Florida High Five
By Chelle Koster Walton
For purchase only
Enough with the “best beaches in Florida” rankings.
Who hasn’t rated them? Top restaurants? Finest hotels? Anyone with an opinion and an audience has made a list. Florida
has a lot of fine qualities that go beyond what visitors seek. So we’re giving a “high five” today to some
of the state’s less touted characteristics -- from dive bars to yummy spa treatments.
Monkeys are THE hot new Florida motif and you see ‘em hanging
out in local bars as often as trees these days. Some places have always been about monkeys. Here are our favorite spots to
Monkey Jungle, Miami (305-235-1611): The original Florida monkey attraction, circa 1933, where
people are in cages and primates run free.
Caribbean Gardens Zoo, Naples (239-262-5409): Monkeys, gibbons, siamangs, and lemurs have their
own island here, where guests visit them by boat.
Mizner’s Monkey Bar at Boca Raton Resort, Boca Raton (561-447-3185): The first and classiest
of monkey bars recollects founder Addison Mizner’s celebrated pets, serving drinks called Hear No Evil, See No Evil,
and Speak No Evil.
Monkey Room, Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, Sarasota (941-383-6464): This newcomer deserves
mention for its whimsy value. The comical monkey mural behind the bar will have you falling off your stool BEFORE you try
The Monkey Bar, Homosassa Riverside Resort, Homosassa (352-621-5090): See real live monkeys from
this second-story bar overlooking Monkey Island, home to descendants of escapees from Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.
Susan Orleans’ true account of orchid lust, Orchid Thief, inspired the sleeper movie Adaptations starring Nicholas
Cage and Meryl Streep. The setting: Florida’s steamy corners. Steal a peek at sensuous blossoms in these places.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Everglades City (239-695-4593): Orleans sloshed through
the swamps with her unlikely hero searching for the coveted ghost orchid. You can, too, through ranger programs held in season.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota (941-366-5731). Of course, an easier, dryer way to look
at orchids is at this historic bayside home, where more than 6,000 orchids thrive in a moist rainforest setting.
International Orchid Center, Delray (561-404-2000, 877-ORCHIDS): Headquarters for the American
Orchid Society, its new greenhouse gushes orchids. It also hosts how-to classes for wannabe legit orchidteers.
Homestead: A hotbed for orchid-growing, Homestead plays a major role in Orleans’ book. Some
of her mentionable growers include R. F. Orchids, Mote Orchids, and Fennell Orchid Company, once Orchid Jungle, a longtime
tourist attraction but fatality of Hurricane Andrew.
Fairchild Tropical Garden, Miami (305-667-1651): Site of the International Orchid Festival every
Many Florida communities -- particularly the old ones -- guide
unsuspecting tourists about in the dark on fright-seeing tours, searching for ghosts and dastardly bygones. Through the decades,
we Floridians have discovered some very loveable ghosts among our spectral population. A few of our favorite haunts:
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (813-274-8981): TV parapsychologists once filmed Fink, the theatre’s
projectionist who refused to give up his job for a flimsy excuse like death.
Don CeSar Beach Resort, St. Pete Beach (727-360-1881, 800-282-1116): An aching tale of unrequited
love precipitates hand-holding sightings of the “Pink Palace’s” builder, Thomas Rowe, and the woman, Lucinda,
he was denied.
Safety Harbor Resort & Spa, Safety Harbor (727-726-1161,
800-458-5409): Developer of the mineral springs’ sanatorium here, the late, health-conscious Dr. Salem H. Baranoff
takes current displeasure in seeing salt on the table and has been known to move salt shakers.
Palace Saloon, Fernandina Beach (904-261-6320): Long-gone Uncle Charlie the bartender appears in
the original 1903 mahogany-framed mirror behind the bar. May have something to do with the powerful Pirate’s Punch.
5. Lillian Place B&B, Daytona Beach (386-323-9913): One of
Daytona’s favorite ghosts, Lucile occupies an old home on Orange Avenue where author Stephen Crane once recovered from
near-drowning, an event memorialized in his short story “The Open Boat.” The house, known through the years as
Lillian Place, opens in September as a B&B.
You adore gobbling shellfish fresh from the briny. Who can blame
you? You’ve got shellfish motives, and Florida specializes in curing the craves at these famed crustacean stations.
Apalachicola oysters: Oystermen in this antebellum town brag that their annual commercial harvest
produces enough “sliders” to cover a football field three deep.
Everglades stone crabs: Legend has it that stone crab was “invented” by a character
name of Totch Brown, the late Everglades alligator poacher and author who, along with his uncle, introduced the highly prized
shellfish to Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach, now world-renown for its specialty of the house. Everglades City is the
place to buy them fresh off the boat.
Steinhatchee scallops: Recreational scallopers scoop ‘em up by the bucketful (limits apply)
from the grass flats of Florida’s Big Bend, headquartered at fishing hamlet Steinhatchee.
Fort Myers Beach shrimp: An annual fleet-blessing and festival celebrate the succulent pink shrimp
that has provided livelihood and sustenance in these parts for generations. A waterfront boardwalk expounds on the town’s
Cedar Key clams: The climate is clammy these days in Cedar Key since the net-fishing ban has forced
fishermen into farming the bivalves, which thrive in its pristine, unpolluted waters.
Spa treatments in good taste
In Florida, spa treatments often sound good enough to eat. Local
spas transfer the good energy that bursts forth from our fauna to energize, cleanse, and replenish the human body and soul.
Tuscan Citrus Cure, The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, Orlando (800-576-5760): Grande Lakes is the
first resort on the books to have a citrus consultant on staff. As such, one of its signature treatments involve a citrus
scrub, lime shower, and vitamin C-charged massage using extracts of green mandarin and lemon, followed by a hydro soak in
a latte milk concoction and a sweet orange body wrap.
Key Lime Coconut Body Scrub, Mango Raw Sugar Body Scrub, Coffee Mocha Scrub, and Rum Molasses Waterfall,
The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne (305-365-4158): These recently unveiled treatments give new meaning to the phrase “spa
Flavor-of-the-month body scrubs, The Breakers, Palm Beach (561-655-6611, 800-833-3141): Choose
from mango, key lime, chocolate, coffee, or -- just in time for Halloween -- pumpkin spice.
Margarita Key Lime Pedicure, Little Palm Island, Torch Key (305-872-2524,
800-GET-LOST): This one you actually can taste. Sip on a key lime margarita whilst the therapist scrubs your feet and
legs with key lime juice, Dead Sea salts, and Key West Aloe’s lime soufflé.
Florida Fruit Fresh Facial, Naples Beach Hotel (239-261-2222, 800-237-7600): It’s not just
for breakfast anymore. Fresh-squeezed oj also makes a refreshing mask.
And we mean that in the most flattering way. For those who like
nothing better than hoisting a cold one in the company of locals who don’t equate bars with high heels or chinos, pull
up a stool at any of these:
Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa (813/971--0666): Local-colorful, this prime example of shack
chic serves up smoked mullet, gator ribs, black bean gator chili, and live zydeco and blues in an inimitable (ie, probably
should be condemned) old Florida setting.
Bert’s Bar, Matlacha, Pine Island (239-282-3232): Fishermen make some of the liveliest drinking
companions and here the only dress code seems to be those white rubber boots endearingly dubbed “Pine Island Reeboks.”
Great wings and water views add to the attraction.
Flora-Bama Bar, Pensacola (850-492-0611): At the intersection of Florida and Alabama, it holds
an annual Interstate Mullet Toss. Need we say more?
Woody’s, St. Pete Beach (727-360-9165): Besides fishermen and mullet-tossers, surfers can
make a hang-out gnarly and off-beat. Problem is, there’s no surf here, but there are surfboards hanging from the ceiling
and the waterside stance makes it feel appropriately Maui-esque.
Stan’s Idle Hour, Goodland (239-394-3041): Shove your fists into your armpits, flap your
elbows, and carry on like a roadkill-inflamed turkey vulture. They call it the Buzzard Lope at Sunday’s Buzzard Bash
in this funky Marco Island waterfront bar.
Okay, so some of these are touristy, but we locals slap our heels
here too when the city social mood hits.
Duval Street, Key West (305-294-2587 or 800-LAST-KEY): Iguanas on shoulders, dogs on the backs
of bike riders, street artists, and fruit vendors: once you’ve seen Duval, you’ve seen it all.
Lake Dora waterfront (352-383-2165): Between the
venerable Lakeside Inn and the end of the Palm Island boardwalk, you’ll pass antique shops, lawn bowlers dressed in
tournament whites, the world’s smallest lighthouse, fishermen, picnickers, ducks, alligators, oaks, and cypress trees.
Daytona Beach Boardwalk 386-255-0415, 800-544-0415): Kitsch but classic, the walk takes in beach
action, a mini-fair, and a 1930s bandshell.
Downtown Delray Beach (561-278-0424): One of many downtown renaissance success stories in Florida,
this stroll will get you to the Pineapple Grove Artwalk and a new Cultural Loop, in addition to sidewalk cafes and one-of-a-kind
Jacksonville’s river walks (904-798-9148, 800-733-2668): A water taxi ferries between lively
venues on both sides of the St. Johns River, where restaurants, shopping, museums, and festivals happen.
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour
dedicated to the ceremony know as afternoon tea,” wrote Henry James. You’ll get more than a caffeine buzz when
partaking at these rituals:
Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach (561-495-0233): Participate in the traditional
sado tea ceremony one Saturday each month. For the untraditional, sample delightful
green tea manju ice cream at the Cornell Café.
The Ritz-Carlton Naples (239-598-3300,
800-241-3333): All of Florida’s Ritz-Carltons put on a grand affair of afternoon tea that could make the queen
smile. Once a year at Christmas-time, the Naples property hosts a precious children’s Teddy Tea with stuffed animals
from the local Teddy Bear Museum. (In Sarasota, the Ritz often invites Barbies, rather than Teddies.) (941-309-2000, 800-241-3333)
Sisters’ Tea Room & Gallery, Perry (850-838-2021): Borrow a pair of gloves and a proper
“tea hat” from the sisters and have a seat for scones, watercress sandwiches, clove chicken puffs, carrot cake,
and other treats at this unexpected pleasure in out-of-the-way Perry. The sisters -- Sharron and Carolyn -- also sell well-chosen
collectibles and gourmet foods.
Cobblestone Gallery & Tea Room, Sarasota (941-954-4494): Order the Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth,
or Norman Rockwell tea as you gaze up at name-artist signed originals and limited edition graphic prints.
Whitehall, Palm Beach (Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, 561-655-2833): Gilded Age Tea (during season
only) recalls the days when Henry Flagler built this monument to excess and Europia.
Nothing makes an elevated statement like a sweeping staircase.
Here are some of the state’s more dramatic climbs.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Daytona Beach (386-761-1821): Florida’s highest climbable
lighthouse features 203 steps right out of Vertigo and step-into-windows where
you can rest, catch your breath, and stare at ocean and sea marsh vistas.
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (561-832-5196): In the Tsai Atrium, an enchanting stairway
wraps around itself in a free-form manner with no visible means of support, an expression of gravity-defying architecture.
Don Vicente de Ybor Inn, Tampa (813-241-6104): Built circa 1895 by Ybor City’s founder in
a clinic for cigar workers, the lobby’s original marble staircase has been restored with cherry oak rails, gilded filigree
balustrades, and an ornate mirror at the landing.
Doral Resort Spa, Miami (305-592-2000): Frankly my dear, this double circular ascent feels as elegant
as the staircase in Gone With the Wind.
5. WinterHaven Hotel, South Beach (800-395-2322, 305-531-5571):
An example of “Steamline Moderne” Art Deco architecture, its restoration brought back to life a molded steel staircase
that makes a solid flashback statement in the lobby.
West Wing, FL
Presidentially sweet throughout its history, Florida has played
both resort and office for visiting Chiefs.
Little White House, Key West (305-294-9911) Harry S. Truman’s tropical “Camp David,”
where Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter have also stayed.
2. Peanut Island, West Palm Beach (Palm Beach Maritime Museum,
561-832-7428): JFK built himself a bunker on this tiny island during the Cuban missile crisis, when he often visited the family
home on Palm Beach. Today the site holds a park and maritime museum you can visit by ferry.
Florida House Inn, Fernandina Beach (904-261-3300): Grant really did sleep here. As one of Florida’s
earliest resort towns, Victorian Fernandina Beach hosted the Yankee general with Southern hospitality at this 1857 landmark.
Tampa Bay Hotel (now the Henry B. Plant Museum, 813-254-1891): Teddy Roosevelt turned the grounds
of this ostentatious folly into barracks for his Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. From the hotel itself, officers
planned war strategy.
Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande (941-964-2201):
Both Bush presidents frequent this grande dame when they’re in town casting for tarpon rather than votes.
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