Check out our favorite ways to experience the Sunshine State. Feel the thrills, taste the flavors, soak in the culture and more.
3-2-1 Liftoff! — “One giant leap for mankind” is forever etched into our national psyche. Even though there are no more Space Shuttle launches that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the sounds and sensations of one in the Kennedy Space Center simulators. So strap in and experience your own exciting journey as you feel the rush into outer space. (And check here to find the date of the next rocket launch at the space center.)
Be Stylin’ — Sinatra’s cool-cat Rat Pack era
of the ’50s evokes Miami Beach’s early prime. Top hotels like the Morris Lapidus-designed Fontainebleau and neighboring Eden Roc lured Frank, Elvis and JFK — and they can lure you for a weekend too! Even in modernity the glam remains.Advertisement
See the Sunset — Key West’s Mallory Square Dock offers the quintessential sunset party. It’s where the flip-flop-wearing crowds gather like clockwork. Troubadours, acrobats, conch vendors and street artists converge to applaud the glowing sphere as it kisses the Gulf goodnight.
Splurge Baby — Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue is the tony island’s version of Rodeo Drive, especially at high season when the ladies who lunch and the hedge funders hobknob. Go ahead — make that once-in-a-lifetime, over-the- top purchase, be it Tiffany jewels or designer haute couture.
Catch Air (boat) — Glide through the rippling River of Grass on a sleek airboat through the Everglades for a memorable ride. Acres of grasslands and hardwood hammocks comprise an ecosystem that’s a natural wonderland of flora and fauna, including big gators!Advertisement
Get Surreal! — The geodesic Salvador Dalí Museum is a formidable house for the artist’s transformative art. Here on St. Petersburg’s waterfront, no doubt the building’s helical staircase will mesmerize too.
Collect Art — Art Basel on Miami Beach lures global aficionados for the crowning event of the international art season. Besides the big show at the Convention Center, and there are ultra-hip satellite exhibitions in Miami’s Wynwood Art District even after-hour soirees with big insider-y buzz.
See Cirque — La Nouba, the Cirque du Soleil show is a journey of imagination that has been a fixture at Walt Disney World since 1998. Audiences still flock to this fluorescent color-rich world comprised of acrobats Pier- rot, the Nuts and the Titan, who intermingle in classic Cirque storytelling.Advertisement
Visit Papa — Tour Ernest Hemingway‘s Whitehead Street abode. He loved Key West and it shows. Originally built in 1851, the author’s memorabilia and collectibles are everywhere. Seeing the amazing pool and more than a dozen six-toed cats completes the visit.
Be Inspired — This landmark “king of the big top” property sits on Sarasota Bay. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is a nod to Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Stop to see Mable’s rose garden and the couple’s Italianate Cà d’Zan mansion; plus, there’s circus memorabilia galore.
Feast on Stone Crabs — Put on a bib and dig in to the seasonal ritual of luscious claws. May to October, visit a South Beach institution known as Joe’s Stone Crab for a menu of succulent stone crabs (with mustard sauce or melted butter), hash browns, creamed spinach and Key lime pie.Advertisement
Hang with Chefs — The ultimate foodie frenzy, South Beach Wine & Food Festival is jam-packed with fab eats, the best wines and even characters like Guy Fieri — just one of an untold number of Food Network stars. Mingle with top chefs at the “Best Thing I Ever Ate” tasting tent on the sands of SoBe.
Dine Divine — Place the cap on the A1 sauce; you’re at Bern‘s, the granddaddy of Florida steakhouses. This Tampa icon has dry-aged U.S. prime steaks cut-to-order, 21 caviars and an elegant cherry-wood interior. Tour the wine cellar and have a classic dessert in the quarters upstairs.
Sip Around the World — It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Those words have never been truer than at Epcot‘s World Showcase. The Mexico pavilion’s La Cava del Tequila serves blood-orange margaritas, the United Kingdom’s Rose & Crown Pub is the place to go for a pint of Boddingtons, and France serves champagne from Parisian kiosks.
Shuck Oysters — October through June is oyster season in “Apalach” on the northwest coast. Harvest sweet, meaty, slightly salty mollusks from Apalachicola Bay. Take a skiff with a “tonger” and shuck ’em right on the boat.
Be on Turtle Watch — A nesting loggerhead turtle is poetry in motion. During nesting season (May to July), catch sight of a big mama digging deep. Join turtle seekers at Boca’s Gumbo Limbo Nature Center — and view hatchling releases from mid-July through September.
Sleep in the Swamp — The nocturnal sounds found in a wetland wilderness are music to the ears. Everglades is synonymous with swamp, but Everglades National Park also has mangrove forests, prairie and barrier islands. Kayak the Ten Thousand Islands, and then sleep at your backcountry camp.
Hike the Florida Trail — It’s closer than you think. The 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail has trailheads at major road- ways. Hike to the highest point amid mountain laurel. Rolling landscape captivates in the North, while a Central trek crosses palmetto prairies to river bluff forests.
Swim with Manatees — Gentle giants weighing between 800 and 1,200 pounds populate the 72-degree, spring-fed Crystal River near Tampa. It’s their winter abode. And since it’s legal to swim and snorkel with West Indian manatees here, get close with Captain Mike’s eco-driven interactive excursions.
Kayak Calusa Blueway — Launch your kayak from Bokeelia and become one with the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail. Extending 190 miles along the Southwest coast with aquatic preserves and must-explore mangrove tunnels, you could see roseate spoonbills, osprey and bottlenose dolphins.
Reel in the Big One — It isn’t called the sport of kings for nothing. Fishing the deep blue for the mighty 300-pound blue marlin takes tenacity. South of the lower Keys and Key West is where the serious anglers battle it out with offshore tackle and fighting chairs. This could be you.
Might as Well Jump — There’s a real good reason skydiving is on bucket lists around the world. Catch the rush by free-falling toward Sarasota at 120 mph with the experts at Skydive Sarasota. When the chute opens, glide down in full view of gorgeous Gulf waters to a soft landing on the sands of Lido Key.
See the Daytona 500 — Time to roll out the RV! We’re talking about a ticket to the Great American Race, people. NASCAR’s highest status race of ’em all has 43 stock-car drivers, roaring by at impossible speeds. The track simply demands respect. It’s a February race, buy tickets early.
Ride the Top Coasters — These scream machines are engineering marvels that take adrenaline junkies to towering heights and scary speeds. First is SheiKra at Busch Gardens. It’s fierce and floorless! Second,
the Incredible Hulk at Universal’s Islands of Adventure with its zero-G roll — accelerate from zero to 40 mph in two seconds flat. Hold on for dear life!
Dive to See Christ — An icon sits 25 feet beneath the sea at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Since 1965, Key Largo Dry Rocks has been home to the Christ of the Abyss bronze statue. It has survived the winds of Hurricane Betsy and still remains a top dive site for spying Townsend angelfish.