Things to do in North Central Florida
Florida is mostly associated with cities like Miami and Orlando, or major attractions like Disney World or Key West. The sunny state is the perfect spot for a beach vacation full of white sand, palm trees, and candy colored houses along the shoreline. But the Sunshine State has many other beautiful destinations worth exploring. How about visiting the United States’ oldest settlement? Or do you rather feel like going canoeing in crystal clear water? And what about taking a road trip along the Atlantic coast? Hop on board!
St. Augustine was founded in 1565, 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown, and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, making it the oldest settlement of the United States. The city was established by Spanish explorers and was also controlled by the British and American Union troops during the Civil War, which is why you will still see five different national flags in the historic district of St. Augustine today. Since the city naturally boasts with history, definitely take a stroll around the historic part of town. While most buildings have been refurbished in the past years, the streets still convey the colonial character with narrow streets and wooden balconies looming overhead.
St. George Street, St. Augustine, Photo via Historic Tours of America
Located in the heart of the historic district, the Oldest House Museum Complex (14 St Francis St, St. Augustine, FL 32084) invites you to take a look at Florida’s oldest house and an ornamental garden, planted and grown by colonists. For a nice view of the Floridian shoreline, pay a short visit to the St. Augustine Lighthouse (81 Lighthouse Ave, St. Augustine, FL 32080). And because this is all about the colonial times: The site of the candy-cane striped tower is North America’s oldest lighthouse complex.
Florida’s oldest house, Photo via Dick ‘n Debbie’s Travels
An adequate equivalent to California’s scenic highway 101, driving down Florida’s coastal highway 1A from Daytona Beach to St. Augustine is an attraction by itself. The ocean on the one side, palm trees and preppy beach homes on the other side, offer scenic views. If you have time along the way, stop by in the City of Flagler Beach or Marineland. Besides studying and researching the behavior of Dolphins, Marineland also offers opportunities to swim with the animals, or assist their trainers for a day.
Near Flagler Beach
Anastasia State Park
Florida has the longest shoreline of any state in the U.S. except for Alaska. Its beaches rank in the top positions constantly – and the ones on Anastasia Island are certainly the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. Anastasia State Park (1340 A1A S, St Augustine, FL 32080) has about four miles of clean sandy beach, and also offers opportunities to enjoy camping, windsurfing, or kayaking. In fact, the area is one of the most popular places for a sporty vacation, at also a much lower cost than areas like Miami. Even though the State Park is located just off the the highway, a detailed map or navigation system is recommended. The park’s secluded entrance is a little difficult to find.
Canoeing / Kayaking
The Sunshine State is a very popular destination when it comes to all things water sports. If you’d rather opt for a relaxing way to work out, a canoe trip in one of the State Parks might just be the right thing for you. Florida has many natural springs of drinking water, which are located in these parks. To preserve the spring and the natural surroundings, only certain vehicles have access to the rivers. And the best thing about Floridas springs: The water literally is crystal clear. So while paddling or swimming down the stream, you will see all kinds of fish, otters, and turtles floating along.
Canoeing on the Rainbow River
One of the most beautiful canoe destinations, Rainbow Springs (19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432), is located in the Ocala area. It is also popular for swimming, kayaking or going tubing on the river, letting the current carry you along the nice estates along the riverfront. The Silver River State Park (1425 NE 58th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34470) is relatively close to the Rainbow River and equally beautiful. The park is home to wild rhesus monkeys, which are said to be descendants of escapees from a Tarzan movie set. And don’t worry about alligators: Even though you might be able to spot one, they’re mostly resting in shadowy shallow areas. Don’t feed them, don’t poke them, and above all don’t panic – just paddle away at normal speed.
Photos #3-5 by Cordula Schaefer.