Authentic Florida’s 2016 Bucket List

A new year inspires renewal and fresh starts. Exploring Florida can offer many “new beginnings” as we discover adventures along roads less traveled. There’s so much to discover and no better time to begin than right now. Begin checking off your Authentic Florida bucket list with these 14 ideas that will kickstart your 2016:


Paddle Juniper Springs Run


Juniper Springs Run, Ocala National Forest


”Stunning” aptly describes the Juniper Springs Run, a slow-moving, winding creek that will gently carry you through pristine and lush forested hammocks. Glide under fallen trees past fields of colorful wildflowers as shafts of sunlight shine through overhanging trees into crystal clear water and a shallow sandy bottom below. This Florida treasure is located in the Juniper Springs Wilderness area of Central Florida’s Ocala National Forest, halfway between Ocala and Daytona Beach. The park is an ideal base for exploring the rest of the National Forest that has so many recreational choices for hiking, biking, kayaking, and swimming in Florida’s refreshing springs, lakes, and rivers.

For more: Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest 


Flock to See White Pelicans


Florida’s White Pelicans


Next on our Florida Bucket List is the opportunity to see a Florida White Pelican! One of Florida’s most beloved events is the arrival of the white pelicans. From a distance, these birds could be mistaken for a flock of swans. Distinctive with snowy white feathers and pink-tangerine-colored bills, they are shy in nature and congregate in isolated areas. From fall until spring they are found on secluded beaches, in estuaries, lakes, mangrove islands – often within protected areas. To also ensure a sighting try using a local eco-tour operator who knows where to find them. Here are a few popular locations: St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge (St. Marks); Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Titusville); Fort DeSoto Park (St. Petersburg); The Celery Fields (Sarasota); White Pelican Island (near Boca Grande).

For More: Best Places to See Florida’s White Pelicans


Go Scalloping


Florida Scallops


Florida’s scallop season runs from late June to mid-September. Prime destinations include Hernando and also Citrus Counties along Florida’s Nature Coast, the Big Bend/Steinhatchee River area, and the fertile bays of the Florida Panhandle. The little mollusks are found in shallow water and are fun to catch and also delicious to eat. To gather the tasty morsels, snorkel on the surface scanning the grass beds and also sandy spots below. You’ll begin to see scallops among the blades of seagrass. The shells are grayish in color and fit in your palm. Scoop them up and also fill your buckets. On shore, many local restaurants will cook your freshly caught cleaned scallops for you. Popular half-day group tours on pontoon boats charge around $75 per person.

For more: Florida Scalloping


Climb a Fort in St. Augustine


Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine


Whether planning a romantic getaway or a seaside vacation, there are many reasons to visit St. Augustine. Most people visit Florida’s oldest city for its rich and layered history, and no trip to St. Augustine is complete without a visit to the city’s Castillo de San Marcos. It is also considered the most well-preserved and oldest masonry fort from the Spanish colonial period in the United States. Visitors enter the massive structure by crossing a moat and walking through a gate into living history. Volunteers dress in period costumes adding a touch of authenticity as they share historic stories and also answer questions. It is easy to understand why the Spanish built this immense fortress on Matanzas Bay, with a commanding view of the harbor.

For more: Florida’s Charming St. Augustine


Bike the Withlacoochee Trail


Florida’s Withlacoochee Trail


Enjoy a carefree bike ride through natural Florida along Central Florida’s Withlacoochee Trail. Bikers, hikers, and also equestrian riders, from beginners to advanced, can trek along 46 miles of a continuously paved trail through three counties – Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus, from Dade City to Citrus Springs. Originally a railroad track, the scenic, shaded trail runs through canopied oak hammocks, cypress swamps, and also pine woods, past ranches, and farms, and is convenient to charming restaurants. Inverness, with its historic downtown, is a good starting point. Follow the trail to Floral City, and if you are also ambitious, head further south to Nobleton. Be sure to stop at Ferris Groves for a fresh Florida strawberry shake.

For more: Three Small Authentic Florida Towns to Visit


Float Down the Ichetucknee River


Ichetucknee River, Fort White


Next on our Florida Bucket List is enjoying the beauty of Florida’s nature while tubing down the Ichetucknee River. Located near Fort White, northwest of Gainesville, the Ichetucknee Springs and River has been a destination for tubers, families, and also college students seeking the bliss of drifting on one of Florida’s most scenic waterways. Admire the overhanging trees and blue skies; enjoy crystal clear slow-moving water; listen to birds; glimpse deer and turtles along the banks; and also let go of all your cares and worries. This six-mile river will not disappoint as one of Florida’s most authentic pleasures. The park is also open year-round, but prime tubing season begins Memorial Day until Labor Day.

For more: Tubing Florida’s Ichetucknee River


Beach it: Gulf Islands National Seashore


Gulf Islands National Seashore


Enjoy a picnic on the longest stretch of protected shoreline anywhere in the United States. The Gulf Islands National Seashore, on Florida’s Panhandle, is among the most spectacular stretches of beach in Florida – and that’s saying a lot in a state with over 600 miles of beaches. Extending along with the barrier islands from Florida’s Navarre Beach all the way to Gulf Port, Mississippi, the gleaming white “sugar” sand gleams against the contrasting Bahamas-like emerald green waters. On Santa Rosa Island you’ll also find shaded picnic pavilions to enjoy this amazing vista. The seashore is also home to salt marshes, sand dunes, and maritime forests and home to seabirds such as plovers, terns, and sanderlings. Be sure to also check out the historical Fort Pickens, located on the westernmost part of Santa Rosa Island.

For more: Pensacola: History, Beaches & Blue Angels


Hike “Old Florida” at Myakka River State Park


Myakka River State Park, Sarasota


Next on our Florida Bucket List is Myakka River State Park. Lose yourself in a delightful slice of “real” Florida at Myakka River State Park. East of Sarasota, the park is one of the state’s oldest and largest parks, consisting of scenic riverine swamp, wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and also pinelands. Visitors can see wildlife as they hike or bike one of the many trails, fish the river, ride in the airboat, enjoy an old-fashioned tram ride or also walk a suspended bridge through the tree canopy. And if you also want to see alligators, Myakka is your place. You’ll lose count with the number of gators you’re likely to encounter.

For more: Myakka River State Park


Join A Sea Turtle Walk


Florida Sea Turtle, photo courtesy Edward Perry


An evening beach walk during sea turtle nesting season is one of Florida’s most magical experiences. From May through October, mother sea turtles lumber onto shore to carefully dig nests and also deposit eggs. Unfazed by observers, turtles, in a trance-like state, drop nearly 100 eggs into a sandy nest. Guided summer walks also let visitors personally witness Mother Nature at work through the Sebastian Inlet State Park, the Sea Turtle Conservation Society, and the Canaveral National Seashore. If you don’t get a chance to join an organized walk, also consider a visit to the Melbourne Beach Barrier Island Sanctuary in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the most significant area for loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the Western Hemisphere.

For more: Join a Florida Sea Turtle Walk


Muck About in the Big Cypress


Big Cypress Preserve Swamp Walk


Next on our Florida Bucket List is visiting the Big Cypress for a Swamp Walk! Florida’s renowned photographer, Clyde Butcher, highlights nature through his inspiring black and white photos. Visiting the Clyde Butcher Gallery, located on US 41 in Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve, is not only special but it also home to a unique Florida experience – a  Swamp Walk. (Yes, a Swamp Walk.) For more than 20 years guests have had an opportunity to “muck about” in a cypress swamp on a tour. The guided walk is a very special eco-friendly adventure directly behind Clyde’s gallery in the Big Cypress Swamp that also includes a trek through freshwater dotted by dense hammocks of Bald Cypress trees. Yes, guests do get wet, but they get to experience firsthand the Big Cypress Swamp, not as a scary and foreboding place, but as a vibrant and fragile ecosystem.

For more: Big Cypress Swamp Walk


View Pasco’s Iconic Stilt Houses at Sunset


Pasco County Stilt House

Originally constructed as wooden fishing camps elevated over water on deep pilings, stilt houses dating back to the early 1900s. Fishermen built the houses as resting spots so they could extend their hours-long and sometimes days-long fishing trips. “Squatters rights” determined the location and as fishermen found the spot they liked, they built their lodge over the water. Stilt houses can still be viewed throughout Florida – in Miami’s Biscayne Bay (Stiltsville), and Charlotte Harbor in the Fort Myers area, and thirty miles northwest of Tampa off the shores of Pasco County, where you can view nine rustic stilt houses. One of the best ways is via a Sunset Dinner Cruise from Port Richey’s Gill Dawg Marina. Once on the Gulf, you’ll see these surreal structures rising from the bay, and as the sun sets, the sky will transform into an amazing Technicolor pink-tangerine vista with the Pasco County stilt houses silhouetted against the sunset sky.

For more: Sunset Dinner Cruise with Miss Daisy Tours


Attend a Florida Sugar Cane Boil


Florida Sugar Cane Syrup Boil


Next on our Florida Bucket List is a traditional Florida Sugar Cane Syrup Boil! Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, an historical tradition known as a “sugar cane boil” dates back to the earliest pioneers in rural Florida. Making cane syrup is a “heritage art” centering on family, friends, and also community. Cane syrup is a caramel-flavored, slightly bitter syrup made from the juice of sugar cane. Historically, cane syrup was the main source of sweetness for small communities where sugar was harder to come by. Even today, for many, it is also the preferred natural sweeter over refined sugar and is poured over pancakes, bacon, sausage, grits, eggs, and biscuits. Public Cane Boils are plentiful including several hosted by Florida State Parks (Dudley Farm State Park, Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center) and historical farms (Fort Christmas, Barberville Pioneer Settlement) and Museums (Tallahassee Museum, Silver River Museum) and during the annual Florida State Fair.

For more: Making Sugar Cane Syrup: Experience Florida’s Heritage


Get Folksy at the Florida Folk Festival 


Florida Folk Festival, photo courtesy, Florida Folk Festival


Experience the best of Florida music, arts, and also culture on Memorial Day weekend at the annual Florida Folk Festival held at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in the charming town of White Springs. Here, one of the oldest state folk festivals in America takes place annually along the banks of the Suwannee River. The event celebrates Florida’s land, food, people, and also diverse cultural heritage. More than 300 performances by Florida’s greatest folk and roots artists, including national recording artists, songwriters, and musicians of swing, folk, blues, gospel, and country entertain visitors at this laid-back weekend celebration. While there, enjoy the Stephen Foster Museum displaying exhibits and dioramas about American composer Stephen Foster’s music and songs, including “Old Folks at Home” that made the Suwannee River famous.

For more: 2016 Florida Folk Festival


Eat “Apalach” Oysters Fresh Off the Boat


Apalachicola Oysters


Last on our Florida Bucket List is Apalachicola or “Apalach” to locals. This is a coastal town about 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee. As Florida’s oyster capital, it also supplies the majority of the state’s catch. . Deeply rooted in centuries of Florida fishing, shipping, trade, and also commerce,  the town is filled with charming 18th and 19th-century homes. As for the oysters, visitors can get them freshly served raw or also cooked – any way you like at many local eateries. Favorites include the Hole in the Wall (23 Avenue D), Up the Creek Raw Bar (313 Water Street), Boss Oysters, and also the more upscale Owl Cafe.

For more: Apalachicola: Florida’s Oyster Republic


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