Decades ago, I came on a vacation one week in February from middle Tennessee to Miami, Florida. A friend I visited showed me the beaches, Biscayne Boulevard, and local attractions. We had great seafood, barbecue, and everything in between. We even took a short trip to the Florida Keys.
That trip helped to convince me that Florida would be my new home. Bright sunny days with blue skies are usually the norm. I knew it would get hot and humid in the summer, but I was ready to trade my dark cold winters for something better for me. As I explained in my post on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), months of gray days in the winter up north depleted my energy and indeed made me sad. The nearly always sunny days in Florida give me energy and uplift my spirits. The move also proved to be really better for my allergies. Living on the coast brings continuous winds from the ocean to clear the air.
I spent many years in South Florida in both Dade County (Miami) and later Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale). I explored all types of places on weekend trips over the first 5 years seeing for example, Kennedy Space Center on the east coast, Sanibel Island for shells on the west coast, Orlando for Disney, Fish Eating creek for camping, the Everglades, and all the sights up and down the Keys. I drove north to Jacksonville and Daytona on the east coast. I visited Edison’s, Ford’s, and Ringling’s historic winter homes and saw Ringling’s fabulous art collection on the west coast. So much to do and so much to see.
Fountain Kennedy Space Center
One of the things I love about Florida is the diversity of nature. Most folks think of beaches or gators in the Everglades when thinking of Florida. A peninsula surrounded on 3 sides with the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s beautiful beaches are everywhere. Sunsets are gorgeous so often it’s hard to choose the best. The Everglades is an interesting ecosystem which people have greatly damaged through decades of clearing and draining for housing, farming, etc.
There is also a beautiful forest in the north central area above Orlando called Ocala National Forest. There are only 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida, and Alexander Springs is by far one of the easiest for visitors to enjoy. Located in the Ocala National Forest, the beautiful, turquoise waters of Alexander Springs is a perfect place for swimming and diving.
On the west coast below Venice is Warm Mineral Springs in North Port which has the highest concentration of minerals of any springs in America. Investigated by Ponce de Leon as the possible “Fountain of Youth”, the springs has an ancient history of human use for health. It is one of the few mineral springs in this country which is open to the public. See my post for more information.
One of my animal loves here in Florida is the Florida manatee. A sea cow, the placid manatees occupy warm waters around the state. They are so ugly they are cute. I love their faces and have manatee art throughout my home. State laws protect this animal which has been endangered by the use of high-speed boats. Many manatees are killed or maimed by the propellers of boats. According to the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, it is illegal to molest, harass, disturb or hug a manatee. Federal laws also protect the species, which is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list.
The Endangered Species Act forbids touching a manatee unless it touches you first, and they will let you know. The rules are strict and the protection of this endangered species is taken very seriously. There is absolutely no chasing, riding or harassing the manatees. You cannot touch with 2 hands or “hug” a manatee unless you want to spend 6 months in jail – and they have sent people to jail for it. Seriously.
Pelicans are another favorite of mine. They have a funny shape to my mind as I watch them waddle on docks. Then I see them fly off low over the water, open their mouths, and scoop up fish. I love it.
Flamingos are my sister’s favorite Florida bird. Flamingo feathers obtain their wonderful rosy pink color from pigments in the organisms they eat. The flamingos’ feathers, legs, and face are colored by their diet, which is rich in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments.
There are so many beautiful birds in Florida – I love all the “water birds” with their long legs – egrets, herons, cranes…. all of them. I love the fact that periodically some long-legged birds come to graze in my yard looking for bugs or that I park in a strip mall and a marvelous leggy beauty is eyeing me for food. I just sit in the car a minute and stare. It’s hard to believe this is home sometimes.
Another fabulous thing in Florida is the food. I love fresh seafood and I find great places to eat all around the state. Barbecue, Cuban and South American cuisine, Greek restaurants here in Tarpon Springs, and more other kinds than I can mention. I especially like “old Florida” restaurants which are disappearing. What is “Old Florida?” Think a hundred years ago when the Deep South mingled with the tropics in early Florida towns. You can still find a little of that in some towns. To me old Florida restaurants are very rustic and informal offering great local seafood and “comforting” southern food in a building that is far from fancy. Below is a shot of Cap’s Place in Lighthouse Point serving fresh local seafood since the 1920’s.
I really need to do more posts on my favorite restaurants. Last winter I did one on fancy eating at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne down in Miami, but there are so many more I need to share: the original Columbia Spanish restaurant in Ybor City (Tampa), Cap’s Place at Lighthouse Point, Rusty Bellies in Tarpon Springs, to name a few.
The climate of the north and central parts of Florida is humid subtropical. South Florida has a tropical climate. There is a defined rainy season from May through October, when air mass thunder showers that build in the heat of the day drop heavy but brief summer rainfall. November brings the dry season with less frequent rain and often droughts. If you’ve read many of my posts, you know I love gardens and flowers. There are many beautiful gardens in Florida which mostly have a tropical feel. Florida growing zones go from 8a to 11a which means mostly semi-tropical to tropical. Florida Botanical Garden in the Tampa Bay area has beautiful plantings.
The Bok Tower Garden in Lake Wales (east of Tampa toward Orlando) has beautiful spring displays of azaleas and year round contemplative garden rooms.
Naples Botanical Garden is an amazing wonderland with tropical gardens and architectural designs from around the world.
There are so many beautiful gardens I’ve yet to show you. This post keeps reminding me of all that I still need to share, like Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden down in Miami, The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, The Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach, and one of my favorites, the Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. And there’s even more gardens! Most of the gardens have educational programs, plant sales, and all kinds of events. If you live in Florida, check out a membership to a botanical garden close to you. Many of the gardens do a holiday light display in December to January. If you are a light freak like me, that’s an added bonus. If you come to Florida for the holidays or spring break, don’t spend all your time at theme parks. Come and feed your soul at a garden.
Florida is a great mix of contradictions. Known for its beaches and theme parks, there are lots of ways to relax, have fun, and unwind in Florida. If you want fancy places, remember this is where rich people come to play in the winter. Think art shows all over the state, plays, and all sorts of “society” functions. If you love beaches, nature, food, and interesting cultures, you’ll find it here. Miami started out as a sleepy southern town and is now an international banking center with visitors from around the globe.
In the panhandle you can explore rural wonders of parks, springs, and beaches. I love the relaxed easy-going atmosphere that makes Florida what it is. Just remember that Florida is an affordable place to visit and to live. In comparison to high-cost areas like California, it’s a bargain. Why do you think so many people retire to Florida? No state income tax, lower property values than many northern cities, and a fantastic climate all contribute to the growth rate of the state. For me it’s paradise. Come on down. Put on your most comfy clothes. Take a chair, have a strawberry daiquiri, and enjoy the days, nights, and everything in between.
Get exclusive free printables & all the news straight to your mailbox!
Please see my Link Parties page for the parties where this post was shared.