Florida, Not Just The Sunshine State
By Julia Torres
Florida, the peninsula of sunshine, coconut oil, and palm trees, has much to offer natives and tourists alike. Whether you enjoy diving or fishing, film or trivia, or learning about art and history, you won’t be disappointed after visiting Floridian cities.
Two world capitals known for diving and sport fishing are found in Monroe County, Key Largo, and Islamorada. In fact, the Benwood, on French Reef in the Florida Keys, is known to be among one of the most dived shipwrecks. It is no wonder that novice and experienced divers keep returning. While Key Largo contains numerous activities for leisure and competitive water sports, it also allows opportunities for parents to snap photographs of children swimming with dolphins.
Film producers find value in traveling south for movie sets as well. Glorified, notorious Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino, was a predominant figure who depicted a Cuban during the ‘80s cocaine craze throughout Miami Beach in the film “Scarface,” while the elegant Charlize Theron took on “Monster,” characterizing and winning an Oscar for her role in the sad, disturbing life of Aileen Wuornos, one of few women executed in the state of Florida. In addition, Warner Bros.’ 1948 “Key Largo,” based on its 1939 play, drew brilliant personalities to its cast, namely Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Islamorada wasn’t far behind. as it has attracted inspiring authors’ and sports’ enthusiasts such as Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey.
Visitors and residents are often seen savoring delicious seafood in Islamorada, which means “purple island” in Spanish, while sipping a beachfront cocktail, strolling down the village’s fine shops and galleries, boating on the Everglades for an alligator glimpse, or participating in different tours, annual festivals, or community concerts. Moreover, did you know that the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) was designated by the Florida legislature as the official state reptile in 1987?
That, however, is not the only interesting, record-breaking trivia. Delray Beach, located in Palm Beach County, is home to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, America’s sole museum dedicated exclusively to Japanese culture. Speaking of exclusivity, Lee County’s Sanibel Island owns two million shells boasting of being the only museum devoted to shells, you may guess, but no, it’s mollusks. Additionally, McCall Park in Plant City, Hillsborough County, has held the Guinness record since February 19, 1999, for the largest strawberry shortcake, measuring 827 square feet and 6,000 lbs.
For history buffs, Florida is rich. At North America’s oldest European settlement, Saint Augustine, children can enjoy a ride on a beautifully elaborate carousel, visit the wooden schoolhouse, or walk down narrow cobblestone streets. Young adults and parents can wait outside the old jail before being escorted into the cellblock by the sheriff’s wife, who chastises the new inmates while dressed in olden-days attire. Inside, the sheriff and inmates’ wax figures are powerfully seen and heard, but I won’t ruin the experience for you by relaying the content or detailing how the sheriff’s family lived on the premises. That, you’ll have to see for yourself.
The state’s history also includes military sites. Among them are Florida’s largest American Civil War battle, the Olustee Battlefield; Fort Zachary Taylor, active during the Civil War, Spanish-American, and World War I and II; and Polk County’s oldest settlement, Fort Meade, dating back to 1849. Of further interest is the city of Jacksonville, the nation’s busiest port during the Gulf War, responsible for moving vast amounts of supplies and personnel.
Also, we cannot speak of history without mentioning the city of Cape Canaveral, or the John F. Kennedy Space Center, where one can view practice runs off launch pads and learn a lot.
Still, this peninsula has lots to offer. More folks are seen in Orlando than any other amusement park in the country. Perhaps we can thank Mickey and friends, the behind-the-scenes at Hollywood Studios, or the dozens of clubs and eateries in Pleasure Island for the thousands of jobs that keep many employed and the massive revenue brought into the area.
If theme parks don’t entice you, not too far from Orlando is Clearwater, known for spectacular beaches and calming waters, but be mindful not to be in its general vicinity when the possibility of lightning exists, as it holds the highest rate of lightning strikes per capita in the world.
Aside from the storms and hurricanes that go along with living in the Sunshine State, the greater Miami area borders two national parks to hike or ride through, Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park; downtown Miami’s Little Havana, Calle Ocho is frequented by tourists who enjoy watching old-timers play dominoes while smoking cigars donned in guayaberas, espresso in hand; and South Beach’s Ocean Drive is visited by beautiful people who waltz by the Versace Mansion, Mangos Tropical Cafe and the Clevelander before taking a dip in the ocean or grabbing a bite to eat in one of the numerous restaurants adorning the strip. Appropriately so, it was in Miami Beach that a pharmacist named Benjamin Green invented the first suntan lotion. The year was 1944, and he accomplished this by cooking cocoa butter in a granite coffee pot on his wife’s stove.
Perhaps those who get a sunburn can ride north on the road alongside Fort Lauderdale’s 185 miles of local waterways, also known as the Venice of America, to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County and jump in the natural springs of Espíritu Santo (Holy Spirit) Springs, known by many for its curative powers. While there, be sure to stay hydrated; bring some Gatorade. After all, Gatorade was developed at the University of Florida Gators, which is how it got its name.
Trivia, trivia, trivia. It all begins with an education. It is no surprise that Florida is full of tidbits since the oldest college, Rollins College, was founded in 1885 in Winter Park. Maybe it’s time for a road trip?
Julia Torres earned a Master of Science in Homeland Security with a certification in Terrorism Studies from Fairleigh Dickinson University; a Jersey City State College, K-12 Teacher Certification; and a Bachelor of Arts Visual Arts from Rutgers University, where she enlisted in the Army Reserves. Upon graduating Rutgers, she began a career in law enforcement, and later volunteered for the Gulf War. Once home, she worked undercover until retiring in 2001 due to a Gulf War illness. Since then, she has done volunteer work, acted, and written two non-fiction books.
Florida, Not Just The Sunshine State