Where: About 25 miles south of Jacksonville
Stetson Kennedy was a Florida hero. The writer, activist and forklorist who died in 2011 at 94 is perhaps most famous for infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and revealing their secrets in writing, but he spent a life writing, working and chronicling, mostly in his native Florida. Now his home and surrounding lands, including a small lake, have been turned into a park. Visit for “Stetson Second Sundays” – on the second Sunday of every month, the house hosts folk musicians.
Tip: Before visiting, check out some of Kennedy’s books, many of which chronicle the people’s history of Florida.
More info: stetsonkennedy.com & bartramscenichighway.com
Where: Avon Park
Old-time Southern charm is pretty much on tap in this historic 1920s hotel where the likes of Clark Gable and Babe Ruth once stayed. If you don’t feel like the pool, sit out on the veranda (because of course there’s a veranda) overlooking Main Street. It’s conveniently located for much of what Central Florida has to offer – including several of the other places on this page. And when you compare prices with, say, a couple days away on South Beach – well, it’s like they’re giving weekends away in Avon Park.
Tip: If you’re there around lunchtime on a Sunday, you can experience the hotel restaurant’s Grand Buffet.
More info: hoteljac.com
Bok Tower Gardens
Where: Lake Wales
The story goes like this: In the 1920s, noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. was commissioned by Edward W. Bok to create something beautiful. In 1929, the winding exotic garden with a 250-foot tower in the middle was dedicated by President Coolidge. The Art Deco/Gothic Revival tower hosts a carillon that is played daily, giving it the nickname “the singing tower.” Today the gardens also feature a children’s garden, tours of the Spanish-style Pinewood Estate and a nature trail – as well as the opportunity to soak up nature in one of Florida’s most unique landmarks.
More info: boktowergardens.org
Where: Plant City
It sometimes seems like the big Central Florida theme parks can’t go five minutes without announcing some new film-related rollercoaster or hi-tech new ride that’s got even more bells and whistles than the last. This place offers several museums and some quaint-by-2017-standards animatronics, but the real thrill here for kids and grownups are the acres of life-sized dinosaur models. Kids can dig for “dinosaur bones,” play in a dinosaur-themed playground – or just explore some Central Florida countryside populated by Jurassic Park residents.
Tip: Pack a lunch; the park doesn’t have a café.
More info: dinosaurworld.com
Highland Hammocks State Park
One of Florida’s oldest parks – the state bought the land in 1935 after locals had begun a movement to make it into a national park – offers plenty of wild Florida nature today. There’s a boardwalk over cypress swamp, a three-mile paved loop for cycling, numerous hiking trails and, if you don’t feel like extending yourself quite that much, a tram tour. The park offers a full-service campground; otherwise, stay in Sebring and enjoy the town’s Old Florida charms.
Tip: The tram tour’s not just for the exercise-averse; it also gets people back into areas of the park that are otherwise restricted.
More info: floridastateparks.org
Where: About 20 miles east of Gainesville, near Lake Santa Fe
North and Central Florida offer plenty of lovely towns for those willing to venture away from the interstates, and few places offer as much charm as the village of Melrose. Its well-preserved Victorian buildings have attracted artists and gallery owners; a stroll through town might exercise your wallet if you’re the art-buying kind.
Tip: For lodgings, rooms are available in historic homes.
More info: melrosefl.com