by Sue C Travel
Off-Radar & Fabulous Florida Fun
It’s summertime and a great season for a road trip throughout Florida. I’ve sleuthed out some new and very cool and off-radar things to do in the Sunshine State for this edition of Tropical Tidbits… so let’s go!
Jacksonville is Jumping!
“JaxBeach” is what the locals call the trendy new surfside community, and it’s chock full of brand new avant garde eateries like TacoLu for gourmet tacos, and scads of little strip malls full of shops and bars catering to the masses of young visitors riding coaster bikes along the beach. Enjoy the friendly surf and a full calendar of beachfront music festivals all summer long. We had planned to stay at the spiffy new One Ocean Resort & Spa- but it was full- so we opted for Casa Marina Hotel-a historic Spanish colonial style complex with an inviting beachfront courtyard and a great rooftop bar. They have also developed the Jax Ale Trail- a tour of no less than 15 craft breweries in the area- we only made it to one, Green Room Brewing, but it didn’t disappoint. (Ask about their “passport program” for the brewpubs.)
The new vibe has also begun seeping into downtown Jacksonville as they have exciting plans for restoration of many abandoned historic landmark buildings into cosmopolitan entertainment centers. Take a stroll through the business section with AdLibber Walking Tours to see the offbeat new outdoor art murals and sculptures, and sate your sweet tooth with a factory tour and sampling at Sweet Pete’s gourmet chocolate and candy store. Lunch at their Candy Apple Café also offers up both sweet and savory delights. Another trendy new restaurant worth a stop just outside of downtown is Moxie Kitchen for a twist on American comfort food. And for the latest in modern golf practice head to the new multi-level TopGolf high-tech driving range and entertainment center.
Awesome St. Augustine
The oldest city in America is certainly worth a few days exploration and easy to do on foot if you stay at the brand new Collector’s Inn (see Page 69 in our ‘Stay & Play’ section) a gorgeous little boutique luxury oasis right in the heart of the old quarter. Not to be missed is a guided tour through the epic 17th century Spanish fort Castillo de San Marcos for fascinating history and a trek to the famed Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. (You can even drink the water and see if it works!) There’s also one of the best pirate museums in the country, and their spooky Ghosts and Gravestones night tour is one of the best I’ve ever taken. ( Are you ready to get locked in an ancient jail?) Other spirits well worth seeking out are in the liquid form like the ones at The St. Augustine Distillery – take a guided tour and sample their wares, and also seek out offbeat bars like Odd Birds for killer craft cocktails.
Foodies will adore the many cool cafes and eclectic cuisine at romantic hideaways like Raintree Restaurant, and an ideal way to sample many of them is via Savory Fare Food Tour City Walks. Outside of the downtown grid, you will need a car to explore St. Augustine Beach, and Anastasia State Park -a protected wildlife sanctuary, and a trip to the historic lighthouse and museum on Anastasia Island are all well worth the drive.
Cocoa Beach & Space Coast Stars
If you have a need for speed, drop into the famous Daytona International Speedway and see the progress on their new mega-village across the road, which will be a small resort community in its own right. Take a tour of the famous track and visit the museum full of vintage cars, too. While in the area, drive on to Titusville for a rare lunch of rock shrimp- they are famous for them at Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant.
Next check into Doubletree by Hilton on Cocoa Beach – it’s ocean front and handy to some great casual pier dining like Fishlips Waterfront Grill and Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. It’s also a great base for everything space related- plan an entire day to visit the Kennedy Space Centre- there’s a LOT to see and do, and reserve lunch with a real astronaut as an exciting side dish. And for a unique outing to the official launch sites, take a guided bus tour of Cape Canaveral within the restricted military base- bring your passport and photo ID- and wear closed-toe shoes if you also want to climb the historic lighthouse on site.
After Cocoa Beach, head to Melbourne’s Brevard Zoo for some unique kayaking adventures with the animals. Glide by the giraffes, gazelles, rhinos, and lemurs cavorting in their open installations. Very cool! And the only zoo in the US to have kayaking within. Then, lunch at legendary The Mansion-choose their top deck for marina views. To tour the main downtown area in a unique way, hop aboard a fun tour with TOTO Pedicabs. ( Their drivers do all the pedaling!) You’ll soon see how the once sleepy little town is beginning to morph into an uber trendy outpost. Old gas stations and post offices have turned into crazy bars, and gourmet candy shops and trendy cafes have all moved in. And don’t miss Hell N Blazes Brewery- an excellent local brewpub with a games room and fab beer. Also of note in town is the charming lemon yellow house surrounded by a white picket fence where Jim Morrison of The Doors grew up before he decided to “break on through to the other side” of the country to study film at UCLA.
Award-winning travel journalist Sue Campbell is based in Montreal but makes it her business to be on top of everything cool, hot, and new under the sun throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. World Traveler welcomes her as a new regular columnist. Follow her on twitter @suectravel.
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