Fla. destinations make great summer road trips
Orlando may have been ranked the No. 1 city for staycations by Wallethub.com, but that doesn't rule out the rest of Florida's cities and attractions. Students who don't want to shell out the big bucks for a transcontinental vacation can find summer fun in their own backyard, or at least within driving distance.
With gas prices being relatively low, it's much easier for Floridians to explore their home state. Because of Orlando's central location, a one-hour car journey can prove to be just as much adventure as an eight-hour trek.
For a destination close to home, Wekiwa and Kelly Park's Rock springs in Central Florida offer a refreshing, fresh-water swimming hole. Prevalent activities in the parks include kayaking, tubing and swimming.
Alfredo Salkeld, a junior advertising major, said he is a frequent visitor to the Rock Springs park in Apopka.
"I think a lot of people grow up going to the beach and sort of have a desire to see something that doesn't look like Florida," he said. "I think that the springs are the only thing that even remotely resembles the north. It's really pretty up there."
Less than an hour away is the town of Cassadaga. It is known primarily for being the "psychic capital of the world," filled with spiritualists and mediums alike.
The town offers countless places that tell fortunes, give advice about life or death or even exercise the spirit. Even the Cassadaga Hotel prides itself on allegedly being haunted, providing thrill-seekers and paranormal lovers with a taste of experiencing the other side. It offers nightly classes and seminars on topics such as palmistry, tarot and astrology, among many others, according to its website.
Located in the opposite direction between Orlando and Tampa is Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. It has provided Florida residents and visitors with lush nature and history since 1929.
The owner, Edward W. Bok, came to the States from the Netherlands as a child and later became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and humanitarian, according to its website.
The property features vast gardens and the Singing Tower, a 205-foot carillon that hosts musical bell performances at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Bok had the tower built as a token of appreciation to America and all of its opportunities.
During their visit, guests can stroll along the Reflection Pool, walk along trails to see some of Florida's endangered flora and fauna and tour the Pinehurst Estates, a 20-room mansion that was built in the 1930s.
Tickets must be purchased to access this glimpse into old Florida's natural history.
However, Florida's history capital remains St. Augustine, the nation's oldest continuously inhabited city. It is located less than two hours away from UCF.
The city is celebrating its 450th birthday this year, after it was founded as a Spanish colony in 1565.
"We were 42 years before Jamestown, before the pilgrims and all of that," said Cathy Hatton, who works in the Visitor's Information Center.
Popular attractions in this historic town include the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, St. Augustine Lighthouse and Fort Matanzas.
However, the Castillo de San Marcos masonry fort is the most-visited attraction. It's the oldest fort in America and was an active military institution for 200 years, Hatton said.
The history is abundant in this city, with buildings in the Old Town that pre-date the Revolutionary War.
Hatton recommends visiting Aviles Street, which is lined with brick streets and sidewalk cafés, giving it that old-world charm.
"I guess it's the end of town that isn't visited as frequently as St. George Street," she said. "We want [visitors] to continue south of the plaza to the Aviles Street neighborhood."
For those who don't mind a long journey, Key West may have enough personality to make the almost seven-hour drive worthwhile.
Besides being the nation's southernmost location, the city offers entertainment, history and its famous Key lime pie on almost every corner.
Surrounded by the ocean, the Keys are a water lover's paradise. The beaches allow for watersports of all kinds, including kayaking, jet skiing and wave running.
Key West was also the home of writer Ernest Hemingway, and visitors can tour his home and see all of the six-toed cats roaming around the area.
Many of these cats are thought to be descendants of Hemingway's very own polydactyl cat, Snow White. There are about 40 to 50 of these cats on the property, according to the Hemingway Home website.
Noelle Campbell is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Noellecampz or email her at NoelleC@CentralFloridaFuture.com.