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World-class amusement parks, acres of beautiful beaches – Florida has it all. If you’re planning to visit the Sunshine State or relocate permanently, read on to learn our picks for the most charming destinations:
Known as a watersports wonderland – thanks to more shoreline than any other city in the country and a total of 22 miles of beaches – Jax is currently having a cultural revolution. Leading the way are a host of charming eateries, including Black Sheep, Good Dough, and Hoptinger, home of the local’s favorite Blueberry Bread Pudding. And it doesn’t end there: catch a quality cuppa at Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, take in dinner and a movie at the historic Sun-Ray Cinema, and make your own candy at Sweet Pete’s.
2. Port St. Lucie
At the heart of the Treasure Coast, see orchids, butterflies and hummingbirds at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens, walk through mangroves at the Riverwalk Boardwalk, and spot manatees, river otters, egrets and alligators in the waterways of the North Fork St. Lucie Aquatic Preserve. You can also see the reefs up close with a snorkeling or Scuba diving trip to Pepper Park Beach or Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, or better yet, take a horseback ride along the beach.
For 12 hours every March, sports car racers line up for the state’s premier endurance driving race at Sebring International Raceway, transforming the town into a festival of revving engines. For a more cerebral experience, a variety of galleries and performance centers – including the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for Performing Arts and the ever-popular Children’s Museum of the Highlands – cater to all ages. Wind down the day with karaoke, open mic nights and live music at locals’ favorite 5 O’clock Somewhere Bar and Grill.
4. Collier County
To learn the history of Southwest Florida over the past million years – or just to let the kids run loose for a couple hours – explore the large displays of prehistoric animals, recreations of the life of Calusa Indians and Spanish Explores, and the building of the town of Naples at the Collier County Museum. Don’t stay indoors though – just outside you will find acres of gardens complete with historic cottages, an archaeology lab, a mocked-up Seminole War Fort, a restored World War II tank, and more to keep young minds activated. The best bit: entrance is free for the whole family.
Start by exploring the local wilderness along with joggers and dog-walkers on the Gordon River Greenway, then stop for either old-school milkshakes at Mel’s Diner or a health-conscious superfood smoothie at The Bowl. The kids will love the 2,300-gallon aquarium, and its pop-out bubble, at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, and the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon – featuring waterslides and pools in different sizes and depths – is a good option for little ones. Spend the afternoon exploring downtown on a rented bike (from Naples Cyclery) or pop into Segway Tours of Naples for a more novel way of getting around.
Known for its Butterfly Rainforest, home to hundreds of free-flying butterflies and birds, Harn Museum of Art, with a huge collection of Asian and African works, and the Matheson History Museum – featuring a vintage postcard collection – Gainesville rewards a curious traveler. But to take a look behind the curtain, visit Devil’s Den, a spooky spring where steam rises from a subterranean river, or climb the Devil’s Millhopper, a rainforest in a sinkhole that plunges 120 feet into the earth. Got time to kill? Waldo Farmer’s Market North is Central Florida’s largest flea market, and a dream for anyone with an eye for a bargain.