Posted: 10:05 a.m. Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beyond Disney: 25 places to see in Florida

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Beyond Disney: 25 places to see in Florida

FloridaGoGo.com

GoGo: Fontainebleau, Miami Beach

More groovy than ever after $1 billion renovation

Since opening in 1954, the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel has been featured in several movies, television shows and songs and has hosted Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and just about every other cool celeb of the ’60s. The American Institute of Architects ranked it 93rd on its list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” And after a two-year, $1 billion renovation, the Fontainebleau houses eight restaurants, two bars and a nightclub. Many guest rooms offer a view of the Atlantic Ocean, and all are equipped with a personal 20-inch iMac. Fontainebleau is pet-friendly and provides children’s programming.

Details: 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, (800) 548-8886, fontainebleau.com

GoGo: Dry Tortugas National Park

Remote and fascinating, Fort Jefferson attracts lovers of history and nature

It takes planning to visit this cluster of seven islands of coral reef and sand, 70 miles west of Key West. That’s because Dry Tortugas National Park can be reached only by water or air. Arrive by seaplane or ferry from Key West, or take a private boat. But when you get there and tour Fort Jefferson — a big fort built in the mid-19th century to help the U.S. protect this lucrative shipping channel — the history and scenery are well worth it. This channel was once used by Spanish explorers, and the high-risk reefs created a “ship trap” that wrecked hundreds of vessels. It’s a feast for bird-watchers, too. Between March and September, some 100,000 sooty terns will come to nest on the islands of the Dry Tortugas.

Details: Dry Tortugas, (305) 242-7700, nps.gov/drto (features a list of vendors for snorkeling tours)

GoGo: Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s of Islamorada

How a tarpon named 'Scarface’ created a tourist attraction

Stopping at Robbie’s to feed the tarpon is a must for anyone passing through the Keys. A giant school of tarpon comes daily and stays for hours, but you can stay as long — or as short! — as you’d like. For just a few dollars, you and your family can watch and feed these “silver kings.” This all started 18 years ago, when the owners spotted a struggling tarpon with its jaw torn open. They got “Scarface” stitched up, force-fed him and released him; soon, tarpon throngs followed. You can grab some chow for yourself next door at Hungry Tarpon, a hole-in-the-wall Keys-style fish shack.

Details: Mile marker 77.5, Islamorada, (305) 664-9814, robbies.com

GoGo: Wow! It’s Weeki Wachee

Find Florida’s real Ariel at 'The Only City of Live Mermaids’

At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, you can see the story of The Little Mermaid come to life in a live underwater performance. Another live underwater show, Fish Tails, explores the history of Weeki Wachee and its mermaid shows. While you’re there, take advantage of the park’s river-boat cruise and animal shows, and discover why Weeki Wachee calls itself “The Only City of Live Mermaids.”

Details: 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee; adults (13-up) $26, 6-12 $12; (352) 592-5656, weekiwachee.com

GoGo: Kennedy Space Center

Celebrate the legacy of the space shuttle — and more!

Kennedy Space Center offers fun and education for all ages. Experience the thrilling simulator ride, the Shuttle Launch Experience; watch a 3-D movie in one of two huge IMAX theaters; learn about astronauts and NASA history in KSC’s extensive museum. The last shuttle launch, of Atlantis, is set for July 8. After that, Atlantis will remain at the space center so that tourists can check it out and recall the amazing 30-year history of the shuttle.

Details: State Road 405, Kennedy Space Center, (321) 867-5000, ksc.nasa.gov

GoGo: The Everglades

See gators up close on an airboat tour

On the western fringe of Boca Raton, you can experience the Everglades — and enjoy a one-of-a-kind ride — courtesy of this longtime airboat operator. Loxahatchee Everglades Tours takes you over a “river of grass” while you experience the natural flora and fauna of the area, like water lilies, cat-tails, turtles and snakes. Count how many alligators you spot along the way! Ponchos and hearing protection are provided for children and adults. Safety equipment is provided for children 3-6 years.

Details: 15490 Loxahatchee Road, Parkland; adults (13-up) $44, 6-12 $22, 3-5 $8; (800) 683-5873, evergladesairboattours.com

GoGo: Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Five-star luxury and endless scenes of the glorious Gulf

Built in 1985, the Ritz-Carlton Naples has a stunning collection of antiques and 19th-century European oil paintings; impressive views of the Gulf of Mexico; one of the largest spas in the Ritz-Carlton group; a fitness center, with personal training available; two heated outdoor pools; and seven restaurants. Spacious rooms feature private balconies, Frette linens, and marble vanities and tubs. Only three miles away, accessible by hotel shuttle, is the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, which was ranked the No. 1 golf resort in Florida by Condé Nast Traveler magazine and as one of the 15 best luxury golf resorts in North American by Golf Digest.

Details: 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, (239) 598-3300, ritzcarlton.com/naples

GoGo: California Grill, Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Hot spot for hip cuisine and Magic Kingdom fireworks

Delicious California-style cuisine, sweeping views and attentive service characterize this restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. With a late-evening reservation, you’ll catch a spectacular view of the fireworks over Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. (Check online for fireworks schedule.) California Grill earned the 2004 Disney Magazine Reader’s Choice Award for Best Overall Walt Disney World Resort Restaurant for Adults. The Grill also features great vegetarian options.

Details: 4600 N. World Drive, Lake Buena Vista, moderate to expensive prices, (407) 939-3463, disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/california-grill

GoGo: Siesta Key Beach near Sarasota

Named No. 1 Beach in America for 2011

“Dr. Beach” just named Siesta Key the top beach in the U.S. Why does Stephen P. Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, like Siesta Beach so much? Forty acres of almost pure quartz crystal sand! Says Beach: “The sand is like sugar … They claim to have the finest, whitest sand in the world, and I can’t argue with that.” Siesta Key itself has a fun bohemian, beachy vibe. Across the street from the beach is Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar. This funky restaurant with award-winning clam chowder and good prices on beach drinks (Siesta Key lemonade — raspberry vodka, pink lemonade, a splash of cranberry — is $4) also offers snow crab ($20.99 for a pound-and-a-quarter). The Sarasota area was also named by TripAdvisor as one of the Top 10 Beach and Sun Destinations in the United States for 2011.

Details: www.sarasotafl.org

GoGo: Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

When you want to get away ... really get away!

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is on a 5.5-acre private island dotted with crushed seashell paths amid verdant tropical foliage. This Florida Keys resort offers the perfect couples getaway, with dinner on the beach, luxurious spa packages and panoramic views of the Atlantic. Little Palm suggests that explorers try its five-day Adventurous Soul Package, which includes a seaplane flight to Key West, snorkeling, fishing and yoga. Call or go online to learn about other packages, or build your own.

Details: 28500 Overseas Hwy., Mile Marker 28.5, Little Torch Key, (800) 343-8567, littlepalmisland.com

GoGo: Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg

A building so cool, even Dalí would approve

The new Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Pete looks like a Dalí work: It has a big blue blog oozing from the side. Inside, it’s got the most comprehensive collection of the surrealist master’s work — more than that of the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Spain. (That’s why the Michelin Guide gave the Dalí the top rating on Florida’s West Coast.) The museum chronicles Dalí’s beginnings as a classically trained artist painting still-lifes, his evolution into surrealism, and his later religious-themed paintings. Pause to snack on Spanish tapas or enjoy a glass of wine at the café before entering the galleries. Architect Yann Weymouth, who had a hand in creating the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, designed the museum. The surrounding waterfront is gorgeous, too.

Details: 1 Dalí Blvd., St. Petersburg, tickets: $7-$21, (727) 823-3767, thedali.org

GoGo: Flagler’s Hotel Ponce de Leon, now Flagler College

Florida’s most eye-popping hotel rotunda

St. Augustine was Henry Flagler’s first Florida love — and his last. If you think The Breakers in Palm Beach is beautiful, stroll inside Flagler’s first Florida hotel: the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, now Flagler College. The rotunda, with its carved wood and golden murals; and the circle dining room, with windows done by Louis Tiffany, are masterpieces. It’s easy to imagine how amazing the hotel must have looked in January 1888, when the first society guests arrived at dusk and saw the hotel glimmering with hundreds of electric lights.

Details: 74 King St., St. Augustine, www.flagler.edu

GoGo: Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine

Step back into time ... to Flagler’s Florida, circa 1900

Stay at the luxurious Casa Monica, and you’ll time-travel back to the Gilded Age. If you stand right outside the hotel, at the corner of King and Cordova streets, you can pretend quite easily that you have been swept back to 1900, when this castle-like landmark was Flagler’s Hotel Cordova. It’s hard to go outside the Casa Monica, though, when it’s so fascinating within. Gold walls, deep-blue furnishings, Moroccan-inspired chandeliers ... the décor has a “rock the Casbah” vibe. The ambience feels like a lovely collision of St. Augustine’s cultures: part Spanish conquistador, part English governess.

Details: 95 Cordova St., St. Augustine, (904) 827-1888, casamonica.com

GoGo: St. Armands Circle, Sarasota

Heaven for fashionable middle-age shoppers and diners

This circle was developed by a circus king, John Ringling. But it’s so Chico’s — and not a bit freakos. St. Armands is one of Florida’s top strolling destinations for dining and shopping (with 100-plus stores). Many of the patrons are well-dressed and middle-age, with a taste for outdoor cafés and easy linen clothes. Get a table outside at Crab & Fin and try the gazpacho ($6.95) while you listen to the tunes of the piano player.

Details: starmandscircleassoc.com

GoGo: Dolphin Hotel, Disney World

With these deals, even Mickey might drink here

It’s on Disney property, but it’s managed by Starwood, which means that the beds are extra-comfy and the restaurants are superb. Florida residents often get good deals here, too. We like the Dolphin for its restaurant choices, from the reasonable and tasty Fountain café (where a salmon steak on fresh greens costs just $13) to Todd English’s BlueZoo. Another great deal we recently discovered: “two for $20” cocktails in the lobby bar. From our large shaker of sweet-tea vodka and lemonade, we poured five drinks. That’s a Disney bargain!

Details: (407) 934-4000, swananddolphin.com

GoGo: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami-Dade

Just moments from the din of the metropolis, a lush, sprawling tropical garden rises at the edge of Biscayne Bay in southeastern Miami-Dade County. There, along a network of meandering paths, is an extensive collection of rare tropical palms, fruit trees, flowers, cycads and succulents. The 83-acre garden, which opened in 1938, was designed by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips. It now serves as a sanctuary for plant-loving city dwellers, as a majestic backdrop for weddings and parties, and as host for some of the county’s favorite events — such as the International Mango Festival, held in July.

Details: 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables; adults $25, seniors $18, 6-17 $12; (305) 667-1651, www.FairchildGarden.org

GoGo: Versailles, the spirit of Cuba in Miami

Gogo to dine, mingle, feel the beat

The heart of Miami’s Cuban exile population beats inside this busy, bright, mirrored café on the city’s famed Calle Ocho (Eighth Street). The fragrance of strong, freshly brewed café cubano mingles with the aromas of homemade Cuban specialties. Despite its French name, Versailles is the hub of all things Cuban in the city — from the pop culture to the politics. In fact, the take-out café window is the daily setting for Cuban Miami’s spirited vox populi (TV news cameras swarm here each election season for citizens’ reactions and sound bites). The vibe aside, Versailles’ food is homey, rib-sticking fare. Whether you’re having crisp Cuban toast with a hot café con leche or a feast of pork chunks with black beans, you are guaranteed an authentic taste of Cuban Miami at this iconic café.

Details: 3555 S.W. Eighth St., Miami, inexpensive to moderate prices, (305) 444-0240

GoGo: Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market

Old Miami flavor — and fresh fish, too

The Miami River snakes lazily outside Garcia’s, a bustling fresh-fish joint steeped in Old Miami flavor. The ambience is worlds removed from Miami’s more chichi settings and offers a native, rustic aesthetic — a perfect place to dig into an outstandingly fresh grouper sandwich or a whole fried yellowtail snapper, caught by Garcia’s own fleet of fishing boats. This eatery offers a unique, non-glitzy view of Miami, as freighters and their mysteries trudge past on the river.

Details: 398 N.W. North River Drive, Miami, inexpensive to moderate prices, (305) 375-0765, GarciasMiami.com

GoGo: Scotty’s Landing, Miami

One of Miami’s favorite dock-and-dine destinations

Infused with the spirit of Old Coconut Grove, Scotty’s Landing is a laid-back, open-air spot where the beer is cold, and the conch fritters are hot and crisp. Perched at the edge of Biscayne Bay, Scotty’s is a favorite haunt of locals. But it’s not easy to find: It’s tucked behind the Grove Key Marina, near the Coconut Grove Convention Center.

Details: 3381 Pan American Drive, Miami, inexpensive to moderate prices, (305) 854-2626, www.sailmiami.com/scottys.htm

GoGo: Bonnet House, Fort Lauderdale Beach,

A bohemian 1920s estate on the beach

Fascinating yet little-known, the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is the anti–Palm Beach estate, built by wealthy artists who didn’t care about the social whirl or what anyone thought of their bohemian lifestyle. Wild, tropical and smack in the middle of Fort Lauderdale beach high-rises, it’s a miracle that this 35-acre paradise has survived the bulldozers. Built in 1921, the Caribbean-style house was the home of artist Frederic Bartlett and his second wife, Evelyn Lily Bartlett, who decorated it with unrestrained wit and whimsy. It’s fun, not fancy, with antiques mixed with shell moldings and exuberant faux-painting. The grounds contain thousands of tropical plants, a desert garden, mangrove forest, freshwater marsh — and a troop of squirrel monkeys descended from Evelyn’s former pets.

Details: 900 N. Birch Road, Fort Lauderdale; adults $20, 60-up $18, 6-12 $16; (954) 563-5393, www.bonnethouse.org

GoGo: B Ocean Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

South Beach cool — without the attitude

How do you make a former Holiday Inn newly fashionable? Coat the interior and exterior in bright white and give every room a view of the ocean — some through floor-to-ceiling windows — to create a chic, high-tech getaway across from Fort Lauderdale’s glamorous, renovated beach. Kids and their parents will like the groovy lobby lighting, which alternates from pink to blue. The pool, lined with covered cabana loungers and adjacent to the outdoor Sandbar, is where guests congregate for happy hour. Hell’s Kitchen winner Holli Ugalde is the chef behind the hotel’s two restaurants, SAIA, featuring an Asian menu and communal tables; and the French-inspired B’stro on the Beach.

Details: 999 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, (954) 564-1000, www.bhotelsandresorts.com/b-ocean-fort-lauderdale

GoGo: Stranahan House, Fort Lauderdale

Take a ghost tour of this old Seminole Indian trading post

In 1901, Fort Lauderdale was a Florida frontier town when Frank Stranahan built a trading post for settlers and the Seminoles. After he married the settlement’s only schoolteacher, the Stranahans made the trading post on the New River their home. Although dwarfed by downtown high-rises today, Stranahan House is one of the few remaining examples of early life on America’s last frontier. Filled with period antiques (some are original), the humble Dade County–pine interior is arranged to re-create the Stranahans’ lives, circa 1913-15. A stop on the city’s lovely oak-shaded River Walk, which links cultural attractions with the restaurant-and-shopping hub of Las Olas Boulevard, the house is also a link between modern Fort Lauderdale and its humble, river-born roots. Sunday-night ghost tours make the most of several sad and spooky stories associated with the house.

 

Details: Las Olas Boulevard at 335 S.E. Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; regular tour: adults $12, seniors $11, children $7; (954) 524-4736, stranahanhouse.org,

GoGo: Luma on Park restaurant, Winter Park

Where farm-to-table ingredients are rendered sublime

The calendar determines the menu at Luma on Park, where multiple-award-winning Chef Brandon McGlamery creates daily menus based on local ingredients. This veteran of French Laundry and Chez Panisse in California makes the most of farm-to-table Florida ingredients, such as Palmetto Creek Farms’ free-range pork. In season, local farmers provide vegetables and fruit. With small plates and half-glasses of wine available, Luma on Park appeals to health-conscious diners searching for stellar ingredients rendered sublime. A summer prix-fixe menu includes three courses for $35 or $45 with wine pairings.

Details: 290 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, inexpensive to moderate prices, (407) 599-4111, www.lumaonpark.com

GoGo: Johnny V Restaurant and Lounge, Fort Lauderdale

A foodie favorite on fashionable Las Olas

Since this Las Olas Boulevard bistro opened in 2003, Fort Lauderdale’s gourmands have been coming for Chef Johnny Vinczencz’s fresh take on Floribbean dishes, served up with a dose of Latin spice and a menu of cheeses from around the world. Sustainable local seafood is a specialty. So are innovative dishes, including pork belly and quail eggs, and a lobster trio. Unusual ingredients such as rabbit sausage and venison make occasional appearances on Johnny V’s menus. Sit indoors or at the see-and-be-seen tables on “The Avenue.”

Details: Johnny V, 625 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, inexpensive to moderate prices, (954) 761-7920, www.johnnyvlasolas.com

GoGo: Scenic Boat Tour, Winter Park

A 70-year-old Central Florida tradition

Gazing from your seat on a pontoon boat, Winter Park spreads in languid repose along its chain of moss-draped lakes. Since 1938, one of Central Florida’s oldest tourist attractions has been scaring riders with alligator sightings, and showing off the peacocks that roost in the lakeside cypress trees. Every hour, boats ply the waters of three area lakes and the winding old logging canals connecting them. Boat captains point out bits of local history and gossipy tidbits about the owners of lakeside mansions.

Details: On east end of Morse Boulevard, on Lake Osceola, Winter Park; adults $12, children 2-11 $6; (407) 644-4056, www.scenicboattours.com

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