Summer should be special. The summer before I entered third grade, we were new Floridians and my mom found a job before my dad, so he had the task of watching me for the summer. Every day (or so it seems in my memories, but in reality I suspect he threw a job interview or two in there) my dad and I would get in the car and head out for parts unknown. I have fantastic memories of root beer at Dunedin’s Dogs ‘n’ Suds (RIP), Anna Maria Island before all the houses, and the wilderness of Pasco County (yeah, I might be showing my age here).
As grownups, it’s easy to lose the magic of summertime. My dad and I still take road trips on occasion — most recently Sanibel — but we could do it more. And so could you. This summer, let’s bring back the road trip. Earn your road trip badge this summer. You may need to use that stockpile of personal days for some, but like I said: Summer should be special. So grab your swimsuit and a cooler filled with beer, sandwiches and the odd apple, and hit the road.
THREE DAYS OR MORE
Swim with a sea lion in the Florida Keys. No, they aren’t native to the region. Theater of the Sea’s resident sea lion, Mimi, is a bit of a flirt (no matter how she begs, don’t kiss her — she has wicked fish breath). You can swim with dolphin anywhere (and really, dolphin are the assholes of the marine mammal kingdom, so don’t) but where else can you swim with an aging sea lion who wants to romance you? Florida, that’s where. theaterofthesea.com.
Eat oysters in Apalachicola. Florida oysters taste like salted orgasms, and nowhere are they more intense than Apalachicola. Head to Boss Oyster (sit on the water) or Up the Creek Raw Bar (order the somewhat-local Pensacola Porter) and suck ‘em down. Crackers? They’re for sissies. When you’re done, head to Apalachicola Chocolate Company for your reward: dark chocolate made with Tupelo honey. saltyflorida.com.
Pour one out for the homies at Islamorada’s 1935 Hurricane Memorial. The strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the US decimated the Keys, killing — among others — a trainload of WWI veterans working on the Overseas Railroad. A limestone monument — with cremains of many victims — stands at mile marker 81. While you’re there, stop at the Keys History and Discovery Center (MM88) and realize the Florida Keys offer more than Jimmy Buffett and the Duval Crawl. keysdiscovery.com.
View the state stem to stern on A1A. Forget what you think you know about this road (spring break, for starters): Start in Fernandina and end in South Beach and you’ll see every sort of Florida you might imagine, plus a few you can’t. Palm and pine fringed roads, a town that started as travel trailers, and some of the best surfing in Florida. scenica1a.org.
Sun yourself on Grayton Beach State Park. Travel writers describe the sand along 30A as “sugar” but it’s too light and fluffy for that. Is Bisquick sand a thing? It is up here. Late summer sees fewer crowds, and if you plan ahead you can probably grab one of the well-appointed cabins at the park ($110/night, and they sleep six). floridastateparks.org.
Snorkel wrecks and reefs in West Palm Beach. The shallows off the coast tripped up many a pirate and aquatic pioneer, leaving behind a watery wealth of gold and treasure. The wrecks offshore evolved into Florida’s first artificial reefs where you’ll spy a bevy of sponges and corals, and the reef line off the coast shelters some majestic watery wildlife (including Florida’s largest sea turtle population). visitpalmbeach.com.
Fish on at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp near Lake Okeechobee. Fish camps dish up a special type of Florida, figuratively and literally miles away from Disney and the beaches. Showers are optional; fishing and beer are not. Bring a passion for hawg fishing, because it’s all about the bass by the Big O. 863-528-0775.
Shoot the rapids at Big Shoals State Park. Yes, we have rapids. Here’s the thing: They disappear. When the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, we get Class III rapids. Any other time, this White Springs adventure is a smooth paddle or a frustrating portage. To add to the fun, it’s a one-mile hike to put-in. floridastateparks.org.
Paddle the Chassohowitzka. See it through photographer Benjamin Dimmitt’s eyes (read Caitlin Albritton’s review), then head to this spring-fed river that affords breathtaking vistas, although saltwater intrusion threatene life around the river. Paddle it before Swiftmud’s irresponsible permitting practices ruin it for all of us. paddleflorida.net.
Rejoice in one town’s ability to take failure on the chin and reinvent itself in Cedar Key. Henry Plant put his railroad in Tampa, not Cedar Key, rendering theirs obsolete. That killed the shipping, which killed the pencil industry. Tongers and spongers overfished and killed that economy. Cedar Key rose to the challenge by learning to grow clams. Eat ‘em raw, steamed, or grilled. Think of them as the taste of Florida. visitcedarkey.com.
Have a road trip you want to share? Email me. This article appeared in Creative Loafing’s 2016 Summer Guide (May 26, 2016), but I wanted to share it here because we all need a good road trip.