’t be stunned when you see trigger fish with grits – there are all the Florida favorites on the extensive menu.

floridatraveler jacksonville-marker-32-intracoastal-sunset-

The Sun Goes Down At Marker 32

The Florida Keys are loaded with good seafood places and the competition is fierce. You can’t complain about Key West’s Sunset Pier at the very end of DuVal Street at the fancy Ocean Key Resort and Spa.  The big rating booster for me is the moderate prices for both lunch and dinner at this prime spot.  And the seafood is wonderful.

floridatraveler sunset-pier-at-ocean

At The Southern Tip of Florida: Seafood

In tribute to the dozens of fine family seafood places in the Keys, I select The Fish House in Key Largo.  An institution in the Northern Keys since 1982, it has all the ingredients you expect – it has its own fish market filled with grouper and yellowtails, tacky lighting and decorations all over the outdoor patio and inside plus photographs of famous TV chefs who came here.  The delicious dishes won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

floridatraveler the fish house

Nautical Casual Is A Key Largo Theme

Here in Tampa, we have no ocean, but Oystercatchers in the Grand Hyatt on the Clearwater Causeway gives you a nice waterfront sunset and a choice of weekend buffet, lunch or dinner.  As a hotel restaurant it is expensive but you pay for Grouper Saltimbocca or Lobster Mac and Cheese and other dishes.

floridatravler osytercatchers has a sunday buffet

Oystercatchers Has A Big Sunday Buffet

The Maritana Grille at the majestic and historic pink palace known as the Don Cesar on St Petersburg Beach is in an Oceanside resort on the Gulf of Mexico, but the owners clearly want you to enjoy the seafood over the view.  The price is very heavy here and it is also strong in meat entries but the iron griddled fish items and pan seared sous vide boost the seafood choices into orbit.  When it comes to special occasions, this Grille is a favorite of both locals and visitors.

floridatraveler maritana at don cesar

The Pink Palace At Night: the Don Cesar

Florida’s Panhandle always get short-changed in national publications, but this is home to many of Florida’s most popular seafood spots.  Trebeache on Santa Rosa Beach on Highway 30A is deserving of its popular status for its potato wrapper grouper and all its oyster offerings straight from the nearby waters of Apalachicola.

florida traveler trebeache

Trebeache at Santa Rosa Beach

Pensacola and Pensacola Beach is a port and fishing area and there are so many good seafood places it was not easy picking one.  The problem I had is that most are across the highway from the water and I want an outdoor table where I can smell the salt water breeze.  Red Fish Blue Fish is a wildly designed lunch and dinner spot with huge portions of seafood at modest prices.  It isn’t fancy, but this is the vacation culture of the Panhandle.

floridatraveler red fish blue fish

Red Fish Blue Fish Sunset

The most exciting and beautiful waterfront seafood restaurant I have seen in recent years is the popular 15th Street Fisheries at the Lauderdale Marina.  At night when fancy yachts arrive, the place comes alive.  You can dine on the docks or take a window seat on the second floor.  The prices are quite fair for high priced Fort Lauderdale and the food and service are very good.

floridatraveler 15th st fort lauderdale

15th Street Fisheries: Urban Waterfront

Posted in attractions, business, dining, environment, Florida Food, florida history, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, mcbobleonard, Restaurants, travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment