Fun and Learning in Florida!
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Florida is a family vacation playground, but the state is also steeped in centuries of history, a wide variety of vibrant ethnic groups and a wealth of astounding natural beauty. The northern part of Florida is more Southern in its mannerisms and culture, South Florida is a terrific hodge-podge of Latin verve and laid-back beach lovers, and everywhere are outstanding parks and recreation opportunities (the state parks are some of the best in the U.S. – a yearly pass is highly recommended.) Whether you're looking for arts, science, natural beauty or history, the Sunshine State just might be your ticket for a great family vacation. Here are the top 20 must-sees for family fun and learning:
1) Everglades National Park & Big Cypress National Preserve – The Everglades is 1.5 million acres of subtropical freshwater marshland that dominates South Florida. It’s the second-largest US national park after Yellowstone; take a guided canoe tour to see the best of it. Big Cypress is on the northern end of the Everglades and is easily accessible from the Oasis Visitor Center on US 41, the Tamiami Trail highway from Miami to Tampa.
2) Miami Festivals – Festival action never stops in multicultural Miami. In March, the traditional Cuban heart of the city is filled for the Calle Ocho Festival (where you may get to join the world’s largest conga line.) The Miami Children’s Museum sponsors a popular Children’s Film Festival in May, and in June the nation’s largest black heritage festival, the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival, kicks off in nearby Coconut Grove. In November the Miami Book Fair International celebrates literary delights and has a Children’s Alley, and the Junior Orange Bowl festival is stuffed with arts and sports events in late fall and into January.
3) NASA Kennedy Space Center – Visit NASA’s space shuttle launch and landing facilities at Cape Canaveral, gawk at the giant Saturn rocket, check out space flight in a simulator and sign up to meet a real astronaut!
4) Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park – This is the Cross Creek home of the author of The Yearling. Rawlings’ Cracker farmhouse near Gainesville is exactly as she left it, complete with her typewriter on the front porch as though she’d just stepped away to tend to nearby orange groves and chickens.
5) Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – Tons of interactive exhibits, an IMAX theater and planetarium make this Tampa attraction possibly the best science-related museum in Florida.
6) City of St. Augustine – The oldest European city in the US, St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is one of the few US cities with centuries of history (its downtown is a National Historic District.) The Castillo de San Marcos fort is built of local coquina shells to withstand cannon balls, and the Park Rangers wear Spanish colonial uniforms. Don’t miss the Spanish Quarter living history village, the Lightner Museum’s decorative arts, the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse and the spectacular annual Christmas lighting displays.
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