These idyllic locales offer quiet escapes, often surrounded by pristine nature.
Story by Jim Byers, Vacay.ca Writer
Miami is a bustling spot. Ditto for Disney and Tampa Bay. But there are plenty of quiet corners in the Sunshine State, often right under your nose. Here’s a look at this Florida lover’s favourite places to get away from it all.
1. Morikami Gardens: This is a beautiful and restful Japanese centre in Delray Beach (north of Fort Lauderdale and south of Palm Beach) with lovely trees and lakes and rock gardens that still the soul and allow for quiet contemplation. The centre also tells heartbreaking stories of settlers from Japan who tried to make a go of it here under very difficult conditions. Very pretty. And very poignant.
2. Florida Keys: Lord only knows Key West isn’t so quiet. At least not the area near wild Duval Street. But there are super-quiet, relaxed areas around Marathon and other keys between Miami and Key West. In Key West itself, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens offer a lovely respite, as does the Oldest House and Garden Museum on Duval. For a wonderful experience, visit Fort Jefferson, a fort that dates to the early 1800s and lies in beautiful waters some 110 kilometres (about 70 miles) west of Key West.
3. Captiva Island: Captiva is a small but colourful village north of Sanibel Island, which is northwest of Fort Myers. You’ll find outstanding beaches that march on for miles and fun shops and restaurants. Take a short ferry tour of the Intracoastal Waterway and check out Cabbage Key, a small island that’s home to one legendary cheeseburger; allegedly the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Back on Captiva proper, the Mucky Duck offers up fine beach and sunset views and cold beer.
4. Fort George Island: This is a small but pretty island between Amelia Island and Jacksonville. The folks at Kayak Amelia can take you on an off-road Segway tour through thick forests and out onto grassy areas near the water. You’ll learn about native American shell mounds and how burrowing animals build underground “condos” that other species can live in when the weather’s not cooperating. You’ll pass old, plantation-style homes and perhaps even startle a group of wild peacocks. A definite throwback kind of place, and a true slice of idyllic Florida.
5. St. Vincent Island: This is a small island that’s part of a state park near the town of Apalachicola. St.Vincent Island Shuttle and Fishing Charters can take you on a nature tour or help you take a bike over to the island, which is flat and has several easy riding trails. You also can arrange a fishing expedition or walk quiet, lonely beaches that you’ll probably have all to yourself.
6. Corkscrew Swamp: Audobon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a beautiful, old-school area near Naples. You can walk a tranquil, four-kilometre (2.5 mile) boardwalk over marshes teeming with wildlife. You’ll also pass through pine flatwoods and get to experience the largest, old-growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. Flat out wonderful.
7. Daytona Beach: This area is famous for a raucous, noisy car race. But a few minutes south of town is the small community of Ponce Inlet. There’s a beautiful lighthouse (203 steps to the top, in case you were wondering, with fine views in all directions) and a small marina with a funky, colourful bar and silly sayings about how Ernest Hemingway once visited. Very much an old-time Florida feel and the sort of spot I think Jimmy Buffett would probably love, and even write about if he came. Stop at Vittoria’s in south Daytona Beach shores for coffee and lovely, homemade Italian pastries.
8. Boggy Creek: Just a few minutes south of Orlando is a fantastic lake area with wide open spaces and tons of wildlife. Boggy Creek Airboat Rides can take you on a trip that’s a combination of high-speed thrills and quiet, introspective time with nature. You might spot bald eagles or giant white egrets, not to mention alligators. They’ll rev the engines a bit if you like, but it’s mostly a quiet ride through deep green sawgrass and marshes alive with wildflowers in season.
9. Miami: This is another area not exactly known for communing with nature. But if you go a bit north of South Beach the beaches are much quieter; perfect for a morning stroll or sometimes a surfing expedition. There’s even a legal nude beach at Haulover Beach Park. A bit much for you? Try the solitude and lovely surroundings at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, which features everything from perfect purple orchids to flowering ashoka trees and more.
10. Oscar Scherer Park: This is a lovely state park near Osprey, Florida; south of Sarasota on the Tamiami Trail. Swim in the freshwater lake, go for a canoe ride or trying canoeing and kayaking in a black, tidal water stream. There’s both fresh and saltwater fishing to be had, so you might save on buying dinner. The park also features access to the paved Legacy Trail, a long route that’s great for biking or walking and runs all the way from Sarasota to nearby Venice, Florida.