Outdoorsy types are always looking for a way to see things from a different perspective. Luckily, Florida has options. Try star gazing, airplane tours, scalloping or horseback riding when you want to soak in all the Sunshine State has to offer.
Watch the Night Sky on Your Trip to Florida
Of course, Florida’s greatest “sky” attractions are its legendary sunrises, sunsets and space launches. But few realize that Florida is also known for its astronomy clubs. The Kennedy Space Center Amateur Astronomers Club, for example, organizes a monthly Space Coast star-watching event. And cities including Casselberry have been designated “Stellar Cities” for their night-sky regulations, which help reduce light pollution and aid amateur astronomers.
Florida has a real estate development devoted to star watching, one that The New York Times cited as the nation’s first, Chiefland Astronomy Village, a community west of Gainesville. For a $35 monthly fee, members of one star-gazing group meet twice a month to talk stars on one of the village’s privately owned observation fields. Other visitors to the village's fields, like that of the Chiefland Observers, must be privately invited to the viewing fields and observation towers. In order to maintain prime viewing conditions, specific rules are required of guests, including bringing a red-filtered flashlight and limiting headlight use.
You can get prepped for the stars at one of Florida’s planetariums (the website www.astronomyclubs.com lists about 25). For instance, the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Fort Myers re-creates the seasonal night sky almost every afternoon. Other planetariums can be found by using the keyword “planetarium” on VISITFLORIDA.com.
There’s nothing like a bird’s-eye view to bring perspective to the vast natural beauty of Florida, and you don’t have to skydive or grow wings to get it.
During the winter months, Everglades Area Tours will fly you and up to three others over the Everglades, the Big Cypress Preserve and the Florida Keys. Their seaplane flies low enough to spot alligators, birds, manatees, dolphins and sharks and high enough to get sweeping views of sawgrass prairies and massive lakes. A supercharged view of central Florida’s lakes can be found with a barnstorming bi-plane flight at Polk City’s Fantasy of Flight museum. It’s offered daily at this aviation museum along Interstate 4.
It’s a Florida tradition, but how many visitors have actually done it? Sure, the bivalves can scamper backwards surprisingly quickly and even hide on the sand. But, with a net, a pair of flippers and a mask, even a child can catch scallops. Plan ahead as every summer, it’s open season on the succulent mollusks.
You can stand or snorkel over the shallow Gulf and pluck scallops from beds of seagrass from Homosassa Springs to Cape San Blas. Steinhatchee is the self-proclaimed scalloping capital, but many other Florida destinations have great scalloping too.
In Homosassa, River Safaris & Gulf Charters will take you to that region’s scalloping beds (352-628-5222). Kayaks are suited for independent scalloping, and Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outpost in Cape San Blas will lead the way (850-229-1991). Regulations are at the state’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
New Books on Florida Horseback Riding and Florida Flats Fishing
A stunning statistic: Florida’s horse industry is larger than Kentucky’s. A thundering half-million horses make up a $3.1 billion industry, according to the American Horse Council. This means many horse-related attractions for the visitor. To detail these options, Cornelia Bernard Henderson, editor of the horse publication Sidelines, wrote Florida On Horseback II: A Trail Rider’s Guide to the North and Panhandle Regions (University Press of Florida, 2007). Not only does Henderson’s book detail parks and trails, it has specifics. For instance, at Alachua and Marion County’s Orange Creek Restoration Area, readers should “expect cows, and they can at times be curious.”
Meanwhile, Jan S. Maizler’s Fishing Florida’s Flats (University Press of Florida, 2007) takes readers from the days of outdoors writer Zane Grey to today, all in search of bonefish, tarpon and permit. It’s filled with juicy information; who but a veteran fisherman could describe the tarpon’s hunger for the tasty palolo worm, found in coral reefs, thusly: “It sips the worm in; it is so delicate to see a hundred-pound fish do this.”