When it’s time for vacation, people all over the world picture sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze and color schemes that gently scream “tropical paradise.” Few people are lucky enough to live in Florida, where they can choose a destination that fits this exact description and get there in under three hours. 1 Sanibel Island At Sanibel, take a weekend to breathe in the calming scent of coconut lotion while basking under the sun. The kids can go off to a kids’ program or fill a bucket with as many shells as their surprisingly strong arms can carry. Grandma can work on her golf swing, and pop-pop can enjoy a spa day. The next day, take a trip to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, an undeveloped mangrove ecosystem with a diverse migratory bird population. Later, take a sunset stroll under the reassuring presence of a lighthouse. On the last day, take a break from the sunshine to bring all the shells you’ve gathered at the beach to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, where the entire family can learn about the colorful specimens. 2 Salvador Dalí Museum in Downtown St. Petersburg Explore the largest collection of Salvador Dalí’s works outside of Europe. Collected over a span of 40 years, the works are proudly housed in downtown St. Petersburg. Everyone can stand back and observe the interesting works of Dalí, finding something new in every painting with each glance. There are more than 2,000 works of art to take in — and it’s not limited to the illusions and mind-bending tricks Dalí is known for. Walk through his early works of landscapes, portraits, and still life, and learn about his transition to the works everyone knows about. Later, walk around downtown St. Pete while musing over Dalí’s life’s work. 3 Tarpon Springs Tarpon Springs is where the working life meets culture. Known as the sponge capital of the world, Tarpon Springs was named after the abundance of fish found in the crystal clear water. Residents work by the water, surviving on the fishing and sponge industries. Tourists can take in the sights and explore various museums, the historic district and the theaters while pretending their local vacations actually took them to Greece (Tarpon Springs has the largest population of Greeks in America). Take a boat tour of the coast, or walk along the various parks on the Gulf of Mexico. 4 Destin A small fishing town turned popular tourist destination, Destin is located on the Emerald Coast of Florida, where the water mimics the deep green color of jewels and the sand is among the whitest and brightest in the world. Take the kids to Big Kahuna’s, a water park with slides, rides and a miniature golf course. Go out to the coast and stay above the water with a nice boat tour, or dive under the waves in the lucky waters of Destin and observe the marine life firsthand. At the end of the day, gather loved ones and stroll along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk to enjoy fine dining and shopping. 5 Orlando Satisfy your thrill-seeking hearts with an exciting trip to Orlando, home to some of the greatest and most renowned amusement parks in the nation. Not only is Orlando home to the one and only Walt Disney World, but also Epcot, Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure and more. Aside from the merriment of theme parks, Orlando also holds several local sports teams including Orlando Magic (basketball) and Orlando City (soccer). Whether you’d prefer to walk down Main Street with Mickey Mouse or be painted Magic purple while cheering in the stands, you cannot go wrong when you choose an Orlando adventure. 6 Amelia Island A vision of seawater, seemingly endless docks and wispy grass swaying in the ocean breeze, the breathtaking beauty of Amelia Island will have everyone staying outside long past bedtime. The island is rich in history: starting with the native Timucua people, passing through a long chain of Spanish, French, and British flags and ending today as a popular tourist destination in Florida. Take a tour of the island on foot, by boat or even on horseback. If you’re visiting in May, make sure to check out the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, where the sun shines on seafood vendors, art shows, antique dealings, live music and a parade. If that’s not enough activity, there are also seven different golf courses where you can perfect your golf game. 7 Cedar Key The stark contrast of deep green foliage dancing around blinding blue springs is enough to make anyone’s heart beat a little faster. Swim and snorkel in the refreshing water, or stay above it with a kayak trip. For those who prefer to stay dry, there are plenty of trails that wind under the shade of pine trees. Partake in a bird-watching experience — North Florida is home to a large and diverse bird population. Take a lunch break with a picnic under a tree. Rent a cabin for an overnight stay, or rough it out with a camping trip. The closest town is 10 miles away, so the only sounds at night are the crickets. 8 Kennedy Space Center (NASA) Even the night owls are going to want to wake up early to explore everything the Kennedy Space Center has to offer. Take a tour of real space crafts that have gone to space and returned. Have lunch with a real astronaut. Look at actual artifacts that have been to the moon — some say there’s still visible moon dust on the space suits. There’s even an Astronaut Training Simulator and the Shuttle Launch Experience®. Watch the story of humans and space unfold with imaginative videos, interactive activities, and guided tours, and then have fun imagining the future of space exploration. You don’t have to be a space geek to enjoy the KSC, you just need to be human.
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