Florida is an antiques and art lover’s dream, so put on some comfortable shoes, pack your wallet, grab a shopping bag and discover these favorite shops and galleries.

By Lynn Waddell

Living in a land of vintage rhinestones, antique stained glass and artists as colorful as their paintings, I never have to see the beach to feel like I'm on vacation. As an A-1 professional-grade shopper of vintage objects (bordering on clinical), and a glutton for original art, I relax by finding a bargain on an antique brooch or losing myself in pop art.

A melting pot of rural Southern heritage, international cosmopolitan flavors and Northern retirees, Florida is an antiques and art lover's dream. Compared to the North and the West Coast, antiques retail relatively cheaply here.

Many world-famous artists call Florida home, and if you visit local galleries you just might discover the next James Rosenquist (who happens to live in Aripeka).

Put on some comfortable shoes, pack your wallet, grab a shopping bag and follow me to my favorite art galleries and shops for antiques in Florida.

Country Sophistication

First stop is historic Havana, located north of Tallahassee, where treasures echo the exotic tastes of the area's former land barons and the country flavor of its Southern farmers. Named for its tobacco farming, Havana has since become north Florida's antique town. You can find everything from a 13th century Asian bowl at Mirror Image and a mission-style pie chest at The Planters Exchange, to candy cigarettes and jaw breakers at Havana's Little River General Store, all within a short walk.

I'm drawn to the traditional Antique and Design Center and come across a floor-to-ceiling walnut china cabinet that's big enough to hold every dish, pot and pan I've ever owned. Unfortunately, it will also take up one-third of my house. I leave my husband, James, to the manly relics of baseball and militaria inside Mirror Image and sneak into Cindy's Chapeaux to look at vintage rhinestones. I say "sneak" because James issued a moratorium on my bling-bling purchases. Being an obsessive-compulsive vintage jewelry collector, I can't stop myself and am tickled to find a bargain-priced Weiss rhinestone brooch like one I regretted giving away last year. Karma.

By the time we finish our shopping, we feel like we've hiked the world. Afterwards we drive to nearby Quincy, where an antique brass bed awaits us at the historic McFarlin House Bed & Breakfast. The grand, former land baron estate has an original Tiffany window. No better way to cap off an antiques shopping trip fit for a baroness.

Antiquing to the Max

No place makes more of old age than Renningers Antique Center in Mount Dora. The legendary center is the largest source of antiques in the Southeast. Located on 130 acres, this is one of the best places to shop for antiques in Florida. Individual booth owners are available to answer your questions and assist you with purchases.

Unfortunately, I don't have his wallet, but I like to pretend I do. During a non-event weekend (the center is only open on weekends), I wander wide-eyed through the cavernous enclosed building portion among 200 air-conditioned booths. I spy a solid oak buffet that I attempt to psychically transport to my dining room until my husband physically removes me from the booth.

On the off chance you can't find what you're looking for in the center, schedule a trip during one of the fairs and extravaganzas. Antique Fairs are held the third weekend of every month except November, January and February. There are more than 100 additional booths at the antique fairs. Don't miss Renninger's Antique Extravaganzas on the third weekend of November, January and February, when more than 800 booths of antiques and collectibles are available to peruse. Dealers and shoppers, from throughout the United States, come to these events.

Be sure book a hotel reservation in advance. My favorite, the historic Lakeside Inn, is within walking distance of quaint downtown galleries, vintage bookstores, restaurants and more intimate antiques shops.

Vintage Antiques in Orlando Area

Beyond the shadow of mouse ears I find Orlando's Ivanhoe Village, reminiscent of bohemian Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Appropriately named, there's no telling what treasure you might snap up in this two-story warehouse.

A youthful lunch crowd fills the redbrick patio of the White Wolf Cafe coffee tables and chairs are spread alongside the sidewalk, while inside people dine under chandeliers with dangling price tags. Across the street at Rock 'n' Roll Heaven I find a vinyl Beatles White Album that I wished I hadn't tossed at the advent of CDs.

I gravitate to a rack of bell bottoms and chiffon '50s dresses outside  Déjà Vu Vintage and spend an hour trying on duds from the past, including a '70s polyester jumpsuit. (A fashion mistake both then and now.) Welcoming a jolt forward, I visit the contemporary furniture and floral arrangements of Saxon-Clark Home Furnishing and Interior Designs. Then it's off to the Fredlund Gallery in Winter Park to look at featured artwork from 15 local Florida artists, including wildlife art and sculpture.

A James Stewart Holiday

Year 'round, Dade City has the charm of It's a Wonderful Life. During the holiday season this aura is even stronger with storefronts decorated with garland, strands of light and red bows. Angels of various materials are common in the gift shops and galleries.

Complete with a town square footed by a red brick courthouse, Dade City is more laid-back than Renningers, and more traditional than Orlando's Ivanhoe District. I relish parking spaces along storefronts and no long lines. Several distinctly feminine shops beautify the district.

A must-visit is Lunch on Limoges. In business since 1908, this historic café shares space with a mercantile and is part of William's Fashion Center, an accordion of stores selling home décor and women's clothing. For dessert, amble down to Olga's Bakery & Deli, right next to the Florida Women's Bowling Association State Office.    

Home, Thou Art

After a whirlwind shopping tour around Florida, my adventure doesn't end when I return home to St. Petersburg, known as the "city of the arts." Along with impressive museums, the St. Petersburg area has enough galleries and openings to fill your social calendar from January to December.

On the second Saturday of the month James and I go to the Second Saturday Art Walk, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. We stroll through galleries, view art, talk to the artists, nibble cheese and sample wine (a light and easy dinner). At my favorite Central Avenue gallery, Florida Craftsmen, a co-op of artists from around the state showcases everything from pottery to artisan-made jewelry. Only a few steps away, The Morean Arts Center sells contemporary artwork.

Some of my art havens are off the beaten path. Local artists brood, create and display their masterpieces of varied media in their studios at Artworks, just south of downtown St. Petersburg. 

St. Petersburg Clay Company, inside a former train station, is another gallery where you can watch artists at work. Pick out a unique bowl or vase, and maybe catch a potter with her hands covered in clay. Nationally renowned jewelry artist Evander Preston creates his jewels within walking distance of the sands of Pass-A-Grille Beach. I walk the shore, wistful for one of his spectacular rings (hint, hint, James). Like many a conniving woman, I lure my husband there under the guise of looking at Preston's eclectic collection of antiques and artifacts. Come Valentine's, I'll see if James got the sparkling suggestion.



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