No need to empty your wallet. Here are the top 21 ways to enjoy the Sunshine State without shelling out the big bucks. The most expensive item is only $10.
See the Boys of Spring (Statewide): Although Florida has the big-league Florida Marlins in Miami and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in St. Petersburg, the whole state goes baseball crazy during spring training from mid-February through March. Great seats close to the action are a bargain compared to what you'll pay when the Boys of Spring get home.
Experience Cuba on U.S. Soil (Miami): Stroll down Little Havana's Calle Ocho, 8th Street, to get a flavor of Hispanic culture. Stop at Versailles, an iconoclastic, gaudy Cuban diner humming with old-timers reminiscing about pre-Castro Cuba, local politicos trying to appease them, and a slew of detached people only there for the fantastically cheap and authentic Cuban fare. Watch expert cigar rollers make handmade stogies at one of the many cigar factories. Overlook the purely American fast-food joints in favor of a much more flavorful Little Havana bodega.
Relish the View from Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park: You haven't truly seen South Florida until you've checked out the view from the southern point of Key Biscayne. Whether it's the turquoise water or the sight of Stiltsville -- seven still-inhabited aquatic cabins dating back to the 1930s, perched smack in the middle of the Biscayne Channel -- it may take a little coercing to get you to leave.
Everglades National Park: Unfettered by jet skis, cruise ships, and neon thong bikinis, the Everglades are Florida's outback, resplendent in its swampy nature, which is best explored via an airboat that can navigate its way through the most stubborn of saw grass, providing you with an up-close and personal view of the land's inhabitants, from alligators and manatees to raccoons and Florida panthers.
Drive along A1A: This oceanfront route, which runs north up from Miami Beach, through Sunny Isles and Hollywood, and on along the entire eastern edge of Florida, embodies the essence of the state. Especially in South Florida, where you'll discover time-warped hotels steeped in Art Deco kitsch alongside multi-million-dollar modern high-rises, A1A is one of the most scenic, albeit heavily trafficked, roads in all of Florida.
Eye the Estates on Palm Beach: The winter playground for the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous set, Palm Beach is lined with jaw-dropping palatial estates, including the biggest one, which belongs to -- who else -- Donald "You're Fired" Trump. While many of them are hidden behind towering shrubbery, head south on South County Road, from Brazilian Avenue, where you will see some of the most opulent homes ever built. Make sure someone holds the steering wheel if you're driving, because you will do a double-take.
Catch the "Green Flash" at Sunset (Key West & the Gulf Coast Beaches): Key West and the beaches of Southwest Florida and the Tampa Bay area face due west, thus providing glorious sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and a chance to see the elusive "green flash" -- a quick burst of green light just as the top of the sun dips below the horizon. It costs not a cent to wander down to the shore and keep a sharp eye peeled. Or for a few bucks, grab a drink from a beachside restaurant or Gulf-front bar.
Walk or Ride Along Wildlife Drive (Sanibel Island): The mangrove swamps, winding waterways, and uplands of Sanibel Island's J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 239/472-1100) are great places to see alligators, raccoons, otters, and hundreds of species of birds. You can see many of the creatures from the 5-mile, one-way Wildlife Drive, which costs $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian or biker. A naturalist will explain what you're seeing on a 2-hour narrated tram tour -- a very good value at $8 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under.
Stoop for Shells (Sanibel Island): Okay, you'll have to pay a $3 toll to get here and a small fee to park your car (or lock your bike to a tree for nothing), but you can stroll Sanibel Island's world-famous shelling beaches as long as you want for free. After a few hours hunched over in the "Sanibel stoop," you're sure to go home with a prize find or two.
Stroll Among the Millionaires (Naples): Olde Naples residents love to stroll out on their ancient city pier to fish, catch a sunset, or look at Millionaires' Row, a string of magnificent mansions along the town's lovely beach. Now a state historic site, the pier is open 24 hours a day and is free, although it will cost you a few quarters to park in the nearby municipal lots. When you're done ogling the wealthy from the Naples Pier, you can walk among them while window-shopping in the ritzy 3rd Street district nearby. Naples is so Midwestern-friendly that nobody will care if you maxed out your credit cards just to get here.
Walk, Jog, Bike, or Blade Along Bayshore Boulevard (Tampa): A 7-mile promenade with an unmatched view across the bay to Tampa's downtown skyline, Bayshore Boulevard reputedly has the world's longest continuous sidewalk. It's a favorite for runners, joggers, walkers, and in-line skaters. The route passes stately old homes of Hyde Park, a few high-rise condos, retirement communities, and houses of worship before ending at Ballast Point Park.
Trip Out in Sideshow and Psychic Towns (Gibsonton and Cassadaga): Who needs $10 a minute 1-900 numbers when you can walk around Cassadaga for free and get a look into the past and future? The small town near Orlando is a throwback in time but also a look ahead into your future if you encounter one of the many psychic mediums who live and work in this tiny 'psychic' town. Although private readings with psychics cost big bucks, there's always someone roaming the streets or hanging out in the general store who will be happy to give you a thought or two for free or for a penny. It's all definitely freaky. In Gibsonton, you'll see a freak show of a literal nature, as it's the home to many a retired circus acts and carnies, including the late Lobster Boy, and a living bearded lady or two.
See What Circus Money Bought (Sarasota): Adults pay $9 or $10 to get in, but you'll have three "rings" to visit at the FSU Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts in Sarasota (tel. 941/359-5700, or 941/351-1660 for recorded information), which houses the phenomenal collections of circus master John Ringling. A pink Italian Renaissance villa is filled with over 500 years of European and American art, including one of the world's most important collections of grand 17th-century baroque paintings. The Ringling's 30-room winter residence displays their personal mementos. And the Circus Galleries are devoted to memorabilia from The Greatest Show on Earth.
Visit a Virtual Stepford Town (Celebration): There was no need for a remake of the '70s classic, The Stepford Wives, especially considering that there's a similarly eerie town in Orlando known as Celebration. A planned community to the max, this pristine, picket fenced in Victorian-style utopian town has rules on everything from proper porch decor to car etiquette. Enter at your own risk.
Search for the Fountain of Youth (St. Augustine): Ponce de León never found it and some say that today, Botox is the real fountain of youth, but a stroll through the nation's oldest town may give you new perspective on the inevitable and positive effects of aging. You'll have to pay a few dollars to enter sites such as the oldest store and the oldest jail, but you can freely stroll these narrow streets for hours. Poke your head into antiques shops, peer into lush yards surrounding ancient buildings, and watch the boats out on the Matanzas River.
Visit a New Breed of National Park (Jacksonville): The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve isn't one chunk of land; instead, it's a vast, intriguing system of sites on both sides of the St. Johns River. The prime attraction is the Fort Carolina National Memorial (tel. 904/641-7155), the site of a 16th-century French Huguenot settlement. It's on the edge of the 600-acre Theodore Roosevelt Area, a beautiful, undisturbed wood- and marshland rich in history and wildlife. On the north side of the river, the Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation (tel. 904/251-3537) was an early 19th-century manse owned by Zephaniah Kingsley, a white man who married one of his slaves and then moved her and his family to Haiti to escape racism at home. Admission is free to all the park's attractions.
Walk the Streets of a Charming Victorian Town (Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island): Amelia Island might be an exclusive, money-on-the-hoof kind of place, but you need not a penny to stroll around the gorgeous 50-block area of bayside Fernandina Beach. This charming small town is filled with so many Victorian and Queen Anne homes that it's listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Massage your Feet on a Talcum-Like Beach (Northwest Florida): Admission is free to most of 100-plus miles of powdery, snow-white beaches that make the Panhandle special. And just a few bucks will let you into the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Pensacola, the Henderson Beach and Grayton Beach state recreation areas at Destin, the St. Andrews State Recreation Area at Panama City Beach, and St. George Island State Park near Apalachicola. You won't soon forget the time you spend on these protected sands and dunes, all consistently ranked among the nation's finest beaches.
Imagine Yourself Under Five Flags (Pensacola): You'll have to pay to go into its homes and museums, but there's no admission to walk the streets of Historic Pensacola Village (tel. 850/595-5985). The original part of Pensacola resembles a shady English colonial community, but America's second oldest city saw the flags of five nations fly over its quaint streets. Some of Florida's oldest homes are here, along with charming boutiques and interesting restaurants. During summer, costumed characters go about their daily chores and demonstrate old crafts, and archaeologists unearth the old Spanish commanding officer's compound.
Visit the Blue Angels & Top Guns (Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach): Next to the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the next best places to see our nation's warplanes on display are at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola (tel. 850/452-3604) and at the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum in Fort Walton Beach (tel. 850/882-4062). Admission to both is free. They cost a few dollars, but the naval museum's IMAX films will make you believe you're flying in a Blue Angel's cockpit.
See Where Johnny Weissmuller Played Tarzan (Tallahassee): Wakulla Springs, 15 miles south of Tallahassee, is so jungly that some of the 1930s Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller were filmed here. Today they are within the 2,860 acres of Edward W. Ball Wakulla Springs State Park (tel. 850/224-5950), which means you'll have to pay a few dollars to get in. You can also pay $4.50 for adults, half price for children, to take glass-bottom-boat sightseeing and wildlife-observation tours. You can swim in the lake formed by the springs, but watch for alligators!
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