Yes, Central Florida is a family vacation paradise, home of endless theme parks, and countless cute costumed characters.
But what to do when you’ve overdosed on “cuteness,” when you just can’t stomach another roller coaster ride, when the idea of one more amusement park fast food snack seems just too much to take?
Well, you head for the beaches—of course!
The Beachy Florida
The white sands of the beaches along the Florida Panhandle.
Beaches account for over 1,300 miles of Florida coastline, with two distinct waterfronts—the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast.
The Sunshine State’s world-famous beaches are second-to-none. Seldom do you see a “Best Beaches” list that doesn’t include at least two or more from Florida.
As “Dr. Beach”, coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, has selected the annual Top 10 Beaches since 1991.
Fifty criteria are used to evaluate beaches, which include water and sand quality as well as safety and environmental management. An internationally known coastal scientist,
Dr. Leatherman has published 16 books and hundreds of scientific articles about storm impacts, erosion, and ways to improve beach health and safety.
In his 20th annual (2010) Top 10 Beaches list Dr. Beach selected Siesta Beach on Siesta Key at Sarasota and number 2 and Cape Florida State Park (also known as Bill Baggs Cape) in Key Biscayne number 10.
On Sierra Beach, he wrote, “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over.
Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters that serve for ideal swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the north and a unique underwater formation of coral rock and caves, providing for great snorkeling and scuba diving.
This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”
Along the Gulf Coast on Amelia Island.
Located at the south tip of Key Biscayne, Cape Florida State Park “provides clear, emerald-colored waters and gentle surf. This fine, white coral sand beach is great for swimming, as waves are knocked down by a large sand shoal offshore.
In addition, the Cape Florida Lighthouse allows for a breath-taking view of this beautiful beach.”
Past national winners from Florida include:
The park headquarters are about 10 miles southwest of Florida City and Homestead. It has three major access points—one near Miami on the East Coast, another near Naples on the West Coast, and one in between at Shark Valley.
Everglades is the largest national park east of the Rocky Mountains. Freshwater and saltwater merge together producing the vast biological difference that makes the area so unique.
The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, the Everglades has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance.
Here, you’ll see mangrove trees, sawgrass prairies, alligators, and a multitude of birds.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in the Everglades is the wide expanse of sawgrass prairie. An apt name for this prevalent type of vegetation: rubbing against one of its serrated stalks feels like you’ve dragged a handsaw across your flesh.
In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas called this part of the Everglades a “River of Grass”. Before Florida was so developed, this “river” ran 120 miles from Lake Okeechobee south to the Gulf of Mexico, spanning 50 miles across but less than one foot deep.
For wildlife lovers, the numbers are staggering: More than 400 species of birds have been identified in the park, as well as 25 species of mammals, 60 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 125 species of fish. Among rare or endangered animals are the American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee.
The park can be explored by airboat, regular boats, tram tours, and canoe or kayak. Everglades National Park has 156 miles of canoe, kayak, and walking trails.
In what passes for winter in South Florida, sunny days in the mid-to high 70s are common. In the hot, humid summer, the shallow swamps fill with mosquitoes.
There are only two seasons here—hot and hotter. Some people call it “mosquito and fewer mosquitoes”.
The eastern access charges entry fees and provides the greatest range of activities—camping, biking, hiking, and visitors centers.
Shark Valley offers tram tours and bike rentals. At the western access, you’ll find airboat, swamp buggy, and boat tours of Ten Thousand Islands.
To be continued…
Worth Pondering… The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.