By Kara Franker
In a new blog series for VISIT FLORIDA, I'm interviewing travel bloggers to find out about their favorite things about the Sunshine State.
First up is Charles McCool, a travel skills expert, author, trainer and travel blogger. Profiled in the World’s Smartest Traveler series, his articles and travel advice have appeared in many sources, including CNN, Frommers and USA Today.
So what does Charles love about Florida? Check out his list below...
Florida Sunrises and Sunsets
In most of the world, you're lucky to see a sunrise or a sunset over water. It's realistic to see both in most of Florida every day and practically required in the Keys. One of my dream jobs is taking over for Fort Lauderdale Sun.
Visiting beaches is probably my favorite Florida activity. Sun, sand and breathing that fresh air. My favorite Florida beaches include Bahia Honda, Sombrero, Anna Maria Island, and Cape Florida. Really, though, is there a bad Florida beach? Another dream job I'd like is filling in for Dr. Beach.
The Scenic Drives
The smaller the road, the happier I am. A perfect Florida road trip is not driving on an interstate, turnpike, toll road or US highway. I have driven all 340 miles of A1A from Mile 0 in Key West to Yulee. In February, I challenged myself to drive from Naples to Fort Lauderdale without taking I-75. I found a series of small roads (like Oil Well Road) to US-27 and Griffin Road east to the ocean. If you decide to take this route, these are the top places to stop on highway 27. I love driving red dirt roads through citrus groves. Of course I hope to get a convertible whenever I rent a car. I'd also like to fly one-way into Florida in May or June and drive a rental car back to Virginia; those cars are usually $5 a day.
Old Florida Cities
I love finding the nostalgia of "Old Florida." Micanopy, Cross Creek, Homosassa, Cracker Trail and Card Sound areas are some favorites. I found this Old Florida scene within a mile of I-75 and I-595 in Davie this past February.
Unique Florida Nature
Growing up in South Florida on a canal, familiar sights included lizards, iguanas, tropical birds, manatees, gators and snakes (eek!). By exploring smaller roads, I have seen wild boar and seven-foot long rattlesnakes. I still get a kick seeing ibis and storks. And those Florida trees! I can spend all day looking at banyans in Coral Gables or mossy oaks in northern Florida. Other favorites include Ocala National Forest, Lake Wales Ridge, Peace River and the Florida Everglades.
Have you seen the cool Arabian architecture in Opa Locka, pastel homes in Seaside, Spanish homes of Coral Gables, the Key West cemetery and Stiltsville? Did you know the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere and USA's smallest post office are located in South Florida? At Clark's Fish Camp in Jacksonville, you can have yak, python, and other exotic meats. Parking spaces dedicated to golf carts. Towns named Venus and Jupiter. I have been on road trips in every state and around the world but I believe Floridians might be the most festive holiday decorators. Thank you, Florida, for wrapping white lights around palm trees at Christmas time -- that looks so cool. Florida definitely leads the modern world in quirky mailboxes.
If you live in Florida and are not within 30 minutes of a beach, you are probably 15 minutes from a river or lake. If you have not been boating or swimming lately, it is because you are avoiding it. Take a look at
All that exploring makes me hungry. Florida food is some of the best in the world. Travel friends debate the best BBQ and I proclaim that I have had the best ribs from a roadside stand in Mount Dora and the best BBQ sandwich from James Brown's in Avon Park. Whether enjoying boiled peanuts, freshly caught seafood, Cuban cuisine, soul food or Southern specialties -- Florida has so much great food. In Florida, I have tried the freshest produce and citrus, the southernmost US winery (mango wine!), and amazing taco food trucks near Haines City. Let the debate of best key lime pie reign on!
About Charles McCool: Charles designs dream trips for clients, is a Virtuoso travel advisor, and wrote Winning the Airfare Game. His road trip travels seeking the best ice cream and BBQ have taken him to all 50 states and several countries.