EDI­TOR’S MES­SAGE

2017 Travel Guide to Florida - - EDITOR’S MESSAGE -

For many of us, a trip to Florida is an an­nual tra­di­tion. For some, it is a win­ter home. For oth­ers, it’s the ideal win­ter es­cape, where theme parks, beaches and at­trac­tions cater to all ages and in­ter­ests. In short, Florida seems to have the un­canny knack of mor­ph­ing into what­ever it is we want or imag­ine it to be. But there’s so much more to Florida than sun­shine, surf and sand. Each year in­tro­duces a bounty of new, big­ger or bet­ter at­trac­tions, ho­tels, restau­rants and events geared to keep guests en­ter­tained and hol­ler­ing for more.

And while we’re for­ever re­search­ing what’s new and ex­cit­ing, we should never ig­nore the cul­ture and tra­di­tions of Florida’s na­tive in­hab­i­tants, its his­tory and the nat­u­ral beauty of its wilder­ness. While much of this is pre­served in mu­se­ums and wildlife at­trac­tions and re­search pro­grams in or near the larger cities, for truly authen­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, one has to ven­ture be­yond city lim­its to small com­mu­ni­ties that still em­body the charm and her­itage of Old Florida.

In South­east Florida, head south from Mi­ami along the Over­seas High­way through the Florida Keys, and you may think you’ve passed through the look­ing glass into an­other world. Drive west into the Ever­glades to find ad­ven­tures and a life­style you never imag­ined ex­isted. Aim north to reach Lake Okee­chobee, the largest fresh­wa­ter lake in the state and a haven for an­glers, campers, bird­ers and stargaz­ers.

In South­west Florida, Naples, Fort My­ers, Sara­sota and Braden­ton fea­ture a laid-back, yet el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated life­style, where cul­ture, fish­ing ex­cur­sions, shelling and golf reign. But don’t miss out on what the smaller com­mu­ni­ties and off­shore is­lands, such as Pine Is­land, Mat­lacha, Cab­bage Key, Boca Grande and Venice, have to of­fer.

Drive north along the Gulf of Mex­ico to cross the four-mile-long Sun­shine Sky­way Bridge into Cen­tral East Florida where award-win­ning beaches in Clear­wa­ter, St. Peters­burg and Dunedin vie for at­ten­tion with Tampa’s Dalí Mu­seum and its his­toric Latin Quar­ter, Ybor City. A few more miles north and you could be swim­ming with man­a­tees in crys­tal-clear wa­ters.

Swing east­ward along the I-4, through Cen­tral Florida past some of the most un­pop­u­lated, ru­ral land­scapes in Florida. Ven­ture off-road to tour the Bok Tower in Lake Wales and the Sa­fari Wilder­ness Ranch in Lake­land be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to Kis­sim­mee and Or­lando, where theme parks wel­come mil­lions of visi­tors an­nu­ally.

While Cen­tral East Florida on the At­lantic coast is home to the world-fa­mous Day­tona Beach and its DAY­TONA 500, the Kennedy Space Cen­ter Vis­i­tor Com­plex and a surfer’s par­adise in Co­coa Beach, don’t over­look charm­ing Stu­art and Jensen Beach in Martin County; Port St. Lu­cie and Fort Pierce in St. Lu­cie County; New Smyrna Beach and DeLand in Vo­lu­sia County; or Vero Beach in In­dian River County.

Hug the shore­line north­ward on A1A to­ward St. Au­gus­tine and Ponte Ve­dra on Florida’s His­toric Coast in North­east Florida, a re­gion an­chored in his­tory and tra­di­tion. Far­ther north, there’s Jack­sonville, a young vi­brant city, and quaint Fer­nan­d­ina Beach and Amelia Is­land, also steeped in his­tory and a sea­far­ing cul­ture.

Aim west along I-10 through North Cen­tral Florida, where old-world towns, ooz­ing South­ern charm, re­put­edly host lin­ger­ing spir­its from a dis­tant past. This is also where you’ll find Tal­la­has­see, the state cap­i­tal, and Gainesville, a vi­brant uni­ver­sity town, all sur­rounded by state parks, forests and pre­serves.

Be­fore long, you reach Northwest Florida—the Pan­han­dle—with its daz­zling white-sand beaches and emer­ald wa­ters, artis­tic com­mu­ni­ties and his­toric sites. Drive along US Route 98 from Pen­sacola to Al­li­ga­tor Point to take in the full splen­dor and rich­ness of this ma­jes­tic coast­line.

Wher­ever you go, in­dulge in the fresh­est seafood imag­in­able; at­tend bas­ket­ball, foot­ball, hockey or base­ball games; en­joy lo­cal fes­ti­vals, ju­ried art shows and events; book a spa treat­ment; ob­serve dol­phins, man­a­tees and other wildlife; hunt for trea­sures at dis­count out­lets, flea mar­kets, mam­moth shop­ping malls and along leg­endary av­enues; visit theme parks; stroll beau­ti­ful beaches as you ad­mire sun­rises and sun­sets; party well into the night; en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties you never dreamed of; or just re­lax.

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