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Florida’s Central Gulf Coast is the place to find endless white sandy beaches and crystal-blue waters, perfect for a visit any time of the year. As we tour through this part of the Sunshine State, we’ll be amazed at just how many things there are to see and do. There’s a multitude of outdoor activities like golfing, and canoeing through secluded waterways. It goes without saying that the sunsets here have to be seen to be believed.
Central Florida is also rich with museums of art, history, and culture. Beginning in Sarasota, we shouldn’t miss the Ringling Museum, which has been hailed as the official State Art Museum of Florida. The museum is on a 66-acre estate and houses 21 galleries of European, Asian and American art, both modern and classic. The grounds also hosts Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden, and elegantly manicured landscapes that overlook Sarasota Bay. The estate is also home to the Circus Museums, which display artifacts chronicling the history of the Big Top, including the world’s largest miniature circus.
Thirteen miles north from Sarasota via the US-301 N, we have another great place to visit – the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. This is the biggest natural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with exhibits that show Florida’s development from prehistoric days to the present. There are awe-inspiring, life-size dioramas and fossil evidence of Florida’s earliest animal inhabitants, as well as archaeological materials from all time periods. Adjacent to the Museum is the Bishop Planetarium, a high-tech, fully-digital dome planetarium and theater.
Sarasota also has a whole host of outdoor activities, such as kayaking through peaceful waterways, and biking along paved beachfront paths. All manner of gear is available for rental, including fishing equipment and jet skis, so there’s always a way to quench your thirst for outdoor adventure, wherever your tastes run.
A little more than thirty miles north of Sarasota is the city of St. Petersburg. The drive is a pleasant cruise along the I-275, which takes us across a broad expanse of sparkling Florida ocean. Once we arrive, it’s not a question of “what will we do,” it’s a question of “how will we manage to do it all?” St. Petersburg is a destination point for fun-seekers from all points, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Pinellas Trail is a perfect place for in-line skating, jogging, or biking, and runs 34 miles through scenic coastal areas, residential neighborhoods and parks. The scenery consists of tidal streams featuring all manner of water birds, live oaks with trailing Spanish moss, and even waterways to take a pause and drop a fishing line in the water.
If we’re tired of walking we can see the St. Petersburg beach area via the trolley system; it starts at St. Pete Beach and ends at Clearwater. Keep an eye out for the Fish Mile markers to know where you are. Be sure not to miss the one-of-a-kind Pier in the heart of St. Pete’s; at the end of it’s quarter-mile length sits a five-story inverted pyramid (yep, I said inverted!) which provides an upper deck complete with observation telescopes to get an eye-popping view of your surroundings.
For those into further dazzling the eye and broadening the mind, a don’t-miss place is the Salvador Dali Museum, dedicated to the master artist of the surreal. A St. Petersburg fixture for more than 25 years, the Dali Museum’s collection features nearly 100 oils, well over 100 drawings and watercolors, and over 1,300 graphics, sculptures, and photos from the late artist.
The city of Tampa is only half an hour away along the I-275-N, and is home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The Raymond James Stadium is surely a sight to see, with a three-million dollar pirate ship placed at one end of the stadium.
The Florida Aquarium offers four different galleries that stretch from Florida’s wetlands – where we can see views of alligators, turtles and river otters – to her oceans. The Coral Reef Gallery is the aquarium’s star exhibit, with a magnificent 500,000-gallon tank that showcases more than 1,600 reef animals. The last gallery in the tour, the Offshore Gallery, reveals large marine animals such as sharks, jellyfish and sea turtles and provides a touch-tank that allows us to get up close and personal with live sharks!
Busch Gardens-Tampa is filled with exciting thrill rides and captivating animal attractions, and is known as “The Dark Continent” due to being divided into nine distinct areas representing Africa. The Great Ape Domain is a three-acre habitat that features chimps and gorillas, but the bulk of the park’s animals are to be found at the Serengeti Plain area; this is where more than 800 creatures roam free in a natural, humane setting.
But Busch Gardens isn’t all about animals. The park contains some of the fastest and tallest coasters in the southeast, such as the Kumba, which is the fastest steel rollercoaster. Kumba gets your heart racing right from the start, with a 135-foot drop that’s quickly followed by a 110-foot fall into a diving loop. The coaster also features the world’s largest vertical loop, and a full three seconds of weightless as we rip through a 360-degree spiral. Definitely not for the faint of heart!
After such adventure, we can cool our nerves with a pleasant drive up the I-275-N, where we merge with the 589-N and finally the 98-N, which brings us to our final stop of Homosassa Springs. One of the main attractions is the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, which houses animals of every type and species, and is one of the few places we can see the endangered West Indian manatees, key deer, and whooping cranes. The park features an elevated walkway which gives us an unobstructed view of the park’s other wildfire including bears, bobcats, cougars, and otters.
The central Florida Coast is one of the most beautiful places in our nation. With everything there is to see and do, it’s not difficult to see why the area is a relocation point for people of all ages and walks of life, and remains one of the most popular vacation spots year after year.
Other Area Sponsors in Florida:
Big Pine Key & Florida's Lower Keys
Boyd's Key West Campground
Copley's RV Center
Flamingo Lake RV Resort
Highland Pines RV Resort
Lion Country Safari KOA
Pecan Park RV Resort
Port St. Lucie RV Resort
Road Runner Travel Resort
Tallahassee RV Park
West Jupiter Camping Resort
Yacht Haven Park & Marina