b and I just got back from ten-day trip to florida. after such a busy year, we thought it would be a good idea to get away for a bit. plus with b's LA by hawaii heritage, the cold NYC winters get to him. we took the amtrak down on the 25th, booking a sleeper car. we stayed two nights in south beach miami, then took off by rental car across the top of the everglades, the route known as alligator alley. making it to the gulf coast, we drove north and stayed overnight in sarasota. since the weather had turned cloudy and a bit chilly, we decided to spend most of the trip antiquing. I had heard about florida's great thrift and antique stores, did a little research, and found that the gulf coast is filled with them. we had plans to meet our friends tova and stan who live in tampa, and make it up for stan's birthday party that friday. we really loved the sarasota area- home to the ringling brothers and their namesake art school. antiques shops in that area were our favorite, there's great food, great people, and the coolest little village of the arts in bradenton.
after spending time with our friends and kicking around the tampa bay area, we headed back to the atlantic coast by way of some of the rural counties, stopping at many small towns along the way. then a few days making our way back to miami, through cocoa, west palm and delray beaches. on our last day we rushed down to the keys, as the sun had come back out and we had had our fill of antiques. we only made it to key largo, the first key, but plan on going back as soon as we can!
I had only been to florida twice, both times as a kid. We really were able to do a lot of exploring and fell in love with not only the climate, fresh air and crystal clear water, but the friendliness of the people and their offbeat sense of humor. Something about the combination of retirees and southerners makes for a mellow mix. the small towns are where it's at in florida- so many of them are revitalizing their downtowns. one of the nicest was delray- also great were cocoa village, kissimmee, and the larger town of st. petersburg. I have to say that south beach wasn't quite as hip as I had been led to believe by its current reputation. Seems like they've gone a bit too far in attracting wealth, and everything there is pretty upscale. It's hard to find much sense of local business or homespun identity. We found just one Cuban restaurant, and ate there the first night. (but the really good Cuban food is to be found across the causeway, in the main part of the city.) Of course the art deco district is beautiful, and people have done a great job of revamping the hotels. the amtrak was awesome and if you ever have the time to do it, I highly recommend it.
so that's my brief take on florida. love it and can't wait to go back.