Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My Favorite Florida Spots

Surprisingly, being a native Floridian is a rarity. Some states have tons of natives, others are transplants. But my family has been in Florida for multiple generations and over the years I've visited almost every corner of this state I've called home. Yes, Florida can be insane and there are parts of it that aren't fun BUT I do love my home. I don't think I would trade my childhood in FL for anything else. Today I've decided to do a little guide to my favorite Florida spots. I've included a map as well as the closest city. For example, if you're vacationing in Daytona Beach I have a little side adventure for you. Each place is unique and different and I would love to hear if you've been to any yourself or if you have some special Florida places you love to visit. I'm always looking for a new adventure - xoxo darling, Hayden.
If you're in Jacksonville or St. Augustine: Castillo de San Marcos - I don't know how you could skip this if you are in St. Augustine, but if you aren't planning a trip to St. Augustine then please add it to your trip. This is my family's favorite historic spot to visit in Florida. We go to the fort whenever we are in north Florida on the east coast...I'm not even kidding. If you get lucky they will be doing a cannon firing or there will be reenactors discussing what it would have been like back around 340 years ago. It is the perfect representation of the wild history of Florida as a colony and state. BONUS: If you have extra time, drive down the coast a little to Fort Matanzas, this baby fort is so cute. You take a short boat ride out to it and you'll get great views from the top. 
If you're in Miami: Venetian Pool - Okay, yes, South Beach is cool. I will fully admit that, but it's also crazy crowded and expensive. When we go to Miami we skip all of that and head directly to the Venetian Pool. It was created in 1923 (yes, it's that old) and looks like something out of Tuscany or Madrid. It's these beautiful buildings and an amazing pool. The pool was created out of a coral rock quarry and most of the original coral rock was used for the border of the pool. It has these two historic lookout towers that make for the most beautiful Instagrams. The pool is filled (and drained) daily with 820,000 gallons from an underground aquifer. So it's not hugely chlorinated - mainly spring water - and there are two waterfalls with grottos! Seriously, I can not recommend this enough. Plus, if you've never been the city of Coral Gables provides for a beautiful walk or drive through a historic neighborhood. 
If you're in Tampa: Oxford Exchange - This place. Wow. If you watch Danielle Carolan, you'll have seen this in all of her Tampa vlogs, but dang, this place is amazing. Seriously, it is every Instagram fantasy you could possibly have. Part bookstore, part coffee shop and part restaurant this place, literally, has it all. Their book collection is phenomenal, they have great coffee and it is a wonderful place just to spend the afternoon. I would recommend going at an off time, maybe during the week, because it gets insane on weekends. But it is a must visit if you're in Tampa for any amount of time. 
If you're in Tampa: Columbia in Ybor City - Oh, The Columbia. I could wax on for hours about this restaurant. It has been my absolute favorite for years. They have multiple locations throughout the state, this is the original (my second favorite is in St. Augustine), and each of them are decorated to perfection. Then there's the food - paella, the 1905 salad, palomilla and arroz con pollo are just a few of my favorites. Plus, this is in historic Ybor City where they used to produce cigars - that's why Tampa is called the Cigar City. It is a fun spot for lunch, then take a stroll through the historic streets. 
If you're in Jacksonville: Amelia Island - Quite possibly the most beautiful place in all of Florida, my family has been visiting Amelia Island for years. There are so many little spots to stop in. First, the town of Fernandina Beach is a great place to spend the day. Walk in and out of shops peddling fudge, books, adorable clothing, etc. Stop for lunch at Lulu's at the Thompson's House, a classic stop. To learn more about the island visit the Amelia Island Museum of History and The Maritime Museum of Amelia Island. Both will give you a great overview of the island's fascinating life. One of my favorite grocery store chains is on the island, Harris Teeter, so stop in there for picnic on the beach supplies. Basically, cancel your trip to whatever beach you think you want to go to and go to Amelia Island instead. It will be worth it. BONUS: Take a little day trip to Fort Caroline, an awesome old school fort that teaches you about Florida's protection back in the old, old days.  
If you're in Seaside, Panama City or Rosemary Beach: Wesley Plantation - Part of Eden Gardens State Park, the Wesley Plantation is one of my favorites for blog shots. This historic plantation is exactly how you would think of the South. Lots of columns, breezeways and beautiful gardens. Plus, it lets out onto a bay so the breezes are great in the summer. The mansion was built in 1897 and features Louis XVI furniture. Take a tour of the house and bring a picnic to enjoy along the bay. It's a great morning trip away from the beach (when you've been burnt to a crisp and need to be in the shade). 
If you're in St. Petersburg/Clearwater: Sunken Gardens - The summer after my freshman year I was with my family in St. Pete and had the opportunity to visit Sunken Gardens. They are an old school roadside attraction (the
garden is 100 years old!) that is just as beautiful today. You can see everything from flamingos to what plants grow naturally in the sub-tropics. It's a beautiful little tourist spot, perfect for photos and a little off-the-beaten-path. 
If you're in central or the mid-west coast: Homosassa Springs - This state park is absolutely gorgeous. Go for the boat tour that takes you along Pepper Creek. Wildlife are identified along the way! Stay for the manatee programs where you will get to see the sea cows up close in all of their glory. They also have an adorable hippo. Overall, this state park is as about as Florida as it gets and I couldn't recommend it more. 
If you're in Daytona: Bongoland - This county park is home to the ruins of an old sugar mill as well as a former roadside attraction, Bongoland. I discovered the park on Roadside America (basically my favorite roadtrip planning website). And knew my dad and I had to visit. The park is beautiful and has quite a history. Settled before Florida joined the Union, it was burned down during multiple Seminole Indian Wars and was the camp of the St. John Rangers during the Civil War. In the 1950s it became home to Bongoland where concrete dinosaurs roamed the greenery. Those dinos are still there today and they make for great Instagrams. Now it is home to a beautiful garden with the sugar mill still intact and those awesome dinosaurs. I would highly recommend this spot purely for the fun of it because it's so old Florida. 
 

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