TRAVELERS hate tourist traps and no one ever wants to spend more money than necessary when on vacation. Here are a few pieces of advice to experience Florida more like a local, and less like a tourist.
Eating only theme park food.
The quality of food in Florida theme parks has been improving, but there’s so much good food to be enjoyed outside the parks that it would be a shame not to. The Ravenous Pig is a James Beard Nominee in the city of Winter Park that uses Florida ingredients and presents them in a seasonal food and craft cocktail menu. If you are looking for something less formal, Kona Dog Food Truck offers almost endless combinations of savory meats and sweet bread. In Treehouse Truck you can find cooked-to-order burgers and deep-fried desserts. Don’t want or can’t leave the theme park area? Blaze Pizza in Disney’s Springs (no admission or parking fee required) offers artisanal pizzas at an excellent price.
Skipping Fort Lauderdale.
Home of the Everglades National Park, Fort Lauderdale is not only the perfect place for an airboat ride. The city, just thirty minutes away from Miami, is home to several Blue Wave Beaches for those looking for a more tranquil beach experience without compromising quality. Deerfield Beach in North Fort Lauderdale is also the place where you can find one of the first (and affordable!) America’s Cable water ski resorts, Ski Rixen USA.
Not going for a wine tasting tour.
The number of Florida Wineries has been steadily growing and we couldn’t be happier. Our two favorite ones are the San Sebastian Winery in the city of St. Augustine, and Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards in Clermont. The two largest wineries in the state offer complimentary tours and tastings seven days a week. Enjoy a breath of fresh air at the Lakeridge Vineyards, or drinks and music at the San Sebastian Winery’s The Cellar Upstairs Wine and Jazz & Blues Bar.
Ignoring weather forecasts.
Florida’s nickname might be the “Sunshine State,” but this does not mean severe weather doesn’t happen often. During the summer, afternoon storms and rainy days are frequent. Have an indoor activity, such as a visit to the Kennedy Space Center as a backup, if traveling during the summer or early fall. Also, keep an umbrella or rain jacket at arm’s reach.
Disregarding Florida’s historic landmarks.
Bok Tower Gardens in Central Florida, with its picturesque 205-foot tower, is perfect for a picnic and a stroll. Located in one of Florida’s highest points the gardens are an excellent option for families, couples, and the solo traveler alike.
Missing out on a Florida’s Gulf Coast sunset.
Sunsets through the Florida Gulf Coast are pretty spectacular. Take some towels and camera to Siesta Beach in Siesta Key and wait for the sun to go down. If your visit happens to be on a Sunday, join the Siesta Key Drum Circle, where locals and tourists join their musical talents, and dance moves an hour before sunset.
Denying yourself an Orange Creamsicle.
One of the best ways to enjoy an orange in Florida is by having an Orange Creamsicle. Drive fifteen minutes from the World Disney World Resort and visit The Showcase of Citrus in the city of Clermont. Nothing says ‘Florida’ more than eating vanilla soft serve ice cream with freshly squeezed orange juice, while overlooking the gator on the lake in this attraction.
Relying on public transportation.
In a car-centered state, public transportation is not the most reliable method for you to move around. As a visitor, every minute counts and waiting at a bus stop is probably not how you want to spend your vacations. Rent a car, or utilize a ridesharing service such as Uber or Lyft.
Ignoring the street art scene.
One of the largest collections of street art in the world can be found in Wynwood, a Miami neighborhood. The Wynwood Arts District houses not only 70 art galleries but an increasing number of eateries and bars. A popular choice is Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, which displays a Latin-influenced menu and artwork from leading graffiti artists. Gramps is also favored by the locals because of the live music and fun vibe.
Heat, humidity, thunderstorms and Florida’s Interstate Highways might take quite a toll on you and your vacations. Relax by visiting one of many Florida’s Springs, which are not “hot springs” but instead “cool springs” with water between 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is well-known for its sightings of West Indian manatees and otters while kayaking or tubing in its clear waters. If you liked the idea of seeing manatees, Blue Spring State Park is home to more than 400 West Indian manatees during the winter. Make sure to arrive early, because the number of people allowed in the springs is limited, and the parks close once they reach capacity.
Not taking in Florida’s diversity.
A visit to Tarpon Springs will take you to Greece with restaurants like Costas Restaurant where options are endless but locals rave about the gyros. In Kissimmee, the Puerto Rican community has also been bringing their flavors, with places as Melao Bakery where Tripletas (a sandwich with three different type of meats) and Puerto Rican coffee are some of the favorite items on the menu.
Trying to do everything in one trip.
There is nothing wrong about coming to Florida only to visit the theme parks or the beaches. But Florida has a lot more to offer: State and national parks, historic landmarks, great food, and even famous highways like The Overseas Highway which takes you from Miami to Key West in 113 miles over water and across islets. Focus on one region at a time, and then come back for more.