Florida Favorites

I was thrilled to be asked by Kara Franker to contribute my Florida Favorites for her Visit Florida column—and honored to be the first person to be featured.

The only guidelines were to include 6 to 8 things I loved about Florida and some pictures.

Here is my submission and the Visit Florida post. Some pictures are different than in the Visit Florida post.

Florida Favorites by Charles McCool

1. Florida Sunrises / Sunsets

In most of the world, you are lucky to see a sunrise or a sunset over water. It is realistic to see both in most of Florida every day and practically required in the Florida Keys. One of my dream jobs is taking over for Ft. Lauderdale Sun and posting more amazing photo spots in Florida.

exploding sunrise over person's head in Ft Lauderdale
Ft. Lauderdale sunrise

2. Florida Beaches

Visiting beaches is probably my favorite Florida activity. Sun, sand, and breathing that fresh air. My favorite Florida beaches include Bahia Honda, Sombrero Beach, Anna Maria Island, and Cape Florida. Really, though, is there a bad Florida beach? Another dream job is filling in for Dr. Beach.

McCool Travel Tip: baby oil quickly removes tar.

soft white sand of Anna Maria Island beach
Scenic Drives in Florida: Anna Maria Island beach

3. Florida Scenic Drives

The smaller the road, the happier I am. A perfect Florida road trip is not driving on an interstate, turnpike, toll road, or US highway. I have driven all 340 miles of A1A from Mile 0 in Key West to Yulee.

One Florida road trip, I challenged myself to drive from Naples to Ft. Lauderdale without taking I-75. I found a series of small roads (like Oil Well Road) to US-27 and Griffin Road east to the ocean.

I love driving red dirt roads through citrus groves. Of course I hope to get a convertible whenever I rent a car. I also like to fly one-way into Florida in May or June and drive a rental car back to Virginia; those cars are usually $5 a day.

Ford Mustang convertible on orange dirt road in Florida
red clay dirt road in southwest Florida

4. Old Florida

I love finding the nostalgia of “Old Florida.” Micanopy, Cross Creek, Homosassa, Cracker Trail, and Card Sound Road are some favorite areas. I found the below Old Florida scene within a mile of I-75 and I-595 in Davie.

girl riding horse on street in Davie, Florida
cozy street in Davie, Florida, just 1 mile from I-75

5. Nature

Growing up in South Florida on a canal, familiar sights included lizards, iguanas, tropical birds, manatees, gators, and snakes (eek!). By exploring smaller roads, I have seen wild boar and 7 foot rattlesnakes. I still get a kick from seeing ibis and storks.

And those Florida trees! I can spend all day looking at banyans in Coral Gables or mossy oaks in northern Florida. Other favorites include Ocala National Forest, Lake Wales Ridge, Peace River, and the Everglades.

wild alligator in green grass
see wild gators on Scenic Drives in South Florida

6. Florida Quirkiness

Have you seen the cool Arabian architecture in Opa Locka, pastel homes in Seaside, Spanish homes of Coral Gables, Key West cemetery, Stiltsville? Did you know the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere and USA’s smallest post office are located in South Florida?

At Clark’s Fish Camp in Jacksonville, you can have yak, python, and other exotic meats. Parking spaces dedicated to golf carts. Towns named Venus and Jupiter. I have been on road trips in every state and around the world but I believe Floridians might be the most festive holiday decorators.

Thank you, Florida, for wrapping white lights around palm trees at Christmas time; that looks so cool. Florida definitely leads the modern world in quirky mailboxes.

Quirky South Florida: manatee mailbox
Quirky South Florida: manatee mailbox

7. Florida Waterfront Fun

If you live in Florida and are not within 30 minutes of a beach, you are probably 15 minutes from a river or lake. If you have not been boating or swimming lately, it is because you are intentionally avoiding it.

Aerial view of Miami Beach
Miami Beach, Florida Favorites

See also Waterfront Restaurants in Florida

8. Where to Eat in Florida

All that exploring makes me hungry. Florida food is some of the best in the world. Travel friends debate the best BBQ in the USA. The best ribs I have had anywhere in the world were from a roadside stand in Mt. Dora and the best BBQ sandwich from James Brown’s in Avon Park.

Whether enjoying boiled peanuts, fresh Florida Gulf Coast seafood, Cuban cuisine, soul food, or Southern specialties, Florida has so much great food. In Florida, I have eaten the freshest produce and citrus, visited the southernmost US winery (mango wine!), and enjoyed amazing taco food trucks near Haines City. Let the debate of best key lime pie reign on!

colorful sign at James Brown's BBQ, Avon Park
James Brown’s BBQ, Avon Park

What are YOUR Florida favorites?

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