Travel: Funky Florida

We’ve been coming to Florida for many Christmases to visit family; with my parents selling their house, this year would be our last so we wanted to make it count. What is usually an easy-going week of cookie consumption, napping, and little local trips would be something much more ambitious.

Florida is a funky place that offers a number of unique, even off beat experiences. As my dad likes to comment, “All the nuts roll downhill to Florida!” Many of the sights beyond the theme parks attest to this in the best possible way.

Wild Florida

Our oldest daughter’s favorite animal is a sloth, so when my Dad found a wildlife park that offers sloth petting sessions, he knew that would be on our list. (Note: Normally I am not a fan of zoos at all, but this park was clean and all the animals looked healthy and happy. One of the staff was tidying up the porcupine’s enclosure and he kept standing against her to ask for attention just like a dog.)

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Wild Florida offers a range of animal experiences.

While we waited for our session to begin, we observed the sloths. The smaller of the two was hanging out by the heat lamp and the larger one traveled (faster than we expected) from the other side of the pen to edge her away from the heat source. A sloth battle ensued!

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Sloth fan got to pet a sloth.

During our session, each of us took a turn petting the super-soft and clean sloth while he enjoyed various treats. All of us seemed smitten by his quirky charms. The staff member was very knowledgeable and answered all our sloth questions. I was happy to hear that if the sloths are sleeping or not interested in human contact, the sessions are cancelled. I got a really good vibe that they care for and respect the animals there.

Coral Castle

Coral Castle is less an actual castle than a sculpture garden and was carved out of many tons of coral rock in a highly secretive process and at night by one diminutive man. No one is still sure how he did it alone and only using rudimentary tools and equipment. The site is   rightfully on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and apparently a source of inspiration for a Billy Idol song.

Walk the grounds on your own or tag along on a guided tour under the sunny south Florida skies. Coral Castle includes lots of unique features, such as a telescope, rocking chairs, bathtub, and celestial shapes. Enter the castle-like tower to see the builder’s workshop and tools on the ground level and his living space on the top level.

When we visited, it was mobbed with tourists but it was easy enough to detach yourself from the tour group and get some personal space. We also stepped outside the walls to have a closer look from the outside and no one was with us, other than lots of little lizards.

Robert is Here

Robert is Here is a fruit stand with deep roots in the community and a fascinating history. It’s considered a must-visit spot in south Florida for food nerds like me and is included in our National Culinary Heritage Register.

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A creamy and refreshing fruit shake is just the thing after exploring the nearby Everglades.

We ordered their famous tropical fruit milkshakes: dragonfruit/strawberry/blackberry, mango/pineapple/coconut, and mamey/strawberry/coconut.  Waiting for our milkshakes, we admired their fruit displays, sampled tropical honey varieties, and got a copy of the Robert is Here book signed by Robert himself.

Now back home in Maryland and finished with reading the book, I am so glad we visited. It is definitely a special place and one I would revisit if I were in the Miami area again.

Biscayne and Everglades National  Parks

Biscayne National Park is primarily comprised of underwater sites. The Miami skyline is within view yet the waters lap gently against the quiet shore. It’s a great park for people who enjoy boating, fishing, and diving. There is also a boat tour option that includes a visit to the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key. We had limited time so we just strolled the grounds, relaxed on their porch, and watched a film in their visitor center. Our girls had a good time working on earning their junior ranger badges for the park.

The Everglades National Park is probably very different from what you are picturing–most likely a dense and dark swamp. It is a wetland area but is beautiful and serves many critical environmental functions, earning it designations as “a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.”

Again, with time ticking, we did a quick drive through part of the park and spent some time in their visitor center learning more about the history and rich biodiversity of the Everglades. As one display asserted, “The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we get to keep the planet.”

State Farmer’s Market Restaurant

Located on the grounds of Florida City’s State Farmer’s Market, The Farmers Market Restaurant offers homestyle meals with ingredients fresh from the farm or sea. If you enjoy diner-style simple food served in a down to earth atmosphere, this is the spot for you.

They offer a range of seafood options (though all are fried), fresh veggie sides, and rotating specials. Since we were in Florida, we got the gator tail among our other choices. Our oldest enjoyed the gator tail  but our youngest would have nothing to do with it, despite its resemblance to breaded chicken. My husband is vegan, so eating at old school style places like this one can be a challenge but he had a salad and enjoyed a number of their veggie sides.

Art and Junk

The highlight to visiting Melbourne is always a visit to Art and Junk, artist June Miller‘s shop in old town that sells her original art work and jewelry.  I’d argue that June herself is a work of art–creative, witty, and one of a kind. Her chunky, colorful necklaces are a signature part of my look. Her shop, her art, and her aura exude bright confidence and enjoyment of life.

Thank you, Florida, for the many years of happy memories. We will miss your funky delights but look forward to having new holiday adventures as a family.

Have you been to any one-of-a-kind sites in Florida? Please share in the comments. Thanks!

Looking for more unique family fun? Read Travel: The Treehouse Camp at Maple Tree Campground  and Travel: Red Caboose Motel.

How can a roadside fruit stand in south Florida be an international phenomenon? Click here to purchase Robert is here : looking East for a lifetime. A portion of your purchase will help maintain my blog. Thank you for your support!


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