Millions of people visit Florida every year with the concept that they are headed to a vacation paradise. For those people who love theme parks, theme park restaurants and crowded beaches, Florida is a vacation paradise. But just off the beaten path, oftentimes just a stones throw away from the places that tourists visit regularly, is a treasure trove of hidden Florida gems that tourists don’t often see but locals rave about. So how do you see Florida like a native? The following are four hidden gems of Florida.
The Beach at Sebastian Inlet, Space Coast
Sebastian Inlet is famous among Florida surfers and locals for the still pristine beaches, great surf and great fishing if you like to fish. It’s a 3 mile stretch of generally uncrowded , laid back ocean front located at the spot where the ocean color switches from the northern dark green to a light turquoise that screams tropical beach. Nearby is a great park built on land that is a former 18th-century shipwreck survivors’ camp. Inside the park, you’ll find the McLarty Treasure Museum which is famous for its genuine pirate artifacts recovered from Davey Jones’ locker. For the true pirate enthusiast this is the place to go to see real doubloons and swords and all things pirate like.
If you’re the type who wants to get away from it all in a big way and spend your time on vacation actually relaxing, then you’ll want to check out Boca Grande. It’s a tiny, quaintly historic town on a tiny island called Gasparilla Island which is located almost two hours west of Ft. Meyers. You won’t find theme parks or water slides or giant roller coasters here. What you will find is a super relaxed seven miles of pristine beaches chock full of wildlife like Dolphins and Manatee, a wonderful state owned nature preserve, and a bicycle trail that winds through the island. This is the kind of true beach place where socks are left in the suitcase and stress becomes a memory.
Crystal River, Citrus County
Located on the west coast of Florida about an hour and a half west of Ocala, the Crystal River is the winter home of hundreds of manatees. If you head to Kings Bay, you can jump into the water and find yourself swimming with a herd of these gentle giant sea cows. The awesome part of the experience here is that the manatees not only don’t mind your jumping into the water with them they actually enjoy the company and will play with you in a very gentle way by swimming near you and gently bumping you as you swim. If you are the type that doesn’t like to play with wildlife, you can head to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where they have an underwater observatory for viewing manatees in their natural environment.
Nike Hercules Missile Base HM-69, Everglades National Park
If you we’re leading the free world during the cold war where would you hide a top secret missile base in a place filled with tourists? Well you would probably want to find a place deep inside of a huge gator filled swamp where people never go and hide it there. That’s exactly what President John Kennedy did when he built this formerly top secret missile base to house nukes that were pointed at Cuba in order to keep the communists out of Florida. By all accounts this was a resounding success since the Castro and his Soviet counterparts never invaded Florida and now you have the opportunity to tour this once top secret location. During the cool winter months of December through April you can see the missile assembly building, barns where the nukes were stored, and a very cool, very cold war high tech underground control room.
Loxley McKenzie, principal at Colordarcy.com, provides valuable information about Florida where he frequently travels for pleasure and business.