Snowbird Getaway: 5 Off-the-Beaten Path Destinations in Florida
Chokoloskee, Fla. is a small town south of Naples that’s well-known for kayaking and fishing. Photo: Visit Florida
Canadians know Naples. They’re familiar with Fort Lauderdale. And they obviously enjoy Orlando. But there’s so much more to see in Florida.
With Canadians finally allowed to drive over the border to the U.S. beginning Nov. 8, here are some lesser-known places that might not have landed on your radar.
1. Cedar Key
This is an isolated, tiny speck of a place on the Gulf of Mexico, roughly 100 km southwest of Gainesville. You’ll find marvellous, old wooden buildings perched on stilts over the water, as well as art galleries and casual restaurants. The clean waters around Cedar Key are great for clams, which is a major industry here. Stop in at Tony’s for a clam chowder that has often been voted best in the U.S. There also are several restaurants on the water, including Duncan’s on the Gulf and Island Room Restaurant and Sand Bar. 1842 Daily Grind and Mercantile is a terrific spot for coffee. Firefly Resort Cottages features several beautifully designed cottages in a lovely setting and is run by a fine pair of gentlemen named Ian and Darrin. If you’re looking for quiet, this town has it in spades.
2. Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island
This is a small town a little east and south of Naples that’s well-known for kayaking and fishing. If you drop into JT’s Café and Gallery on nearby Chokoloskee Island you can sign up for a three-hour kayak trip in the Ten Thousand Islands with Everglades Area Tours. For about US$100, they’ll take you out into the mangrove islands in a larger boat then let you paddle about in your kayak for an easy tour. You also can walk quiet beaches and learn about native plants and animals. Camelia Street Grill is a fun, casual dining spot on the water in Everglades City. Don’t miss a visit to Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee, a small museum stocked with old-time memorabilia and displays about slavery and the history of indigenous people in the area.
3. Amelia Island
This is a terrific spot tucked between the Georgia border and Jacksonville. The town of Fernandina Beach is home to funky shops and great galleries. It’s also home to the Palace Saloon, said to be the oldest bar in Florida. It’s a fine spot for a beer or a cocktail, with murals on the wall and mosaic floors. Just north of town is Fort Clinch, a Civil War-era fort that’s great for kids and history buffs. The Ritz Carlton is a fabulous spot on the water, as is the Omni Amelia Island Resort, which also features a championship golf course. Just a little south of Amelia is Kingsley Plantation, an old home that dates back to 1798. You’ll also find the remains of several dozen slave cabins, a disturbing reminder of the area’s past.
4. Safety Harbor
This is a terrific spot just a few minutes east of Dunedin, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s not on the ocean, but there are beautiful parks on the shores of Tampa Bay and a nice, walkable downtown. The Safety Harbour Art and Music Center is a lovely spot with wonderful displays and a small gift shop. The one “must-see” spot in my book is a wild, crazy, insanely colourful home (it’s free to visit) called Whimzeyland. The gardens are crammed with hundreds of wine bottles and a rainbow mix of real and artificial flowers, not to mention metal sculptures and bowling balls. Inside you’ll find dozens of tiny troll dolls hanging from the ceiling, as well as plastic insects, jewelry, stuffed animals, and retro lunch boxes. There are colourful toys and other bits glued to just about every inch of the walls and ceilings.
This is a marvellous town in the Florida panhandle, a little southeast of Panama City Beach. Apalachicola was famous for its timber and cotton industries back in the day, and then became known for its oysters. Gibson Inn is a fine old hotel with a massive porch that just begs for a cold, frosty glass of lemonade. Hole in the Wall serves massive oysters and other seafood, while Up the Creek Raw Bar has a nice patio with beautiful views of the Apalachicola River. You’ll find great kayaking and solitude galore at nearby St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Reserve, just west of town. A few minutes east is St. George Island, with a great lighthouse and family-style seafood places. There’s also a nature centre nearby where you can stroll on boardwalks and check out live turtles.
IF YOU GO
Florida has a very conservative governor who doesn’t look kindly on mask mandates. But at the time of publication, the state overall has a vaccination rate of 59 per cent for all ages. Canada’s rate is 73 per cent. For the most recent travel guidelines while visiting Florida, go here.