Sports and Recreation
Florida is surrounded by saltwater on three sides, so water sports are a big part of any vacation. The only parts of the state that are truly devoid of proper beaches are the Big Bend area, which is more of a marshy delta plain with occasional forlorn bits of sand; the similarly swampy and largely inaccessible southern tip of the state where the Everglades dump into the Florida Straits; and much of the Florida Keys, although somewhat ironically, the sandy beaches that do exist in the Keys are fantastic.
Other than that, the 2,200 miles of shoreline the state has are possessed of some of the greatest beaches in the world. Shelling along the west coast is a popular pastime, while along the Atlantic, coral reefs and sunken ships make for great snorkeling opportunities, and surfing, though not up to California standards, can also be enjoyable. Divers also enjoy heading out to the deep water beauty off the Florida Keys.
Canoeing and Kayaking
The best place for small boating in Florida is throughout the backwaters and slow-moving rivers of the Everglades, as a trip there combines the meditative nature of a canoe trip with the ever-present danger of being swallowed by an alligator. There are also excellent rivers like the Silver and the Ichetucknee in the northern part of the state for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing. However, Florida is nearly 25 percent water, so finding a place to put in and paddle will be the least of your challenges.
Florida is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the United States, due to the miles and miles of rivers and lakes throughout the inland area and the seemingly infinite possibilities for deep-sea fishing off the shoreline. The massive Lake Okeechobee is a hot spot for bass fishing, and saltwater anglers enjoy heading out into the open ocean for tuna, kingfish, marlin, and mackerel. Backwater fishing among the mangroves can yield tarpon, mangrove snapper, snook, and more.
The primary destination for hikers in Florida is the 360,000-acre Ocala National Forest, a.k.a. “The Big Scrub,” but there are also fantastic trails throughout the Withlacoochee State Forest in Brooksville, the Everglades National Park, and Myakka River State Park near Sarasota. The terrain throughout the state is largely flat, so most hiking here is for watching nature, particularly to check out migratory birds in the winter, or for sheer endurance-testing during the hot summer months.
There are almost 1,500 golf courses in Florida, from the northwestern tip of Pensacola all the way to the southernmost locales of Key West. The Professional Golfers’ Association Tour has its home offices in Ponte Vedra Beach. The Ladies Professional Golf Association has its home offices in Daytona Beach. There are six PGA tournaments held in the state throughout the year; if that’s not enough to give you an idea of how important golf is in Florida and how important Florida is to golf, know this: Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer live in the same Orlando neighborhood.
Needless to say, finding a place to hit the links in Florida is far from a challenge. The state’s courses are almost all beautiful and challenging enough to command private membership fees. A substantial number of them are indeed private, and a good number of those are surprisingly reasonably priced. Keep in mind that at some of the better courses mentioned in this guide, tee-time reservations are not only mandatory but should be made as far in advance as possible, especially during winter in South Florida.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition