Nestled away from the sprawling resorts, you'll find another side of Florida, one of quiet streets, intimate inns and gratifying details.
A gorgeous day is ending, and I'm sipping white wine and watching a black cat climb a three-tiered fountain birdbath.
My vantage point is a rocking chair on the second-floor veranda of the Camellia Rose Inn. The bed-and-breakfast is a restored 1903 Queen Anne Victorian home with manicured grounds (home to the above-mentioned birdbath) and spacious rooms with such names as "Stardust" and "Anticipation." I'm staying in "Briar Rose," which is decorated with soft pink walls and "shabby chic" décor, including a queen-sized white iron bed, original fireplace and heart pine floors.
Looking out over this quiet, residential neighborhood in Gainesville's Southeast Historic District, I see several similarly elegant mansions. A few of these are bed-and-breakfast inns which, like the Camellia Rose, offer visitors a chance to travel to the turn of the 19th century. There's The Laurel Oak Inn, Magnolia Plantation Bed & Breakfast Inn and Cottages, and Sweetwater Branch Inn Bed & Breakfast.
There are two main reasons people fall in love with B&Bs – the "breakfast," typically delicious and made up of many courses, and the "bed," typically housed in a themed room that's been meticulously decorated with one-of-a-kind details and period antiques.
But the best B&Bs, like the four in Gainesville, pair historical details with modern luxuries.
Think antique claw-foot tub with a state-of-the-art rain shower (which you can find at The Laurel Oak Inn). Think pressed linens, luxury beauty products and free wireless Internet access.
The best also offer more than just breakfast, such as fresh-baked goodies during the day and wine
and cheese in the evenings. And they offer an experience that's intimate, warm and personal.
Like other bed-and-breakfast "boroughs" throughout the state, Gainesville's is just a short walk, or horse-drawn carriage ride, to downtown. A night out here could include dinner at the pan Latin Emiliano's Café, a show at the Hippodrome Theatre and a visit to Maude's Classic Café, where the line for the desserts snakes out the door.
Picturesque St. Petersburg
This bed-and-breakfast borough in the historic Old Northeast neighborhood is an enchanting part of town with cobblestone streets shaded by huge old oaks. The area is located just north of downtown and very close to the waterfront.
The perfect inn for you is here, whether it's the Victorian Larelle House Bed & Breakfast, or the
eye-catching Dickens House Bed & Breakfast, a 100-year-old Arts and Crafts Mission Style house featuring relaxed, uncluttered interior décor and excellent breakfasts served around a huge, circular commontable. There's also the "Old Florida-style" La Veranda Bed and Breakfast, known for its namesake wide, wraparound verandas and lush tropical foliage.
Other B&B inns here include the Sunset Bay Inn Bed and Breakfast, Beach Drive Inn Bed & Breakfast and Watergarden Inn at the Bay.
From each one, you can easily walk or ride the trolley to several fabulous restaurants along Beach Drive (one favorite is Cassis American Brasserie), to such highlights as the new Dalí Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Chihuly Collection of glass art, presented by the Morean Arts Center.
Carefree in Key West
Key West's Old Town neighborhood has so many exceptional bed-and-breakfast inns, I couldn't possibly mention them all. Luckily, you can get a full list at fla-keys.com.
A general rule of thumb, when choosing an Old Town B&B, is that the closer you are to Duval Street, the closer you are to the city's famous nightlife. Venture just a few blocks away, however, and you'll find quieter, tree-shaded neighborhoods and inns with a tropical, relaxing feel that's distinctly Key West.
Two such choices are The Curry House Historic Bed and Breakfast and The Key West Bed & Breakfast.
Also, the Popular House is a three-story Victorian house constructed by Bahamian shipbuilders
around 1898, where the rooms are decorated in a Caribbean style.
Other Old Town B&Bs of note include the Garden House Bed and Breakfast, The Mansion at Simonton Court and Cypress House.
Amazing restaurants abound in Old Town, from the Flaming Buoy Filet Co. Restaurant to the waterfront
Half Shell Raw Bar, offering a true taste of old Key West. Or, grab takeout from The Café and bring it
back to your inn's courtyard for a romantic dinner under the stars.