Florida's Five Most Secret Places
|Coconut Palm Farm, Florida (iStockphoto)|
Florida has its fair share of must-visit cities: glitzy Miami, family-friendly Orlando, laid-back Key West, and metropolitan Tampa. But the Sunshine State also holds a wealth of surprises for those willing to go beyond the city limits. Here are five top spots hidden in Florida’s sub-tropical backyard.
Miami Fruit & Spice Park,
Just 35 miles south of Miami, this unusual park represents the dream of one very determined gardener. Mary Calkins Heinlein, born into a pioneer homesteading family, envisioned a park bursting with lush, local, and exotic plants to show off the state of Florida’s agricultural bounty. As the only public garden of its kind in the United States, this park has more than 500 varieties of rare fruits, herbs, spices, and nuts from around the world, including 80 banana varieties and 160 mango varieties. On your garden tour with a volunteer guide, keep one eye on the ground: Visitors are welcome to taste anything that has naturally fallen from the trees. Even if the trees aren’t dropping their fruit, you can still taste some of the park’s succulent harvest in the onsite cafe.
National Key Deer Refuge,
Big Pine Key
Most people, in their haste to get to Key West, completely miss out on seeing some of the state’s most fascinating creatures: the tiny, endangered Key deer. The National Key Deer Refuge, a 9,200-acre hunk of pine forests, wetlands, and mangroves on Big Pine Key and No Name Key, provides the much-needed free space for these miniature creatures to roam. The white-tailed deer stand only about 24 to 32 inches tall at the shoulder, which is similar in height to some large dogs. An estimated 800 Key deer live in the area today, up from only 27 when the refuge was established to protect them in 1957. The wild deer can be spotted even in the backyards of homes on the key, especially at dusk and dawn. Stop at the visitor center in the Big Pine Key Plaza for advice on where to find the deer, or head directly to Blue Hole, an old rock quarry filled with freshwater. An observation platform here looks out over the refuge, and two trails lead into the hardwood forest and wetlands.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication