This summer, consider making a visit to one of Florida’s lesser-known destinations. There are many just a short drive away from Jacksonville, offering a refreshing change from the more common tourist attractions. Artsy, funky small towns are waiting to be discovered, old Florida charm and natural beauty beckons to be explored, and unusual, quirky sites offer a departure from the everyday. Fill up your tank, and hit the road.
Just west of Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Dunedin has been voted “The Best Little Walking Town in America” by “Walking Magazine.” It is also home to Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island, two beaches that have been rated among the best beaches in America. Dunedin has an artsy vibe in a small-town atmosphere. It is home to Florida’s oldest craft brewery, the Dunedin Brewery, and it’s the site of the annual IPA Festival, which is set for June 11.
The name Dunedin (pronounced DUNN-EE-DIN) comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The city was founded by Scots, and continues to reflect its Scottish heritage with annual Highland games and parades featuring the Dunedin Pipe Band.
Bring your bike (or rent one at Dunedin Cyclery) and ride the Pinellas Trail, a 40-mile trail that was created on a former train track. The trail bisects downtown, and extends from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
There are many dining choices in downtown Dunedin. For breakfast, grab a bagel with flavored, homemade cream cheese from Dunedin Bagels and Deli. If you’re traveling with family, Sweet Pea’s has a lush outdoor dining area with a place for the kids to play while their parents dine in relative peace. For a quick bite, The Orange Crate, located in a boxcar beside the Dunedin Museum, serves fresh grab-and-go choices. Right next to the trail, The Dip offers a menu that is completely gluten-free. Casa Tina is a longstanding local favorite for fresh, healthy, authentic Mexican food. For evening refreshments and entertainment, visit Chica Boom Room martini lounge or Blur nightclub. In addition to the venerated Dunedin Brewery, 7venth Sun Brewery and House of Beers (HOP) offer local craft brews. As a fitting end to the day, watch the sunset with a cold drink in your hand at Marker 8 On the Water.
For a taste of old Florida, head to Silver Springs State Park, home of the Silver River. Located just outside of Ocala, approximately 100 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Silver Springs was a tourist attraction long before the arrival of Disney. While floating along in a glass bottom boat tour, visitors can gaze into clear artesian spring water to see fish, flora and fauna. Glass bottom boat tours are $11 for a 30- to 45-minute ride, and reservations are not necessary.
If you’d prefer to explore on your own, rent a kayak and paddle down the Silver River, where you might spot some of the local resident rhesus macaque monkeys. The first rhesus monkeys were brought here in the 1930s during the filming of a Tarzan movie. Three pairs of monkeys were placed on a small island without considering the fact that macaques can swim. The monkeys escaped the island, and continue to thrive today in a feral colony far from their native lands of India and Asia.
Admission to the state park is $8 per car. See www.silversprings.com for more information. Visitors can make reservations for campsites and cabins in the Silver Springs State Park on Reserveamerica (www.reserveamerica.com). Hotels are also available in nearby Ocala.
Cassadaga, the psychic capital of the world, is located an hour and a half south of Jacksonville, just off I-4. Reportedly home to a “spiritual energy vortex,” this small town is a magnet for seekers of spiritual enlightenment. The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp was established in 1894, by George P. Colby on the advice of his Native American spirit guide. Today, visitors can book an appointment with a medium, get a reading or request a spiritual healing. The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp also offers tours, including a historical tour of the town on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. or a Spirit Encounters Photography Tour on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. The Spirit Encounters tour offers the opportunity to “walk through energy hot spots,” where you might possibly capture “images of energy orbs and other spiritual manifestations” with your camera. The cost for tours is $15 to $25. See www.cassadaga.org for more information.
For a more everyday connection with nature, visit Colby Alderman Park. A walking path meanders through the park and is shaded by bamboo, palm trees and stately oaks. A boat launch, picnic pavilion and children’s playground are also located on the grounds.
After your journey, whether spiritual or natural, restore your energy at the Cassadaga Hotel, a historic establishment built in 1927. Sit a spell on the wide veranda and sip a cup of coffee from the gourmet coffee bar. Located inside the hotel, Sinatra’s Ristorante offers Italian cuisine in an elegant setting. Should you decide to spend the night, be aware — the hotel is reportedly haunted. See www.cassadagahotel.net for rates and reservations.