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Recommended Tent Camping Sites for 2011 - FL
Florida Tent Camping Trip
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Welcome to Florida! Whether you decide to visit “The Great American Race” in Daytona Beach, gracious Southern Belles at Cypress Gardens, or roaring lions in West Palm Beach, the Sunshine State has a rich heritage of tried-and-true attractions and home to some really great Florida tent camping.
Northwest Florida beckons tourists with soft white sands and sparkling waters that provide the stage for fishing villages and historic downtown districts. From shucking your own oysters to being amazed at the death-defying aerial precision of the Navy’s Blue Angels, you’ll find plenty of time-honored pastimes in the Sunshine State’s Northwestern region. Begin at the western short drive south of US-98. How about experiencing an animal encounter? Since 1983, the Northwest Florida Zoo of Gulf Breeze has treated visitors with its botanical gardens and close-up views of 900 amazing critters, from striped favorites like tigers and zebras to mischievous monkeys and rainbow-feathered birds.
Aviation enthusiasts should check out the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station. It houses an IMAX theater and more than 170 aircraft in an impressive seven-story facility. The Air Station is also the seasonal home base of the famed Blue Angels precision flight aerobatics team, which formed in 1946 at the close of World War II. Museum visitors can observe select Blue Angels practices from a designated viewing area and meet pilots for question-and-answer sessions. There are also a few Florida tent campgrounds in the area you can stay at.
Established in 1969, Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach features wildlife like flamingos, sharks, and sea turtles. Visitors can arrange to swim with dolphins or, for a real kick, enroll in the park’s special “Trainer for a Day” program.
If you’re keen on fresh seafood, plan to visit Apalachicola on U.S. Highway 98, where more than 90 percent of Florida’s oysters are harvested. Whether you prefer to dine at raw oyster bars or four-star eateries, you’re bound to enjoy tasting the local menu offerings.
In Carabelle, off State Highway 67, you can tour the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum. Learn the World War II-era story about the 250,000 amphibious soldiers who trained at the base nearby. Their difficult training exercises took place from 1944, just before the Allied D-Day invasion of Europe, through 1948. The museum contains the wartime recollections and memorabilia of the brave young people who served the United States by land and sea more than 60 years ago.
Florida’s north central region offers the understated and nostalgic charms of the Old South, complete with antebellum flair and splendid Victorian homes. In the captivating capital city of Tallahassee, an historic district with galleries and museums, an IMAX theater, and picturesque vintage homes surround the capital complex. Take an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of bygone state politics at The Old Capitol: The Florida Center of Political History and Governance. You can also see a circa-1834 estate in all its glory at Goodwood Museum & Gardens and view a restored 1928 home at the Knott House Museum. Also in Tallahassee, visual arts converge with natural sciences at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science. The open-air Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science encompasses a zoo and discovery center as well as some fine examples of historic southern architecture. For budding anthropologists, Tallahassee’s Mission San Luis is worth a visit. Presently, San Luis is the archaeological excavation site of a renowned 17th-century Spanish mission and Apalachee Indian settlement.
As you proceed southeast on State Highway 98, stop at the fishing village of Steinhachee at the southern end of State Highway 51 to catch your own scallops for a fresh seafood feast. Next, hop onto Hwy 27 and proceed to Gainesville, home of University of Florida.
As you make your way to northeast Florida, there’s an amazing array of things to see and do, from thoroughly modern metropolitan attractions to the cobblestone streets of America’s oldest city. But before we get there, we mustn’t forget to visit Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the home of towering giraffes, noisy warthogs, and slinking jaguars, among many others. At the city’s Alltel Stadium, another species of Jaguars, the NFL variety, attracts a flock of loyal observers in the fall each year. Another top Jacksonville destination is the Museum of Science and History where scientific demonstrations and planetarium shows delight visitors.
From Jacksonville, a short trip south on State Highway A1A takes you to the historic city of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. At the Colonial Spanish Quarter, you can learn about and almost imagine the lifestyles of the area’s early European settlers. There are even more lessons to be learned at the Oldest House and Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the U.S.A. If you think the wax figures and theatrical presentations at Potter’s Wax Museum are unnerving, wait until you see the bizarre exhibits at Ripleys Believe It or Not! The more sedate Lightner Museum, constructed in 1888, (formerly Henry Flagler’s own Alcazar Hotel) is full of paintings, sculptures and elaborate furnishings. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth is a staple landmark in St. Augustine, as is the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The entertainment there is provided by a big bunch of spike-toothed alligators and their creepy crocodile cousins.
On Florida’s central east coast, you can go for a leisurely dip in the Atlantic, accelerate your pace with a stock car race, or track the trajectory of NASA astronauts as they rocket into space. Daytona’s International Speedway hosts the famed Daytona 500, otherwise known as “The Great American Race.” Ever since it hit the sports scene back in 1959, auto racing fans have been crowding the speedway, especially since the recent addition of the Daytona U.S.A. theme n’ thrill park and IMAX theater.
In Titusville, on State Road 405 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you can take a guided tour of NASA’s launch headquarters, pilot a space flight simulator, or have lunch with a real astronaut. Southward at the intersection of U.S. Highway A1A and State Road 520 in Cocoa Beach is the world-renowned Ron Jon Surf Shop. Established in Cocoa in 1963 as a small surfboard outlet, today’s multi-story retail shop sells a vast selection of casual clothing, water sports gear, Florida souvenirs, and beach-related equipment, and it’s open 24/7 for RVers who arrive in town in the middle of the night. Interestingly, Ron Jon owners Ron and Lynne DiMenna currently travel in style in their new 42-foot motorhome, custom painted to look like, you guessed it – a 1940’s “woody” station wagon.
At the circa-1962 Cocoa Beach Pier, restaurants, beach-style stores, an ice cream parlor and arcade lend a nostalgic hint of yesteryear to Atlantic shopping sprees. If you prefer quieter surroundings, head for the specialty shops, galleries, and cafes in Cocoa Village, a tiny town that has managed to preserve its peaceful, friendly atmosphere since the 1950’s.
In Fort Pierce on A1A, the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum was established in 1985 at the original beachfront training grounds of the first U.S. Navy Frogmen, predecessors of today’s elite fighting force, the U.S. Navy Seals. Thousands volunteered and trained here for Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams from 1943 through 1946. Frogmen and SEALS have served in every U.S. conflict since the Korean War. The museum’s mission is to accurately portray and honor them through their stories, photos, artifacts, combat videos, and real training crafts that once operated by air or sea. Road Runner Travel Resort is one of the great Florida tent campgrounds to check out in the area.
As you drive inland from the coast, central Florida will certainly keep you entertained. Gravity-defying thrill rides, enchanted castles, rollicking movie sets, and sleepy homespun cafes are all on our itinerary. And there’s even more. Silver Springs, on State Road 40 near Ocala, is the historic location where several movies, such as the original Tarzan series, were filmed. The “nature’s theme park” at Silver Springs has been a popular tourist spot ever since the first glass-bottom boats, invented in 1878, started providing accessible underwater views of the area’s crystal clear springs. Fantastic fountains, river cruises, and animal shows are also part of the fun at Silver Springs.
Mount Dora, off U.S. Highway 441, is a small, old-timey town that’s favored by antique shoppers. At Mount Dora Merchant’s Association, you can cruise for collectibles or take a leisurely ride on an old-fashioned carriage or train. And Renninger’s Twin Markets-Antique Center and Flea Market simply have everything from Grandma’s well-worn treasures to fresh-picked farmers’ fare.
Orlando is the established hub of family attractions, from Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom theme parks to the dazzling displays at Sea World and Universal Studios. But did you know it’s also home of Gatorland, a vintage theme park that’s been presenting gator jumpin’ and wrestlin’ demonstrations for the past 54 years? Orlando and neighboring Kissimmee are also noted for a pleasing (and tasty) variety of themed dinner shows. Choose from Arabian Knights, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, or a Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show that lets the audience solve the crime. Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake is one of the great Florida tent camping parks here.
Just off classic U.S. Highway 27 in Winter Haven, Cypress Gardens Adventure Park is an updated version of Florida’s original theme park, where demure southern belles in frilly gowns greeted eager crowds of tourists during the 50’s and 60’s. The new Cypress Gardens still has lots of floral wonders and water ski shows, and they’ve added some new treats too – a cornucopia of thrill rides, cool water park, animal exhibits, concerts, ice skating demos, and more. Rest assured, y’all, those smiling southern belles are still making their daily appearances. Historic Bok Sanctuary, off County Road 17-A in Lake Wales, encompasses 250 acres with its 1930’s-era estate. Bok has a “singing” bell tower, magnolia and azalea gardens, and oodles of old-style southern charm. The 70-years-young Country Inn and Restaurant at Chalet Suzanne, off U.S. Highway 27, is also well worth a visit.
In the central west portion of Florida, come browse through first-rate museums and art galleries, delight to the sounds of a symphony, cheer your favorite sports team to victory or dine on delectable seafood. One of the area’s most nostalgic attractions is Weeki Wachee Springs, located off U.S. Highway 19. Weeki Wachee is famous for live mermaid shows that began way back yonder in 1947. Weeki Wachee’s unusual Mermaid Theater resides 16’ under the surface of the springs, so the fact that shows star real costumed women performing to music, eating and drinking–all under water–adds to the curiosity of the entire experience.
On the Gulf of Mexico, Grecian sponge divers developed the Greek-themed town of Tarpon Springs in the late 1800’s. At Tarpon’s Greek Village, off Alternate U.S. Highway 19, you’ll find authentic ethnic restaurants and bakeries with yummy pastries. Just east of Clearwater, Tampa is a booming city and it has the tourist attractions that helped create it. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has entertainment for everyone, exciting rides, restaurants, and a zoo. And speaking of zoos, Tampa’s full-scale Lowry Park Zoo is home to more than 1,600 animals, plus a water park, rides, and family-oriented shows. Other Tampa destinations of choice are the top-rated Florida Aquarium and the Museum of Science and History with its hands-on displays, IMAX movie theater, and planetarium. Pro sports are alive and well in Tampa, too. The New York Yankees spring training and Tampa Bay Devil Rays home games are in town, as are NFL Buccaneers football and NHL Lightning hockey. Shoppers get their “game on” just south of Tampa in the village of Hyde Park where the shops, cafes, and movie houses have old-fashioned European flair. Historic Ybor City, on U.S. Highway 41, has a flavorful blend of Cuban, Italian, and Spanish restaurants, offbeat shopping and a vibrant nighttime scene.
And in St. Petersburg, the Salvador Dali Museum houses a vast collection of the prominent Spanish painter’s works. After the museum, check out the beautiful views from the St. Pete Pier.
Southwest Florida is known for shells and shark’s teeth on the beach and sugar cane in the fields. It also has fabulous art museums, trendy boutiques, and standout theaters hosting everything from dramatic presentations to ballet troupes and opera companies. Since 1981, the 600-booth-strong Red Barn Flea Market has been at home in Bradenton. Red Barn’s indoor/outdoor shopper’s paradise covers every angle, from clothing, housewares, and jewelry to antiques and fresh-cut flowers. Hungry shoppers will be relieved to know that tasty food and beverage booths are plentiful here too.
Take US-41 south to Sarasota. It’s as well-rounded a locale as you’re likely to find. You can visit sea turtles and manatees at Mote Marine Laboratory Aquarium, get dazzled by the exhibits at the Ringling Art and Circus Museums, and attend a concert presented by the 56-year-old Florida West Coast Symphony. While here, Cincinnati Reds fans can watch their team step up to the plate at spring training. And shoppers can explore sunny galleries and trendy boutiques at historic St. Armands Circle, then dine in style at the circle’s fine restaurants.
The city of Fort Myers on Interstate 75 is the site of the Thomas Edison-Henry Ford Winter Estates, where a museum and botanical garden complement fascinating home tours. Fort Myers is also the spring training site for the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. And a 67-year-old local legend, the Shell Factory and Nature Park, is a Fort Myers’ shopping tradition. In addition to the giant gift shop, the Shell Factory has a seafood restaurant, mini-golf course, and bumper car track.
In the southeast part of the state and the Florida Keys, seaside life is reflected in aquariums, fish tales, scenic cruises, and a coral castle. By land or sea, it’s a good place to be. Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach opened its drive-through, cageless zoo way back in 1967. Today, you still get close-up views of burly rhinos, galloping zebras, and of course, roaring lions. It feels like a genuine safari experience since most resident animals roam freely in outdoor habitats. If you’re rrrrrrrrrrrrreally lucky, a skulking lion might even scratch his back on your RV bumper.
For 60+ years, the Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruise has transported tourists past waterfront estates in Fort Lauderdale to popular island-style buffets. Next time you’re in town, why not follow the Queen’s time-honored tradition? After dinner, enjoy an evening of entertainment at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The bustling center features stellar performances in music, drama, and dance.
Just south of Fort Lauderdale in Dania Beach at the International Game Fish Association Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, there are books, films, photos, and artifacts related to fishing, as well as a marina. The association, established in 1939, aims to preserve the past and promote the present and future of sport fishing. Meeting the animals at Miami’s acclaimed Metrozoo or watching whales and sea lions at the 50-year-old Miami Seaquarium are ideal ways to get acquainted with Southeast Florida. West of Miami at the Miccosukee Indian Village and Everglades Airboat Tours, you’ll see traditional camp life, beadwork, doll making, woodcarving, and alligator handling. And you can taste Miccosukee delicacies like frog legs and pumpkin bread. Next, consider touring the Italian Renaissance villa and botanic marvels at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Coconut Grove. Or catch a game of the Miami Dolphins NFL or Miami Heat NBA teams. At Cauley Square Historic Village, you can stroll through a cluster of 1890’s-era shops that sell antiques, vintage jewelry, crafts, chic clothing, and such. South of Miami in Coral Gables, take in the sights at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Fairchild is acclaimed for its rare tropical plant collections. Also south of Miami is Homestead’s Coral Castle, another rarity that shouldn’t be missed. Beginning in 1923, pint-sized Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly constructed the castle, its nine-ton gate and a distinctive sundial from huge chunks of coral, using homemade tools crafted from scrap metal. Leedskalnin’s building project lasted 28 years, and curious folks have been flocking to see it ever since.
As you travel south through the Florida Keys to “the end of the line” of U.S. Highway 1, the island town of Key West comes into focus. Set aside an evening (or two) for Key West’s signature Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square and plan to circle the island by land or sea on the Conch Tour Train, Old Town Trolley, or Discovery Glass-Bottom Boat. Last but not least, be sure to browse through three worthwhile attractions: the Ernest Hemingway Home, Harry S. Truman Little White House, and the Southernmost House in the U.S.A.
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