With sunshine and good times on high almost everyday, there are few things not to love about the great state of Florida. When D and I got orders to the Sunshine State in 2014, we knew we were in for loads of beach days, Disney trips, and experiencing unlimited days of summer. So far, we've done all that and more, but there's still so much to see and do here! As much as we traveled around Europe those 3 years living abroad, we've had high hopes to keep our travel bug well fed. Thankfully Florida has no shortage of incredible destinations fit for exploring. One interesting observation we've made our short 1.5 years living here thus far...this state is HUGE. 65,755 sq miles sort of huge. Crazy, right? Living in Germany, we were able to drive 2.5 hours and be in Belgium, or France, or the Netherlands. Drive 2 more hours and we were in Switzerland or Italy. If we drive 3 hours North, South, or West from our current...we're still in Florida. With so much land to cover, we figured it was time to jot down the Sunshine State sights we just have to see. Without further adieu...here's our Florida Bucket List!
So far we've already visited: St. Augustine, Orlando, Tampa, St. Pete, Destin, Cocoa Beach, and Daytona Beach. That's primairly why you won't find any of those places on our current bucket list. We've already hit 'em! But you should, too. And I swear I'll blog about them...someday. ;)
The first time I ever heard of Sanibel Island was from my German landlord's wife, Tanya. No kidding. She and her family visited the states a few years back and spent a week on the Florida gulf coast and said Sanibel was one of the most beautiful beaches she'd ever seen. Which is a big deal considering she's traveled all over the world! From that moment on, I knew if we ever got stationed in Florida, Sanibel would HAVE to be on our "must-see" list. Sanibel Island is most known for having beaches covered in millions of colorful shells making it one of the best beachs in Florida for shelling. The vibe of this island is seclusion, so rest and relaxation are the only two modes you'll need to set your watch on.
Is it weird to say I'd love to watch alligators from the comfort of the seat of an air boat? Truly a sentence I'd never thought I type out...but it's true! And I feel like the coolest place to do that would be in the Florida Everglades. Spanning 1.5 million acres in Southern Florida, the Everglades wetlands preserve is full of beautiful mangroves, sawgrass marshes, pinewood forests, and is home to hundreds of different animal species. Who wouldn't want to explore the world's largest remaining subtropical wilderness? And the whole air boat fascination? Well, let's just say I have a need for speed. ;)
"Named for Princess Amelia, daughter of George II of Great Britain, Amelia Island is the only place in the United States to have been under the dominion of eight different flags. It’s been home to an array of cultures and colorful characters: Timucuan Indians, European explorers, pirates, bootleggers, Gilded Age millionaires, and shrimpers all make up the colorful tapestry of this treasured island’s rich history. They’ve left behind a legendary legacy (and much to explore.)" -- AmeilaIsland.com
Not much else to say except, when do we leave?
I'm sure you aren't surprised that a beer fest is high on our list of things to do while living in Florida. D's a major beer snob and well, I'm along for the ride! After living in the land of beer for 3 years, D and I both grew to love frequenting all of the German (and Belgian) beer festivals that seemed to happen more often than not. In moving back to America, we were pleased to learn that Florida has a strong craft beer scene and loves festivaling just as much as any German would. Not only is Key West an incredible vacation destination (we got a nice taste of it during our Disney cruise this past spring), but it's also holds one of Florida's coolest beerfests of the year. Key West Brewfest is held every Labor Day weekend and draws in thousands of island-going visitors from all around the USA. With over 150 beers to sample, it's easy to see why we've got to get our festival on at least once while we're Florida residents!
So, we're laying in bed one night flipping through the channels and D stops on the Travel Channel and this gorgeous scene of a couple canoeing down a palm tree-lined river. The commentator mentioned it being a "best-kept secret," a "secluded paradise," a "unsuspecting gem in the middle of the state." Well, I was hooked. Turns out this secluded paradise is in the middle of Central Florida! Wekiva Island is a favorite local gathering spot on the Weikva River and just outside the Wekiwa Springs State Park. This natural area is chock-full of outdoor activities like canoeing, kayaking, fishing, paddleboarding, swimming, and volleyball. Or you can spend the day sunbathing and vegging out on their "river-banas" (river cabanas in case you were confused) and festive Adirondack chairs lining the Sweetwater Canal. Visit in Florida's cooler months and you can enjoy S'mores at their riverside fire pit. Sounds dreamy doesn't it? I'm already planning a post-holiday de-stress session around that fire pit. Thanks for the recommendation, Travel Channel!
Operated as a SCUBA dive training and recreational facility, Devil's Den Springs in Williston, Florida has quickly become a popular place for nature lovers and divers alike. Devil's Den is a subterranean river thats roof has collapsed, leaving a cave-like den formed by the exposed body of water. Not only is it known as a wonderful place to dive, but it's also quite the snorkeling gem. While not quite a cave, it could be the closest thing to a cave dive (or snorkel) you can get in Central Florida...so why not?! Plus, it's such a natural beauty! Reminds me of Mexican cenotes. Feel free to Google away.
Will Smith said it best "Party in the city where the heat is on...all night on the beach till the break of dawn"...yeah, Miami, you're on our list! Miami is one of those vibrant cities that you are just drawn to. The beaches, the nightlife, the Cuban influences, the art deco buildings...I'm getting psyched just typing about it. D is originally from a town outside of Miami, so he loves to tell me about all the cool things this iconic Florida city has to offer. South Beach is what I've got my eye on. I can just see myself on the beach in front of a luxurious surfside hotel, cocktail in hand. Can't you see yourself there too? Let's just go, ok?
Basically any place with "nap" in the name, I'm on board. Doesn't hurt that this is also ranked one of Florida's most beautiful beaches and that it's only a few hours drive from our home here in FL. While I love living a 10 minute drive from our own beach here on the East Coast...there's just something about the Gulf Coast that is totally swoon-worthy in its own rite. Turquoise waters and a white sand beaches have a lot to do with the swooning, to be honest. While we're here, we'll probably venture inland to Sarasota and see trouble we can get into there. We hear there's lots of fab restaurants to be found. Beach and then food...sign me up!
How cute is he?!?! Located in Marathon, FL in the Florida Keys, The Turtle Hospital is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles. Once they're back in tip-top shape, they're released back into their natural habitat. In addition to helping rehab these beautiful sea creatures, the hospital also aims to educate people about sea and beach pollution while also doing research with local universities on how to aid turtles in their ocean homes. Visitors to the Turtle Hospital can take educational tours of the hospital facilities & rehab center, as well as feed the turtles!
Have you ever been to any of these Florida destinations?
Share your experiences! Any Florida sights we should add to the list?