Julie Landry Laviolette and Jodi Mailander Farrell
Looking to get away from it all? Trying to find yourself? The Sunshine State 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 some ways to to unplug and find sun-kissed bliss in Florida. You’ll return home calmer and more grounded.
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.
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.
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.
Float Your Yoga
Practice your sun salutation to a real-time sunrise. Outdoor yoga sessions on the beach and in parks are a winter pastime in Florida. For a tranquil twist, try de-stressing on the water with paddleboard yoga.
In the Florida Keys, Serenity Eco Therapy hosts progressive paddleboard yoga therapeutics classes in near-shore mangrove sanctuaries throughout the island chain, including Bahia Honda State Park north of Key West, known for spectacular sunsets and excellent snorkeling.
Feeling adventurous? Head north 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.
At Santa Rosa Beach in Northwest Florida, 30A Paddleboard Yoga offers a full range of beginner-friendly to advanced classes, as well as week-long retreats. For the ultimate secluded yoga escape, fly to a remote Gulf Coast island for a private, instructor-led session with “Heli-Yoga,” a helicopter charter experience offered by Str8 Up Aviation in Fort Myers.
In St. Augustine in Northeast Florida, the SUP Yoga Center has a mobile floating studio for custom classes for three or more people.
Heal Thyself in Warm Mineral Springs
Legend has it that the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León spent the early 1500s in Florida searching for the Fountain of Youth. Although historians now debunk the story as myth, that hasn’t stopped others from searching for the fabled wellspring. Some claim to have found it at Warm Mineral Springs Park, a little-known, mineral-rich swimming hole in North Port.
Although Florida is home to more than 1,000 springs, Warm Mineral Springs is the only naturally-occurring warm mineral spring in the state. On a chilly day, steam rises from the spring like a sauna and the inviting water – containing an estimated 51 minerals – is a warm temperature of 85 degrees. Natural health fans believe the springs contain healing properties for a variety of ailments. Since canoes, boats and other water sports are not allowed, there is plenty of room to test that theory on your own.
Aren’t close to North Port, which is south of Sarasota? There are plenty of nature’s water fountains throughout the state, including 33 first-magnitude springs – more than any other state or nation can boast. This guide will help you find one near you.
Gardens of Earthly Delights
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 parks, trails and historic sites in its award-winning state park system.
Or, 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.
The six gardens at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, inspired by famous gardens of Japan, are serene sanctuaries prime for reflection and wonder just west of Delray Beach in Palm Beach County. The center for Japanese arts and culture even features a Stroll for Well-Being Therapeutic Garden Walking program, along with Japanese tea ceremonies, a bonsai collection and an annual lantern festival. The only museum in the United States dedicated to the living culture of Japan, the center has 16 manicured acres, from rock gardens to rustic retreats. Catch a panoramic view of the lake and gardens over your bento box from the balcony of the on-site café, rated among the country’s top three museum dining destinations by the Food Network.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.
There are thousands of acres of preserved and lovingly tended gardens throughout Florida, from the state’s largest public display of bamboo at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville to the world’s most outstanding collection of epiphytes (air plants) at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Find a peaceful haven near you with this guide.
Sink into a Florida Spa
They’re not just about mud masks and massages. Florida’s spas offer workshops, retreats and special services for recuperation, relaxation and a chance to explore life-changing practices. The Standard hotel and spa in Miami Beach – a popular mind-body refuge for locals – provides vibration therapy, with crystal sound bowls and tuning forks, as well as yoga and meditation classes, and an in-house astrologer and acupuncturist. Guests have complimentary access to the bayside hangout’s spa, which has a Turkish-style hamam, aroma steam room, Roman waterfall hot tub, Finnish sauna, artic plunge, treatment baths, mud lounge and infinity pool.
When it comes to rejuvenation, Florida spas have history. Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, on the west shore of Tampa Bay, was constructed in 1925 over natural mineral springs, which continue to feed the pools today. From funky boutiques to upscale, urban hotels, find one to suit your needs at Visit Florida’s spa page.
So what are you waiting for? Pull up a beach chair, spread out your towel and soak up the Sunshine State. Serenity is calling.
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