I have a confession to make. I’ve never been that fond of Florida as a vacation destination. When I think of that southern state, I envision strip malls, mobile home parks, and slow drivers. What will we possibly do there for five days? I wondered. But never let it be said that my husband and I can’t rise to a challenge! We found four awesome outdoors things to do, just a short drive away.
What to Do
Black Point Wildlife Drive, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Normally I prefer hiking trails to driving ones, but the reality is that the animals and birds on Merritt Island are really wild so they spook easily. They’ve become somewhat acclimated to the cars on the six-mile trail, but once you open the door, they’re gone in a flurry of wings. I learned this the hard way when I startled a flock of Roseate Spoonbills before I could even aim my camera. Luckily there are several stopping points along the way where you can stretch your legs on paths, hiking trails, and at observation areas. Besides too many birds to count, we also saw alligators and my first wild armadillo.
We ended up taking a second loop at sunset and found it even more impossibly beautiful than during the daylight hours. Bring binoculars or borrow them from the visitor center and be sure to pick up a copy of the brochure when you pay your $5.00 entry fee for a day pass.
Canaveral National Seashore
Since the pass got us into all the National areas that day, our next stop was the Canaveral National Seashore. Though it was a bit brisk, the beach was pristine and the water actually felt warmer than the air! This is a fantastic natural, unspoiled area where you can swim, surf fish, or just relax to your heart’s content without the crowds and noise that you’ll find at other beaches.
Manatee Viewing Area
We found this by accident when we spotted a small sign so we quickly detoured to the east side of the bridge where the Haulover Canal connects Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River. It’s simple and free; there’s a viewing platform, interpretive signs, and a polarized viewer are located at the observation area. The manatees are covered with barnacles and the most we got a glimpse of was a crusty tail or a large snout, but it was still fun to watch for them to surface.
Loomis Outdoor Adventures
Billed as a “full river adventure”, this canoe, kayak, and fishing rental business is just a short drive from Orlando and was the perfect way for a group of wedding guests to end the vacation. You rent a canoe or kayak for $40/boat, launch it there, and paddle down the Rock Springs River about 8.5 miles to the pickup point. It’s not an endeavor for the faint of heart! You navigate through submerged stumps and branches thick forests of lily pads, and unexpected currents or sandbars. We unexpectedly tipped the canoe a few minutes after spotting an alligator sunning himself on the river bank and I almost had a heart attack trying to get back in the boat before he discovered me in the water! But the frequent wildlife spotting, the abundant flora and fauna, and the timelessness of drifting lazily down a river make it worth it.
A few ideas if you find yourself in the Orlando area:
The Melting Pot
When you think of Florida, I’m sure the last thing to cross your mind would be fondue. Yet, there we found ourselves dipping fruits, vegetables, meats, and desserts into a plethora of sauces. Our waiter was excellent and the restaurant ambiance unexpectedly private and romantic.
The Corner Cafe
Chef Michael serves “comfort chic cuisine” in a causal atmosphere, adjacent to the Sanford River Work. Must-haves are the Signature French Onion Soup, served in a toasted bread bowl and the Classic Cuban Press.
The Vineyard Wine Company
Once again, fabulous service combined with delicious appetizers in a relaxing setting. The Napa Nachos are an unusual twist on the standard bar version and the Pine Ridge “Forefront” Cabernet was well worth the price.
I left Florida looking forward to a return visit. The beauty is there if you just take the time to look!