Some may think there is nothing more to Florida than Miami’s gleaming glass towers or the condo complexes of Fort Myers Beach, but vacationers to the Sunshine State can also experience superb historic neighborhoods, an array of cultural diversions and the sedate, vintage style on offer in old world towns like Key West. Here is a brief look at five of Florida’s top historic cities.
One of the jewels of the windswept Gulf Coast, Tampa is known more for its modern suburbs and beautiful bay, but it has a wealth of heritage charms dating back to the incorporation of the city in 1849. And it’s in the Ybor City district where you can discover Tampa at its best, with dozens of protected historic buildings, structures and monuments. A well-tended State Park, and the sprawling Cigar Museum, are amongst the highlights to be seen here, while 7th Avenue boasts an eclectic range of restaurants and eateries. Historic TECO line trams also run through this area, adding to the traditional and wholesome appeal of Ybor City. What’s more, if you find yourself in the Tampa area during the New Year festivities, check out the Marching Band Show at the Raymond James Stadium, where many of America’s best high school students assemble in a gigantic battle of the bands.
Nicknames like ‘Ancient City’ and ‘Old City’ should tell you all you need to know about St. Augustine, one of the oldest and best preserved cities in the state. Founded as far back as 1565, America’s oldest city hosts colonial era attractions such as Fort Matanzas National Monument, the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, Markland Mansion and the Hotel Alcazar. For an enchanting late afternoon stroll, take a walk around the Lincolnville National Historic District, a charming 19th century neighborhood with almost 548 historic buildings.
Not all of Florida’s historic cities are big, bustling towns; for something a little more peaceful, and to get back in touch with nature, head to Apalachicola, a historic waterfront settlement right on the Gulf Coast. Known for a romantic board-walk, beautiful old mansions and a relaxed pace of life, this idyllic community is a genuine slice of small town America. Transport yourself back in time and enjoy locally harvested oysters and freshly caught shrimp at one of the town’s welcoming restaurants, or take a boat out to one of the nearby islands for a secluded picnic.
The southernmost city in the continental United States is also one of the most alluring and seductive, playing host to late night jazz bars, old fashioned cocktail houses and a vibrant food scene. Famed for literary residents like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, Key West may bring out your literary side, and is renowned for great bookshops and libraries. Stop in at the town’s original Sloppy Joe’s bar to see where the author of The Grapes of Wrath used to hang out. Those on senior class trips should pay a visit to Hemingway’s old house, lovingly restored and inhabited by a breed of seven-toed cats descended from Hemingway’s very own pet Snowball. Most of all, make sure not to miss the small red and black buoy on South Street; this modest monument represents the southernmost point of the continental United States, and is one of the most photographed landmarks in Florida. Check out the sign which shows that Key West lies a mere 90 miles from Cuba, making it closer to Fidel Castro’s Communist stronghold than it is to Miami.
Located amidst the natural beauty of the Florida Panhandle, Marianna offers a pleasing small-town vibe with enough history to keep you interested. A vibrant Main Street boasts traditional timber housing, arts and craft stores and furniture shops all selling a unique brand of Southern charm. Yet Marianna is perhaps best appreciated as a base for exploring nearby wildernesses such as the Florida Caverns State Park, a warren of caves, natural limestone formations and rich forests of jaw-dropping beauty.
John is a budding travel writer, with a passion for everything from a great Marching Band Show to the best in Cajun cuisine.
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