Best Kept Secrets Of The Gulf Coast

Old Feb 15th, 2014, 04:52 AM
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Best Kept Secrets Of The Gulf Coast

Let me introduce myself: my name is Richard and together with my girlfriend Sue, we will be travelling from London to Orlando on April 22nd for a five week road trip round Florida. This will be our third USA road trip assisted by Fodor.
So far we have planned our itinerary down to the Keys and back to the start of the Tamiami trail. Could I ask some of you to share your favourite tips for the Gulf Coast and the area inland and below Ocala.
Any suggestions, big or small would be welcome. I'm thinking: out of the way destinations; B&B's in interesting locations; nice drives; walking/cycling trails; rivers, creeks and swimming areas; farms and forests; good food stores; craft beers; markets; festivals (all types); local sporting events; inland towns; places to visit and photograph at sunrise and sunset. Absolutely everything would be considered.
Thank you in anticipation.
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Old Feb 16th, 2014, 02:23 PM
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Everglades City. It is almost the end of the world. During the 1970's the entire town was involved in the drug trade. The government blocked the one road in and arrested all the men. Eventually, the locals worked out among themselves who would confess and go to jail and who would stay home and take care of everyone's families. Great story, told, among much else, in the local museum. Lots of history here.

The end of the world is Chokoluskee where there is a store-museum that looks like a Giles village shop, with old merchandise everywhere. Not for sale. The story here is late 19th century: a local farmer worked his men like slaves, then murdered them at the end of the season to avoid paying their wages. But it got to be too much. When he came to shop at the store, a group of local citizens met him and riddled his body with bullets. No one saw anything. There is a small cafe in Chokoluskee with good Florida food.

You can get a boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands section of the Everglades from the National Park headquarters between EC and Chokoluskee.

Coming from Miami along US 41, you will cross the Turner River. There are alligators all along this road, but this where they hang out. No need ever to any to see an alligator when you can come here.
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Old Feb 16th, 2014, 02:24 PM
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"any" should have been "pay".
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:05 PM
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Ackislander: I was intrigued by Everglades City so it was great to get your info. We will certainly be looking into everything you have mentioned. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Anybody else got any ideas?
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:28 PM
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We stayed in Sarasota for a week and loved the area-very artsy and although we didn't visit it we hear that The Ringling Museum is supposed to really wonderful. And the beaches around there are fabulous-Siesta Key in particular.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:32 PM
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Oh and I meant to add that we stayed here at the Hibiscus Suites:

They are super fancy but a very US Florida old time experience-the location is pretty good and it was nice to have a kitchen for coffee in the morning and to reheat meals, etc when we felt like it.

Also, be sure to read this Florida highway toll thread if you haven't already-there are numerous toll roads in FLorida and you figure out when you rent the car what the deal is in terms of payment:
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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Oh sorry typing too fast-I meant to say the Hibiscus Suites are NOT too fancy....
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 01:12 PM
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I love the area in Sarasota that jpie describes. And I have visited the Ringling. It is my favorite area in all of FL.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 02:40 PM
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after the everglades, cross the state and consider stops in Naples, Ft Myers, Sanibel/Captiva, Sarasota and up to the north as far as Panama City...

Staying along the Gulf Coast gives you access to all of the oportunities listed...
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 02:48 PM
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jpie: Sarasota is on our list and I'm going to take a proper look at the Hibiscus Suites you mentioned. Thanks to you I am now much better informed about Florida's toll roads.
JJ5: thanks for your advice on Sarasota.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 03:21 PM
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Yeah I think lots of folks love this part of Florida. We are headed to this area again in April to see friends in nearby Punta Gorda, Cape Coral and Tampa. Tampa is a nice larger city by the way-not oceanfront but rather a Bay as you see from the name.

If you don't mind the stairs it is nice to get an upstairs suite at the Hibiscus so you don't have noise of people tromping over you. There are other places on Siesta Key itself but we actually preferred this location better since you can access the beach and city a little more easily.

We found Naples a bit "old" feeling and not as diverse as we like a city to be. But we live part time in France and part time in LA, so we are kind of big city people and prefer youngish feeling places even though we are retirement age ourselves.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 04:00 PM
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Have tons of friends and an ex (Cape Coral) who live all up and down the Gulf Coast- retired from Chicago. And there are numerous excellent beachfront towns with lots to see & do, but there is a really nice mix and tone and nuance in Sarasota. Best Cuban pork sandwich I ever had was in their square. MANY restaurants- good seafood.

My other Florida favorite not mentioned is a priceless gem and hardly ever mentioned. It might be off your beaten track. But Northwards of Orlando there is a Blue Springs National Park that is rarely, rarely tourist laden and you can see the manatees in their natural environment as they swim into that entire slough area- rather like the Everglades but more woodsy. But much easier to access and view SO much wildlife. They have an awesome bird viewing tour on a small pontoon that is fabulous to experience if you hit it right. It's close to Winter Park, FL.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 05:47 PM
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Anna Maria , many wonderful birds, not built up, gorgeous. Eat at The Mermaid
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 06:07 PM
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Everglades City for an airboat ride and visit the Smallwood store museum. I don't remember the name of the restaurant we ate in there, but they had fantastic key lime pie. I don't imagine there's more than one or two places there.

The winter estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in Ft. Myers are very interesting and worth a visit. Check out the HUGE banyan tree in the parking lot.

I loved the Ringling Brothers museum. See it all - the art museum, the mansion, and the circus museum.

Drive across Sanibel Island all the way to Captiva Island. Stop at the beach on the Captiva side of the little bridge that connects the two islands. The seashells wash up there like crazy! There are huge piles of them.

Have fun!
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 07:17 PM
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since you are starting/ending in Orlando, suggest a day in nearby Winter Park, a wealthy enclave about 5 miles north of downtown. Has great eats, wonderful public park...very Americana. But also has two great museums near park...good place to go for an afternoon and dinner.
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Old Feb 17th, 2014, 09:35 PM
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If you like architecture, Florida Southern College in Lakeland (between Orlando and Tampa) has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in a single location in the world.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 06:40 AM
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Sarasota is a wonderful area; I visited there every year (my retired parents) for about a dozen years. I agree that the Ringling Museum is fantastic. On Monday mornings before noon the art museum is free of charge. I think there is still a charge for a tour of the Ca D'Zan -- the mansion that John Ringling built which even if you just see it from outside is crazy gorgeous. Also the rose garden. There is a separate building that houses a miniature circus which was built by a circus love and donated.

If you are interested in getting out into Nature, I would also suggest Myakka River State Park, which is about 20 minutes drive from downtown Sarasota. I've gone on the boat, and I've done kayaking there among the birds and alligators. So much fun.

There's a lot of culture in Sarasota, and some good restaurants hidden among the strip malls.

Oh, I almost forgot. If you are there on a Sunday evening, check out the drum circle at Siesta Beach, at sunset. Since I started going there it's gotten big and touristy, but I still love it. Something about the drum beats and the colors of the setting sun is a magical combination.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 09:16 AM
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To all of the above many, many thanks for all the wonderful ideas you have come up with. Some of the places I was already aware of, but it"s so good to have your ideas confirmed by people who actually know the area! Our plan is to continue as far up as Crystal River and then turn inland, where, hopefully we will experience a different sort of Florida. We like to eat healthily and we love seafood but can anyone suggest food/supermarket stores that are worth looking out for as we travel around. Thanks and best wishes from the UK.
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 09:37 AM
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Morton's in Sarasota has one of the better wine selections and high quality meats and cheese.

hikrchick suggested most of what I would have!
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Old Feb 18th, 2014, 10:22 AM
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I'm bookmarking for all this good Sarasota info.
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