Unpopular opinion time, I hate the beach. It’s always hot and I get sand in all my crevices. I always leave the beach burnt and unhappy. But because I am a Florida girl ,born and raised, I did skip school to go to the beach quite often. I’m not here to talk about all that, I’m here to tell you that while our sandy beaches attract thousands of tourists each year, they are not the only great thing to see in Florida. This is why I have created a series of “Things to do in Florida” starting with the area I grew up in, Central Florida.
The Florida Springs
If you’re like me and you cannot stand the burning in your eyes and mouth that inevitably follows swimming in the ocean, or gulf, then you need to visit one of the many springs in Florida. The water is crystal clear, you can see all the fish and marine life living all around you and because it’s fresh water it’s very refreshing. The water stays at about 65 degrees(F) all year, which can be pretty cold, but during the summer when it’s so hot you’ll be thankful that you’re swimming in a cooler.
There are many options when it comes to going to these springs, the ones I have done and loved are the manatees snorkel tours, tubing/kayaking Rainbow River, and watching the Weeki Wachee mermaids swim around and put on a show. One thing I’m planning on doing in the future is to dive in Crystal River. I only recently got certified in Thailand, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the springs and practicing my underwater photography.
Okay, this one should be obvious. Many people save years to go to Disney World or other theme parks, when I have actually never had to pay entrance to any of them. This is largely because I always have family or friends working at the parks. When I was in University I would get texts nearly every weekend asking if I wanted to go “play in the parks” and I’ve probably been to almost all of them.
I LOVE roller coasters so my favorite theme parks have to be Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando, and Busch Gardens in Tampa my home town. Universal and IOA are both centered around movies and their new addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both parks draws even more crowds than before.
There are still other options, like Disney World which dominates Orlando. It’s so big that they have created their own city called Celebration, Florida. If you’re not into any of that, then maybe you can check out one of the few water parks or fancy resorts around Orlando and Tampa. Just remember that these parks tend to be pretty pricey, so you may want to try to find deals online or finding friends like I do.
This might not exactly be a “highlight” of the area, but if you happen to be around the Eastern Central side of Florida you’ve got a couple of options. If you like beaches you can go to Cocoa beach, or if you’re willing to drive a couple of hours, go to Daytona Beach for the infamous biker week. You can also take a cruise ship to various locations from the port, I happened to do this a couple weeks ago. My grandparents and I went to the Bahamas on a Carnival Cruise ship, I’ll be writing about that in the near future!
If you’re interested in space and learning about how man walked on the moon, then you must check out the Kennedy Space Center. This is where NASA managed the famous Apollo flights. Not only can you see videos and artifacts from the US’s journey to space. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see one of the scheduled rocket launching. Just make sure to check their website for schedules.
The Tampa Bay is where I grew up and spent most of my life. I did all my schooling from Pre-k to University in Tampa, therefore I know the area like the back of my hand. I also happen to know the sweet spots and things to do in the Tampa Bay Area.
As I said before I love theme parks. Lucky for me Busch Gardens is like a small taste of Africa with rides and all kinds of animals. I have been going to this park since I was 10 years old, nearly every weekend and I never get tired of it. I still try to come back around Halloween so I don’t miss Howl-O-Scream, when the park turns into a horror movie after dark.
Another thing I would do as child, not so much as an adult, is go to Lowry Park Zoo. This is a favorite for a family day trip to see and learn about the animals. There are also several really wonderful art museums to visit in the downtown Tampa area near The University of Tampa. UT is also beautiful at night and you can take wonderful photos.
If you’re feeling like going out for a bit of nightlife, you’ll want to head over to YBOR City.
Ybor used to be a hub for the Cuban immigrants but it’s not home to many night clubs and gay bars. Ybor is famous because it can be seen in the movie Magic Mike the story of Channing Tatum and his risqué past. Nevertheless, Ybor can offer more than flashy drag shows and 4 floor dance clubs. During the day you can get some pretty authentic Cuban coffee, sandwiches, food (look up the Colombia) and real Cuban cigars.
If you have a lot of time to kill you can head over to the University of South Florida area. After taking a drive around the campus, and stopping to take pictures of some of the flora, drive across the street to the Museum of Science and Industry aka MOSI.
There are plenty of interactive exhibits that kids and adults will love. My favorite part is getting tickets to the MOSI IMAX 360 degree dome theatre. Here you can watch documentaries and hollywood movies on a 360 screen where you’ll feel like you’re actually in the movie!
If you’re a lover of ritzy cities on the water, take the interstate 30 min south of Tampa to St.Petersburg. Here you’ll pass the world-famous Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Tampa Bay area is home to many famous pro sports teams, whether it’s The Tampa Bay Lightning, Rays, or Buccaneers we’ve got your sports needs covered!
If sports aren’t quite up your alley, then take a drive along the water until you reach the downtown. This area is still up and coming and they are starting to build highrises and renovate the city to rival cities like Miami with their locally owned stores and restaurants. Park your car by the pier, which is under restoration as well, and walk along the strip popping into the cafes and museums along the way. All within walking distance are some of the best art museums in the area.
The Chihuly Museum boasts beautiful and unique art pieces made by blowing glass. The Dali Museum, my favorite, has breathtaking works by the painter Salvador Dali and has the most interesting architectural structure. They also offer a small iPod with blurbs and audio tours for free!
St.Petersburg also hosts The Firestone Grand Prix.
CClearwater is my hometown. Now that I’ve told you about a few of the attractions for locals, it’s time to get to the most obvious, the beach! I’ve been going to Clearwater beach since I was a child, but it is not the same as it used to be. Ever since Justin Bieber made a music video and Chris Angel performed his last stunt, in Clearwater it’s quickly become a tourist attraction must-see. The entire surrounding area is building new hotels and condos as well as shops and restaurants to draw in the crowd. Clearwater beach has even been named the #1 beach in the USA by TripAdvisor.
Clearwater also has a famous aquarium that was featured in a film about Winter the Dolphin. Winter is one of the many animals that the aquarium takes in to rehabilitate and save their lives. If that’s not enough then you might be happy to know that they are also fighting against the Sientologists who are trying to take control of all of Clearwater. Sorry Tom Cruise ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Even though they may call Clearwater home, it’s also home to the very first original Hooters! So if that’s not enough to convince you to visit my beautiful hometown, then nothing will!
While there are many things to do in Central Florida, I do hope you’ll check out these highlights. If you find some more places that you absolutely love that I missed, please post them below in the comments!