Tallahassee, FL – (February 2021) – While we continue to dream about the day when we will be able to travel again, VISIT FLORIDA wants to remind Canadians of just a few of the many hidden gems that await in the Sunshine State. From pristine beaches and historic preserves, to local treasures and diverse neighbourhoods, there are plenty of surprises just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
FORT PIERCE: If it’s not already, you will want to add St. Lucie – and the historic city of Fort Pierce – to your Florida vacation list. Located on the East Coast, approximately halfway between Orlando and Miami, in downtown Fort Pierce you will find a rather unusual sighting of birds… not seagulls or pelicans, but wild peacocks. And it’s not just a few, but dozens of these beautiful, brightly coloured birds. The Peacock Arts District – named after the birds that have been here since the 1970s – is gaining notoriety for its emerging, dynamic art scene. Vibrant, terracotta pots hand-painted by local artists line the main corridor. Murals, decorative banners, street murals and various works of art are now adding colour to the once-empty storefronts and are reinvigorating this historic area while still managing to maintain that “Old Florida, small town” feel.
TATE’S HELL STATE FOREST: Along the Gulf Coast near Carrabelle, the Tate’s Hell State Forest in Franklin County is well-known for being a wild place. Its name is derived from the legend of a lost farmer who vanished in the wilderness. It is also home to one of Florida’s most unusual nature wonders – a dwarf cypress swamp featuring 300-year-old cypress trees no taller than 15 feet. The Ralph G. Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk is the best place to visit this natural phenomenon. Managed by the Forest Service, the boardwalk provides a safe and accessible area to take in the views, including this unique strand of cypress trees often referred to as Bonsai or Hat-Rack Cypress. If you’re looking for a bigger outdoor adventure, the forest also encompasses more than 202,437 acres with designated camp areas, hiking trails, paddling trails, salt and freshwater fishing, five boat ramps and several canoe/kayak launches.
MAXWELL GROVES: Known for their fresh-squeezed orange juice, family-owned Maxwell Groves in Sebring has been a staple for locals and popular with visitors since its establishment as a fruit stand in 1935. Along with the famed OJ, the shop here also features various fruit wines and some of the best citrus-flavoured treats, such as preserves, jams, honey, and a dairy-free orange soft serve ice cream. Be on the lookout for Mr. Maxwell himself who will be happy to tell you stories about his family, the business and the citrus industry over the past several decades. Once refreshed, the area is also home to the Sun ‘N Lake Preserve, the go-to place for hiking and biking trails. This area is home to a variety of fauna due to its collection of ecosystems on site, including freshwater marsh, cypress swamp, cutthroat grass seeps and other biomes.
JACKSONVILLE’S NEIGHBOURHOODS: Often overlooked and driven right by on the I-95 as visitors enter Florida, Jacksonville is made up of an eclectic collection of neighborhoods that each offer their own small-town feel and southern hospitality. Whether visitors are looking for a charming, historic place to retreat to, or a casual beach town to explore, the city’s neighbourhoods offer unique and diverse experiences to immerse yourself in local culture. Within minutes you can tour urban hotspots, experience breathtaking natural landscape, or hit the water on a boat or paddleboard. Jacksonville’s new “Neighborhood Conversations” video series takes you through three of the city’s most popular areas – Riverside Avondale, San Marco and The Beaches.
“THE GRADE”: Sandwiched between Orlando and Miami on the Atlantic Coast, Martin County is home to more than 35 kilometres of pristine and uncrowded beaches, 100,000 + acres of parks and conservation lands, and the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere – the St. Lucie Inlet. If travelling by car, be sure to check out the Martin Grade Scenic Highway, a historic road (known simply as “The Grade” to locals) that is completely shaded by an intertwined canopy of century-old oak trees. During the day, beams of golden sunlight burst through any gaps in the foliage overhead, creating a dreamy effect for road trippers and locals alike.
UNDERWATER MUSEUM OF ART: The United States’ first permanent underwater museum of art is located off the coast of South Walton in about 17 metres underwater. In addition to providing a site for SCUBA diving that is unique to the world, the sculptures are designed and selected with their suitability as marine habitats in mind, so even in the absence of divers, the Underwater Museum of Art is certain to have many visitors, including schools of bait fish, grouper, sea turtles and dolphins. Earlier this month (Feb. 2021), the museum added eight new sculptures, featuring artists from across the country.
THE STETSON MANSION: The Stetson Mansion, located in West Volusia County, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker John B. Stetson, and is often hailed as Florida’s first luxury estate. The home was lost to the public for years but has now been renovated and updated and is open for tours and celebrations. It’s been named “Florida’s Most Popular Attraction” and one of the “Top 10 Places to Visit in Florida” by TripAdvisor.
QUIRKY STOPS IN NW FLORIDA: Amid the rural roadways, historic towns and pristine waterways, there are plenty of surprises in Northwest Florida, which stretches from east of Pensacola westward toward Tallahassee, along Interstate 10 and beyond. Many visitors come to enjoy the paddling, diving and fishing in the local waters, however there are also some quirky, one-of-a-kind sites here. In Carrabelle, you can stop in at the world’s smallest police station, which was upgraded from a call box bolted to a building to a cozy telephone booth in 1963; while the possum monument in the town of Wausau was erected in 1980 in honour of the marsupial, praised for providing both food and fur to the region’s early settlers.
BEAN POINT: Located on the idyllic barrier island of Anna Maria Island, Bean Point is one of the destination’s top hidden gems and is arguably one of the most quiet, intimate settings on the island. This beach features power-soft white sand, sweeping views of Tampa Bay (and the iconic Sunshine Skyway bridge), and an unobtrusive, relaxed atmosphere that is so difficult to find on most public beaches. While in the area, be sure to check out The Village of the Arts in nearby Bradenton, a vibrant community of artists featuring a collection of restored 1920s and 30s cottages, that is home to more than 30 businesses, including galleries, studios, cafés, healing arts, jewellery, fashion, books and more.
THE KEY MARCO CAT: On extended loan to the Marco Island Historical Museum by the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural Museum of Natural History, the world-famous Key Marco Cat – a half cat/half human figure – is considered one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America. Standing just 15 centimetres in height, the feline has captured the public’s imagination for over a century. Carved from native hardwood, the Key Marco Cat was created some 500 to1,500 years ago by Southwest Florida’s early Calusa people, or their Muspa ancestors, and was discovered on Key Marco in 1896 by a Smithsonian-sponsored archaeological expedition led by archaeologist and anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing.
To find out more and for travel inspiration for your future Florida gateway, head to VISITFLORIDA.com.
About VISIT FLORIDA
As the Sunshine State’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 131.4 million visitors in 2019. Based on the latest economic impact study, Florida visitors contributed $96.5 billion to Florida's economy and supported 1.6 million Florida jobs in 2019. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, the official tourism marketing corporation for the State of Florida, $3.27 in tax revenue is generated. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism to Florida through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs. As a public/private partnership, VISIT FLORIDA serves more than 13,000 tourism industry businesses, including major strategic alliance partnerships with Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney Destinations, Hilton, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort. To learn more about VISIT FLORIDA follow @FloridaTourism on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.visitflorida.org. For inspiration from the Sunshine State, follow @VISITFLORIDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.visitflorida.com. For media resources, visit www.visitfloridamedia.com.
About VoX International: VoX International is a Canadian-owned destination marketing firm based in Toronto, Canada with offices in Vancouver and Montreal, providing Canadian representation nationally. VoX is a full-service sales, marketing, event planning and public relations agency led by a team of high profile, knowledgeable travel industry executives. Recognized as a marketplace leader, VoX offers a wide range of support within the North American meeting, incentive, events, and hospitality and leisure tourism sectors. VoX’s passion for providing personal, innovative and results driven solutions are key factors for driving the company’s reputation for success.
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