The state of Florida is positively thriving. A unique ecosystem supports fascinating flora and fauna, from alligator-filled swamplands to some of the world’s most renowned stretches of white sand. Said to be the fishing capital of the world, Florida is home not only to fun outdoor activities, but a collection of the biggest names in entertainment, including Disney and Universal.
With so much going on, finding a different experience in this part of the United States can be tricky. We’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite things to see and do, which lie off the beaten track in Florida.
If seclusion is what you seek, Dog Island is the place to find it. A protected island, there are no restaurants or shops, so you have to buy any supplies (food, mostly) from Carrabelle, which is a mere 45-minute ferry journey away. One hotel, the Pelican Inn, can be found on the island, so if you’re looking to stay overnight you’ll need to book ahead.
The island itself is beautiful. Uncluttered beaches are home to sea turtles, and the lack of high-rise buildings means that sunsets are unobscured. Only accessible by boat, passenger ferry or plane, it is possible to park your car at the ferry carpark in Carrabelle, so it’s perfect for a daytrip or overnight stay. Go hiking, swimming and birdwatching and be sure to take your camera to snap some unforgettable shots of one of Florida’s best unspoilt areas.
Located in the town of Davie, just west of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s Flamingo Gardens are a charming alternative to the busy (but fun) cultural exploits of nearby Fort Lauderdale. The Flamingo Gardens contain some of Florida’s last remaining jungle, with beautiful citrus groves, a crocodile lagoon and free-flying birds; you’ll certainly feel as though you’ve stepped into the wild. That said, the gardens are dotted with helpful amenities, too.
A quaint museum is decorated with antique furniture and cafés serving up light snacks can be found across the reserve. With a mission to protect South Florida’s ecological heritage, the gardens provide sanctuary for thousands of species, while boasting educational programmes for the public which inform and inspire. Ideal for a family day out, you’ll see stunning flamingos, otters and peacocks, to name just a few.
Wild Ocean Seafood Market
Near to the city of Orlando, Port Canaveral is a naval and cruise ship port, which sees hundreds of thousands of people travel through each day. Don’t let this fool you, however. It’s home to the Wild Ocean Seafood Market, which supports the area’s local shrimp fishing industry. When driving to Port Canaveral, you’ll find the market on the west side of the port. Forget about any seafood restaurant you’re planning on visiting in Orlando – this seafood is the freshest.
You can either buy your own (if you’re self-catered) and choose from an impressive selection of rock shrimp, Atlantic brown shrimp, tuna loin or lobster, or you can visit the market’s eatery, and dine on mouth-watering Cajun blackened fish, fish tacos and, of course, all the shrimp you could want. Back in the nearby city of Titusville, you’ll find the restaurant Dixie Crossroads, which sources its shrimp from the market.
Quantum Leap Winery
In Orlando, there are plenty of things to do that will keep you entertained. However if you’re not into theme parks and roller coasters, you might be looking for a slightly more refined experience. Enter the Quantum Leap Winery. Located in the heart of Orlando, the winery is focused on sourcing sustainably-grown wines from small or low-scale wineries from around the world. The wine they source is stored in the nearby Orlando winery, where it’s blended and packaged, ready for consumption.
The staff at Quantum Leap are friendly and welcoming, with free wine samples available, along with some great events. If you’re planning on a day of driving, they also sell wonderful gift ideas and you can always stock up on some wine for when you arrive back home! Check out their events calendar and enjoy live music, nibbles and wine tastings.
Travel off the beaten track on the Blues Highway and other lesser-known routes.
Also, explore California like you’ve never seen it before with our off the beaten track guide.