From the Keys in the subtropical climes to the northernmost reaches of Amelia Island on the Atlantic coast, Florida has a lot of new and noteworthy reasons to visit this summer. Check out these destination ideas for your sojourns to the Sunshine State.
One of the easiest ways to see the wild horses of Georgia’s Cumberland Island is to visit Florida’s Amelia Island. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the northern tip of Amelia sits across the channel and within view of the southern end of the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Boat touring companies offer guided excursions from the marinas in Fernandina Beach to see the wild horses and the Dungeness ruins on the barrier island, the majority of which remains undeveloped. Amelia Adventures offers a quick ride in a small boat for groups of up to six people. It’s a two-hour tour with a knowledgeable guide who provides insights on the history and nature of the area. There’s a good chance you’ll spot some dolphins, too. Shorter sunset cruises are also offered. (Amelia Adventures. $150 and up. 1620 N 14th St., Fernandina Beach. 904-500-8687, ameliaadventures.com)
In February, Hilton unveiled its new Baker’s Cay Resort on the Gulf Coast side of Key Largo as part of the chain’s Curio Collection. The boutique resort on a former pineapple plantation comprises 13 acres. That much space on one property is a rare thing in the Keys, providing plenty of room to relax and unwind, including a secluded white-sand beach on the calm waters of the bay. The resort is more than pet-friendly, since canines have their own beachside tiki huts, special life jackets and a doggie happy hour with complimentary appetizers. For humans, there are four restaurants on site, including one on the rooftop with great views and a tiki bar on the beach. (Baker’s Cay Resort. $250 and up. 97000 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo. 305-852-5553, curiocollection3.hilton.com)
Established in 2018, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail encompasses more than 100 locations across 15 states that chart the history of the civil rights movement. The southernmost point on the trail is the beach on Lido Key on the Gulf Coast of central Florida where “wade-ins” occurred in 1955 to protest beach segregation. A historical marker unveiled in 2012 marks the spot. Across the street is another popular highlight of Lido Key, a mangrove forest that is part of a paddle trail that launches from Ted Sperling Park. Visitors can navigate through the tunnels by paddleboard (while kneeling or seated) or kayak. Several outfitters operate in the park, providing rentals and guided eco-tours, including Kayaking SRQ. Proprietor Greg Gregory grew up on Lido Key and has been exploring the mangrove tunnels and surrounding waterways since he was a kid. Manatees are common here but hard to find unless you have an experienced guide who knows how to spot the slow-moving, stealth-like creatures. (Kayaking SRQ. $50 and up. 190 Taft Drive, Sarasota. 941-799-1863, kayakingsrq.com.
On June 15, a new luxury hotel — The Celino South Beach — will open on Miami’s Ocean Drive. The hotel has transformed three Art Deco gems, including the old landmark Park Central Hotel, into one modern boutique property that retains the 1940s elegance of the original structures. A glass-bottomed rooftop pool, which can be seen from the atrium below, will offer views of the beach and the world-famous Ocean Drive strip. The Celino, poised to become a Miami hotspot, will also house two restaurants, the seafood-centric Dalia and Pubblica, serving gourmet Italian. There will also be a glamorous horseshoe shaped cocktail bar in the lobby. In-room spa services will be offered. (The Celino South Beach. $327 and up. 640 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. 877-542-6890, www.slh.com)
In March, the Atlanta Braves’ last game of its 2019 spring training schedule was also the team’s first game at CoolToday Park in North Port, the team’s new permanent spring home. The new ballpark has a capacity of 8,000 people and is reminiscent of the atmosphere at SunTrust Park on a smaller scale. There’s a Jumbotron, Braves’ organist Matthew Kaminski trolling opposing players with his tunes, and a wide variety of food and drink choices. It will be a year-round facility with other activities hosted by the Braves, including fantasy camps, concerts and festivals. Visitors to the area should check out nearby Snook Haven (5000 E. Venice Ave., Venice. 941-485-7221, www.snookhaven.com), a slice of Old Florida specializing in barbecue and featuring live music in an idyllic riverside setting that draws a diverse clientele ranging from bikers to families. (CoolToday Park, 18800 South W. Villages Pkwy., North Port. 941-413-5000, www.mlb.com/braves)
Orlando’s Discovery Cove, where guests can interact with marine life, was designated this year a Certified Autism Center from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. This designation ensures that staff members receive specialized training for dealing with special needs guests, including those on the autism spectrum. A sensory guide provided to guests gives information on how those with sensory processing issues may be affected by each ride and attraction. And if the sensory overload proves to be too much, the park provides a comfortable zone called the Quiet Space for those who need to take a break in a quiet, low traffic area. (Discovery Cove. $199 and up. 6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando. 407-513-4600, discoverycove.com/orlando)
Art Ovation, one of the newer hotels in Marriott’s Autograph Collection, opened last spring, touting itself as “Sarasota’s signature hotel of the arts.” It lives up to the billing. Staying here is akin to spending the night in an art gallery. Original artwork hangs everywhere, and the rooms are outfitted with musical instruments, sketchpads and colored pencils. There’s live music daily in the lobby. Sarasota is known as “the Culture Coast” for good reason. Steps away from the hotel you’ll find world-class theater and opera year-round. Art museums and art schools are also nearby. Since the hotel’s debut, its open-air rooftop pool bar Perspective, which offers views of the bay and deejays spinning tunes at night, has become a popular nightspot for guests and locals alike. Lest you forget you’re at the Gulf Coast, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service to the beach a few miles from downtown. (Art Ovation Hotel. $175 and up. 1255 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 941-316-0808, artovationhotel.com)
St. Augustine Beach
Embassy Suites has opened a new hotel beside the St. Johns County Ocean Pier, which serves as a sort of town square for St. Augustine Beach. Anchored by Anastasia State Park, Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort consists of 175 spacious two-room suites and studio suites with panoramic views of a resort-style pool and the ocean. There are also designated family suites with bunk beds and direct access to the beach. Historic downtown St. Augustine is only a 10-minute drive from the hotel. (Embassy Suites. $175 and up. 300 A1A Beach Blvd., St Augustine. 904-461-9004, embassysuites3.hilton.com)
The Talbot Islands
Traveling by car is one way to get to Kingsley Plantation, a former plantation located in Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, managed by the National Park Service. But adventurous travelers can also get there by kayak. Kayak Amelia provides guided excursions up the saltwater Fort George River to see the circa-1798 mansion and tabby ruins of slave quarters. Along the way, they will receive a nature and history lesson about the area. Timucuan spans 46,000 acres and contains several state parks known collectively as the Talbot Islands State Parks, including the unspoiled beaches of Big Talbot Island, Little Talbot Island and Amelia Island state parks. Kayak Amelia, headquartered on Big Talbot Island, is the official outfitter for Talbot Islands State Parks, offering an array of water and land-based adventures throughout the preserve. (Kayak Amelia. $65 for three-hour tours. 13030 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville. 904-251-0016, www.kayakamelia.com)
Legoland Florida, the 150-acre theme park and vacation destination inspired by the popular Lego brand, unveiled its latest and largest addition in March: The Lego Movie World. Based on the blockbuster film “The Lego Movie” and its sequel, the new section features a re-creation of Bricksburg that includes Emmet’s Super Suite where young fans can meet their favorite characters from the films. New rides include Masters of Flight that takes guests on a journey in the Triple Decker Flying Couch through “The Lego Movie” universe, plus Unkitty’s Disco Drop and the water ride Battle of Bricksburg. There’s also a taco stand called Taco Tuesday Everyday, with the word Tuesday crossed out, of course. (Legoland Florida. $85 and up. 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven. 888-690-5346, www.legoland.com/florida)