Find Classic Florida Along State Road 70
By Vanessa Caceres
Want to see some real Florida, off of the interstates? Take your next day trip along Florida’s State Road 70.
State Road 70 begins at a traffic circle in Bradenton (only minutes from the popular Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island) and continues through Myakka City, Arcadia, south of Lake Placid, and Okeechobee before ending in Fort Pierce.
State Road 70 will remind you of Florida’s strong agricultural roots as you whiz by trucks transporting cattle, oranges, and horses. You’ll pass by grazing cattle, grassland, prairies, sabal palms, and oak hammocks -- and catch some impressive sunrise and sunset views if you time your trip right.
“State Road 70 is like a step back in time. It reminds us of ‘Old Florida,’” said Burt Atkinson of Pompano Beach, who has used S.R. 70 frequently to visit family in Bradenton and Arcadia.
Here’s a rundown on five great places to visit along S.R. 70.
TreeUmph! Adventure Course, Bradenton
TreeUmph! is an obstacle course high in the trees. However, you don’t need to be a monkey or a bird to make your way around -- you wear a harness and follow designated challenges like swinging logs and Tarzan ropes before you whiz down a zipline. Chuck Hindelang of Bradenton visited TreeUmph! with a church group and is eager to return. “When you have reached your personal level of difficulty, it’s easy to simply come down from the ropes course. They are very safety-conscious,” he said. Once the ropes course at TreeUmph! tires you out, stop by Full Belly Stuffed Burgers for friendly staff and burgers like the Matty Matt. “The burger is stuffed with peanut butter, which sounds really crazy but tastes delicious,” said Suzi Olivio of Palmetto. It’s also topped with maple bacon.
Dakin Dairy Farm, Myakka City
It’s not every day you can visit a working dairy farm. The folks at Dakin offer tours and walk you through how they process and bottle milk from their 4,000 cows (2,400 are used for milking at any given time). Dakin produces 60,000 to 70,000 gallons of milk each week, according to tour guide Laurie Cagle. They also encourage visitors to have a picnic and play on their playground or in their seasonal corn maze. Other attractions at Dakin include the retail store, petting zoo, hayride, and pig races, said Judy Vobroucek of Bradenton. “Wear appropriate shoes because it’s a bit muddy near the cows.”
Antique lovers already know about the delights found in the ag-heavy town of Arcadia. Its antique district is filled with shops that have 1970s lunchboxes (remember those?), albums (and remember those?), postcards, and plenty of other treasures from the past.
The former Opera House, which has been around since 1906, gives you a glimpse of its old stage while also serving as another antique destination -- it’s filled with small consignment shops. The opera house is also said to be haunted.
When you complete your antique tour, grab a meal at Magnolia Street Seafood and Grill right on S.R. 70, and then indulge in a slice of famous peanut butter pie from Wheeler’s Café, which has been around since 1929.
There are a few other places to see in Arcadia on or near S.R. 70 -- Joshua Citrus is open October through mid-May. Try yummy citrus fruit, juice, and ice cream -- the vanilla/orange ice cream swirl is like a creamsicle dream. Eli’s Western Wear gives you a place to try on and buy cowboy clothing and see how it suits you. Plenty of visitors also stop in Arcadia before they kayak or fossil hunt in Peace River, Atkinson said.
The small but charming town of Okeechobee is home to snowbirds and avid fishermen angling for bass and speckled perch, said Jordan Miller of Norman, Okla. Miller grew up in Okeechobee. The downtown area has locally owned boutique and novelty shops as well the popular Brown Cow Sweetery and Nutmeg’s Café. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, check out Los Cocos, Miller said.
There’s also an Eli’s Western Wear on S.R. 70, not far from downtown -- you may want to wear your cowboy clothes to the rodeo held in Okeechobee at least once a year (Arcadia also has a couple of annual rodeos).
A short drive off S.R. 70 and you’ll find a pier with a fabulous view of Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the U.S. -- in fact, the word “Okeechobee” means “big water” in an Indian language. After you fish, spot alligators, and take a few pictures, a visit to the town of Okeechobee isn’t complete without a meal stop at Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant, where the motto is, “If it swims, crawls, or hops, we probably serve it.” Sure enough, frog legs, alligator nuggets, catfish, and plenty of other critters are on the menu along with pumpkin fry bread and smoked fish dip. The restaurant plays 1960s Motown oldies while guests eat and take in the view of taxidermy animals on the walls, including deer, hogs, and raccoons.
On the way to downtown Fort Pierce, you’ll drive by the retail stand for Ace High Farm, a family-owned business that has had roots in farming since the 1880s. Citrus items like navel oranges and ruby red grapefruit draw in passerby.
Once you pass the interchanges for Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95, you’ll soon hit the end of S.R. 70. But don’t let that inner explorer escape you just yet. It’s just a five-minute or so drive along U.S. 1 until you reach downtown Fort Pierce with its colorful marina and restaurants. The Manatee Observation and Education Center, St. Lucie County Regional History Center, and the A.E. Backus Museum are also within walking distance. (The well-known African-American painters called “The Highwaymen” got their start in Fort Pierce and were taught by Backus.) If you visit downtown Fort Pierce on Saturday morning, be sure to visit its longstanding farmer’s market.