How to Find Your Serenity in Florida
Julie Landry Laviolette
Looking to get away from it all? Trying to find yourself? Florida is a good place to start.
Think undisturbed natural areas, quiet beaches, soothing tropical breezes, and you’re halfway there. Whether you want to clear your head with a refreshing splash in the ocean or chill out on a lounge chair with your toes buried in powder-soft sand, Florida is the perfect place to find your serene side.
Here are six ways to start:
Paddle through nature
Quiet your mind with a paddle through the great outdoors. Dip your paddle into the calm, clear water, propel yourself into the wilderness and watch your cares fall behind.
Florida has an abundance of parks that offer your favorite scenery, whether it’s massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, lush mangroves or an unobstructed view to a clear, blue sky. Kayak and canoe rentals can typically be found near launch sites, along with guided tours, if you don’t want to go it alone.
In southwest Florida, head to Little Manatee River State Park in Wimauma to find a freshwater river that lazily winds its way under a canopy of shade trees. Stop at a tiny sandy beach to stretch your legs and splash around, and recharge at a screened enclosure with picnic tables. (If you like a sprinkle of adventure with your serenity, try the rope swings over a small bluff.)
In the northern part of the state, the 40 miles of Suwannee River from White Springs to Suwannee River State Park is the prettiest (and easiest to paddle), with narrow stretches between high banks lined with pine and cypress trees.
About 90 miles south of Orlando, Arbuckle Creek in Sebring is a little-known, scenic river that meanders through ancient cypress trees and is home to abundant wildlife.
Meditation can help clear your head, boost mood and concentration and help you find inner peace. Known as the art of silencing the mind, meditation is a natural companion for the peaceful natural areas found in Florida.
The best part? You don’t need any equipment or training. Just select a quiet spot to find your Om. Find a tranquil area in a wooded park, a bench under a shady tree, or a quiet beach at dusk, close your eyes and drift away.
In southeast Florida, a free oceanfront beginners guided meditation by YURU Mindfulness + Meditation takes place Sundays at 8:30 a.m. at Hollywood North Beach Park. Drawing hundreds of people from all walks of life, the gatherings are open to ages 10 and up, and no experience is necessary. Bring a hat, towel and water bottle.
For meditation paired with luxurious surroundings, try Florida’s upscale resorts, like The Standard Spa in Miami Beach, a spa hotel that offers a premium menu of meditation experiences, including group meditation sessions by a garden fire pit or while floating in a bayside pool.
If you want more guidance, Florida is a popular destination for meditation retreat centers, like Mindfulness Meditation International on the state’s west coast in Palmetto, which combines relaxation pools and libraries in tandem with the state’s restful natural surroundings.
The Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery in Panama City offers 20 acres of peaceful grounds where visitors can wander at will or attend day-long retreats.
Take yoga outdoors
Yoga can help with balance, strength and toning. It also helps with mindfulness, which can reduce stress and promote peacefulness. Florida’s lovely beaches can offer a serene space for the practice of yoga at any level. Communing with nature, whether it’s in a nature preserve, a forested area or a tropical park, can help free your mind as you move through poses.
Sunset beach yoga, held Wednesdays and Sundays on Delray Beach, is designed to help you slow down and connect with nature. The 80-minute sessions, open to all ages and all levels, is by donation. Bring a towel and a water bottle.
Feeling adventurous? Head to Merritt Island for stand-up paddle-boarding yoga, where you test your concentration as you move from pose to pose while balancing on a board on the water.
Hearing the call of the wild? Experience “Yoga on the Farm” amid green pastures and wildlife at Wildflower Farm in Orlando, or practice yoga surrounded by exotic animals in Zoo World’s “Yoga at the Zoo” in Panama City Beach.
Walk in the park
Sometimes getting away from it all is as easy as heading outdoors. Hit the hiking trails, or pack the binoculars for a birding expedition or a glimpse of area wildlife. Let your mind wander as you meander under tree-shaded paths through natural preserves. Florida’s extensive park system stretches into every corner of the state, including 174 parks, trails and historic sites in its award-winning state park system.
Put on your rose-colored glasses and enjoy the flora at Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Coral Gables, a tranquil oasis with a world-renowned collection of tropical plants. Stroll along the pathways and enjoy the natural gardens and outdoor sculptures, or take a tram ride to tour the grounds.
In the Tampa area, head to Florida Botanical Gardens, the largest free botanical garden in Florida. It features 25 themed areas, including an elegant wedding garden.
In north Florida, enjoy the great outdoors in nature preserves like Big Shoals State Park in White Springs, where trails take you to scenic perches on high river bluffs overlooking whitewater rapids.
Take a dip in a natural spring
A natural, freshwater spring, with its cool, clear waters, can serve as a magical oasis for a bit of an escape. These old-fashioned swimming holes, with briskly cool water from natural springs, are the perfect antidote for a warm, Florida day. Take a refreshing dip, paddle a kayak, snorkel or dive into the crystal waters to experience a tranquil underwater world.
In north Florida, Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland is a remote piece of tranquility, the perfect spot to get away from it all. Known for snorkeling and scuba diving, it’s also popular for spotting manatees that swim upriver in the winter to enjoy the spring’s warmer waters.
In central Florida, the Ocala National Forest has three freshwater springs, with activities like picnicking and hiking. Silver Springs State Park in Ocala offers a legendary glass bottom boat ride to view underwater life. Rainbow Springs State Park, about two hours north of Tampa, offers tubing where you can gently drift downriver with the current.
Enjoy a beach break
The soothing sounds of waves crashing on a beach – what could be more relaxing? With or without the pina colada, Florida’s white, sandy beaches can wash all of your cares away. Take a solitary stroll, count the seagulls or enjoy the warm, tropical breeze.
Check out the wide stretch of Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, rated one of the top beaches in the world by Dr. Beach and home to stunning sunsets.
Head to Destin on the panhandle for the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald clear waters and powdery soft sand.
Take in St. Augustine’s historic beaches on the northeast coast, offering pristine spots to experience breathtaking sunrises and lively areas to relax and watch surfers.
So what are you waiting for? Pull up a beach chair, spread out your towel and soak up the Sunshine State. Serenity is calling.