Florida = Disney, beaches, shopping malls, right? – I didn’t know there was an whole alternative Florida waiting for me.
I don’t know about you but Florida always had a bit of a reputation in my eyes – not bad, but rather a holiday destination for the kind of family who had 2.4 kids and went skiing to Aspen for Christmas every year. Disney was usually uttered every time Florida was mentioned, and you just didn’t think to go there as a grown up traveller with a passport and a choice.
Then I moved here. I had never been before, and didn’t really have many expectations (other than to get my pale English skin a tan and possibly drown in Pina Coladas for a month or more). But I soon realised how wrong I had been all those years, and that Florida was actually rather fabulous.
There is just so much going on in this funny-shaped state. It is a nature lovers dream – seriously. From the Everglades, to the wildlife reserves, every nook and cranny in Florida is green and contains a surplus of unusual species of animals.
These are just a few of my favourite reasons (that don’t include beaches and Disney World) why you should make Florida your next travel destination!
1 – Gatorland
If you can’t resist that theme park family trip to Orlando, why not try something different and go to Gatorland instead? Firstly, it has a great history – opened by a family in 1949 and still privately owned by them today, and is chock-a-block with Alligators! It is a lot cheaper that the other parks to enter too, leaving more money for those tacky souvenirs (or rum. Go with rum.) and makes for a really fun and different day out. I got to hold a Python AND an actual gator… pretty impressive for young ones, or young hearted
immature ones like me!
2 – The Everglades
Unlike anywhere else I have ever been to, the Everglades National Park is a 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve which is made up of marsh land, mangroves, and flatwoods. It is mesmerising to visit, whether it be for hiking, camping, or just to drive through, and you will certainly see a lot of wildlife. Driving through, notice the mirage of water ahead on the dusty road, and be sure to watch out for Alligators crossing!
3 – Diving
Florida is a divers paradise. The Florida Keys have infamous wrecks and dives, and this continues all the way up the coast, with excellent dives off Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville. You can learn to dive in one of the Keys many dive centres, and if diving isn’t for you then snorkelling and Snuba (a post on my experience coming soon!) is just as good.
4 – Key West and The Southernmost point
Key West is unlike anywhere else in the world. When you are there you can stand on the very southernmost tip of the Continental US and be only 90 miles from Cuba! It is a magical place, with quirky charm, memorable local history, and lots of great shops and watering holes. Key West is fast becoming one of my favourite places.
5 – Manatees
These glorious once-endangered creatures call Florida their home, and unless you have seen one up close you won’t quite believe how magical and huge they really are. You can snorkel with them, and they actually are very friendly and will get really close to you. Visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park and get up close and personal with these gentle giants.
6 – Miami’s Wynwood Art District
Miami is awesome for many reasons, but if prancing around in cocktail bars on South Beach isn’t for you, then try the Wynwood Art District; Miami Beach’s cooler, quirkier cousin. Firstly, the bar scene is really great, with some fab restaurants and drinking holes. But the best bit is its art – on every wall you will see colourful murals and paintings which draw a whole new crowd in the daytime. Definitely a not-to-miss place when visiting Miami.
7 – Bird Watching
Not the birds on South Beach, gents, I am talking about beautiful eagles and flamingoes that grace this state. Florida is a bird haven, and even the non-twitchers among you will be rather impressed. Visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park to see some of the glorious birds that have been rescued and rehabilitated (there is a blind eagle, and many birds with broken wings that have been rescued) and see how magnificent these creatures are.
8 – National Parks and Camping
As mentioned above already, there are many national parks (not theme parks – N A T U R A L parks) in Florida worthy of a good day or two visit, along with camping if that is your thing. In addition to the everglades, there are 160 more state parks to see and 10 state trails! That gives you an idea of just how much natural world there is to venture upon in this state. Don’t miss the beautiful Bahia Honda state park in the Middle Keys, and take a boat trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park which is 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. Air BnB offers lots of tent/camping gear rentals, which you can scoop up in Miami on your way through to the Keys. Cheaper than a hotel, and a much more exciting experience.
9 – Watersports
Florida is best enjoyed by sea, and if you are a fan of any kind of water sport you can make the most of it here. Renting a motor boat, sailing, kayaking, fishing, parasailing, jet skiing, and Kitesurfing are all hugely popular all along both coasts. You can charter a boat in the popular yachting destinations, such as Fort Lauderdale or Miami, or simply take a day excursion and get to see the true beauty of Florida from the water.
10 – Tiki bars and Drinking
For anyone wanting a laid back beach holiday, Florida might already be high of the list of choices. Sipping a cocktail or two goes hand in hand with this kind of a trip, and the alternative Florida has huge offering of tiki bars and iconic drinking spots. A drive down the Overseas Highway in the Keys will land you in Tiki territory, and you can drink in the bars that were favourites of Hemingway and other famous writers and creatives. For a watering hold with a twist, try the infamous No Name Pub on Big Pine Key which is home to $90,000 worth of loose change on the walls; and my favourite find, Lulu’s Garden Grille; a restaurant and bar set in an old botanical garden that feels like walking into Narnia.
Don’t forget to check out what I’m up to right now on Snapchat! – @luxurybackpack