By Gary McKechnie
Get to know some of Florida’s diverse cultures, and you’ll discover a heritage filled with unique foods, fun, festivals and more.
You won’t find many states that can match Florida’s cultural diversity. Come to think of it, you won’t find many countries that could match us, either.
From Pensacola to the tip of Key West, you’ll discover a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. From Native Americans to the more recent residents of the famed Conch Republic, there are dozens of Florida cultures and lifestyles you can explore.
Get to Know the Seminole Tribe of Florida
Take a Peek: At the Okalee Village adjacent to the less-traditional tribe-run Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood (which offers another glimpse of today’s Seminole tribe) you can admire traditional dancing, music and clothing – plus there’s a wildlife show each Saturday at 8 p.m.
Take a Closer Look: At the wonderful Smithsonian-affiliated Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum located on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation south of Clewiston, start with the film We Seminoles and then learn more about their history in display after intriguing display.
After taking a short walk on a boardwalk through the woods, adjacent to the museum Seminoles make and sell arts and crafts including sweet grass baskets, beaded necklaces, wood carvings and palmetto leaf dolls at its Living Village.
A few miles away, the Billie Swamp Safari is a wonderful place to experience an airboat ride, a swamp buggy tour, watch an alligator wrestler, and grab a meal at the Swamp Water Café.
Spend Some Time: You can stay the night at the Big Cypress Resort RV Resort (not bad) or experience what, for me, was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. In a chickee hut (a primitive structure with a raised floor and a palm frond roof) you’ll be without the convenience of electricity or running water, but it’s an experience that will shed a glimmer of light on the lifestyle of the nation’s only unconquered tribe: the Seminoles.
For complete information of Seminole attractions, events, and activities, visit www.floridaseminoletourism.com.
Discover African-American Florida Heritage
Take a Peek: Florida has many museums with a focus on African-American arts and Florida culture.
In DeLand, the African American Museum of the Arts showcases artwork as well as African and Caribbean artifacts. Tallahassee’s John Gilmore Riley Center and Museum is dedicated to African-American history and culture, and the collection at Fort Lauderdale’s African-American Research Library and Cultural Center reveals the experiences of people of African descent.
See art come to life in the famous routines of the Marching 100 of the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU). You can catch the marching band at home football games in Tallahassee each fall.
Take a Closer Look: Visit Eatonville, the oldest incorporated African-American community in America and the hometown of legendary novelist Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah’s Gourd Vine). Celebrate the town’s history and Hurston’s influence in January at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.
Spend Some Time: It’s a musical form of March Madness in Miami at Jazz in the Gardens, a three-day festival featuring some of the biggest names in show business. Past performers have included Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, New Edition, Neyo, Earth Wind & Fire, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Fantasia, Monica, and Mary Mary.
Along with great performances you’ll find great food and merchandise – a perfect combination that attracts more than 60,000 festival fans each year.
Experience Hispanic, Latin and Cuban Culture
Take a Peek: Experience the many flavors of the most cosmopolitan city in the South on Miami’s Ocean Drive, where lively Latin music sweeps through cafes.
Or visit nearby Espanola Way, where there remains a distinct Latin flavor – one rooted when teenage Desi Arnaz helped popularize America’s conga craze when he played in a nightclub here.
Take a Closer Look: This time, it’s all about taste. In the heart of Ybor City near Tampa, the legendary Columbia Restaurant (established 1905) serves cuisine as authentic and zesty as its floorshow of Flamenco dancers. Other Columbia locations include Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach, Celebration, Tampa Riverwalk, Tampa International Airport and St. Augustine).
At the Lincoln Road Mall in Miami, Yuca (Young Urban Cuban-Americans) features upscale Cuban cuisine – Nuevo Latino – which blends ingredients from the Caribbean and Latin America.
Spend Some Time: Visit Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), which runs through the heart of Little Havana in Miami, and you’ll think you are in Cuba. Up and down the avenue are Cuban restaurants, markets, shops and men playing dominoes. To celebrate Latin Florida’s heritage and history, each March an estimated 1 million people attend the grand festival known as Carnaval Miami.
The Florida heritage of Florida Crackers (pioneer cowboys) is celebrated through traditions associated with the culture. Want to see what that’s like? Well, nibble on boiled peanuts served by vendors set up along Florida’s back roads and then try a few of these…
Visit Florida’s pioneer lifestyle museums, including the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City, the Immokalee Pioneer Museum, the Tallahassee Museum and the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement in Blountstown.
Attend a folk festival such as the Old Florida Festival in Naples, Sopchoppy’s Worm Gruntin’ Festival, the Wild Beast Feast in Gilchrist County, Pioneer Florida Days in Dade City and the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.
At Westgate River Ranch near Lake Wales, mount up on a horse, go trap and skeet shooting, take a hayride, enjoy a cookout and glimpse the life of a Florida cowboy.
For a serious adventure, each year the weeklong, 110-mile Cracker Trail Ride crosses the state from Bradenton to Fort Pierce.