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11 Ways to Explore The Ringling Estate in Sarasota

If you’re in the Sarasota, Florida, area, and you haven’t visited The Ringling lately, you’re missing out.

This cultural gem–once home to circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable–features an art museum with European baroque art, a grand home right on Sarasota Bay, and a circus museum.

Yet that’s just half the story.

The museum and the home (called Ca’D’Zan, which means House of John) are very worthy of their admission fees--generally $25 per person for the museums and $20 extra for the home tour. (By the way, admission is free on Mondays everywhere except the Circus Museum and the Ca’D’Zan). However, we recently relished in the fact that walking on the grounds of The Ringling is free. As in gratis, no money. Next time you need a break and some fresh air, stop by. We think everyone in Sarasota should be taking advantage of this.

Here’s our guide on 11 things to do at The Ringling Museum Estate, aside from the museums–and here’s a link to a Ringling Estate map to help guide you. If you’ve ever visited the grounds, some of these ideas may be familiar. However, we hope that some will lead you on a treasure hunt.

  1. From The Ringling Rose Garden.

    Revel among the roses. Mable Ringling had a rose garden built at her home, and it’s full of a variety of roses with names like Popcorn, Love Song, and Barbra Streisand. The garden has stone-carved cherubs and benches for quiet pondering. Get your telephoto lens ready for closeups of these floral beauties. Volunteers maintain this Italian-inspired garden.

  2. Be among the banyans. Banyan trees are special because they form a huge canopy over the ground with its roots and secondary trunks, creating a tangled but lovely mess (see a picture at the end of this article). Find 14 banyan trees at The Ringling.  It’s the largest collection of banyan trees in Florida.
  3. Play. The David F. Bolger Playspace at The Ringling is located near the banyan trees and seems to stay pretty busy. It features a slide, hand-powered fountains, and basket swings.
  4. Find where this is located (see picture to the right). Let us know when and where you find it!
  5. Bring a sketchbook and drawing pencils or painting. You’re likely to spot several artists on the grounds. Perhaps it’s a nod to Sarasota’s appreciation for the arts, or perhaps it’s because New College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art and Design are so close. And we know you’ll already have your phone out for Insta-ready pics.
  6. Find out about native Florida trees. If you’re at Ca’D’Zan facing the bay and look to the left, walk just a few short minutes to find the Millennium Tree Trail, which gives background info on trees that are native to Florida. If you’ve been in the sun all day, the trail provides some welcome shade. Which tree is your favorite?

 

 

7. Thought-provoking art–discuss. Although we’re sure some of the art on display at The Ringling changes occasionally, we found this, er, interesting statue during our visit. From afar and from only the back, we assumed it was The Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” Then we saw the face. The Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco created this in 2018 in response to divisive politics in the U.S. Love it? Hate it? Discuss!

8. Take in the horizon. The Ringling has so much beauty to see, but you can put that aside for a moment and just focus on the Sarasota Bay. Check out the water, and you may see fish or even the occasional sting ray. With the right lighting, you may snap a memorable pic of boats on the water. Imagine what it’s like to live at some of those houses with bay views.

9. Pay your respects. Somewhat hidden but near Ca’D’Zan you’ll find the Secret Garden and Ringling Burial Site. The feel of this small area is a little more somber than the rest of the grounds, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Pay your respects to the cultural gift that John and Mable left Sarasota.

A view of Sarasota Bay from The Ringling Estate.

10. Get a “free” tour of the museums. Can’t make it to the museums? Then the gift shop is a plausible alternative until you have time or money to visit. Get a sense of the European, Asian, abstract, and circus art at the museums from the gift shop souvenirs.Get some gift ideas for the holidays or for the art appreciators among your friends.

11. Eat. As you walk in to the Visitor’s Pavilion, you’ll find The Muse Restaurant, which pleasantly surprised us with its gourmet vegetarian dishes such as squash gouda dumplings and fried green tomato ALT (avocado/lettuce/tomato). The Muse is operated by The Tableseide Group, which also owns Libby’s and Louies Modern. Later on, find the Banyan Cafe for a snack.

Let us know if you have other fave things you like to do at The Ringling!

 

One of The Ringling’s banyan trees.

Take the Quiz to Discover Fun Florida Facts!

Sunset on Bradenton Beach, Florida.

As you head on your road trip or vacation this summer, you’ll have some idle time where you’re waiting in line at an amusement park, sitting in traffic, or simply chilling at the beach. Make that idle time fun for your family or yourself by taking this pop quiz of Florida knowledge! All of these are true or false. Answers appear at the bottom of the page. Good luck.

  1. Florida has 67 counties.
  2. Explorer Christopher Columbus named Florida.
  3. The movie “Scarface” was filmed in Florida.
  4. Florida ranks number three among U.S. states for its population.
  5. More than 90% of the oranges grown in Florida are used as whole fruit (not for orange juice).
  6. Lake Okeechobee is the state’s largest lake.
  7. The capital of Florida is Orlando.
  8. More than a million alligators live in Florida.
  9. The fabled and famed creature Bigfoot has been seen regularly in Florida.
  10. Florida’s famous love bugs were created in a lab at the University of Florida.
  11. More than 70 million people visited Orlando in 2017.
  12. Florida has more than 1,300 miles of coastline.
  13. Plant City, Florida, is called the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
  14. Florida has produced two U.S. presidents.
  15. Old Florida postcard

    Gatorade was named for the University of Florida Gators.

Florida Fun Facts Pop Quiz–Answers

  1. True! Palm Beach County is the largest county in terms of land mass.
  2. False. Explorer Ponce de Leon named the state “la Florida,” which means “flowery place” in Spanish.
  3. False. Although this famous movie with Al Pacino focuses on Miami and the Cuban exiles, most of the film was shot in Los Angeles.
  4. True. The only states that rank higher are California and New York.
  5. False. Actually, 90% or more of the oranges grown in the Sunshine State are used for orange juice.
  6. True. You can see Lake Okeechobee from space.
  7. False. It’s Tallahassee!
  8. Some of the millions of visitors to Orlando in 2017.

    True. There are about 1.25 million alligators in Florida and a total of 5 million spread across the Southeast U.S. There are also crocodiles in south Florida.

  9. False. However, the Skunk Ape is Florida’s own legendary Bigfoot-like creature.
  10. False. That’s a myth. This report on Snopes.com explains why this isn’t true and quotes a UF professor who says, “If we created them, they would be orange and blue.”
  11. True. Orlando, America’s most visited destination, attracted 72 million people in 2017, according to Visit Orlando.
  12. True. It ranks second only to Alaska for its amount of coastline.
  13. True. This town in the Tampa Bay area produces an abundance of yummy strawberries in the winter. It even hosts an annual Strawberry Festival that attracts national music acts.
  14. False. It is one of the most populous states in the U.S. but surprisingly has not been the birthplace for a president.
  15. True. The drink was developed at UF.

Gators hanging out at one of our favorite places in Orlando, Gatorland.

So how’d ya do? If you need to brush up on your Florida knowledge, make sure to read other articles on Florida Culture Travel. We have more than 60 Florida-focused articles where you can have fun learning about the Sunshine State. Got a place in mind for us to visit in Florida? Then leave a comment!

5 Things to Do in and Around Bradenton, Florida

There’s no shortage of things to do in Bradenton, Florida. After all, the Bradenton/Sarasota area garners worldwide praise for its beaches, natural beauty, and arts and culture. Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of choosing what you’re in the mood for on a given day.

Here are 5 things to do in the Bradenton area that Florida Culture recommends.

 

1.  Beach it out. OK—a recommendation to go to the beach in our area is low-hanging fruit, as that’s probably what drew you here in the first place. Still, try the beach at various times of the day for different vibes. Early morning is great for a walk and shelling, midday is ideal for swimming and people-watching, and the evening draws sunset lovers and picture-snappers from across the globe.

Venture out to try the various beaches around Bradenton and Bradenton Beach. Coquina Beach and the Manatee public beach have lifeguards (and some shade at Coquina), so they’re ideal if you have kids. However, there are other beach enclaves that have their own feel. Bean Point on Anna Maria Island and Beer Can Island (popular with boaters) are also great. Tip: As our beaches become more well-known, the traffic to reach them has gotten more congested year-round—not just in season. Plan your trip to reach earlier in the day, if you can. Or, stay near the beach so you only have a short walk.

The Tropicana train makes its way through downtown Bradenton near Riverwalk. Bradenton is home to Tropicana Orange Juice.

2. Stroll down downtown Bradenton’s Riverwalk. Riverwalk offers a scenic 1.5-mile view along the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton. Check out boats, a playground, public art, and the downtown Bradenton library, or South Florida Museum, among other sights. Once that walking tires you out, mosey on over to Main Street for a bite at O’Bricks or any of the restaurants or bars in this growing downtown area. Tip: From October to May on Saturdays, downtown Bradenton hosts its farmers’ market.

3. Find a beach alternative at De Soto National Memorial. Everyone has a favorite local park, and this is ours. De Soto National Memorial in West Bradenton is part of the National Park Service and offers history, spectacular views, and even something for Fido. The park is named for Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who landed in the Tampa Bay area in 1539. You can discover more about the area’s history at the visitors’ center or via the historic demonstrations that take place there. However, if you’re hankering more for sun and views, take advantage of the park’s several trails, many of them offering peaceful views of Tampa Bay. Some visitors to De Soto visit as an alternative to the popular beaches and make a day of it as the park has a few sandy areas. De Soto is a big hit with dog lovers, so Fido can be part of your beach day.

4. Get an arts education at Village of the Arts. Located near downtown Bradenton, this funky, colorful area features unique art galleries, stores, and eateries. It was created in 1999 by a nonprofit group as a community where artists could live and set up shop. If you’re looking for an interactive arts experience, this is the place to check out. On the first Friday and Saturday of each month, the Village of the Arts hosts an Artwalk event, where residents and store owners plan special activities for visitors. Don’t miss Bird Rock Taco Shack for tacos of all kinds (including vegan and vegetarian options) and nearby Motorworks Brewery, which is adjacent to Village of the Arts.

 

Bird Rock Taco Shack in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

5. Dine out. In the mood for seafood? Italian? Farm to table? Yup, Bradenton’s got it. There are too many great places to eat in town to name here, but we’ll share a small sampling. Near the beach, you’ve got the Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach and The Sandbar, both of which offer Florida-caught seafood and farm-to-table dishes (the same company owns Mar Vista in Longboat Key). EnRich Bistro in West Bradenton is owned by a local family and serves gourmet and locally-sourced meals. Ortygia in the Village of the Arts serves delicious Italian dishes.

 

So many smells at De Soto park…

Have a favorite activity in Bradenton, Florida? Tell us in the comments. Who knows?! We may have a part 2 article to share other ideas!

Dogs also love the views at De Soto.

Meandering Among the Ghouls at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights

Universal stuiosIf Halloween and horror movies are your thing and you’re in the Orlando, Florida area (or in Los Angeles), then Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights should be on your to-do list if you’ve got some extra cash.

The über-popular event welcomes attendees to the Universal Studios park after-hours, when the park is transformed into a house of horrors with haunted houses, Halloween-themed shows, diabolical drinks, and scary rides. The event has a separate ticket than your regular Universal Studios park entrance fee.

DSC_0811[1]

Scene from “The Purge” during Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights 2017.

It’s probably not the place you’re going to take your grandmother, unless she rides a Harley and loves the movie “Saw.” But for teen or adult who’s into the likes of “American Horror Story,” “Saw,” “The Shining,” or just enjoys general horror movie thrills, they’ll get a kick out of their visit.

We recommend you visit Halloween Horror Nights after a little preparation with our tips below. Our recent visit to Halloween Horror Nights 2017 was fun but also involved a lot of walking, wrangling through crowds, and spending more dough than we thought we would. Here’s a guide to enjoy Halloween Horror Nights and come out unscathed….if you dare.

  1. Visit when it’s least crowded. Halloween Horror Nights is most crowded on Friday and Saturday nights and naturally, dates closest to Halloween. As an example, upon our 8 p.m. arrival, the wait for the “American Horror Story” haunted house was already longer than an hour. In the Florida heat. You can arrive when the event opens at 6:30 p.m. (it may not be scary and dark just yet), or, we read online that crowds thin out around 11 p.m. The event stays open till 2 a.m. so you can truly party with ghouls almost all night long.

Another way to cut down on the crowds is buying an Express Lane pass at $109 a person—this is a great option if you’ve got the cash and just aren’t up for long lines and staying up late. We opted for this and estimated it cut our wait time in half, if not more. There are also RIP Tours that start at $159 a person and will take you to the front of the line.

DSC_0813[1]

A full moon during our visit. Spooky….

  1. Buy your tickets carefully. First, if you’re going to the event in Orlando and buying tickets online (recommended), make sure you buy tickets for Universal Studios in Orlando and not Hollywood—we almost made this mistake. Next, do your homework on pricing. The event gets more expensive on popular nights, no surprise there—up to almost $84 compared with about $60 on slower nights. However, you can get discounts if you plan to return multiple times or if you have a discount code from a CocaCola or Burger King product. Find more pricing information here. Halloween Horror Nights continues on select nights this year through November 4.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. You’ll get a workout at the park, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—but if you’re wearing the same flip flops you had at the pool earlier, your feet may hurt the next day. From the parking lot to the walk through City Walk to the entrance of Universal Studios, you’ll traverse at least half a mile. At the end of our visit, our app said we had walked 4.5 miles.
    Regarding clothing, you’re in Florida in October…which means it could rain or get windy—or it could still be sweltering, which was our experience. Err on the side of not overdressing but check the weather. And stay hydrated. There are plenty of nonalcoholic and alcoholic liquid elixirs to try, but they’ll cost some $$, including the water.
  3. Be prepared to be scared-ish. One question people often ask is just how scary Halloween Horror Nights is. Well, it’s not for young kids. And if you find scary movies truly scary, it’s probably not the event for you. For everyone else, you know what you’re getting into and you’ve probably seen the movies affiliated with the themed haunted houses. So, you’ll get a kick out of a street with scenes from “The Purge” or the diabolical pig jumping out at you from “American Horror Story.” You may jump a bit when something unexpectedly jumps out at you with an ax—that’s a normal reaction, but you also will know it’s bound to happen in the haunted houses. There are also zombies, aliens, and creepy characters in certain areas of the park who will follow you or may even lightly touch you. But ultimately, we didn’t find the experience any more “scary” than last year’s visit to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens.

DSC_0814[1]That all said—you will encounter some girls who are using their visit to let out blood-curdling screams for the heck of it. Our hearing is still recovering from that.

  1. Keep moving. When you get in the haunted houses, don’t get too involved in analyzing the well-developed scenes. There are employees around every corner, and their job is to keep you moving and make sure attendees don’t do something obnoxious (a real possibility). But they’re clearly not there for fun—we saw some of these employees yawn, stare off to space, and even wear ear plugs. Help them do their jobs by moving along. Oh, and as selfie-driven as we all area these days, they don’t want you taking pictures in the haunted houses. We took one photo with our phone and we were followed out and chastised by an employee who asked us to delete the photo. Oops.
  2. Pick your favorites. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion, but we liked the “American Horror Story” haunted house the best—it’s a bit more intense (heavy on the flashing lights) and relevant for its recent popularity. (By the way, the haunted houses seemed to have a modern-day version of Smell-O-Vision and actually smelled like moldy basements or insane asylums or other ghoulish unpleasant olfactory experiences.)

DSC_0818[1]

A scene from the Academy of Villains performance.

We also thought a dance show called “Academy of Villains” was awesome, with dancing, fire, and lively music. They’ll surely be on “America’s Got Talent” one day if they haven’t already. We were less jazzed by the haunted house for “The Shining” but it may have been due to our lack of knowledge about the movie. In any case, if you’re going when it’s the busiest, pick your priorities so you have time to see them.

DSC_0807[1]

8 Tips to Survive Your Visit to Walt Disney World

Some people scrimp and save a long time to visit Walt Disney World in Florida, and why not? There’s plenty to do, and you’ll forever have the pictures of your little ones meeting Mickey Mouse and the gang. But visiting Disney’s the Magic Kingdom and adjacent parks takes some strategy, especially if you’re traveling with tykes. Here are some lessons we learned during a visit earlier this month.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking at the park. We can’t tell you how many people we saw wearing flimsy flip-flops, and we’re certain their feet hurt at the end of the day. Sneakers or some sort of sandal with good foot support are best.
  2. Be ready for your journey from the parking lot to the actual park. That journey may make you feel like you live in Europe in the 1800s and you’re making your way to the New World. That’s because it’s a long way between parking your car, catching the tram (or walking) to the entrance, going through security to buy your ticket, and then waiting among the masses for a monorail or ferry to get the park (and even there, you still need to scan your ticket to get into Magic Kingdom). Plan for an hour, if not longer, for all those steps to take place—and have plenty to amuse your little ones during that time, including some water or juice boxes.

If you really can’t take all that waiting around, Disney does have hotels right on                   property that may cut some of the commuting time. For instance, the Disney                         Monorail goes right through the Contemporary Resort Hotel.

  1. Take a shuttle to Disney from your hotel. The massive Disney property, which includes several theme parks and resorts, can be confusing. We put “Magic Kingdom” in our GPS system and ended up on some road that was adjacent to the park’s famous Space Mountain but was nowhere near the parking lot. We got smart and put in “Magic Kingdom Parking” and ended up close enough to reach the lot, although GPS still wanted to take us in a different direction. You can avoid all that hassle by using shuttles commonly offered by area hotels that will take you right to the entrance where you purchase tickets.
  2. Stay hydrated. It sounds basic, but if you’re coming to Florida for a once-annual or once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney, you’re probably not used to the Sunshine State’s heat and humidity. Include water in your budget ($3 a bottle at the park), and drink some every few minutes. Trust us, you don’t want someone to become sick from dehydration, because that could ruin your visit.
  3. Do some legwork in advance on Disney’s onsite services that you might need. One practical, cool thing about Disney is they’ve thought about what you may need to enjoy your stay. On the Disney property, they have an area to watch your pets, so traveling with Fido shouldn’t stop you from visiting Magic Kingdom and the other theme parks. There’s also a car care center, which is perfect for those times you get back out to your car and it’s not starting.
  4. Consider the Park Hopper. A one-day Magic Kingdom park ticket is typically $124 (and the price increases occasionally). But if you decide you want to visit other Disney parks, like Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Epcot, you pay a bit more…but then you can enjoy all four parks. What you’ll specifically want to look for is the Park Hopper ticket. Unless you absolutely know you’re going to spend the whole day at Magic Kingdom, it’s nice to know you have some flexibility to visit other parks on site.
  5. Think about what older children or teens in your group may want to see at Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World can be fun for all ages, but it’s no secret that the little ones in your group are Disney’s biggest target. So what can your older children or teens do there? Here are a few proven suggestions:
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Adventureland
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Space Mountain in Tomorrowland
  • In Frontierland, the Wild West-style practice shootout area
  • Gift shops (either to buy a souvenir or to enjoy air conditioning)
  • Other theme parks onsite, such as Hollywood Studios
  1. Go early. It’s the best way to avoid crowds and longer lines for rides (for the latter, you could also use FastPass to save time). In fact, you could go early, spend a few hours, return to your resort for some rest or pool lounging time, and then return in the evening when it’s cooler out.

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Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream 2016 Welcomes Scary Thrills

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5 Things to Do in Sarasota During Your Stay at The Resort at Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort

There’s always plenty to do in Sarasota–and if you’re lucky enough to stay at the Opal Collection’s The Resort at Longboat Key Club or Lido Beach Resort, your vacation to-do list just got a lot longer.

That’s because the resorts offer up-close-and-personal beach time, dining, and athletics–and some of those offerings are exclusive to guests or members only.

DSC_0340[1]Florida Culture got firsthand experience with these two resorts during a June press trip, right as Tropical Storm Colin was hitting the Gulf. Somehow, we intrepid writers and PR mavens made it through with enough alcohol and good food to keep us going.

DSC_0327[1]So, here’s our take on things to do when you’re staying at these two iconic resorts–and even if you’re staying elsewhere in Sarasota, we think you’ll find our advice useful.

  1. Take a beach walk. You’ll have hard-to-beat beach access at either resort. Just take an elevator down, walk a few steps, and you’re on the beautiful Gulf. Bring your smartphone or fancy-pants camera to catch shots of birds, sea life (think: starfish and sand dollars), waves, sky scenes, and people. Make sure to share the shots on social media (the resorts also have their own social media pages–@longboatkeyclub and @lidobeachresort).  When the weather cooperates, the Gulf sunsets are stunning.
  2. Eat. A lot. First, Sarasota is a town that’s passionate about food. Year-round residents as well as snowbirds celebrate their gourmet offerings as well casual dives. At the resorts alone, you’ve got a whole host of dining options, staffed by chefs passionate about your food experience. Lido Beach Resort has Cafe Lido & Tiki Bar with prime views of the sea. Its Lido Beach Grille offers a panoramic view of the area and a more sophisticated experience (some menu highlights: macadamia nut grouper and roasted lamb chops). At the larger Resort at Longboat Key Club, you’ve got your pick of casual dining at Sands Pointe (we liked the red quinoa breakfast dish with ricotta cheese), a farm-to-table focus at Tavern & Whiskey Bar, and fine Italian dining at Portofino, right at the resort’s own marina. Longboat has other dining options spread throughout the resort.
  3. Enjoy resort amenities. Kayak rental? Check. Stand-up paddleboarding? Yup. Spa time? Check. Pool lounging? Check. A kids’ club? Check. Tennis and golf? Yup, those as well. Although the offerings between Lido Beach Resort and Longboat Key vary–Longboat offers more due to its size–you’ll be hard pressed to find something you tennis gardenswon’t enjoy. Longboat also offers special classes throughout the year, such as yoga on the beach and moonlight meditation (on the beach, weather permitting). We got a kick (or a serve, perhaps?) out of our tennis lesson, taught by a coach well entrenched in the Sarasota area’s busy tennis scene. FYI: The Resort at Longboat Key Club’s Tennis Gardens were named one of the top 10 tennis resorts in the U.S. by Tennis magazine; the resort was also a 2015 Readers’ Choice award finalist in Conde’ Nast Traveler magazine. Although Longboat’s amenities are for guests only, you can also glean entry if you become a member of the resort.
  4. Shop at St. Armand’s Circle. St. Armand’s Circle is, well, a circle dotted with restaurants and shops, all offering a European feel. From offbeat beachy finds (Artisans, our personal favorite) to a world of tea and spices (Spice & Tea Exchange, another favorite) to gelato shops to trendy dining (Shore Diner and Tommy Bahama), DSC_0305[1]you’ll be able to amble your day or evening away at St. Armand’s. In a nod to Sarasota’s circus heritage, the names of various Ringling clowns are seen on plaques that surround the main circle of St. Armand’s. If you want a longer walk, you can trek from Lido Beach Resort to St. Armand’s. The destination is about a 10 minute drive from Longboat Key Club.
  5. Discover circus heritage at the Ringling Museum. Ringling, as in the Ringling Circus? Yes–John Ringling and his wife Mable lived in Sarasota and built their beautiful Ca’D’Zan (“House of John”) right on the bay. When John Ringling died in 1936, he left his mansion to the people of Florida. Ca’D’Zan is now a backdrop for weddings and special events and attracts tourists year-round. Yet that’s not all. The RinglingRingling complex has an art museum that rivals the art quality in bigger cities (the museum was also started by the Ringlings), a beautiful rose garden, a newer playground, and a circus museum, where you can learn more about the Ringling Circus and its connection to Sarasota. Tip: Admission to the Ringling is usually $25 for adults and $5 for children, but it’s free on Mondays.

Looking for Things to Do in Florida? Just Ask Florida Culture….

Florida Culture celebrates this month 5 years of writing about travel, food, and agriculture in the Sunshine State. What started as a fun blog with the goal to branch out into paying clients turned into a weekly Florida food/agriculture newspaper column for nearly 4 years, writing for Visit Florida (the state’s tourism bureau), and then articles for the Today Show website, The Huffington Post, Edible Sarasota, Dreamscapes Magazine, and more.

In honor of our fifth anniversary, here’s a roundup of some popular stories we’ve done, both on the blog and elsewhere.

We’re always looking for more travel and food writing work, so editors, please get in touch. Florida-lovers, if you want a daily dose of Florida, you can follow us on Instagram: @Florida_Culture

Thanks for the support, and keep reading!

  1. Stroll, Dream, and Dine on Anna Maria’s Pine Avenue

    Anna Maria Pier

    Anna Maria City Pier, at the end of Pine Avenue.

Here’s where to visit on Anna Maria Island’s popular Pine Avenue.

http://www.mustbethesunshine.org/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/anna-maria-island-caceres.html

  1. Visiting Lake Placid. Lake Placid is a charming town in central Florida with a series of 50+ murals throughout the town. It makes for a great day trip if you’re near Sebring.

http://www.mustbethesunshine.org/en-us/articles/15/freelance/lake-placid-caladiums-clowns-murals-Caceres.html

3. Road Trip on Rt. 27. A random idea while driving along Route 27 in central Florida blossomed into a three-part series done for Visit Florida and then The Huffington Post. The stories have great pictures as well (not taken by Florida Culture). If you like road trip ideas, we’ve got another one that should publish this year on Visit Florida following a different Central Florida road.

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/us-27-north-caceres.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/visit-florida/road-trip-part-3-wild-and_b_5695976.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/visit-florida/road-trip-part-2-seeing-c_b_5692198.html

  1. Five Family-Friendly Places to Visit in Orlando. Orlando EyeThis recent addition to the mix, published on the Today Show website, covers fun places in Orlando beyond the theme parks.

http://www.today.com/parents/5-family-friendly-places-visit-orlando-florida-beyond-theme-parks-t65266

  1. What’s Sprouting: Central Sarasota Farmers Market

The granddaddy of farmers’ markets in Sarasota is the downtown market, but the Central Sarasota market is a great addition to support the commitment to local eating that many in Sarasota have. This article appeared in Edible Sarasota Magazine.

http://ediblesarasota.ediblefeast.com/shop/whats-sprouting-central-sarasota-farmers-market

  1. La Pulga: Bargains, Food, Music and a Cultural Experience.

For something a little different, check out the La Pulga Flea Market in Palmetto on Sundays, where you’ll get a taste (and sound and visual) of local Mexican culture. And you never know what flea market finds you’ll discover…

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/articles/2014/freelance/la-pulga-flea-market-caceres.html

  1. Land Lovers: Geraldson Community Farm

Geraldson Community Farm is taking the lead in sustainable eating in the Bradenton and Sarasota area. It has its own farm market, participates in other local farm markets, hosts special dinners, and has a community supported agriculture program.

http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/From+The+Good+Earth/1984193/0/article.html

  1. Florida Wines See Spark in Popularity

Wine in Florida? Yes, indeed—and you’ll have fun visiting some of the states 20 or so wineries. Here’s why Florida wines have experienced a boost recently. This article appeared in the Central Florida Agri-Leader, where Florida Culture used to write a weekly column before the paper folded.

http://www.highlandstoday.com/list/highlands-agri-leader-news/florida-wines-see-spike-in-popularity-20140709/

  1. Outdoor Murals Open Eyes at Miami’s Wynwood Walls

    Wynwood3

    Wynwood Walls

This more recent addition to the Florida Culture blog is pretty popular. It’s all about the trendy Wynwood art district in Miami. To find out the most popular article on Florida Culture, don’t miss item 10 below.

https://floridaculture.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/outdoor-murals-open-eyes-at-miamis-wynwood-walls/

  1. Searching for Shark Teeth in Venice

One of our very first blog articles continues to be the most popular. There must be a lot of people out there searching for shark’s teeth. We’ll have to make it down there again soon.

Searching for Shark Teeth in Venice

6 Things to Do in St. Augustine

Looking for different things to do during your visit to St. Augustine, Florida–beyond the tram tour and walking around downtown? There’s plenty to do and see in this beautiful, historic area. Take some tips from our recent visit (the fourth visit Florida Culture has made in four years).

During a tour at the St. Augustine Distillery.
During a tour at the St. Augustine Distillery.

1. Get some liquid courage at the St. Augustine Distillery. A distillery in Florida? You betcha. The St. Augustine Distillery opened to the public in March 2014 and partners with farmers in the state for a variety of products used in its vodka, gin, and—in the future—its bourbon and rum, the latter of which will be ready in September of this year. The distillery produces hand-crafted, small-batch spirits in what was once an ice plant. The folks at the distillery believe Florida’s heat and Flo-grown ingredients give their product at a distinct taste. Come on by for the free tour and a sample. If you like what you taste, we’ve spotted ads featuring St. Augustine Distillery’s vodka for sale ($24.99) at Publix Liquors. Here’s a link to the distillery’s Florida Mule (no, not the animal–the drink): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6SwbzcyGOk.

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Black lab enjoying St. Augustine Beach.

2. If you want to keep up the good spirits—literally—then visit San Sebastian Winery. It’s in walking distance of the St. Augustine Distillery. San Sebastian is part of the largest winery in Florida, the Clermont-based Lakeridge Winery. You’ll enjoy a free tour to learn how wine is made and sample at least six types of wine. The winery also has a jazz and wine bar upstairs.

DSC_04523. Take a stroll on St. Augustine Beach. Don’t get so lost in St. Augustine’s history that you forget to enjoy simple pleasures at the beach. During strolls on the beach over several days, we found unusual crabs, a starfish, surfers, and a beautiful black lab who swam far out in the ocean to retrieve his ball. The sand was solid enough for easy walking and even biking. For just one dollar if you’re not fishing (and a couple of bucks if you are), check out the view high atop the St. Augustine Beach’s pier.

DSC_03854. Dine at The Floridian. Want an interesting twist on your farm-to-table meal? Then The Floridian Restaurant is for you. Sample grit cakes, a Georgia cheese board, a vegetarian cornbread stack (choose between blackened fish or a flavorful tofu), or brisket posole. The menu also features the Datil pepper, a heat-packing pepper native to St. Augustine (and hard to find outside of the area). Many of the ingredients at The Floridian are sourced from Florida or Georgia farms, and the fish are often caught in the Sunshine state. We’re getting hungry just thinking about our return.

5. Find some ghosts. Perhaps the catchphrase for St. Augustine should be “Got Ghosts?” From the kitschy to the serious, the city is filled with ghost tours thanks to its 500-year history of battles and strife. (Do some searches on YouTube for the show “Ghost Hunters” to discover more about the town’s haunted past.) Basically, the city is one big cemetery, which can only lead to ghosts, if you’re a believer. Even if you’re skeptical, you’ll still have fun and learn something new on tours like Ghosts and Gravestones, the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Ghost Tour, and the Ripley’s Castle Tour. Make sure to rent special devices for the tour that are said to detect the presence of spirits—and take lots of pictures. For the record, the Ripley’s castle tour is where we felt the strangest sensations of something else present….

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Gators hanging out in the heat at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

6. Get to know the gators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. This long-time attraction actually began in the late 1800s as a home to a few reptiles, and it now has hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes, and wild animals. For the shutterbugs in your family, check out the Wading Bird Rookery for excellent photo ops of egrets, ibis, wood storks, and other birds making their home among gators. It’s like going to the swamp from the safety of an elevated deck. For the “wild animals” in your family, there’s a zip line attraction.

Sunrise on St. Augustine Beach.

Sunrise on St. Augustine Beach.

7 Ways to Support Florida Agriculture Through the Summer

Looking for ways to support Florida agriculture even in the withering heat? It’s easier than you think.

Peppers seen at one of the Tampa Bay Markets.

Peppers seen at one of the Tampa Bay Markets.

Florida’s bounty of produce is usually in the winter, a contrast with many other states around the U.S.,  that are finally growing their berries, tomatoes, peaches, and other yummy items. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy outdoor markets or farms for the next couple of months—even if some of the farms and farm markets are closed through Florida’s summer–which should instead be called Stick-Your-Head-in-the-AC- and-Don’t-Remove-Until-November Season.

Here are a few places you can visit this summer to pick up in-season produce in Florida. Check websites for hours and exact locations:

Some of the Tampa Bay Markets have Kids Markets. Seen are duck tape wallets for sale.

Some of the Tampa Bay Markets have Kids Markets. Seen are duck tape wallets for sale.

1. Tampa Bay Markets is an umbrella group of seven fresh-air markets in Tampa and St. Petersburg, with most of them running through the summer, said manager Tiffany Ferrecchia. Tampa Bay Markets feature as many as 100 vendors, including farm vendors from around the state. One popular market is Seminole Heights, held usually on the lawn of Hillsborough High School but gets moved to Southern Brewing & Winemaking in the summer.

Tampa Bay Markets have some new vendors you can check out, including Homespun Goods, where they raise goats and sheep and make items like goat milk soap, kefir, cheese, and yogurt. The farm managers even bring a couple of their goats to their market. Another new vendor is Tampa’s Wild Guava Nursery, which sells Florida citrus and tropical fruit trees. This time of year, the folks from Wild Guava will bring less common tropical items like lychees. “They taste so good, and they’re bringing them to the market,” Ferrecchia says.

IMG_2865 2. St. Petersburg Saturday Market continues through the summer but will move from the Al Lang Stadium parking lot to nearby (and shadier) Williams Park starting this Saturday through August 29. The market has about 50 vendors selling locally-grown items as well as food from around the world.

3. The Downtown Farmers Curb Market in Lakeland takes place on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open all year except in August.

4. There’s the Orlando Farmers Market, held on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lake Eola Park.

5. Sarasota Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota is open on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (there will be a Shrimp and Lobster Fest on Saturday, June 27).

6. The Central Sarasota Farmers Market will stay open through the summer (as well as year-round) on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. One new vendor is the popular Geraldson Community Farm.

Watermelons at the Sarasota Market.

Watermelons at the Sarasota Market.

At all of these markets, you’ll find a mix of local foods, crafts, food trucks, plenty of entertainment, and even treats for the family dog. Ferrecchia of Tampa Bay Markets says customers continue to turn out even in summer’s dog days, although traffic tapers off after 12:30 pm. “The produce is still out there, and people come to get their necessities,” she says, noting that in addition to summer produce, eggs are another item people can enjoy year-round. Ferrecchia encourages people to visit markets earlier in the day so you can enjoy what they have to offer without feeling assaulted by the heat. Plus, vendors don’t want to wither any more than you do, so keep in mind that some parks have nice shade to cut down on the heat.

7. Another option for your local food fix would be a visit to a farm or farm stand that stays open year-round. One example is Hydro Harvest Farms, a hydroponic farm in Ruskin. Its weekly newsletter reports that lettuce, Swiss chard, jalapeños, tomatoes, and herbs are often available for picking in the summer.

Produce at the Sarasota Market.

Produce at the Sarasota Market.

Check online for additional markets throughout Florida that are open in the summer. There are always new markets coming and going.

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