Ah, Florida in the spring … or any other time of the year, really. The main vacation ingredients – sun, surf and theme parks – are by themselves enough to draw visitors from all climates and cultures throughout the year.
But what if you’re itching to try something different, yet still uniquely Florida? The Sunshine State is a vast, interesting and diverse place, with little pockets of adventure treasure in between the beaches and roller coasters. Here are some quick must-do’s for a memorable Florida getaway.
Skydive without actually diving through the sky
If the thought of jumping out of an airplane and plummeting 4,000 meters makes you queasy, Orlando's iFly Indoor Skydiving is the next best thing. Even small children can experience this unusual feeling of floating on a cushion of air inside the "flight chamber."
Visit the ghosts of Floridians past
As the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine is chock full of ghostly spirits wandering the town's historic district, or so the Dark of the Moon Tour would have you believe. As seen on the popular show “Ghost Hunters,” the tour starts with guides sharing paranormal experiences from the Lighthouse and then they let you explore on your own with only a glow stick to light your way.
A company called American Ghost Adventures also offers spine-tingling tours of downtown Orlando, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Winter Garden, Mount Dora and Sanford for those looking for a darker view into these cities’ histories.
Pet a six-toed cat or two … or 50
Key West's Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a delightful slice of literary history where visitors can get a glimpse of the legendary author’s life and writing inspiration. But let’s be honest: One of the coolest and most photographed features on the property are the cats. Fat cats, skinny cats, black cats, tabby cats, sleeping cats, cats that follow along on the tours – so many descendants of Hemingway’s original pet cats with only one thing in common: the weird, mitten-like, six-toed paws.
Sample the local suds
The craft beer craze hit the Sunshine State hard, spawning hundreds upon hundreds of original brews that instill pride in the locals and joy for beer aficionado visitors. Though small and quaint, Dunedin Brewery is worth a visit, laying claim to being the oldest microbrewery in Florida. Try the Apricot Peach Ale.
Some of Florida’s new microbreweries get quite creative with their crafts. The Funky Buddha Brewery has year-round selections such as the mellow Floridian Hefeweizen, the nutty Doc Brown Ale and the crisp Missionary Blonde Ale. But the real fun is in its seasonal offerings in which the brewers have been known to mix in flavors of peanut butter and jelly, chocolate, blood orange and apple cinnamon
Perhaps the state’s most well-known brewery is Cigar City Brewing, which serves and distributes the popular Jai Alai IPA. If you happen to be traveling through Tampa International Airport’s Airside C, there’s a smaller version of the brewpub there and you can pick up a paper-wrapped six-pack of its most popular beer, which you can take with you onto the plane.
Go water skiing without a boat
For those with a decent sense of balance and a flair for adventure, cable skiing is catching on as a fun, boat-free watersport that anyone from beginners to professional tricksters can enjoy. Instead of being pulled by a boat, the skier's rope and handle are pulled by an electrically-driven cable on a course. One of the best places to try cable skiing is at Ski Rixen USA in Deerfield Beach's Quiet Waters Park. The 2,700-foot oval course is said to be the longest of any of the 10 cable ski operations in the United States. North Fort Myers' Revolution Cable is also a good one, with the cable running at 30 km per hour.
Visit a fake castle
Known as one of Florida’s quirkiest attractions, Solomon’s Castle is the picture of Floridian eccentricity, located in the tiny town of Ona in the center of the state. Artist and pun-lover Howard Solomon, who designed and built the house from scrap metal and other recycled materials, still lives in the home with his family. There’s even a moat and a wrecked pirate ship that houses a restaurant.
Prove to your kids that mermaids are real
The mermaids of Weeki Wachee are hardly a secret, having dazzled Florida visitors with their underwater shows since the 1940s. But even in this day of virtual reality technology, high-definition video games and pyrotechnical halftime shows, there’s something magical about the finned women dancing among fish and turtles.
Swim (or dip your toes) in the ultimate Florida freshwater spring
North Florida’s Wakulla Springs boasts the largest natural spring in the state, but as a bonus, it also offers a colorful combination of retro kitsch and beautiful nature. The state park has a 1930s lodge, an authentic soda fountain, a dining room, hotel rooms, river tours and more. But the best part about the springs is its history that includes a real, 25,000-year-old mastodon skeleton (now on display at the state museum in Tallahassee) and film immortality through The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Tarzan films.
Most importantly, you can take a relaxing dip in the crystal clear waters of the natural spring, thought by some to have healing and muscle- soothing effects. You’ll need it after all of the touring, cable skiing, cat petting and other off-beat adventures.
Written by Emily Nipps