A Full Deck of Florida: 52 Winning Experiences

By: Stephanie Hayes

ADD TO FAVORITES

Deal yourself a winning hand from this full deck of Florida – 52 must-have experiences in the Sunshine State.

The “cards” can be sorted into six themes: 

WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION?

– Unique ways to experience Florida’s well-known attractions

WILD LIFE – Al fresco fun for outdoorsy types

GO GONZO – Stuff that’s off the chain and off the wall

JUST BEACHY – Ahhhh - sand and sea and thee

LOCAL FLAVOR – Just say “yum”!

CULTURED PEARLS – History, art, unique traditions and funky festivals 

Shuffle the cards and lay out a vacation spread of the best and most singular experiences Florida has to offer. With this dynamic deck, everyone’s a winner!

WHAT'S THE ATTRACTION?

Quaff Butterbeer

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando

Nothing will transport you and your senses to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry quite like a souvenir mug filled with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s secret recipe for this non-alcoholic treat. There’s a little something for all Muggles – a smooth, cold version or one that’s blended with ice, with the flavor of a Werther’s Original caramel candies mixed into a cream soda.

Release the Kraken

SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld may be famous for its animal shows and marine exhibits, but the park also has a legion of devoted fans that flock to its high-flying amusement park thrill rides. In 2000, SeaWorld Orlando opened Kraken, a speeding steel roller coaster named after the vicious fictional sea monster kept caged by Poseidon. The coaster has a 119-foot loop and a zero-gravity roll, but lacks one very important peace-of-mind feature – a floor. 

This Bud’s for You

Daytona International Speedway

The Sprint FANZONE is THE place to be for thousands of race fans who flock to Daytona Beach every February for the Daytona 500, one of NASCAR’s premier events. You can watch world-famous drivers walk across the stage before the race, see the cars get their technical inspections, meet your racing idols and listen to live driver interviews. But for the true racing aficionado, the best bet might be to crack open a cold one at the Budweiser Bistro, an open air bar in the FANZONE, and just take it all in. 

Go Global for Happy Hour

Epcot, Walt Disney World, Orlando

Drinking around the world is a favorite pastime of imbibing Disneyphiles who come to the 11 countries represented at Epcot’s World Showcase. The challenge? Have one drink in each country. Enjoy a Carlsberg beer in Norway, limoncello in Italy, some sake in Japan, an avocado margarita in Mexico – you get the idea. Just make sure you pack plenty of money and get a designated driver – or better yet, book a room at one of the many area hotels that offer bus service to and from the park. 

Eat Astronaut Ice Cream

Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral

We’re not saying it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. But there’s a certain nostalgia involved in munching freeze-dried astronaut ice cream from the Space Shop at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. While touring the visitor complex, grab a pack in flavors like Neapolitan and cookies-and-cream for $3.99, let it melt in your mouth and dissolve on your tongue and be transported back to the glory days of the now-retired space shuttle launches that once thrilled a nation of little kids hoping to one day soar into outer space. 

Dine in Royal Style

Cinderella's Castle, Walt Disney World

Cinderella’s Castle greets you as you walk into the Magic Kingdom and represents everything the fantasy world of Disney has to offer. Not everyone knows you can actually go inside and enjoy a royal feast. For $30 to $60 (on top of the park admission fee), you can dine in an opulent chamber with Gothic arches and stained glass windows. The Royal Table restaurant is known for its prime rib and other sumptuous fare. You can even have your picture taken with the lovely lady who rose from the ashes and started it all. Reservations required. 

Meet a Cheetah

Busch Gardens, Tampa

Busch Gardens in Tampa has an attraction called Cheetah Run, and it lives up to its name as a place to see the fastest land animals on the planet let it all out in a burst of black spots and speed. The cheetahs will sometimes come right up to the glass to meet you. In 2011, the park adopted an orphaned cheetah named Kasi, who then became best friends with a Labrador retriever mix named Mtani. Their daily play dates became one of the park's most popular features. When you’ve had your fill of watching animal antics, you can get on board the Cheetah Hunt, a roller coaster designed to move – you guessed it – just like a cheetah. 

See to Believe

Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Orlando

No, you didn’t drink too many Butterbeers on your Orlando vacation. That building really is crooked. But wait. Is it? That’s the fun of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. It’s home to a collection of weird and wonderful objects that will tickle your imagination, from a set of miniature terracotta warriors to a 25-foot high mural of Jimi Hendrix made of playing cards to a real shrunken head to wax figures, puzzles and fossils. And then there’s the showstopper – a picture of Beyonce made completely of candy. Sweet!

WILD LIFE

Spot Key Deer

National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key

Once you cross into Big Pine Key, you start to see road signs warning you to stay on the lookout for endangered Key Deer. Visitors can travel through the refuge among the area’s forests, wetlands and mangroves, founded in 1957 when the Key Deer population was at a low of 27. The diminutive deer, which average about 80 pounds, now number in the hundreds and can be seen prancing along roadsides or sometimes taking a siesta among the trees. 

‘Survivor: Fort Jefferson

Dry Tortugas National Park

Put your camping mettle to the test and star in your own private version of “Survivor” at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park. The park’s seven islands are a mix of beach and coral reef, plus historical artifacts, including the 19th-century fort. For those who camp near the fort on Garden Key, it’s primitive all the way, meaning no showers or convenient water spigots to wash your dishes. You bring what you need – water, sleeping bags, flashlights and, of course, your camera – and board the Yankee Freedom ferry to get to the island and camp out under the stars. 

Crack a Coconut

Sugarloaf Key

About a 15 minute-drive from Key West, secluded Sugarloaf Key is full of channels perfect for kayaking and lined with towering palm trees that drop coconuts into the water. Snag one on your kayak trip and get to work. You’ll need a hammer and a chisel, or just really strong biceps and a firm slab of cement. But the work will pay off when you bust the outer layer to meet the hairy little brown fellow inside, and then crack that open for a rush of fresh coconut water. Bake the coconut in the oven to loosen the meat and then blend it up with some rum and pineapple juice for the freshest pina colada you’ll ever taste.

Meet the Manatees

TECO Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach

When Tampa Electric opened a unit in 1984 that heated the water as a result of its cooling process, it attracted manatees, which seek warm temperatures when the Gulf of Mexico gets below 68 degrees from November to April. Now hundreds of the gentle sea cows winter at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, and about 200,000 people now make their way through the viewing station each year, snapping pictures and getting to know manatees by name. Some of the manatees have been returning to the same spot for years. 

Hunt for Fossils

Peace River

Paddle down Florida’s Peace River and you might find more than natural beauty. The subtropical river, which runs 105 miles from Polk County south all the way to Charlotte Harbor, has some of the state’s best fossil hunting. Professional guides can take you to known fossil grounds and help you hunt. They’ll also help you get the necessary permit (you need one to keep anything except shark teeth) and will take pictures of you with your prizes. 

Take Off in an Airboat

The Everglades

Gators, snakes, raccoons, the rare Florida Panther, egrets – you might see them all while cruising through the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Because of its massive size – the Everglades stretches from coast to coast in South Florida – you can find tours from just about any point of entry. Take a ride on a flat-bottomed airboat, the most popular way to explore the region without putting a propeller in the water. There are plenty of outfitters and guides ready to take you on a magical tour of the "River of Grass.”

Get Tubular

Ichetucknee River

Imagine reclining in an inner tube and letting the clear, cold water guide you where it will. If you have a few hours and a bathing suit, you can float down the Ichetucknee River at Ichetucknee Springs State Park near Gainsville. You can rent a tube at the park or at any of the outfitters along the river, some of which even offer drop-off and pick-up service, so all you have to do is sit back and hum your own version of “merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” 

Find Fine Feathered Friends

Sanibel and Captiva islands

Bird-watching? Boring? No way. Not at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, one of the best places in the state to spot wading birds such as egrets, roseate spoonbills, herons and ibis. If you venture farther afield to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, be on the lookout for hawks, swallows, wrens and mockingbirds. Keep a running list and make a contest of it with family and friends. 

Get Teed Off

Destin

This small town in the Panhandle is known as the “World's Luckiest Fishing Village," but it’s also a lucky destination for visitors who want to hit the greens. Destin has become a major destination for avid golfers seeking some of the best courses in the country. Golf stars like Tom Fazio and Greg Norman have opened golf courses in the area. Destin is also known for its beautiful beaches, so if you book a trip here, there’ll be something for everyone in the family. 

Paddle All the Way

The Suwannee River

Take in a liquid path fringed by pines and cypress trees, relax as the river widens to springs and limerock shoals along the way, and be proud that you did the whole thing. That’s right – you can cruise almost the entire length of the Suwannee River. It’s a multi-day excursion – the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail starting in White Springs is 170 miles long. There are river camps situated along the way with raised and screened-in sleeping platforms, showers and restrooms for those days when you want a break from roughing it. 

GO GONZO

Sleep With the Fishes

Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo

Jules’ Undersea Lodge is not your ordinary overnight accommodation. You have to scuba dive to get to the hotel under the sea, which is the only one of its kind in the country and is situated five feet off the bottom of Emerald Lagoon near Key Largo. The 600-square-foot cottage can accommodate up to two couples or a family of six. It has hot showers, a kitchen and comfortable beds against windows where you can watch fish swim by as you drift off to sleep. 

Hoist the Jolly Roger

Gasparilla Pirate Parade, Tampa

Arrrr! Avast, me hearties! If there’s one place in Florida where tax-paying citizens with good jobs can get away with wearing corsets and tricorn hats and generally swashbuckling up a storm, it’s at the Gasparilla Pirate Parade. The annual pirate invasion comes to Tampa each February in tribute to José Gaspar, a fictional Spanish pirate captain. The city’s most well-heeled residents mingle with its rowdiest denizens on the waterfront along Bayshore Boulevard, drinking grog and catching beads during a day-long, sun-soaked pirate parade of elaborate floats. And if you spy your orthodontist wearing a petticoat and a parrot, it’s best to keep it mum, matey. 

Fly Like an Eagle

Wallaby Ranch, Davenport

If "soaring like a bird" is on your must-do list, you can come close by hang-gliding at Wallaby Ranch in Davenport, the birthplace of hang-gliding in 1991. The ranch is open every day of the year for folks yearning to glide through a secluded area filled with wildlife and beautiful scenery. You can camp in a tent or RV on site and find plenty else to do while you're there, including activities for the kiddos. But the main event is free-flying for 15 minutes at 2,000 feet up in the air, with an experienced certified instructor. An all-inclusive flight is $175, and for an extra $60, you can get the whole thing captured on DVD. 

Snack on Snake

The Wild Game Feast, DeLand

Held each May at the Volusia County Fairgrounds, the Wild Game Feast welcomes guests to spend $50 each to sample from heaping helpings of exotic delicacies, including venison, gator tail, frog legs, crawfish, pulled pork, wild boar stew and the piece de resistance, fried rattlesnake. The event raises money for local non-profit organizations, so you can feel warm and fuzzy while noshing on something long and slithery. 

Zip It Good

The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tour, Ocala

Fear of heights will evaporate in the exhilaration of racing down a zip line at Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tour in the Ocala National Forest. Guests can tackle nine different lines on the nearly 100-acre plot at Canyons, traversing over water, across ravines and through shady, majestic oaks. For the regular price of $89, you get the service of two experienced guides to take you on a three-hour zip line tour that includes rope bridges, a nature walk and a rappelling opportunity. If you’re feeling really bold, you can try it at night on special tours only offered a few times a year. 

Party Down in a College Town

University of Florida, Gainesville

You’re only young once, true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revisit your glory days with a weekend tour of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. Hang out with a slew of real Gators at The Swamp Restaurant, an old house that once belonged to a UF professor and is now the hub of activity on game days (and most other days). After a dinner there (try the sweet potato fries), hit the streets for a tour of college dive bars and loud dance clubs chock full of people at the most optimistic point in their lives. 

Spin Some Hot Wheels

Ocean Drive, Miami

Maybe you’re not normally the type to jump in a neon-bright Lamborghini and rev it up and down Ocean Drive while onlookers marvel. But if you plan it right, you can be, just for a day. Exotic car rentals are plentiful in flashy Miami and can range from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on how long you want to ride in style. Ocean Drive is as much a place to see and be seen as it is a roadway, so whether you go for a Ferrari or an Audi, an Aston Martin or even a Rolls Royce, just make sure it's gleaming, glitzy and worth every penny. 

Grapple a Gator

Gatorland, Orlando

If you're fascinated by alligators but would prefer to see them in a controlled environment where professionals do the wrestling, check out Gatorland in Orlando, home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles, as well as a new thrilling zip line attraction that lets you soar at a safe distance above the toothy reptiles. At Gatorland, you can watch someone who knows what he's doing wrestle the beasts. And maybe if you get your courage up, you can do it yourself. Gatorland experts will pose the animals and let rookies give wrestling a try. Smile for the camera – you’re only doing this once.

Fear the Spear!

Florida State University home game, Tallahassee

Fans of the Florida State University Seminoles football team, which won the 2013 NCAA national championship, pack into Doak Campbell Stadium for games and make sure to get there early to witness one of the most thrilling rituals in all of college sports. A student dressed as legendary Seminole Indian leader Osceola gallops down the field on an Appaloosa horse named Renegade. He then takes a flaming spear and thrusts it into the ground midfield to mark the start of the game. If that doesn’t get you pumped for a gridiron battle, nothing will.

JUST BEACHY

Castles Made of Sand

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition, Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota

The annual contest, which has been around more than 40 years, attracts some of the world’s most talented professional sand sculpture artists to Siesta Key Beach, which was named one of the 2014 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Top 25 U.S. Beaches. Amateurs are also welcome, and even if architecture isn’t your forte, it’s fun to feast your eyes on the amazing creations, which can range from mermaids to Volkswagens to pirates to Angry Birds to giant dogs drinking out of giant bowls. And there’s the occasional traditional – but elaborately constructed – sandcastle, too. 

Hit the Beach on Horseback

Amelia Island

Is there anything more romantic than cantering along the waterline on a beautiful Florida beach? If you own a horse, you can take it for a ride at Amelia Island State Park, one of the only horse-friendly beaches on Florida’s east coast. If you need a steed, several companies based in the area rent horses and provide guides, usually for around $70 to $80. It’s small price to pay for a memory – and a Facebook photo – that will last a lifetime. 

Beach the Retreat

New Smyrna Beach

There’s something magical that happens as you drive down the east coast of Florida, out of Daytona and into New Smyrna Beach. The restaurants and hotels fade, replaced by private beach houses on stilts. You can rent one from seasonal residents for $100 and up a night, depending on how large a house you want and how close to the water it is. The waves are tall and the vibe is all about seclusion and relaxation. One place that’ll tempt you to leave your seaside retreat is Capt. JB’s Fish Camp & Seafood Restaurant, a complex with a waterfront dock, kayak rentals and a cheeky little sandwich called the “Crabulous,” a sinful concoction of mayonnaise and pure crab. 

Cowabunga! Catch a Wave

Daytona Beach

Good surfers make it look so easy. The rest of us need a little help. You can fulfill your dream of catching a wave in surf hotspot Daytona Beach by patronizing any number of outfits along the beach that deliver personal or group lessons, usually for about $50 and up per hour. This is a high-traffic area for visitors, so be prepared to submerge yourself in the tourist lifestyle. The soft, swelling waves are good for beginners and kids, as well as those who have a bit more confidence and experience. 

Perch at the Pink Palace

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach

The towering Loews Don CeSar Hotel is a registered Historic Hotel of America known around the world as the Pink Palace for the way its rosy majesty is silhouetted against the sky on St. Pete Beach. Built in 1928, the hotel has played host to Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald and has been the setting for movies and music specials. You can spend all day in the vicinity of pink paradise, visiting the dockside restaurants and bars, grabbing an ice cream cone or getting a pedicure. Overnight guests have access to two swimming pools and a private beach, plus bonus sun-kissed cheeks to match the hotel’s hue. 

Dig Your Toes in the Sand

St. George Island

This barrier island off the Florida Panhandle is home to bustling restaurants, bars and multi-million dollar homes, but it also has a laid-back feel and pockets of peaceful seclusion unmatched by other Florida beaches. Surround yourself with sea oats and pine trees, and enjoy miles of undeveloped white sugar sand. Your toes will thank you for the break.

LOCAL FLAVOR

Say ‘Yes’ to Ya Ya

The Fish House, Pensacola

Ready to try a real Southern delicacy that's also fun to say? Indulge in a plate of Grits a Ya Ya at the Fish House in Pensacola. The famous meal serves up a combo of jumbo Gulf shrimp, spinach, mushrooms, bacon and cream over Gouda cheese grits for $20. At the Fish House, you can eat dockside while gazing out at Pensacola Bay and Seville Harbor. If grits aren’t your thing, you can opt for a mouthwatering array of local seafood, steaks and sushi. But, really – grits should be your thing. 

Grab Some Grouper

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, Clearwater Beach

If you live in Clearwater and are hosting out-of-towners, there’s one hard-and-fast rule of thumb – everyone must go to Frenchy’s! The signature eatery of Clearwater Beach was founded in 1981 and has expanded into a four restaurants and a motel at different locations on the beach. But the best view by far comes from Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill right on the sand. Eat a big filet of grouper – fried, grilled or cooked Cajun or Buffalo style – or upsize to the massive Super Grouper sandwich. Get a side of luxurious She Crab soup and slurp it as you watch the sun go down. 

Get Into the Grove

Al’s Family Farms, Fort Pierce

To truly squeeze the juice from a Florida visit, you have to tour an authentic orange grove. Al's Family Farms in Fort Pierce in the Indian River citrus district has been in business for more than 35 years and three generations. Depending on the time of year, you can sic your taste buds on some juicy Valencia oranges, Ruby Red grapefruit, Royal Honeybell tangelos and other citrus delights, plus take a tour of the packing house to see how the fruit is processed. 

Tong for Oysters

Apalachicola Bay

Got a taste for oysters? You could sit at a swanky restaurant and slurp some down, or you could take matters into your own hands in the waters of Apalachicola Bay. More than 90 percent of the state’s oysters are harvested there, raked by hard-working harvesters wielding tongs that resemble a set of giant salad forks. Oysters must be at least 3 inches long to be taken from the bay, and if you're doing it for fun and not business, you can only harvest two bags per person. If you want to know where to look and how to tong, there are charter operations you can hire in Apalachicola and on St. George Island

Sleuth for Scallops

Steinhatchee

Maybe you’re not a fan of oysters, but you’re wild about their fellow filter-feeders, scallops. Scallop season runs from July to September and there are plenty of places you can while away the day snorkeling the grass flats and plucking the blue-eyed beauties from their hiding places. In the small fishing village of Steinhatchee, west of Gainesville, find a recreational charter boat, slap on a snorkel and mask and keep your eyes open as you swim along. Be sure to check the rules regarding how many you can harvest. Scallops aren’t so easy to clean, so consider taking your haul to a local scallop shucker or a restaurant in town that will prepare them for you. 

CULTURED PEARLS 

Smoke a Stogie

King Corona Cigars, Ybor City, Tampa

Ybor City is a vibrant Tampa neighborhood that was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” King Corona Cigars in the heart of the historic entertainment district sells a large selection of handmade cigars to both regulars and visitors, along with wine, imported beer, pan cubano (Cuban toast), yucca chips, Cuban coffee and a selection of guayaberas, also known as Mexican wedding shirts. But the real draw is sitting at a sidewalk table puffing a stogie in the late afternoon without a care in the world, just before the streets start to fill with pleasure-seekers ready for a big night out in Ybor’s happening clubs. 

Snuggle a Possum

Possum Festival, Wausau

It’s a favorite stop of campaigning Florida politicians, who like to have their photos taken holding the critters by their naked tails. The Wausau Possum Festival is a major annual event in the 1-square-mile town in the Florida Panhandle, and it comes complete with a pancake breakfast, a Possum King & Queen contest, a Possum Trot 5K run and hog-calling and horseshoe-throwing tests of will and skill. And, of course, you can gaze upon – and maybe even pet – some of the festival honorees. 

Be Queen for a Day

Parkesdale Farm Market, Plant City

In Plant City, just outside of Tampa, life moves a little slower and royalty is real. Each year the town crowns a Strawberry Queen and her court in a show of pageantry at the annual Florida Strawberry Festival. If you have royal aspirations of your own, visit Parkesdale Farm Market, the largest family-operated strawberry and citrus market in Florida. Sip one of their world-famous strawberry milkshakes and nibble some strawberry shortcake, and when you’re done, plop yourself onto the giant strawberry throne and pretend to be queen. They even provide tiaras. 

Get Spooked

St. Augustine

Take advantage of St. Augustine’s spooky historic vibe with one of the guided ghost tours on offer. The casual enthusiast will enjoy one with ladies in period garb guiding tours around cemeteries, narrow roads and the city's famous intertwining Love Tree, which bestows everlasting love to those who kiss below it. More sophisticated hunters of souls – like the supernatural sleuths of SyFy network’s “Ghost Hunters” TV show, who were amazed by the paranormal activity at the St. Augustine Lighthouse – can take more highly technical tours. Either way, you’re sure to get back to your hotel and see your shower curtain move in the middle of the night. 

Spy Six-Toed Cats

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, Key West

Polydactyl cats have six – count ‘em, six – toes. Writer Ernest Hemingway became a fan of the felines after receiving a six-toed kitty from a ship’s captain. Today, the descendants of Hemingway’s original cats roam the property of the Hemingway Home in Key West, along with other kitties sporting the usual number of digits. If you tour the property, you can often find them lounging by Hemingway’s typewriter, or by the expensive swimming pool built for the author’s wife, Pauline. 

Go On an Upscale Spree

Worth Avenue, Palm Beach

Head to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach to shop like the stars do at more than 200 exceedingly upscale retailers, including Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chopard, Neiman Marcus and Emilo Pucci, plus art dealers, jewelers and restaurants, all appealing to the kind of folks who stay at The Breakers, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and the Four Seasons hotels, among other luxe properties nearby. Remember, it’s fine to just look and not buy. 

Hunt for Treasure

Mount Dora

Your most treasured vacation souvenir needn’t be brand spanking new – it could be lurking in one of the many antique stores in Mount Dora.  Browse to your heart’s content in venues that range from Renninger's Antique Center, with its weekend open air markets, to the Village Antique Mall, with more than 60 vendors. Mount Dora also has a full slate of antique, book, craft, bicycle and music festivals year-round. 

Martinis in Miami

Fontainebleau Miami Beach

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach is situated on Millionaire's Row in Miami Beach, where it looks right at home. The luxurious hotel was originally designed in 1954 by Morris Lapidus and has been fully renovated. Its guests include some of the world's biggest celebrities. The Fontainebleau boasts 12 restaurants, including renowned chef Scott Conant's Scarpetta. And you don’t have to stay the night to get in on the glamour. You can pretend you’re Frank Sinatra while sipping a cocktail at one of the hotel’s clubs, such as Bleau Bar, Michael Mina 74 and Liv. Can’t you feel that “summer wind blowin’ in from across the sea”? 

Hear the Bells Toll

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

You can listen to recordings of the 60-bell carillon at Bok Tower Gardens online, but there’s nothing like experiencing it in person. A historic landmark in Lake Wales created by writer and humanitarian Edward W. Bok, Bok Tower Gardens is host to stunning swaths of azaleas and magnolias that dazzle the eye when in full bloom, an endangered plant garden, a reflecting pool and, of course, the 205-foot Singing Tower, which rings out for guests in the lush gardens below from 1 to 3 p.m. every day. 

Have an Artful Adventure

John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota

In 1911, circus pioneers John and Mable Ringling bought the vast property along the Sarasota waterfront where they spent their winters. Eventually, they filled the palatial estate with a world-class art collection and eventually left it all to the State of Florida. Today, there’s a museum housing an ever-expanding collection featuring works by Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more, and has become a mecca for culture-seekers from around the globe. The Ringling estate also includes the jewel-box Asolo Repertory Theatre, the Ringling Circus Museum, the Ringling Bayfront Gardens and the Venetian Gothic-style mansion grandly named Ca’ d’Zan

Storm the Castillo

Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine

The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the country and embodies the spirit of the early colonial era in America. Today, you can journey back in time when you step through the battlements and read about the epic battles and sieges that happened there, take a tour, view people in period garb giving weapons demonstrations or even pack a picnic lunch and nibble a sandwich beneath the fort's formidable walls.

Climb a Lighthouse

Forgotten Coast

They gleam mysteriously from a distance, sturdy beacons of light hundreds of years old that tower along Florida’s Forgotten Coast. A series of four lighthouses mark the 90 miles from St. Marks to Cape San Blas, structures hundreds of years old. Take a drive and visit the St. Marks Lighthouse, the Crooked River Lighthouse, the Cape St. George Light and the Cape San Blas Lighthouse (which will eventually be relocated to the city of Port St. Joe).  Time your visit for a full moon night when you can climb to the top of all but the St. Marks lighthouse for a moonlit view of the Gulf. 

Go Native

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation

Every Florida fan should know the basics about the state’s native peoples. Learn about the Seminole Tribe of Florida at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Clewiston. Guests can tour a mile of boardwalk cutting through a cypress swamp, learn how the tribe uses 67 different plant species and watch artists create wood carvings, woven baskets and beadwork. The museum houses more than 20,000 tribal artifacts, as well as life-size dioramas and other exhibits, and visitors can watch a movie explaining Seminole history. And you can take a bit of the museum home with you by purchasing a piece of Seminole art. 

Find the Toreador

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg

Can you see him? It’s the “Hallucinogenic Toreador,” a famous work by surrealist master Salvador Dali, housed in new Salvador Dali Museum designed by French-American architect Yann Weymouth. The museum is open 363 days of the year on St. Petersburg’s waterfront and boasts 96 Dali oil paintings, plus drawings, prints, sculptures, photos and written works. The “Toreador,” meant to embody the disdain of Dali's wife Gala for the sport of bullfighting, is comprised of 28 Venus de Milo forms and myriad other elements that, when looked at just right, form the upper body of a bullfighter. 

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Kathy Ford
Kathy Ford April 3, 2014 12:01 AM
Great ideas for everyone.