Friday, June 27, 2008

Florida Nature Vacations? Oxymoron or Best Kept Secret?

You've heard the jokes about Florida, "Why is it so hard to find a dentist in Florida? Because everyone just mails in their teeth."

Or as my Delray Beach friend, Buz likes to say, "It's not all the old people, it's their parents." And then there's the one that gets applied to the entire Gulf Coast, "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity."

I confess, in the past I have not been a fan of the Sunshine State. Growing up, my father called it, "God's Waiting Room," and insisted no respectable intellectual would set foot in the state. The rest of my family hated the heat and the tourist traps. But I was born in Fort Lauderdale and once I got past the population density and BLING of places like,"Boca Dunes Phase II," I discovered a natural wonderland that isn't crawling with tourists or 90210 Wannabe's--it is in northeast Florida. For nature and romance, nothing beats St. Augustine.

Ten reasons to Vacation in St. Augustine, FL:

1. The Old Florida Lifestyle. Easily found and has not been boxed like a commodity the way Cajun and so many other cultures have been commercialized. Details? Check out Minorcans, especially their food and plants on your walking tours. You can also email me and I'll send you a map and itinerary for a self-guided culinary tour.

2. Charm. The oldest US city settled by Europeans reminds me of a tiny Spanish village washed up on a golden beach. No cars, just a walkable town with authentic history and architectural interest.

3. It's not as hot as the NE. It's cooler than most places in the NE and Southern US in summer. You won't miss the sweltering heat and air pollution from areas near Wash., DC, south Florida, or Georgia. Breezes from the ocean keep it cool, low population density and abundance of parks, preserves, and green space keep the air clean. Details? Compare the zip codes for air quality.

4. You don't even have to leave your vacation spot to get uplifted. Sunrise from the balcony of the Riverview a vacation rental, is amazing. You can watch the yachts and dolphins cruise the Intracoastal. When you book your vacation spot, be sure to SKIP the big box condos on the beach and get an updated vacation rental in a quiet location.

5. Learn about the birds and bees. In just six days I saw swallow-tailed kites, broad-tailed hawks, a ruby throated hummingbird, eight kinds of terns, three adolescent, pileated woodpeckers, red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, marsh wrens, wood thrushes, wading birds, a Chuck-Will's-widow, and a nighthawk.

6. You're 16 minutes from one of the best beaches in the world, Crescent Beach boasts an inlet and a beach wide enough to walk or bike for miles.

7. St. Augustine Beach boasts an undeveloped beach, Anastasia Park. Even if you don't like beaches, the natural wonder, history and sheer beauty might give you the inspiration to take a long walk or just nap on the sand.

8. Alligator Farm Park offers thrills and education. The nesting birds in the rookery make the trip worthwhile for even the most anti-zoo family members. Wild birds flock there to nest in the safety of the gator pens, no predators climb the trees to eat those eggs, not with the gators at the bottom of the trees.

9. Guana River State Park. Hiking trails to historic Indian ruins, canoeing, and fishing. A 2,400 acre coastal park at the tip of 12,000 acres of conservation and recreational areas. Shell mounds, over 226 species of birds, bobcats, sea turtles and other endangered animals make this a world-class nature preserve.

10. More Beautiful Parks. Princess Park for horseback riding, Old Florida flavor, boating, and beautiful flowers. Moses Creek for eagles nests, letterboxing and kayak or canoeing. Crystal River, Manatee Springs, Cedar Key, the list goes on...

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