Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater
By Lindor Reynolds
Florida is a paradise for sports fans, wilderness enthusiasts and adventure-seekers. Whether you want to attend a game played by your favourite professional team, paddle a kayak through a secluded park or sit quietly to bird watch, Florida has what you need. If you’ve got the interest, the state has infinite possibilities.
Race car fans will want to take in the Daytona 500 held every February at the Daytona Beach International Speedway. The Coke Zero 400 is held there in July. True fans can sign up for a track tour year-round.
If you want to watch the pros play golf, you can begin with The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, usually the first stop on the Florida tour. From there, there’s the World Golf Championship in Miami, the Traditions Championship in north Florida, the Tavistock Cup in Windermere and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. For more information of pro golf, visit www.pgatour.com/tournaments.
No matter what you sport you love, you can likely watch it in Florida. The state is home to an NHL team, two major-league baseball teams, spring training camps, two NBA basketball teams and three NFL teams. Go team!
Baseball: Both the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devils call the state home. The “Grapefruit League” starts up in February and marks the start of the pro team tune-ups. Spring training gives avid fans the chance to watch their teams close up.
Basketball: The Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic call Florida home.
Football: The Miami Dolphins play out of Dolphin Stadium in North Miami Beach. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers call the Raymond James Stadium in north Tampa home, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are housed in the 77,000-seat ALLTEL Stadium in downtown Jacksonville.
Hockey: They call it “ice hockey” here but Canadians don’t need the extra word. The Florida Panthers are based in Sunrise, a short distance from Fort Lauderdale and the Tampa Bay Lightning on the opposite side of the Florida peninsula.
Racing: Horse racing fans will want to visit Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. It’s between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Cedar Race Track in Miami also gives visitors the chance to place a wager or two.
If you’re an angler, you’re in fish heaven in Florida. The state calls itself “the fishing capital of the world” because of its diversity of species, great weather and year-round fishing. You can fish in fresh or saltwater, and aim for anything from trophy fish to a catch for your dinner. Florida boasts more than 7,700 lakes, 17,000 kilometres of rivers and over 3,600 kilometres of tidal shoreline. Visit Florida claims you’re always within reach of a place to “wet a line.”
The state proudly boasts more International Game Fish Association records are set in Florida than anywhere else in the United States.
Lee County VCB
Birders love the 3,200-kilometre Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Naples, in southwest Florida, draws flocks of birders with its profusions of migratory birds and a number of very rare species. The state is a perfect combination of protected wetlands, subtropical climate and a deep commitment to wildlife preservation. South Florida’s massive Everglades National Park is a paradise for birders and wildlife observers of all descriptions.
Also note that if you’re cruising out of Cape Canaveral, it’s worthwhile to take an extra couple of days and explore two of the area parks that are noted on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
With its terrific climate, reliable sunshine and gorgeous natural surroundings, Florida is a mecca for hikers. There is more botanical diversity here than in any other state of the American east coast and thousands of kilometres of hiking trails. Start in the tropical climate of the southern Keys and work your way up to the pine forests of the Panhandle. You can take short self-guided trips, plan overnight excursions or follow segments of the well-kept National Scenic Trail.
Pensacola Bay Area CVB
Kayaking & Canoeing
Florida has a number of state-designated paddle ways and a favourite is the Wakulla River, a 16-kilometre spring-fed river 30 minutes south of Tallahassee. You might see osprey, turtles and even manatee. The famed Suwanee River starts in Georgia and meanders some 331 kilometres before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to access, lined with cypress, pines and palmettos and offers great places to camp. The Florida Sea Islands Trail offers four rivers and their salt marshes. It’s a great northeast location for coastal saltwater paddling. Local outfitters can give you advice and match the skill of your party with the waterway.
Florida’s Big 5
When adventurers go on safari to Africa, they hope to see the Big 5 – lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. Florida has its own Big 5 list:
Alligators: There are about one million alligators in Florida. They live in freshwater environments, like swamps, marshes and rivers. Visitors are most likely to see one in an alligator farm or park.
Florida panthers: A sighting is rare because there are only about 100 panthers left in the Florida population. If you’re very lucky, you might catch a glimpse in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, or Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.
Manatee: An aquatic relative of the elephant, manatees are found in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays and coastal waters. They like to play, body surfing or barrel roll in the water. People either find them exquisitely ugly or oddly appealing.
Turtles: 90 per cent of all U.S. loggerhead nesting takes place in Florida between April and September. It’s a thrill to (carefully and respectfully) observe a nesting site.
Dolphins: Discovery Cove Orlando offers the chance for a one-on-one dolphin encounter where you learn about dolphin behaviour, wade into the dolphin lagoon and actually “ride” a dolphin. Miami’s Seaquarium also offers a swim-along Dolphin Encounter.