Everyone is familiar with the theme parks of Orlando and the glamour of Miami but Florida is a huge State and offers the visitor all sorts of adventure. Here’s a spotlight on three
Real. Authentic. Florida Still Found in the Bradenton Area
(Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key)
The Bradenton Area; where the streets are quaint, charming cottages line the shore, high rises cannot be found, palm trees skirt pristine beaches and where a friendly, laid-back atmosphere will remind you of how Florida used to be. This “Old Florida” feel, white-sandy beaches and turquoise waters are only minutes from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) and 45 minutes south of Tampa International Airport (TPA).
Having successfully resisted the intense development present in the rest of the state, “Old Florida” still thrives on our 16 miles of sugar white beaches, with options for those looking to snorkel, shell, play beach volleyball or enjoy some seclusion. Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island was recently named one of the world’s top island beaches for perfect sand by Conde Nast Traveller readers.
You will find no chain hotels on Anna Maria Island and nothing over 3 storeys in height. The emphasis here is on independent, character and charm. There are condos, villas and homes which vary in character and style to suit all budgets. The abundance of luxury homes, which can accommodate anything up to 16 people, are all decorated beautifully with modern amenities. Trip Advisor recently included Anna Maria Island in its Top 20 Rising Vacation Rental Destinations in the US.
Delicious (and Distinct) Dining
Florida is known for its many delicacies and unique cuisine. However, the Bradenton Area brings even more to the table, thanks to the many delicious heritage seafood products from the Gulf of Mexico, which are featured on the menus of many restaurants. From mid-October through midMay, locally harvested stone crabs scuttle into seafood restaurants. For something a little
different, Bradenton Area’s Anna Maria Fish Company is the first USDA certified company in the United States to produce Bottarga; the sun-dried and salt-cured roe of grey striped mullet. A rare delicacy (retailing for more than $100 for a pound) and long-standing tradition in Mediterranean cuisine, Bottarga, here in Bradenton, is a locally sourced and sought-after treat for locals and visitors alike. Cortez Fishing Village is the oldest working fishing village in Florida, with a fish market on site. Visitors can also take a boat charter, perch on the pier or even kayak out to sea and drop your line before having your catch cooked to your liking in one of the local restaurants.
Those who get nostalgic for the time when chain restaurants, stores and hotels were not on every street corner should look no further than Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island where local shops, boutiques, cafes (and the Community Edible Gardens where you can pick your own free vegetables) line the “Greenest Little Main Street in America.”
Roughly an hour and a half from the crowded amusement parks, Bradenton Area favourite TreeUmph! Adventure Course lets kids swing through the trees on the treetop adventure course, while tackling zip-lines and obstacles. Visitors to the South Florida Museum, the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, will also get to meet Snooty, the world’s oldest-known manatee (and the city’s mascot)!
The Bradenton Area boasts exquisite nature preserves and hidden creeks through which visitors can embark on guided or self-guided eco kayak tours. Top locations include Emerson Point Preserve – a 365-acre preserve at the mouth of the Manatee River where kayakers can take in Florida’s wildlife and native plant communities while exploring both prehistoric and historic sites.
Along the brick streets of Old Main Street in Bradenton, visitors will find top dining options, with ample outdoor seating to enjoy the great weather and a friendly atmosphere. Though Old Main Street is reminiscent of years past, its vibrancy makes it the heart of Bradenton, and its proximity to the Riverwalk makes it a popular spot to meet.
For more information, visit www.bradentongulfislands.com
The Unexpected and off the radar in Orlando North, Seminole County
You can head to Orlando’s theme park areas and view “Odditorium” and other peculiar exhibits, or enjoy the naturally inspired and authentic-Florida quirkiness of Orlando North, Seminole County just minutes and a world away. Here’s a sampling:
- The Danville B&B in Geneva, is 5-star rated and self-contained in an airplane hangar that magically transforms into an Inn with an Irish Pub, theatre, wedding pavilion and includes Seguays for roaming the property. Additional hangars house planes, a man cave and classic cars too. The owner/pilot eagerly takes guests for an aerial tour of the county. www.danvillebnb.com
- Inside Out House in Longwood was built in Boston in 1873 by Captain Pierce, then shipped and reassembled in Altamonte Springs, then moved again to Longwood in 1973. The House takes its name from its unusual exposed-stud framing on the outside and panels bolted together in shiplap fashion. An interior stairway still has the tight spiral stairs found in ships. Gift shop staff are frequently visited by the Captain and his cat Brutus, voices and footsteps are often heard and cold spots encountered. www.longwoodfl.org/content/1115/151/163/default.aspx
- Imperial Wine Bar and Beer Garden in Sanford is a furniture store by day known as Washburn Imports that transforms into an eclectic Bar Tues-Sat at 5:00 p.m. Shop early, but stay late to party. www.imperialwinebar.com
- Lake Jesup contains the densest population of alligators in North America.
- Though the ecosystem fosters a thriving habitat, the reptilian population is boosted as its the body of water wayward gators are relocated to when found in people-populated areas of Seminole County
- In Oveido, at the bridge crossing the Econlockhatchee River, you can see a ghost light that has been known to chase cars for at least fifty years and is called the Oviedo Lights. Usually there is only a single radiant ball, but on rare occasions as many as five lights have been observed.
- The peddle-propelled LimoCycle tour features “Pub Crawls” through Sanford’s historic district. There’s also a Sunday Brunch Tour, Ghost Tours, Scavenger Hunts, and can be booked for private parties. The tours wheel through the Riverwalk and Downtown Marina areas, and best of all beer and wine are allowed on board. http://limocycle.com/orlando-sanford-tours/
About Orlando North, Seminole County:
A short drive from all the major attractions of Central Florida and home to Orlando Sanford International Airport, Orlando North, Seminole County offers first-rate accommodations for less, varied meeting & event venues, and diverse dining and shopping in its charming communities. Known as “Orlando’s Natural Oasis,” the destination offers visitors a wide array of thrilling outdoor activities from an aerial adventure course with ziplining to paddling alongside manatees in clear freshwater springs and rivers. Long known as an exciting and affordable meetings/groups destination, Orlando North also offers an array of sports and training facilities, including
the new 102-acre Seminole County Sports Complex.
For destination information call 1-800-800-7832 or 407-665-2900 or visit www.DoOrlandoNorth.com
Ocala/Marion County: Central Florida’s Best Kept Secret
Breathtaking, inspiring, charming—there are many ways to describe Ocala/Marion County. But, only one word truly captures the essence of this picturesque region: unique. One-of-a-kind attractions are a specialty for this hidden Central Florida gem, and the “off the beaten path” activities that await visitors can fill a lifelong itinerary.
Rainbow Springs State Park is home to the fourth largest spring in Florida, Rainbow Springs, and preserves more than 1,470 acres of beautiful Florida terrain. This popular attraction welcomes visitors from far and wide each day, but did you know the excitement goes on well into the evening? Thrill-seekers looking for a nocturnal adventure can paddle down the crystalclear waters of Rainbow River once the sun goes down. Explorers will meet at KP Hole Park in Dunnellon and begin their guided trip paddling upriver to the head springs and then paddling back down with the current to KP Hole, enjoying magnificent views throughout the entire ride. Click here to register for the next moonlight paddle.
Craft your own farm-to-table experience at one of Ocala/Marion County’s organic, local farms. Handpick fresh fruit and vegetables as you learn what it’s like to grow all-natural, organic produce from generations of farmers. With beautiful year-round weather, you’re sure to find some of your favorites in season, including blueberries, oranges, peaches, grapes and blackberries. Ocala/Marion County is also home to Florida’s only organic goat cheese farm, Windmill Acres Farm, where guests can find the freshest goat cheese in the state.
Those looking to experience history and adventure rolled into one can take a once-in-a-lifetime tour of breathtaking underwater caves at Paradise Springs. Accompanied by experienced
divers, descend into an underwater maze and stunning ecosystem with lime rock and fossils lining the cavern. The crystal-clear waters you’ll find at Paradise Springs remain a constant 72 degrees year-round, making this the perfect all-season activity. Please note: Divers must provide proof of SCUBA certification upon arrival to enter the spring.
Another Ocala/Marion County favorite, The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours, boasts the longest, highest, and fastest zip lines in the state of Florida. Happening a few times a year, experience a thrill under the stars with nighttime zip lining tours. With glow sticks to light the way, zip across the limestone canyons on an hour and a half long tour featuring five zip lines and one rope bridge.
For those who want to give back during their family vacation in the Horse Capital of the World™, Horse Protection Association of Florida is the area’s most popular volunteer vacation opportunity. This charitable organization provides a peaceful environment for rescued horses and is open to volunteers age 13 and older. Guests can help prepare the horses’ feed, do various barn chores and even work with the horses, if they have experience. Special projects are also arranged depending on the number of volunteers each day. Though it’s up to each guest how long they want to stay for, most volunteers typically sign up for half the day.
To learn more about unique attractions in Ocala/Marion County, as well as many other
adventures available in the area, visit www.OcalaMarion.com
To find out more about Florida as a visitor go to