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Natural beauty, unforgettable adventures and fascinating pursuits await in the Sunshine State.
Florida is a big state with plenty to enchant you, no matter where your interests lie. The Sunshine State’s broad range of activities is impressive.
Yet some aspects of Florida are more quintessentially Floridian than others—one-of-a-kind, only-here destinations and adventures that delight visitors and residents alike. Here are a few experiences that offer authentic tastes of this unique place.
FEEL YOUNG: In 1565, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Aviles established a city centered around a legendary font of longevity. Visitors today can drink from the Fountain of Youth and hear stories about those who settled there.
GO FISHING: With nearly 1,200 miles of coastline, anglers have plenty of places to land the big one. But the charming beach community of Destin is nicknamed “the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” for its frequent record-setting hauls.
TRY A KAYAK: With its rivers and beaches, quiet Amelia Island is prized for expeditions allowing visitors to see a side of nature nearly impossible to witness on dry land, with close-up views of birds and various other sea creatures.
DIG INTO HISTORY: A central gathering point for Apalachee Indians and Spanish explorers who crossed paths in the mid 1600s, the 63-acre Mission San Luis preserves centuries of shared history and archaeological finds.
FLY HIGH: The National Naval Aviation Museum traces American military aviation since its earliest days, and also is the best place to watch the Blue Angels precision flying team practice their thrilling maneuvers over the bay.
REACH FOR STARS: Home to America’s space program since the 1960s, Kennedy Space Center is the embodiment of Florida’s passion for discovery. Visitors can see rockets, tour historic Launch Pad 39-A, try simulators and more.
LET LOOSE: For some, Florida’s theme parks are the ultimate vacation experience. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios near Orlando, Legoland in Winter Haven, Busch Gardens in Tampa and others constantly evolve with features.
REV YOUR ENGINE: Daytona Beach, a popular oceanfront destination for decades, also is a motorsports mecca. Daytona International Speedway is open for guided tours of the legendary race track most days.
LIGHTEN UP: The 175-foot Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse welcomes more than 140,000 visitors a year, enticing them to climb 203 steps to the top of Florida’s tallest lighthouse—a National Historic Landmark.
QUIET DOWN: Since 1929, Bok Tower Gardens has provided serenity with its placid, 250-acre landscape in the shadow of its 205-foot “singing” marble bell tower.
HAVE LUNCH: In the late 1800s, immigrant workers in Tampa’s cigar factories needed cheap, quick food. The Cuban sandwich—ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on crusty white bread—remains a good reason to graze down Seventh Avenue.
SEE SHELLS: Collectors revere Sanibel Island as the ultimate place to find colorful, fragile seashells. Hundreds of species can be found on the secluded island’s shores - and also at the nearby Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, for those who admire rather than collect.
RUN WILD: Everglades National Park appeals to adventure travelers with boat tours and hiking trails throughout its 2,400 square miles. Not quite so adventurous? The 38-mile main road passes through natural habitat, visible by car or at scenic stops.
HEAD SOUTH: Whitehead Street in Key West is actually closer to Cuba than to Miami. A marker at the end of the road draws more than a million visitors a year to pose at the southern extreme of the continental United States.
APPRECIATE THE PAST: Miami Beach is a celebrity playground, yet it’s accessible to all. Its South Beach district has the world’s densest collection of Art Deco architecture, and its history is revealed through walking tours.
GAIN PERSPECTIVE: Railroad magnate Henry Flagler opened Florida to tourism in the 1800s by running tracks down the east coast. His mansion today serves as a museum that opens visitors’ eyes to a fascinating history.
CATCH THE SUNSET: End the day with a walk along the municipal Naples Pier, a wooden structure extending into the Gulf of Mexico. With a history dating to 1888, unobstructed views of the sunset make it a Florida icon.
AAA Travel Resources
AAA.com: Get member-exclusive discounts on Florida hotels, restaurants, car rentals, attraction tickets and more, and gather online route maps and destination information. It’s a wealth of knowledge, free to explore.
AAA Mobile App: Plan your trip with this powerful, GPS-based app for smartphones and tablets. Includes member-exclusive savings tips, maps (including detours), access to roadside assistance and more. Available at AAA.com/Mobile or the app store for your device.
TourBooks: Easy-to-read guides with AAA Diamond Ratings for hotels and restaurants, and details about things to do at your destination or along the way. Free to members; available in print from your local AAA office or download at AAA.com.
A version of this story appears in the July/August 2015 issue of AAA Living magazine.
Image credit/source: eStock Photo
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