Vacation Near Home!

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Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is a treasure trove of diverse travel experiences. Whether you’re looking for pristine beaches, vibrant cities, or unique natural landscapes, Florida has something to offer every traveler and those of us who live here are lucky indeed.  I have personally enjoyed some family vacations in St. Augustine, Bonita Springs/Naples area and we are heading to the Florida Keys in two weeks for this year’s vacation plans.  No need to travel far; just pick one of the top ten::

1. Miami

Miami is a cultural melting pot known for its lively nightlife, stunning beaches, and rich cultural heritage. South Beach, with its iconic pastel-colored Art Deco buildings, offers a bustling atmosphere day and night.  You can explore the vibrant neighborhoods of Little Havana and Wynwood, where you can enjoy Cuban cuisine, vibrant street art, and unique galleries. Don’t miss a visit to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens for a taste of European-inspired elegance. As for shopping . . . . a paradise for sure!

2. Orlando

Orlando is synonymous with theme parks. Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld are major attractions that draw millions of visitors each year. Beyond the theme parks, Orlando offers beautiful nature parks like the Harry P. Leu Gardens and cultural experiences such as the Orlando Museum of Art. There is also Gatorland, Bok Tower Gardens and dozens of  other area parks for picnics and swimming.  For shopping and dining, head to International Drive or the upscale Mall at Millenia.

3. Key West

The southernmost point in the continental U.S., Key West, is famous for its laid-back atmosphere, historic sites, and stunning sunsets. Be  sure to explore the colorful streets of Old Town, visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, and enjoy water activities such as snorkeling and kayaking. The nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is a must-see, where street performers entertain as the sun dips below the horizon. Take the Town Trolley to have a chance to stop wherever you want for as long as you want and don’t forget your cheeseburger in paradise!

4. Tampa

Tampa itself offers a mix of modern attractions and historic charm. Busch Gardens is a popular theme park that combines thrilling rides with a zoo. And on a smaller scale, the Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park has some amusement park rides and many fun animal attractions.  The historic Ybor City neighborhood is perfect for experiencing Tampa’s rich Cuban history and nightlife. For family fun, visit the Florida Aquarium or the interactive Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). The nearby Gulf beaches, such as Clearwater Beach, are perfect for a day of relaxation. And not to forget the port of Tampa where you can take 3 to 7 day cruises (or longer) where you sail under the fabulous Sunshine Skyway Bridge! 

5. Naples

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Naples is known for its upscale ambiance, beautiful beaches, and vibrant arts scene. Stroll along the iconic Naples Pier, explore the Naples Botanical Garden, and enjoy world-class shopping and dining at Fifth Avenue South. For nature lovers, the nearby Everglades National Park offers unique wildlife viewing and adventure opportunities, as you drive through “Alligator Alley.”

6. St. Augustine

St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, is rich in history and charm. Walk the cobblestone streets and explore historic landmarks like the Castillo de San Marcos and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. St. George Street is a pedestrian-friendly area filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sites. The beautiful St. Augustine Beach is perfect for a relaxing day by the sea.  You can tour the city by trolley so as not to miss a thing and be sure to visit and climb the famous light house.

7. Fort Lauderdale

Known for its boating canals and stunning beaches, Fort Lauderdale offers a more relaxed alternative to Miami. The Las Olas Boulevard is the city’s heart, featuring shops, restaurants, and galleries. Take a boat tour of the Intracoastal Waterway, relax on the sandy shores of Fort Lauderdale Beach, or visit the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens for a taste of local history and nature.  Not as busy as Miami but just as exciting with plenty to do and lots of beauty to enjoy. 

8. Sarasota

Sarasota is a cultural gem on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s home to the famous Ringling Museum of Art, which includes an impressive art collection and beautifully landscaped gardens. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium are also popular attractions. Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach, with its powdery white sand, is frequently ranked among the best beaches in the United States.  A very popular beach in that area is Anna Maria Island which boasts as a tropical island paradise, filled with white sandy beaches, shopping and dolphin tours. 

9. The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of Florida. Each island has its unique charm, from the tranquil vibes of Key Largo to the party atmosphere of  Key West. The Overseas Highway (and the 7 mile bridge), one of the most scenic drives in the country, connects the islands and offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Activities include diving in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, fishing, and enjoying fresh seafood.  Don’t ever miss the Dolphin Research Center where you can interact with dolphins in many different ways. 

10. Destin

Located in the Florida Panhandle, Destin is known for its emerald-green waters and sugar-white sand beaches. The area is perfect for water sports, including fishing, boating, and paddleboarding. Henderson Beach State Park offers beautiful natural trails and picnic areas. For family fun, visit Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park or the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in nearby Fort Walton Beach.  The Panhandle has some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches in the entire state. 

So, with inflation putting a dent in everyone’s wallet, this year Floridians can plan a vacation near home that promises to be as exciting as traveling elsewhere. BUT Florida calls ANYONE looking for a diverse vacation experience with destinations that offer something for every type of traveler, from beach lovers and adventure seekers to history buffs and culture enthusiasts. Whether you’re exploring the vibrant streets of Miami, relaxing on the tranquil beaches of Naples, or diving into the clear waters of the Keys, Florida promises unforgettable experiences and lasting memories. Pack your bags, sunscreen, and sense of adventure.  You are just a few hours away from a vacation in paradise!

Barbara Meeting

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