Posts Tagged ‘Florida state parks’

Flip Flop Vol. 2: Cheating winter

March 13, 2015

“This is better than being drunk,” I said to Mike at the pool one day. The weather was perfect, from our perspective: a little under 80 degrees, blue skies and delicate wispy clouds passing the spiked leaves of a nearby palm tree.

“No, actually this is better than being drunk!” I decided. “I feel great every morning.”

But then we would eventually have to return north… what a hangover that could be.

We’d skipped one of the snowiest months on record back home, instead we were playing in the ocean and outdoors in the sunshine while exploring Florida. The best part of our trip was seeing the Florida we want to see – minus most of the same-as-home pavement and strip malls – who goes on vacation to spend time in stores?

Here are three ways to see Florida and really feel like you’ve been on vacation:

  • State parks and springs

If you’re intent on baking on a busy beach, go ahead. If that bores you and you get tired of paying $4 for a bottle of water from the tiki hut or are turned off by the water quality, try a state park with a spring instead. Florida has plenty of beautiful – INLAND – parks to visit.

This year we went to Mayakka State Forest, near St. Petersburg, which felt like a stroll in Jurassic Park for the palms intertwined with gnarled live oaks. In the midst of this 56 square mile preserve is a big lake (yes, get your alligator sightings here!). It looked like a great place for a short bike ride (20 mi round trip) too.

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And we found another great park with a crystal clear spring where we swam with a manatee. We’d done the more touristy springs in the past, including a dive boat that sells you photos of yourself swimming with manatees.. I prefer going solo, it’s a more authentic experience. We’ve had fabulous experiences at the 72 degree springs, including mingling underwater with schools of tilapia or carp, and getting up close and personal with manatees far from the crowded dive boats in the Crystal River. My favorite was Salt Spring near Ocala (no manatees but it’s large enough to explore for a couple hours).

me and manateemanatee swimmers

Of course there also was our heart-thumping adventure down the Ichitucknee River last winter, which flows from springs through a cypress swamp at a good clip. Only after we jumped in with nobody else in sight (wearing snorkels and wet suits) did we realize the river was full of waving grass, which spooked the hell out of us as it allowed us to float right past huge pointy-nosed gar fish, lots of turtles.. and (gulp!) whatever else was in there.. when we got out we looked at each other and said “can you believe we just did that??”

  • Go to the wild side

Right up front I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna tell you: the exact name of the fabulous “forgotten” little town we found on the east coast. Of course you can probably figure it out but that’s only if you’re paying attention. For starters, this little slice of heaven is on the Atlantic and has a sizeable National Wildlife Sanctuary on a barrier island. We never need to get in the car once we arrive with bikes, partly because there’s nothing worthwhile you can’t walk or bike to, and partly because the beach is so spectacular we don’t want to be distracted by anything as mundane as restaurants. Here you can surf cast, find eggs laid by sea turtles, body surf and wander up and down a gorgeous untouched strand of beach completely alone.We’ve only spent a couple weeks here but we talk about it year-round, it’s that good.


Oh, there’s a state park here but it doesn’t hold a candle to the beach. I enjoyed the small section of mountain biking trails, which was surprisingly fun curvy singletrack with some roots (really!) and manmade obstacles thrown in. I was kind of cocky about it because I went in thinking I could kick ass on their wimpy flat singletrack … and I did because the cockiness gave me more confidence than usual, so I blew right over the ramps and logs – then turned around and said geez, I never do those at home but here I’m such a badass on my $100 Walmart Mongoose!

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If you don’t want to or can’t figure out where I’m talking about, go find your own little town on the coast. There has to be more than one!

  • Go by bike

It’s sunny, it’s warm, and Florida is as flat as a table, so why not bike? Even better, everything is frigging square and straight so it’s impossible to get lost. Here the wind is your only obstacle.. once you get through the 8-lane intersections full of 90-year-old drivers in their Mercedes SLKs and Mazaratis.


Our one concession to tourism was a stop in Venice this year because my brother’s family had been there and found a beach where you can sift through the sand to uncover fossilized shark teeth. It was fun for a couple hours, but some people take it very seriously, buying specialized equipment and spending hours in the water.. we were there about 2 hours and found a half-dozen cool specimens using a basket from inside an old salad spinner! That was enough for me.

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While I really do love winter, the ability and freedom to go outside every day is so enticing.. but I could never live in Florida. It’s mostly made for vehicles, and so much of what we’ve seen (we spend time in Naples) is so prettily packaged and gated that it seems fake and unnatural.

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But I don’t regret skipping a chunk of winter and exercising my freedom to roam. I’m getting enough of the snow now — we’ll probably be snowshoeing and skiing until June.

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