Summer's here, it's time to get your travel on
It's been a long year with a lot of turbulent changes. Heck, it's even been a long 16 months, as America was brought to her knees by a microscopic virus we can't even see, one that's killed over 600,000 Americans and sickened millions of others. There have been toilet paper shortages, lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccines, gasoline shortages, and of course, debates and frustrations about all of those things.
But we finally find ourselves coming out the other side of it all, with the pandemic mostly behind us and life beginning to return to normal. Of course, there are still debates going on, but I think that's par for the course in a free society.
Meanwhile, if you're anything like me, you've been stricken with a profound case of wanderlust. You want to travel, you want to go out and do things, see places, and explore the big, beautiful world out there.
Whether you decide to hop in your car and fill up the tank to drive to your destination or choose to do something really out of the ordinary and hop a train (Orlando to Tampa is only $13 on Amtrak, Orlando to Miami is only $29, typically, FYI), the world is out there and waiting for you to explore it.
Here are 5 excellent destinations for you to choose from in Florida so you can travel nearby and still find your escape.
1. Rock Springs Run State Reserve
Rock Springs was a great place to get away during the sweltering summers when I was a kid. My friends and I would put on some swim trunks, snag some towels, and would head out ready to indulge in the one element Florida has plenty of.
With beautiful clear-blue water surrounded by lush green trees, some of the photos could almost pass for a Caribbean island or somewhere like Indonesia. It's almost like being transported to another country.
The weather is also perfect for days dipping your toes into the warm, comfortable water of the springs.
Located near Lake Mary, Florida, Rock Springs is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., every single day, 365 days per year. Parking is $3 per vehicle, so load up all the friends you've been dying to see and make a day out of it.
2. South Beach, Miami, Florida
If you're from elsewhere in the state, South Beach in Miami is jumping this time of year (when is it not, honestly?) and this might be the perfect time for you to get out and head down to catch the waves, lay on the sand, enjoy the presence of all the people doing interesting things, and check out the Art Deco architecture. The neon lights, the buzz of the city on the beach, and the carefree patrons enjoying their days in the sun and evenings in the breeze might just be what the doctor ordered, the quick cure for your cabin fever and boredom.
Haulover Park has gorgeous views for those who'd like to walk along the sand, with tennis, golf, and other sporting events available, so no matter who you are, you're guaranteed to find something you love to do there.
Head over to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens to check out some beautiful sights. Open Mon-Thurs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. there's tons of picture-worthy stuff to check out here.
3. St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church
Did you know the oldest European building in America was built centuries before Columbus and the gang ever stepped foot on the soil of the Americas? It was actually built long before he was even born.
And, guess what, it happens to also be in Miami, Florida
So, while you're in the neighborhood of South Beach, feel free to head on over to the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, at 16711 West Dixie Highway, in North Miami.
The building was built in 1133 C.E. at the orders of King Alfonso VII, the king of León and Castile, in Castile, Spain. It was called Monasterio Español de Sacramenia, in Spanish, and it remained in Spain for centuries until the 20th century, an era when buildings were being sold on the black market.
By then, the Spanish Empire was unraveling and selling things off, including Florida itself, in order to have enough money to stay afloat. The building was purchased by a business tycoon, disassembled, shipped to Florida, and reassembled, in 1925.
It's an intriguing piece of history for the history nerd within you to check out if you're in the area.
4. St. Augustine
I know, I know, if you're from Florida like me, St. Augustine is probably filed away in your brain as that one city that's good for the field trips you took there as a kid, and that's about it. But I recently went back there as an adult and I was amazed at how different the city looked through adult eyes.
As a kid, I only had a shallow understanding of the rich history contained in the oldest European city in America, but as an adult, I could close my eyes and envision all of the events that had gone on there in the hundreds of years the city.
And St. Augustine's got it all. It's got great beaches, it's got the big old forts leftover from the days when Florida was a Spanish, and later British, territory; the Castillo de San Marcos and Castle Otttis. It's got the oldest house in America, the oldest schoolhouse in America, and you can even catch dolphins down at the river.
Take my word for it, if you're a history buff who loves all things antiquated and ancient, St. Agusutine is a wonderful visit with plenty to do, and it has an energetic nightlife to boot.
5. Crystal River Florida
If you're in the mood for a serene, off-the-beaten-path getaway, Crystal River might be right up your alley. Love nature? Love springs? Love rivers and wildlife? Crystal River has it all, for a laid-back area. It's not a big city, but the small-town vibe might be exactly what you're looking for if you're trying to escape the claustrophobia of urban life.
Located on the western shores of Florida, Crystal River is a place where you can watch the sunset out into the water from the beach at night after a long day of kayaking in the river and swimming with Florida's famed manatees.
"Sea cows" as they're often called, are rampant in the area, and these gentle, harmless sea creatures are curious and loving.
You can score yourself an affordable AirBnB for less than $100 per day, on most days, and that will give you a central location to go out and explore the wildlife and wilderness that surrounds you in Crystal River. The gorgeous clear water will give you plenty of chances to grab that Instagram-worthy picture you've been dying to post to announce, "The pandemic is finally over."
Make sure you check out Three Sister Springs where the water is the bluest and the views serene.