LOW KEY FLORIDA SUMMER BEACH VACATIONS

There are no longer slow and busy tourist seasons for the entire State of Florida.  Each of the four quarters gets about one-quarter of the tourist trade.

But the visitors destinations and mode of transportation vary.  Right now Southeast Florida and the Keys have less visitors and offers a bargain for big city vacationing. This is the big vacation time for the Panhandle and Northeast Florida. The kids are out of school and Orlando is packed.  The summer visitors come more by automobile, are more likely full families, and spend less money per person per day.

But don’t expect Florida’s overcrowded highways to be less jam-packed. Besides having the third most populated state and less room to house the crowds than California and Texas, Floridians themselves are on the road for their vacations.  In recent years, more and more Floridians are staying at Florida beaches rather than heading to the mountains.

If you are looking for some places than are less crowded and yet close enough to visit popular attraction, here are some of my favorite hideaways.

Palm Island Resort, Englewood

 FLORIDATRAVELER PALM ISLAND MAP

The Northside of a private island is all your vacation spot.

Want to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico but want real privacy?  Palm Island Resort,south of Englewood and Sarasota, is an island which you reach only by resort boat and then use bicycles and golf carts for local travel.  There are beach villas, dockside bay villas, condo-style cottages, even private rental homes for rent.

FLORIDATRAVELER palm island resort sirview

Lots of places to fish, boat, kayak, or do nothing.

A concierge can set you up for fishing, boating, kayaking, and more. There seems to be pools all over the resort.  In the summer, you might find the beaches nearly empty. Yet it is an easy drive to attractions in Fort Myers or Sarasota.

Flagler Beach

FLORIDATRAVELER Flagler-Beach

If you like to visit Saint Augustine with all its history and Dayton Beach with all its action, you could rent a cottage or a room in a beachside bed and breakfast in Flagler Beach, an old Florida hamlet between the two popular destinations.  Tiny Flagler has produced as many famous surfers as Cocoa Beach and yes, it has a rustic pier.

FLORIDATRAVELER FLAGLER BEACH restaurant

Restauranting in Flagler Beach Is Dog Friendly

Most of the fancy hotels are fifteen minutes away in booming Palm Coast, but the beach has a Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Hampton.  I hope Flagler County limits growth in this gem of a community. Everything is small town beach here: Beach Belly Bob’s, Turtle Shack Café, Flagler Beachfront Winery.

Lauderdale By The Sea

 Hotel prices are definitely lower along the beach towns of Florida’s Gold Coast but even in summer there is little laid back in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach.  Between the latter two cities is a favorite place of mine: Lauderdale-by-the Sea. It is within thirty minutes of all the attractions of Broward County, but once you park your automobile, you feel a small town vibe.

FLORIDATRAVELER LUADERDALE BY THE SEA

You Can Walk To Everything from Shops to Beach to Clubs

The beachside hotels and rental condos are smaller and mainly family owned in this community.   The entire waterfront area is neatly condensed so you can walk to the fishing pier, the beachside nightspots, and shop along most of main street.

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My Annual Walt Disney World Restaurant Awards

The summer family vacation season is soon arriving and that means the largest percentages of newcomers to Walt Disney World.  Most writers like to give awards at the end of the year but in the Florida food game a lot of new restaurants open near the end of the year to capture the bigger paying winter crowds.

I divide up the restaurants into arenas since some visitors just visit certain theme parks while others spend more time indoors shopping at Disney Springs.  And things do change in the Disney restaurant business.

Magic Kingdom

 I’m afraid the best news at the Kingdom is the number of restaurants serving beer, wine and a so-called specialty cocktail is up to seven as Crystal Palace and the Plaza Restaurant join the drink crowd.  Unfortunately, MK is still the land of fast food and mixed reviews.

floridatraveler LIBERTY TREE TAVERN

Seems wierd to pick Thanksgiving diner as the best MK place.

Despite its wonderful atmosphere, particularly at dinner, the MK’s “must-see” Be Our Guest” slides down my list to third. Its food is up and down.  Liberty Tree Tavern with its traditional American menu and calming atmosphere has the food and service that wins the day.  Moving into second for being dangerously original with their menu items is the relatively new and often missed Skipper Canteen (Jungle Navigation Company) tucked away in Adventureland.

Epcot

 The sensational Space Restaurant will be built between Test Track and the Space Travel pavilion and will be the an amazing dining experience even if the food isn’t “out of this world.”  Unfortunately Disney has no time table for the place.

floridatraveler MONSIEUR PAUL

Enter and Go Upstairs To Epcot’s Top Restaurant

Epcot is the food place for adults with at least eight restaurants surpassing anything at MK.  The finest restaurant but also one of the most expensive is Monsieur Paul in the totally renovating second floor of the Paris pavilion.  Believe me when I say casual clothing is acceptable.  If you have a bunch of kids and less of a budget I pick Via Napoli Ristorante with the pizza over the Italian dishes.

Hollywood Studios

 The new restaurants at Toy Story coming this summer will be appreciated mainly by small kids.  Hollywood Brown Derby has no real competition at HS until the Star Wars restaurants open.   If you don’t like their prices, see what good food items are being served at their outdoor lounge and grill.   If you have kids the 50’s Prime Time Café has a fun atmosphere and service, but you’ll pay prime prices for typical home foods.

floridatraveler HOLLYWOOD BROWN DERBY

No Reservations at Brown Derby?  Try the patio.

Animal Kingdom

 Here is a park where some of the fast food services score higher than the restaurants. The Satu’ki Canteen in Pandora at Avatar has the wildest and healthiest menu at the parks. Your kids will go ape (sorry about that pun) over the cheeseburger pods. The delightful Flame Tree BBQ scores second if you can find a cool spot under the trees by the river.

floridatraveler SATULI CANTEEN

It is Another Planet to See a WDW Menu Like This One…

I give a special third place to Tusker House, for a creative buffet and a character meal that is casual and as much fun for adults as it is the kids.

Restaurant in a Disney Hotel

 The big chef news the past few years is the fact that California Grill, with its wonderful Magic Kingdom fireworks views, stole the head chef from Jiko at Animal Kingdom. That is like the Red Sox losing their star player to the Yankees.  Now the food at CG is making diners forget to look up from their plates.

floridatraveler CALIFORNIA GRILL fireworks

California Grill Has The View, The Chef, and the Food.

Animal Kingdom still can’t complain.  They still have the top lineup of food spots on Disney property with Boma the best buffet at WDW.  If you have an automobile, it is worth visiting AK, the best theme resort at WDW with four good food choices.  I also give high marks for Ohana at the Polynesian and Narcoossee‘s at the Grand Floridian.

Restaurant in a Non-Disney Hotel on Disney Property

 My wife and I often stay at the Dolphin for all the Starwoods points and a deluxe room for less than Disney’s luxury resorts.  You can take a quick boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The best restaurant food, however, is over at its partner the Swan at El Mulino New York Trattoria.

floridatraveler IL MULINO at swan

A Good Choice For A Quiet Evening For A Couple

Disney Springs

 The lineup of restaurants at Disney Springs is so excellent it should be embarrassing to park guests without good transportation to this gigantic mall.  Homecomin’ gets my vote for the best food, even though it is a Florida-oriented menu.  Morimoto and The Boathouse score more for atmosphere than food, but both are fun spots.  If the breeze is on the lake, outdoor dining at the later is enjoyable.

floridatraveler HOMECOMIN stuff the kids will eat

Homecomin’ Has The Menu For the Kids and the Adults

Disney Springs has upped the entertainment value with the new Edison, although the food is not my taste.  If you have older kids Raglan Road has the menu and the fun evening atmosphere.

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Restaurants That Really Represent The Best of Florida

One of the favorite pasttimes of both Florida residents and visitors is going out to a restaurant.  Rather than visit the chain spots – many of which got their start inb the Sunshine State – I suggest looking for places that reflect Florida in menu and style.

Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – Disney Springs, Orlando

 North Florida native Art Smith and national cooking celebrity has teamed up with Walt Disney to create a down home Florida restaurant featuring classic Florida style Southern cooking.  Everything in the building is from Florida – the wooden structure, the decorations, and the menu.  It looks like a fish camp building landed in the middle of the Disney empire.

FLORIDATRAVELER Chef-Arts-Home Comin

You better get reservations for this restaurant, for it not only is booming in popularity with tourists, a lot of Orange County locals choose this outing whenever people visit.  Don’t be shocked if Art Smith, a television chef, shows up at your table, for he takes his reputation very seriously and spends time in his nameplace.

 The menu adds and subtracts neat specials but the fried chicken, sugar doughnuts, Florida grouper, and shrimp and grits never leave the selections, nor does the church lady deviled eggs and thigh high chicken biscuits.  Don’t start your diet until AFTER you eat here.   Remember that Florida country farmers burn a lot more calories than we city-slickers.

 Ulele Restaurant – Tampa Heights

You can take a water taxi up the Hillsborough River from some downtown Tampa hotels or the Straz Center or Convention Center to a restaurant that features very unique approaches to Florida food.   The restaurant is next to the Old Tampa Water Works and is part of the growing Riverwalk from downtown.

FLORIDATRAVELER ulele

Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation member of the Ybor City family that owns the oldest and largest Florida restaurant The Columbia, was inspired by Florida history and dishes.  I love the seafood traditionals like Gouda Grouper and Florida Pompano, but you can try the Crab Mac N Cheese and the Alligator Hash Puppies.

FLORIDATRAVELER ulele 2

The Ulele Indian princess statue at the entrance reminds you this is a Florida based menu with some additions from around the world.  Just think something as basic as ice cream for desert and when you see Valrhona Chocolate and Uganda Vanilla Bean tell you everything on the menu is special.

The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle – DeLeon Springs State Park

 DeLeon Springs State Park north of Orlando is a great family outing for boating and swimming and exploring the wildlife of Central Florida.  It is also a neat place to have a late breakfast or bunch.  It was a restaurant in the replica of one of Florida’s old Spanish mills.

FLORIDATRAVELER old sp mill food

This is not a traditional restaurant.  Each table has a huge griddle n the center and you can make all the pancakes you want.  Throw in some Florida strawberries or blueberries and add some bacon and ham.  Try some Florida orange juice before attacking the river waterland outside the restaurant.

More state parks should add a breakfast place or two.

PLNTHOUSE – Miami Beach

 I may be accused of being a transplanted Yankee historian who loves old seafood places so I decided to include a good example of the new international, urban Florida.  Here is a crisp oceanfront vegan café open for breakfast and lunch and a large bar right in the heart of the Miami Beach action at 2341 Collins Avenue.   Filled with plants and clean in its design.

FLORIDATRAVELER PLNTHOUSE miami beach

Planthouse is the creation of noted plant-based author and chef Mathew Kenny. The menu has a huge list of wraps and salads and items like green herb tacos and beet and mushroom burgers and hearts of palm salad.

Just The Cook Off the Hook – Panama City

When you talk about going out to eat in Florida waterfront restaurants serving Florida seafood is a good possibility.  Not many people would expect the seafood and burger spot to look like Panhandle restaurant Just The Cook – it is a small floating boat in a crowded yacht basin.

FLORIDATRAVELER Just The Cook panama city restaurant1

FLORIDATRAVELER Just the Cook 2 panama city

There is barely enough room for a table in the restaurant so most people elect to take their food to their boat rather than use the picnic tables on the far-side of the dock.  The fact that this tiny place has all the needed ingredients to be successful – online food reviews and photographs of food selection, this is a neat spot that fits the Florida lifestyle as the fancy sit-down spots.

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Gone Florida Attractions: Miss Them or Did They Suck?

As a historian I have a great appreciation of the story and evolution of Florida tourist attractions.  Since I was a small child, my family’s annual visits to the Sunshine State brought memories of experiences at Florida attractions – some still operating, some revised (such as some of Cypress Gardens was incorporated into Legoland), and some closed forever.

You might not agree with all my comments but here is a look at some of the Florida attractions of the past and my feelings about them.  Do I miss their simplicity and naturalness or am I just thankful they closed down?

Miss Them or Were They Embarrassing (they suck)?

The Circus Hall of Fame – Sarasota

 When we flew into Tampa International years ago, seeing The Circus Hall of Fame on US41 north of the Ringling Complex was a sign we were really in Southwest Florida.  You might wonder why I listed this attraction since a Ringling Circus collection is now located inside the wonderful Ringling complex.

FLORIDATRAVELER Circus Hall of Fame poster

With no Ringling Circus This Attraction Would Mean More Today

The fact is this attraction closed in 1979 and most of that collection is now part of the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana.  But most importantly the old attraction had something not seen in the new museum – it had a performance tent where kids could see live circus acts up close.  I recall shaking hands with clowns and animal trainers.  Choice: I miss this attraction.

Floridaland – Venice (Osprey)

 Since my father was a newspaper editor twenty miles to the South, I was there on opening day in 1964.  This was the theme park that tried to do everything that they thought Florida visitors wanted to see, but without the budget and originality to merit return traffic.  My mother even trained the high school can-can girls.  There was a Western ghost town with shootouts (copying an Ocala attraction also now gone) and dolphins that didn’t pass muster at Sea World.

FLORIDATRAVELER Floridaland venice poster

If This Map Looks Like A Mess of Nothingness, You Are Right

A trackless train (a tram) took you around gardens of unnaturally planted tropical trees.  There was a second rate water-ski show.  When Walt Disney World was announced, it was clear even to local people Floridaland was doomed.  Choice: it sucked as an attraction that felt artificial and commercial.

The Black Hills Passion Play – Lake Wales

 In 1953 Josef Meier brought his South Dakota summer spectacular, panoramic stage show to US27.  If you had good seats it was an amazing show, particularly at night, with its dozens and dozens of volunteer town-folk recreating Biblical history.

0000 LAKE WALES PASSION PLAY

School and church groups bussed in hundreds of people from miles around.  The problem was it was very costly and time consuming to produce such a nightly winter attraction competing for tourist dollars.  Clearly, you only went once a year to see this event.  It closed in 1998 and in 2004 Hurricane Charlie leveled the facility. Choice: I miss it for it was a live entertainment not duplicated even by Disney.

Fake African Attractions – all over

 The Florida tourist industry has always had people who tried to associate tropical Florida with Africa. Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens and West Palm Beach’s Animal Kingdom show that it can be done – if the emphasis is on showing real African animals being animals.  Disney brings in real people from Africa to perform music and cultural events.

FLORIDATRAVELER Africa-USA zulu postcard

What’s next?  Get some Kangaroos and have Australia-USA?

Attractions like Africa-USA in Boca Raton and Clyde Beatty’s Jungleland in North Miami were around when my family vacationed. They featured African villages were obvious props and basketball players were dressed up as Zulus. The animals were in poor zoo-like surroundings. One park had tigers in Africa!  Choice:  They suck for they insult both tourists and Africa.

Splendid China – Kissimmee

 Built just minutes from the West Entrance to Walt Disney World in 1997, the 76 acre Splendid China had an amazing recreation of famous buildings of China. Photographers loved using their telephotos to make amazingly realistic views of China.

FLORIDATRAVELER Splendid china

The Last Days of Splendid China: Giant Americans

The attraction was from the start a big mistake.  Americans love interactive places and looking at Chinese structures for two hours is a very limited market when you have Disney and Universal as competitors.  The attraction was politically incorrect for it had buildings in Tibet, which China invaded and seized.

The Florida sun barbecued the buildings and on some days you come make an entire fake movie with Chinese sets without having a tourist accidentally enter your shot.  Choice:  I miss it but I know it was the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Atomic Tunnel – Daytona Beach

 The worst attraction I saw as a kid was The Atomic Tunnel off US1 in touristy Daytona Beach.  Inside an ill-fated 1950’s bomb shelter, one W. R. Johnson planted tropical gardens, purchased the usual parrots and toucans, and got some small mice to “dance” to loud music and some piranhas to bite pieces of bloody meat.

FLORIDATRAVELER HAPPY THE WALKING FISH ads

Cute Ads Did Not Tell the True Tale of Happy – Or Is It Tail?

Most of us tourists got sucked to the site by half-off coupons distributed across Northeast Florida and delightful billboards advertising the star of the attraction – Happy the Walking Fish.

Happy was not happy.  Happy was a small walking catfish, something Northerners probably found incredibly exotic.  To get Happy to walk along a blue ramp, however, it required the “trainer” to stick a pencil up the fish’s ass every six inches.  This was disgusting and scary to kids.  Choice: It sucked that this attraction lasted more than one year.

The Worst Attraction in Florida History

 I never visited this site not only because it was closed before my arrival. I would not want to see it.  In the 1930’s Brooksville turpentine camp owner Pearce Lewis was forced to sell his business.  In perhaps a thought of complete ignorance and lack of sensitivity he came up with an idea to keep his camp and get employment for his workers, almost all African-Americans.

FLORIDATRAVELER the lewis plantation postcard

There is Even Tourist Cars In This Postcard

He would turn his place into an antebellum plantation and unlike real historic Southern places, have the local African-Americans act like they were slaves. They would do the farming activities they normally did, of course, but also give hayrides around the fields and operate the Plantation Kitchen so Northerners could enjoy real antebellum cooking.

floridatraveler LEWIS PLANTATION kitchen for tourists

Lewis Plantation closed before the modern civil rights era.  Photographs do reveal Northern visitors did stop to eat and buy “pine perfume” and even stay in rundown cabins where turpentiners actually lived.  Choice:  Even if there was an attempt to show rural life in the 1880’s it would suck for its bad taste.

If you are a longtime Florida resident, snowbird, or tourist I bet you can think of other long-gone Florida attractions.  You probably miss some and others you are glad they are not around today.

 

 

 

What old attractions would you add to this list and do you remember them foldly or not?

 

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Off The Interstate: US 17 Along the St. Johns River

Florida is the cruise capital of the world today and the three largest cruise companies are headquartered in Southeast Florida.   Even one hundred seventy years ago, taking a Florida cruise was a major part of Florida’s first tourist industry.

Only the cruise-ships were multi-decked riverboats and they never left Florida, but instead started in Jacksonville where visitors left their large ocean going steamboats or railroad cars for the riverboats of Florida.

Floridatraveler city of jax 1909 deBary Merchant Line 160 by 32 459 tons

1909 postcard of a fine DeBary Riverboat On the St. Johns River

The cruises went down the St Johns River (like the Nile a north flowing stream) and headed to quaint little tropical port cities.   The extreme adventurer traded ships and took the Oklawaha River near San Mateo for a jungle cruise finally to the Silver River and famous Silver Springs now in Ocala National Forest.

FLORIDATRAVELER astatula on Ocklawaha to Silver River

You can’t duplicate this cruise today unless you rent a motorboat or houseboat on the St. Johns, but you can travel southward on US17 and see more of the Old Florida than taking I-95 closer to the Atlantic Ocean.

DIRECTIONS:   Exit I-295 south of Jacksonville just before to cross the wide St. Johns River and head southward on US17/FL15 on the western shore of the river.

ADDED ATTRACTION:  If you are a real history buff or love Victorian houses, you can cross I-295 on the St. Johns and exit immediately by Scott Mill Road and travel along the eastern riverbank to the small town of Mandarin.  The village is filled with old houses. Unfortunately the home and church built by Harriet Beecher Stowe are just markers today, but the Mandarin Social Center is in the rebuilt church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 1872 Madarin School Is A Community Center Now

Imagine Mrs. Stowe hanging out her wash in her backyard when a riverboat floats cross-by so the visitors may wave at the author of Uncle Toms Cabin. On one of those cruises, Robert E. Lee was on the top deck waving at her.

Back on the west banks, going south on US17 you’ll pass Hiberia, an old plantation town with the 1878 St. Margarets Episcopal Church at Fleming Island.   The waterfront park at Green Cove Springs no longer hosts riverboats but the 1880 River Park Inn (http:www.rioverparkinn.com) continues the history of the town.

FLORIDATRAVELERriverpark b&b greencove sps railroad-and-history

RR History Next to the River Park Inn

Palatka is a large port town, where US17 crosses over to the east side of the river.  Whenever I drive here I like to lunch at Florida’s oldest diner, Angel’s Dining Car, and visit Ravine Gardens State Park on the south-side.  If you think all of Florida is flat, you’ll be shocked at the hilly terrain, the wooden bridges over ravines, and the vegetation.  This is the home of the Florida Azalea Festival.

Suspension Bridge at Ravine Gardens, Palatka

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka

In the days of the riverboats, small boats sailed westward on the Ocklawaha River to Silver River and what is now Silver Springs State Park in Ocala National Forest.  The ill-fated attempt to build a Cross-Florida Barge Canal here ended to Rodman Dam.

The next key port town is De Leon SpringsBeautiful De Leon Springs, off CR 3,  is worth a stop for nature lovers.  It is a great place to see manatees in the cold months and even black bears in the mating season.

A few miles south is the large city of DeLand, home to the lovely campus of Stetson University,  You won’t miss the campus off US17 or the DeLand Museum or the DeLand House, but if you want to see wonderful preservation drive around the downtown district.

FLORIDATRAVELER deland theatre athens theatre

DeLand Is Filled With Neat Structures

South of DeLand, US 17 gets busy as it reaches the tourist packed Interstate 4 at Exit 104.  Before that take a short visit to the 1871 DeBary Mansion, the home to wine baron Frederick de Bary.  He hosted U.S. Grant, the Vanderbilts, and even the Prince of Wales here in the days of the riverboats.

FLORIDA TRAVELER DeBary_Hall1

Beautiful DeBary Hall Hosts The Famous

Most people will go west to Walt Disney World or East to Daytona, but Sanford on Lake Monroe was the last riverboat stop for the big ships.

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My Favorite Florida Movie Locations

Just the other week the Academy Award show was on, but I don’t watch it since my wife and I no longer go to the flicks.  We’ll wait until the shows appear on regular television, which probably means there are some films that I won’t see unless I check them out of the library.  Like most large city library systems, they now are the new Blockbuster (a former Florida enterprise).

I thought it might be fun to make my own film awards of a somewhat historical nature –just honoring films made in Florida that reflected some aspect of Florida culture and society.

The Bob Leonard Landmark Award – Norman Studios

 When people vacation in Los Angeles, if they like movies, they have to go see the famous Hollywood sign.  Actually it started as the real estate ad “Hollywoodland” in 1923.  Very few people visit Florida’s film site – the 1916 Norman Studio (built for Eagle Films).  From 1908 to 1922 Jacksonville was home to 30 silent film studios, making the Florida town the original film center of America.

FLORIDATRAVELER NORMAN PRODUCTIONS

Now a silent film museum, Norman Studio is doubly distinctive for it produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts.  Whenever my wife and I go into our local Longhorn restaurant, there on the wall is a picture of Bill Pickett, the first African-American movie star and a Norman Studio actor from Oklahoma.

FLORIDATRAVELER BILL PICKETT

The Bob Leonard Personal Movie Site Award – The Colonnade Hotel – Coral Gables

 In the 1930’s the film industry clashed with California over taxes and as a negotiation ploy opened several studios elsewhere.  Columbia Pictures operated the Colonnade Studios on Miracle Mile in downtown Coral Gables.

FLORIDATRAVELKER nona at Colonnade

My Mother Outside Colonnade Studios

They produced some B-movies of fantasy and music.  My mother and my uncle (Cal and Nona Kay) were contracted by British Empire films, but were allowed to make two films at the Colonnade, the only movies my mother made in the United States.  Decades later as a student at the University of Miami, the building housed my bank.   Today it is the front half and lobby of the huge Hotel Colonnade.

Best Places Nicely Shown in a Movie (tie)

 Cocoon – downtown Saint Petersburg:  every-time I drive past the old Coliseum Ballroom at 535 4th Avenue in Saint Petersburg, I visualize Don Amache dancing his way to an Academy Award.   Ron Howard’s strange mixture of wishful senior citizens and space aliens captured the large retirement community and their lives.

FLORIDATRAVELER coliseum ballroom at xmas

While the city has tried for decades to erase its image as a old folks place, most locals loved seeing the world’s largest shuffleboard courts, Mirror Lake, and even the Sunny Shores Rest Home.  The green benches are long gone but this film needed no green screen to show the town.

Doc Hollywood – Micanopy:  Small town Florida is rarely the focus of modern movies, but Floridians quickly recognized Michael J. Fox was not in a town in North Carolina but it one of the Sunshine State’s oldest towns.  Micanopy is located south of Gainesville in North Central Florida. The incredibly rustic town center, the old stores, and the friendly people are worth a real life visit.

FLORIDATRAVELER doc hollywood on set

The Truman Show – Seaside:  The modern super-designed beachside of Seaside along the Gulf of Mexico in the Panhandle was the perfect for this movie featuring Jim Carney as the first global TV-test tube creation living in imaginary town located inside a giant dome.  Seaside is a real village, but can certainly give you the feeling you are in some sort of movie set.

If you are driving in the Panama City/Destin area, Seaside is a nice spot to stop for lunch and visit the unique shops.  If you seem to recognize people from the film, it is not your imagination – half the town’s population served as very realistic residents of the movie community.

Best Florida Building Featured in Movies  – the Fontainebleau

 Before there was the rebirth of South Beach, there was the Hotel Fontainebleau, the glamorous resort that helped make Miami a vacation destination in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Films played a major part in creating this image.

FLORIDATRAVELER James Bond at hotel

I Wonder How Much This Hotel Costs?

It was at the Fontainbleau that Sea Connery (James Bond) tilted with Gert “Goldfinger” Frobe over crooked card games and fatal body-paint.  Jerry Lewis was at his best as a bellhop at the hotel, while Al Picino partied here as a mobster.  Kevin Costner tried to bodyguard Whitney Houston.   I spent my first married night at the Fontainebleau.

Best Scenic Florida Feature in Movies – Seven Mile Bridge

 Outside of Miami Beach and Cape Kennedy, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and its Seven Mile Bridge is the most utilized film location in the Sunshine State.  The long bridge never looked better than in True Lies as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a helicopter tried to rescue Jamie Lee Curtis in an automobile speeding to a blown up section of bridge.   I can vouch the bridge is completely whole.

FLORIDATRAVELER Jamie-Lee-Curtis-True-Lies

Best Usage of  Florida Water – Creature of the Black Lagoon

 Making a movie in Florida always features palm trees, blue skies, and lots of water.  As a kid I was thrilled at the underwater scenes taken at Wakulla Springs off FL 267, south of Tallahassee, in the horror film where Julie Adams faces the monster.  Florida’s clear springs soon became a major feature not just in dozens of films, but in my childhood TV shows like Sea Hunt and Flipper.

FLORIDATRAVELER creature of black lagoon

Of course, sometimes overuse of a good thing may be misused by a producer, like in one of those Airport disaster films when the huge commercial airplane lands in the Atlantic Ocean and its passengers have to be rescued by scuba divers.  The underwater scene lost much of its appeal when Floridians noticed the airplane was surrounded by freshwater fish.

 

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Spring Has Sprung in Flowery Florida

While my native New England is getting blasted by another terrible nor’easter and my old summer spot in Brant Rock (Massachusetts) has been flooded so many times this winter the Esplanade is starting to look like Venice (Italy), Florida is having nice spring weather.  That does, unfortunately, mean more pollen than usual, but I can live with that versus a blizzard.

Walt Disney World is having their 20th Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and the horticulture is better than ever.  WDW has more gardeners than any other place on this planet and this is their way to show the public they deserve all their acclaim.   Florida’s tropical atmosphere including fauna and flora have been a major attractions to visitors since the 1870’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER Epcot flower show

Epcot Is The Big Adult Theme Park

Here are some of my most favorite Florida botanical gardens and natural settings:

 Alfred B. Maclay Gardens   Tallahassee

As a student at Florida State University I joined the bikers and hikers and even swimmers on a short pilgrimage here to eye the amazing collection of azaleas and camellias, perhaps the best in Florida.  The gardens have a true Old South feel to them. January to April is the blooming season and there is a six dollar cover charge.

FLORIDATRAVELER Alfred-B-MacLay-Gardens

Maclay Gardens Is Old South Florida At Its Best

Florida Botanical Gardens    Largo

This 40 acre Pinellas County Park is not just free; it is a double treat for it is connected to Heritage Village, a wonderful collection of twenty West Coast structure dating back as far as the 1840’s.  The park hosts numerous events during the year appropriate to both the historic and tropical enviuronment.

Harry P.  Leu Gardens   Orlando

Long before the arrival of the huge amusement parts this fifty acre Orlando attraction was a Central Florida favorite.  Its location allows for an interesting mixture of temperate and tropical plants.

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Harry Leu Gardens in Orlando

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens   Sarasota

Orchid lovers in particular are wowed by this compact but breathtaking waterfront facility just south of downtown Sarasota.  It is a serious research center but you can purchase a grounds only visitation ticket.

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Selby Gardens Is A Hidden Gem

Monkami Museum and Japanese Gardens   Delray Beach

A wonderful tribute to the Japanese community that once came to this area to produce winter crops, Monkami contains the most serene and peaceful lakeside gardens in Florida.   There is a cultural center, a  cafe, and a large store with unusual arty items.

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A Trip To Japan In Delray Beach

Matheson Hammock Park   Miami    (HELP! RESTORE THIS PLACE!)

I had to include this Miami-Dade County park that hugs Biscayne Bay on Old Cutler Road.  As a University of Miami student, I came here to find a restful and beautiful spot to study for tests.  The shallow waters of the beach were always popular with parents with small children, but on my last visit the 130 acre park had been drastically altered.

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Many trees and vegetation had been removed for parking and access to a marina and restaurant.  I don’t mind the kayak rental shop and the new fishing pier, but the setting has lost its original tropical identity with its lush atoll pools.  I have heard that city leaders are planning a large boat warehouse at the site.  This would be another ugly move.

It is true that just down Old Cutler Road is the magnificent Fairfield Tropical Gardens.  It is really a commercial venture with tram rides and an admission cost of $25 for adults.

Bok Tower Gardens   Lake Wales

FLORIDATRAVELER Bok Tower Gardens Expansion

Into The Woods and Up The Hill

And when you speak of gardens in Florida, you must visit this place. There are fifty acres of flowered trails going up the tallest hill in South Florida to reach a magnificent carillon surrounded by water gardens with swans.  Newsman Edward Bok’s gift to Florida remains a wonderful place to get some exercise and then sit at one of the covered shelters where you have a secret lookout of one of the hill’s small lakes that attract animals and butterflies.

Bok is adding more acreage and public services down by its museum and restaurant.  I didn’t hear any talk of removing any foliage or trees.

 

 

 

 

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