Our summer vacation plans didn’t quite work out the way I had planned. While I dreamed of white, sandy beaches and the historic sites of Charleston or possibly St. Augustine, my oldest son came up with a completely different plan … he wants to see New York. This idea was welcomed with rave reviews by my younger son and husband, so I found myself completely outnumbered … and on my way to the Big Apple. And while my husband insists we’ll (try) to spend at least a day at the Jersey Shore, I’m longing for those quiet, secret beach locations we locals kept to ourselves when I lived in Florida … the little coves devoid of tourists, hotels, and brightly-painted surf shops. Stretches of beach littered with nothing but miles of seashells, hermit crabs, seagulls, and the occasional sandpiper.
First up: St. George Island State Park near Jacksonville Florida, where you can experience a maritime forest, go for a bike ride or try kayaking, or just stroll along the beautiful beach on the elusive hunt for beach glass. The more adventurous can take a guided Segway tour of the island, which is named for a fort built on the island in 1736.
Honeymoon Island State Park is a tiny gem off the coast of Dunedin, Florida. Honeymoon Island is as beautiful as its name – even though it was once known as Hog Island. Famous for slash pine forests and amazing shelling, Honeymoon Island’s natural beauty is enhanced by wildlife – especially birds, which are as plentiful as the seashells.
I love shelling, and the one place a native Floridian tries to get to at least once is Sanibel Island. From common delights to rare finds, those who visit Sanibel Island know to bring a bag (or several). I love shelling – the unusual shapes and uniqueness of each and every shell is completely worth the stiff neck from walking miles with my eyes never leaving the sand.
Lovers Key State Park is located just off the coast of Fort Myers Beach and was once only accessible by boat. Five miles of bike trails, over two miles of beaches and abundant shelling make Lovers Key State Park a great destination. Go snorkeling in the calm waters, go swimming, fishing, or just lay on the beach and soak up the sun (with sunscreen, of course).
If you prefer being in the water rather than along the shoreline, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida is the place to go. This is actually an underwater park, so get your scuba gear and head on out to enjoy the beauty of the reef. Snorkeling is also a great way to view this underwater park, or if you prefer, a glass-bottom boat will show off the marine life. There’s also an amazing aquarium – just in case you want to keep your feet on solid ground.
I’ll be heading to New York tomorrow to enjoy the museums, theaters, restaurants, and iconic sites – and while I’m sure we’ll have a great time, part of me will still be on the beach, listening to the rhythmic song of the waves as they break along the shore. Next year – I get to choose.