50 States in 50 Days: Day 18 Florida

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In honor of me having achieved my goal of visiting all 50 US States, each day for the next 50 days, I will post a picture of somewhere I have visited in each state and write a paragraph or two about my experience. There is so much to see in every one of them, so I am just selecting one of my best memories. 

If every state were like a family member, Florida would probably be the cousin that annoys you because they are always acting up, but you are secretly are a bit jealous because they are continually doing fun stuff you personally wish you were doing. The state has a reputation for having a few residents who behave foolishly or recklessly. (And truth be told, this reputation is not entirely unearned) But yet everyone seems to want to visit here. Last year, the state had over 117 million tourists. So while people may joke about the “crazy Floridians” they certainly still want to go there.

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73 million people visit The Magic Kingdom and Universal Themeparks each year. And another 40 million people check out the state’s other sights. Florida is second only to California in annual visitors.

One doesn’t have to look hard to see the state’s draw. Mostly warm weather year-round, more coastline than any other state except Alaska, the largest theme park complex in the world, and Miami; one of America’s most cosmopolitan cities.

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There is too much to see and do here for one blog post. I think probably the best way to condense the sheer volume of information would be to start at the southernmost point, Key West and move north mentioning my experiences, but with the caveat that there will be much left on the table. There is enough to see and do in the Sunshine state that you’ll find plenty of things to make your vacation your own.

Key West

Most people arrive at Key West via Highway 1 and land/sea route that is one of the most scenic roads you’ll ever traverse. The path moves along a chain of islands and has many places to stop and visit along the way. If you drive non-stop, it is about a four-hour drive from Miami. But why would you want to do that? There’s so much worth visiting, it’s better to plan a whole day to make the trek and save the non=stop drive for your return to Miami.  If you don’t wish to drive you can take a Ferry, or try a cheap connector flight (usually around 100.00 or less) No matter how you chose to arrive, it is best to call the tourist office in advance to see if they have any cruise ships make a port of call on the day you plan to visit. If they do, and you can manage it, try visiting a different day. When the hordes arrive from the ships, you will be overwhelmed, and it can take all the fun out of your visit.

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Sunset at Key West. The most beautiful church you will ever see.

Key West has a couple of lovely beaches, a lot of quirky shops and excellent restaurants off Duval Street and watching the sunset from Mallory Square could very well qualify as its own religion. The best part of Key West for me is the Hemingway House and the cats. Located next to the lighthouse, this Spanish influenced home belonged to writer Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway lived, drank and wrote from this home for over 10 years, but kept the title for the house for the rest of his life.

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The Hemingway home in Key West/

The grounds are the house of over 40 cats all descended from Hemingway’s original cat “Snow White.” Many of these cats are polydactyl, meaning they have extra toes on their paws. The cats are feisty and eccentric, Mr. Hemingway would be pleased. It should be noted that the cats are well cared for, The Museum feeds them and provides an on staff veterinarian to look after them.

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The balcony overlooks the Lighthouse.

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the house looks very cozy

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Cats have free reign over the house and grounds.

Miami and Miami Beach

There are a plethora of things to write about when it comes to the Miami area. I could easily devote several blog posts to just this part of the state. Sadly, I haven’t had near enough time to explore the area personally soI will just stick to the areas I’ve encountered. Miami is the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.  Waves of immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Central America have given the city a piquant savor. Miami is so trendy that Instagram probably has to cut the city a royalty check. It’s to the point it is perhaps more cool not to talk about Miami than to mention it at all.

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Huge condos are everywhere

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Ocean Boulevard on Miami Beach is chock full of tourists, but a must see. It was a bit intimidating just how good looking everyone was.

By all means, see what the hubbub is all about. The tourist spots are outrageously crowded for a reason.  But then explore the places you don’t see the heard visiting and find a way to make the city your own. There is a coral mansion in Homestead that’s fascinating (and a touch odd), A lovely Japanese garden and Museum in Boca Rotan, Monkey Island in Miami is a fun place. And while Little Havana is a major draw, it is worth visiting despite the crowds.

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Little Havana has great music clubs and restaurants.

The best part of southern Florida for me is The Everglades. The vast drainage area is the largest tropical wilderness in the entire country. This extensive wetland is home to countless birds, small animals, panthers,  crocodiles, and the manatee. A precariously fragile ecosystem, the Everglades have been environmentally challenged for decades. Protection and restoration of the glades vs. the needs of commercial expansion, land development, and agriculture is a hot button issue statewide.

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The Everglades National Park has walkways that allow you to move from the various wetlands. Don’t walk too fast though because there is a lot of wildlife moving around and if you don’t look closely, you’ll miss out.

Most of the area is a soggy marsh, but there are patches of dry land called hammocks. These hammocks were home for the native Americans who found a way to survive and thrive here. When the Seminole tribe was forcibly evicted from this land and evicted to Oklahoma, some tribes members stole away into the deep recesses of the Glades and their descendants remain to this day. The National Park has almost 30 miles of hiking trail which afford an up-close view of the panoply of creatures that make their home here.

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The I-4 Corridor

Interstate 4 is really a misnomer. Perhaps it would be better-called Intrastate as the highway begins near Daytona Beach and ends at Tampa. (or vice verse depending on which direction you are going.) Either way, it starts and ends in the same state. The road moves through Orlando, and 73 Milion people annually travel at least part of it on their way to Disney World and Universal Studios.

 

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The Harry Potter area is trendy. Be prepared for long queues, but luckily there are lots of pictures to be had.

Daytona Beach is about an hours drive from Orlando and is a must visit location for many people who go to the Magic Kingdom and want to see the Ocean before they return home. The city is also a significant Spring Break and Nascar destination. There is a lovely lighthouse southwest of the central Beach and a climb to the top will give you a beautiful view of the harbor and beach area.

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My Godson Gabe and I at Daytona Beach

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The Ponce Lighthouse at Daytona Beach. It was a steep climb for me (especially since I had flip-flops on. ) But the view is worth it.
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Enjoying a meditative moment on the beach.

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Just up from Daytona is St Augustine. The oldest city in the continental U.S. The old town is well preserved, and there is some lovely architecture to be seen.

From what I have been told by a few people who have lived in the Orlando area they have a love/hate relationship with the whole Disney/United Artists Parks area. They understand it is the significant economic lifeblood to the city, but the crowds can be really annoying. There is WAY too much to see and do here to fit in a single post. Especially one like this that is really more of an overview than anything else. My personal feelings about visiting the Theme Parks is kind of the same way I feel about Las Vegas. Yes, everyone should visit at least once. It is a bucket destination for a good reason. After your first time, it is up to you whether a second future trip is merited. For some, one visit will suffice.

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Universal Parks is a live-action Cartoon. Just about every cartoon or film that is under license has been made into an attraction.

The end (or beginning) of I-4 is Tampa-St. Petersburg. My Godson Gabe and his wife live here, so I definitely hope to revisit the area in the future. I didn’t really get to see much of Tampa, But thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete. I could spend hours just staring at his paintings. They almost seem to have layers.

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Every time you think you have his paintings figured out, you see a new layer. The building and the park around it all have Dali’s surreal fingerprint.

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North Florida/ Panhandle

My mother’s family moved around a lot, but a large portion of her childhood was spent in Pensacola. Growing up, my family made the trip this part of the state many times. The panhandle area is often called “The redneck riviera” although South Carolina’s Atlantic coast also claims the title, I feel Florida’s selection of the name is apropos. There is a saying in Miami about the rest of Florida “the farther North you go, the farther South you go” Miami seems a world away from here. Politically Northern Florida is rock-ribbed conservative, with the Miami area much more liberal. (The conservative Cuban Community notwithstanding) The I-4 area is the swing vote area and the lynchpin for statewide politicians of both parties. I think the Pensacola/Panama City area has the state’s best beaches although I could be biased since they are the ones I am most familiar with.

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This sign has been around since I was a child. I would get a frisson of excitement just by seeing it as it meant the ocean was coming up.

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I often wonder why I live in the middle of the country considering just how much I love the ocean.

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Fort Pickens is located next to Pensacola Beach. It is an abandoned fort and my brother, and I loved to play here.

There is so much to do in Florida that even with 100 million+ annual visitors you can still find secluded beaches, and quiet spots to hike or merely wander and relax. Even with all the popularity, Florida will always find time to make you feel special.

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