Florida; more than a theme park

In 2000, Florida was the first American state I visited and over the years I have visited more times than any other place in the world. Florida draws millions of people to its world famous theme parks and beautiful beaches, however I wanted to explore outside of Orlando and the hustle and bustle of the tourism, to learn about the real Florida. After visiting Blue Springs State Park I fell in love with the Florida state and visited every holiday period to explore more of the sunshine state. The Florida state parks are some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. From the beaches of the Gulf Coast to the everglades and the crystal clear springs, the natural beauty of the state is ktruly breathtaking. Each time I visit Florida, I find something new to explore and I am always amazed by what I find.

Exploring the State Parks

Florida has over 175 national parks, State parks and preserves to explore making it one of the most popular states for outdoor recreation. With so many parks to choose from, visitors can enjoy camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, picnics, swimming, and more. I have now had the opportunity to visit a number of the state parks which are a great way to have a family day, in the fresh air and among nature.

Some of my favourite State / National Parks to explore are:

  • Everglades National Park is a 1.5 million acre subtropical wilderness located in the southern tip of Florida. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and is home to a variety of rare and endangered species, including the Florida panther, American crocodile, and West Indian manatee.
  • Dry Tortugas National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West and is home to pristine coral reefs, crystal clear waters, and an array of marine life. The park includes seven small islands, the most prominent being Garden Key, where Fort Jefferson is located. The fort is a large 19th-century coastal fortress and is the largest masonry structure in the Americas.
  • Biscayne National Park is a national park located in southern Florida and is the largest marine park in the National Park System, preserving Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. The park covers 172,971 acres of which, 97% is water. The park’s marine environment includes shallow waters, seagrass beds, mangroves, coral reefs, and hardbottom communities. The park also contains a number of historic shipwrecks.
  • Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa is an ideal spot for outdoor recreation. The park offers a variety of activities including camping, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, biking, and more. Visitors can also explore the park’s four natural communities, including pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, cypress domes, and wetlands.
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located in Key Largo and is the first underwater park in the United States. It was established in 1963 to protect and preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. The park covers approximately 178 nautical square miles and includes mangrove swamps, tropical hammocks, and coral reefs.
  • Disney Wilderness Perserve is located near Disney’s Animal Kingdom and is a 12,000-acre conservation area that has been set aside for the protection of Florida’s natural habitats and wildlife. The preserve is home to a variety of native species, including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and Florida panthers. The preserve also features a variety of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
  • Circle B Bar Preserve is a 1,267-acre wildlife and birding destination just outside Lakeland. The preserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, bobcats, and over 170 species of birds. Visitors can explore the preserve on foot, by canoe, or by bike. There are many trails, boardwalks, and observation platforms throughout the park, so visitors can get up close and personal with the wildlife.
  • Silver Springs State Park is a beautiful park located in Florida. It is one of the oldest and most popular state parks in the state, and is known for its crystal-clear springs and lush vegetation. Visitors can explore the park’s many trails, swim in its natural springs, and take in the breathtaking views.
  • Tiger Creek Preserve is a wildlife sanctuary located in the heart of Florida’s panhandle. Founded in 1993, the preserve is home to a wide variety of native plants and animals, including endangered species such as the Florida panther, black bear, and red-cockaded woodpecker.

Florida Top Visits

Outside the tourist attractions in Orlando there are many great places to visit, these are just a small selection of my top picks :

Sanibel Island is a barrier island located off the southwest coast of Florida. It is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, wildlife, and its many outdoor activities. Sanibel Island is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, and offers a variety of accommodations, restaurants, and attractions. Visitors can explore the island’s many nature trails, bike paths, and kayaking spots, or simply relax on the beach. Spend some time visiting J N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge which is a great place to visit to bird watch, especially during bird migration.

Key West is a small island located in the Florida Keys, off the southern coast of the U.S. state of Florida. It is the southernmost city in the United States, and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys. Key West is known for its stunning beaches, unique culture, and vibrant nightlife. After the 100 mile road trip through the keys you will find plenty of activities to do in the area, from snorkeling and fishing to kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Explore the island’s historic sites, such as Ernest Hemingway’s home, the Key West Lighthouse, and the Key West Aquarium.

Lime Tree Bay

Bok Sanctuary is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and opened in 1929, the Sanctuary features lush gardens, winding pathways, and breathtaking views of the surrounding lake and countryside. Visitors can explore the gardens, take a guided tour, or simply relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.

St Augustine is a city located in the northeastern part of Florida and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. It was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and known for its Spanish colonial architecture, its historic downtown district, and its many beaches and parks. Augustine is a popular tourist destination, with attractions such as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.

Naples is located on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida and is known for its luxurious shopping and dining, as well as its many outdoor activities such as golf, fishing, and boating. Naples is also home to a variety of cultural attractions, including the Naples Zoo, the Naples Botanical Garden, and the Naples Museum of Art. The city is known for its vibrant nightlife and is a great place to relax and enjoy the warm weather.

Daytona is 51 miles northeast Orlando and is the largest city in the Fun Coast region of the state. Daytona Beach is also known as the “World’s Most Famous Beach”. It is home to the Daytona International Speedway, the headquarters of NASCAR, and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. For a great day out, visit the Roar before the Rolex 24.

Florida is my Therapy

Florida is where i always return to when i need to reset. The draw of the Sunshine state brings wonderful memories as well as beautiful weather, amazing sunsets and the tranquility i crave when living my hectic UK life in the cold and drizzle of the UK.