Time for Romance, Florida Style

By: Amy Wimmer Schwarb

ADD TO FAVORITES

Waves of sawgrass in the Big Bend. Cypress forests in the Everglades. Sunrises to the east, sunsets to the west. Glamorous nightlife in South Florida, roaring waves along the Atlantic beaches, quiet starlit fishing piers on the Gulf.

However you and your special someone define “romance,” Florida offers a vista to match your mood.

KEY WEST

With a couple of beach chairs parked in the sand at the southernmost end of Florida’s most southern state park, you’ll feel as if you’re looking out on the rest of the world from the tip of civilization. The Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, home to a 19th Century fort that played important roles in both the Civil War and the Spanish American War, today houses one of Key West’s most popular beaches. By day, you can picnic, snorkel and fish from what feels like the edge of the universe; in the evening, cozy up in the sand for a spectacular sunset.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, 601 Howard England Way, 305-292-6713, www.floridastateparks.org/forttaylor/

MIAMI BEACH                                

Everything is picture-perfect at the Mondrian Hotel’s Sunset Lounge, from the beautiful people in the crowds to the postcard-worthy views of the Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami. From Brazilian cocktails to DJ’s who throw down Latin groove beats, this indoor-outdoor lounge offers private poolside cabanas and a labyrinth garden designed with hideaway “kissing corners.” Just what this party for two needs: a little discretion.

Sunset Lounge, 1100 West Ave., Miami Beach, 305-514-1941, www.mondrian-miami.com

FORT LAUDERDALE

After a bustling day spent shopping and dining along the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk, a brick-lined collection of shops and restaurants connected by winding paths and lush landscaping in the heart of the city’s historic downtown, take in the city’s waterfront from a different perspective. From a cushy seat for two in a slow-moving gondola, you can cruise past the city’s most luxurious homes. Or, ask for the message-in-a-bottle-tour, and write your special message on parchment, to be placed in a bottle that will be “discovered” in the water by your gondolier. Italian tunes (which can be substituted with a CD you supply yourself) and an on-board fridge for some Champagne of your choice round out the experience. When you have Fort Lauderdale, who needs Venice?

Las Olas Gondola, 201-919-1999, Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk, www.lasolasgondola.com

THE EVERGLADES

If your idea of romance involves seclusion and serenity, then even the name of the 10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge might appeal to you. Located between Marco Island and Everglades City, the 35,000-acre refuge is home to immense mangrove forests, some 200 species of fish and 189 bird species—not to mention a diverse array of mammals, from river otters to bottle-nosed dolphins. The refuge is best accessed by boat, but to take in the scenery without getting wet, take U.S. 41 east, just past Collier-Seminole State Park. A mile-long boardwalk takes you deeper into the refuge; there, an observation tower provides views across the Everglades National Park area. “You can feel like it’s just the two of you out there,” says Angela Aline, spokeswoman for the Collier County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge, 3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 300, Naples, 239-353-8442, www.fws.gov/floridapanther/TenThousandIslands/

VILANO BEACH

Want to take in a sunrise and a sunset, all in one special day with a special someone? Sure, you can choose a favorite spot to see the sun make its appearance on the Atlantic side, then head westward to bid it adieu on the Gulf of Mexico. Or you can just plan a day in St. Augustine. Head to its friendly neighbor, Vilano Beach, a beachfront community where you can drive your vehicle right onto the sand, for sunrise. That evening, head to the Vilano Beach Pier to watch the sun set over the Intracoastal Waterway that separates Vilano from St. Augustine, the oldest European-settled city in the United States.

Vilano Beach, 904-501-5891, www.vilanobeachfl.com

NAPLES

Sometimes, you want to find your own secluded spot for a sunset. But sometimes, for the most spectacular views, it’s best to just follow the masses. And in Naples, they’re headed to the Naples Pier, an old wooden pier that traces its history to the late 19th Century, when it was a freight dock along the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes and fire have had their way with the pier over the years, but it has always been rebuilt and maintained. Today, you can enjoy a moonlit stroll or a sunset, complete with dancing dolphins and spectacular water color skies.

Naples Pier, 25 12th Ave. S, 239-213-3062, www.naplespier.com

ST. PETE BEACH

Done with playing a tourist and want to enjoy a sunset like the locals do? Take in the sunset at Pass-a-Grille, an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood at the southernmost point in Pinellas County, the little fishhook of a county that dangles off Florida’s Gulf Coast to form Tampa Bay. Pass-a-Grille is the oldest settlement on the gulf, and its neighbors gather each evening to enjoy sunset together and ring a bell that signals the close of another day in this picturesque, historic neighborhood. You and your sweetie can even take a turn at ringing the bell, making you part of a storied romantic tradition.

Bell ringing at the Paradise Grille, 900 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach, 727-367-1495, www.theparadisegrille.com

ST. GEORGE ISLAND

Located between Panama City and Tallahassee, just 20 minutes from Apalachicola, St. George Island’s romance is in its remoteness—and the clear-eyed star-gazing that come with a locale so distant from the glare of city lights. Whether you’re camping at St. George Island State Park on the eastern end of the island or renting a beach house in the central portion, look upward for unforgettable view in a part of Florida known as The Forgotten Coast. Some vacation rentals even come equipped with telescopes.

St. George Island State Park, 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive, 850-927-2111, www.floridastateparks.org/stgeorgeisland/

SANIBEL

Give me your answer, do. If a bicycle-built-for-two doesn’t fit your lifestyle back home, hop aboard during a visit to Sanibel Island. Ample bicycle trails and luxurious beaches make cycling the ideal way to get around quaint Sanibel. Pack a picnic for sunset at Bowman’s Beach, a picturesque west-facing swath of sand.

Billy’s Rentals, 1470 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 239-472-5248, www.billysrentals.com

BRADENTON

The whole idea sounds like something out of a dream—or at least a sappy movie. You and someone you love, riding horses on the beach. Feel the crashing waves beneath its hooves. Go ahead and ride the horse right into Palma Sola Bay, then feel the sensation of sitting atop it as it swims. If you’re lucky, you might even see dolphins jump. Almost certainly, you’ll see the glare of the sun dancing on the water.

Great World Adventures, 8400 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton, 941-907-7272, www.beachhorses.com

ORLANDO

Opportunities for romance are surprisingly easy to find in this amusement park mecca. Enjoy a late-evening meal at Cinderella’s Castle or a horse-drawn carriage ride through Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, for starters. But one of the best ways to enjoy a moment together is also the simplest: At sunset at Epcot Theme Park, on the bridge between the United Kingdom and France, pause, look to the west, and enjoy the view as the sun sets behind the Eiffel Tower at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Epcot Theme Park, 1320 Avenue of the Stars, Bay Lake, 407-824-4321, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/epcot/

ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA STATE PARK

Less than an hour from Panama City is St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, with one of the world’s top-rated beaches. With 10 miles of white, sugary sand beaches and some of the tallest sand dunes in Florida, the sunsets here are, of course, spectacular. But what makes this state park special is what happens after the sun goes down: You can linger at the beach, and camp out on the sand.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. 8899 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, 850-227-1327, www.floridastateparks.org/stjoseph/

 

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