7 cool things to do in Florida this year!

3:58 AM

Because when we have Stone Crab in our plates and Manatees to Swim with and a chance to be with an Astronaut, we will be left overwhelmed and gasping for more for sure!

“All of Florida is different,” says Nicole from Visit Florida. “People need to get out of their comfort zones and explore the hidden gems”. 

A snorkeler watches a Manatee (Image from Shutterstock)

Don’t get me wrong. My first time to Florida was a touch and go of a total of 72 hours in Miami, Everglades and Key west - we explored what was touristic. But I ain’t planning regular jaunts in Florida anymore. Because now I know, if I truly wish to enjoy Florida, I got to breathe and eat Florida as Nicole , Meagan and Chef Brian from the state tells us at the New York Times Travel Show 2018.

So, here are 7 cool and unique things to do in Florida this year:

1. Swim with Manatees in Crystal River:   “I would highly recommend Crystal River. Crystal River has Manatees and its the only place in North America where you can swim with Manatees”, says Nicole. “Manatees are marine mammals that are sometimes known as sea cows. They live in the water and its their own breed. If one come next to you you can swim with them. Its adorable. Its in their natural habitat and its not a park of any kind. “

I would love to do this on my next visit to Florida. Crystal River is about 1 hour 40 minute drive from Orlando and a couple of travel operators do Snorkeling tours in the area. Crystal river is 5 hours from Miami.

Nearest Airport: Tampa (1 hour 15 min) , Orlando (1 hour 40 min)

I read some great reviews about River Ventures Manatee Tour Center.

Viator also has a tour that combines Crystal River Manatee Snorkeling + Airboat tours of Homosassa River, the link for which is here

Check out the official page of Crystal River for more information.

2. Kennedy Space Center:  “Another cool experience on the Atlantic Side is the Kennedy Space Center. There is an astronaut training program. You actually get to meet an astronaut. Go through the day learning to be an astronaut. How cool is that!” , says Nicole.

Huge rocket standing at the Kennedy space center museum( Image from Shutterstock

Kennedy Space Center is home to many historic and current space exploration vehicles, including the actual space shuttle Atlantis, a Saturn V moon rocket, a SpaceX Dragon capsule, a Boeing CST-100 Starliner test vehicle, the Apollo 14 Kitty Hawk capsule, the Mercury Sigma 7 capsule, the Gemini 9 capsule and the rockets of the Rocket Garden.

Check out how to watch Rocket Launch at Kennedy Space Center: How to watch Rocket Launch

Learn more about Astronaut Training Center here

Nearest Airport: Orlando (45 min)

3. The Food, Seafood and The Catch & Cook Program: “You have to stick with the fresh seafood in Florida. You can’t go wrong. South Florida is for Stone Crab, Key west is for lobster and scallops etc,” says Nicole.

                                         Stone Crab at Joe's Stone Crab, Miami
                          Stone Crab season opens October each year and runs through May.

 “Something very cool about Stone Crab is that they are sustainable, they catch the Stone Crab and they take out one claw and they throw them back and then they regenerate the claw. So that’s something very interesting about Florida Stone Crab a lot of people may not know about,“ says Meagan.

In the Northern part of the state a lot of resorts have “Catch” and “Cook” program where you go out with the fisherman during the day and catch your fish and they’ll cook you what you caught. Pensacola is one of the great spots for that. And they’ll make it anyway you want it whether its blackened, fried, broiled or baked.

Tallahassee as far a culinary goes is amazing. “Food from that area is an influence of southern and a lot of gulf coast Regional Food,” says Chef Brian. As he served us mouthwatering Shrimp escabeche or Pickled Shrimp made from Florida Key West Pink Shrimp, I couldn’t resist making “Culinary Tours” as part of my itinerary next time I am in Florida. “Pink Shrimp are hard to come by, because we don’t let them leave the state,” states Brian.

Cuban food is also very popular in Florida. Meagaan says “You get best Cuban Sandwich in St. Pete. In fact, great cuban food is available everywhere in the state”. Since a lot of produce comes from the state of Florida including greens , the citrus fruits and the seafood, there has been a lot of farm to table movement in recent years. We tried Gator Nuggets and the Lion Fish and the Stone Crab in Miami & Keywest and one word I’ll say “The Stone Crab is wow!”

When in Florida, Check out Miami Culinary Tours(book in advance online) for Little Havana and South Beach. We did not had so much time so we did these places on our own.

4. Everglades National Park: “ I would also recommend Naples in Everglades. Everglades spans from the gulf side all the Atlantic side. At Naples, you can see alligators, crocodiles, birds of all kind. Get out there into the wild”, says Nicole.

 Although we did not venture as far as Naples, we did go to Everglades National Park and had a rendezvous with the Alligators from the Airboat ride which was super fun too!

Everglades is 2 hours from Miami and there are many tour operators who does one day tour to Everglades.

5. The Festivals: “We have the largest Strawberry festival and thats something unique. We have some other unique festivals out here. Art Basel is another huge event everybody raves about and thats where everyone comes together. There are also festivals that highlights food choices we have in Florida, “ says Nicole.

“This year is the 2nd year of the 7th seafood and wine festival at Seaworld. I would suggest doing the rides first and thereafter you can punch card and do a taste around the world around the regions that are laid out. They have beers and wines and cocktail to pair with food from region. I am very southern and my favorite is bacon and cheddar hush puppies with honey butter. Its amazing!We have tons of festivals from pensacola all the way to Key west where you get sampling of the food. We even have a Stone Crab Festival.” , says Meagan.

There are many food and wine festivals in Florida, do have a look at them here

I would advise you on checking out the Festival calendar before planning a trip to Florida. We missed the Wynnwood Art Walk in Miami that happens every second Saturday. And we were in Miami on a second Saturday..

6. The Beaches: “Outside of Tampa, Art and Food scene at St. Pete Beach is amazing. You’ll just love it! . Another beach that I would recommend is Pensacola Beach, the sand there is just sugar. Its picturesque and gorgeous. I have been spending a lot of time in West Palm Beach it Ft Laureldale lately,” says Nicole from Visit Florida.

Bahia Honda is gorgeous!

I loved the crashing waves of the South Beach , Miami. I was also hoping that the Atlantic side of Bahia Honda State Park near Marathon(20min) in Florida Keys opens soon(estimated May end) that was damaged due to hurricane Irma because that was one gorgeous beach I saw from the fences. A friend of mine suggested going to Haul Over Beach in Miami , may be next time! A few locals we met in Keywest suggested North Florida for beaches.

Check out Florida Beach Finder by Visit Florida
Also Check out Florida Beach Camping by Visit Florida

7. Dry Tortugas National Park: Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s only accessible by boat and seaplane from Keywest. It comprises 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. The most popular way of getting to Dry Tortugas is the National Parks Service's ferry, the Yankee Freedom III on a 2.5 hour ferry ride. One can also camp in Dry Tortugas (on advanced reservations). You also have to book the ferry ride in advance (online) as the tickets gets sold out fast.

The crystal clear water of the gulf of Mexico from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas NP (Image from Shutterstock)

For more information on Dry Tortugas camping, click here

For more information on Dry Tortugas check here

I know I haven’t talked about the Keys and the Keywest - the famous road trip of a lifetime. I will in my next post on “Miami in 72 hours” where we uncover the touristy spots as a tourist wanting to be laid back but trying to tick off from the checklist everything we could. ;)

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