5 Free Fun Things to do in Florida
Traveling helps me to be happy in the moment. Stopping to smell the roses and notice everything wonderful in life seems easier when you are away from regular routines. I am on a discovery search for new places and adventures. So this February, despite unseasonably warm weather in New York, I spent a week in Florida.
Honestly, I have been to Florida quite a few times. I made an effort to experience some new things on this trip and as always had some fun adventures with my travel buddy. We planned to visit some family and friends during our stay.
Visit Family – Free!
One way to have a free stay is to know someone. My friend and I stayed at my mom’s place in Bradenton, Florida. She bought a condo 7 years ago in the Heritage Harbor community. My mom met her second husband at a bereavement group after my dad passed away. Their group became very close and continued to meet every Tuesday night for 12 years. Addie and Phil got married in 2011 and had all 16 grandchildren participate in the wedding. He still has his house in New York, and she has her condo overlooking a pond and golf course in Florida. The pond is beautiful and home to many birds and even an alligator who we saw everyday. Addie and Phil are now snow birds since they come to Florida to avoid our long, cold winters and then return to New York when Florida gets too hot.
After breakfast, my friend and I tried out the gym attached to the club house and pool area. We did a few weights and heard someone shouting out instructions from a nearby room. After about 20 minutes the doors opened and a dozen fit women in their 60’s exited glowing with perspiration. It seems they had been taking a Zumba class. It appeared to be working for them! After we gave a solid effort on the machines, we left to spend the day lounging by the pool and hot tub. The pool area also has a bar and we enjoyed lunch outside from the club’s restaurant.
Robinson Preserve – Bradenton
I went on a solo adventure to the Robinson Nature Preserve. This 487 acre waterfront preserve has biking and hiking trails as well as kayaking along the river. The Osprey Loop is a 3 mile loop that is either on a packed sand trail or a boardwalk. The trail goes along Tampa Bay where the Skyway bridge is visible. I saw quite a few birds including Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Egrets, and Osprey. It was partly cloudy and 70 degrees which made for nice walking weather. It was free to park here and no cost to enjoy the preserve.
Palma Sol Botanical Park – Bradenton
This 10 acre park is also free and has a variety of different plants and fruit trees all equipped with small wooden signs labeling the flora. The park has quiet paths around three small lakes and bridges. My sister met me at the park after my hike across the street at the Robinson Preserve. She has an extensive garden in her yard and was impressed with the variety of fruit trees, however this was not the season for them to be bearing fruit. We met 2 cute little donkeys who the owner told us like to pose for photos, so I took one.
As we were heading toward the parking lot, we saw what looked like a baby Great Blue Heron who was stuck in the weeds of a pond. We located the woman who worked in the office and she called wildlife rescue. They were happy that we hadn’t tried to save the bird ourselves since a vet would be needed to see if the legs were damaged. The woman showed us a new flower that had just bloomed on the Shaving Brush Tree. My sister spotted a female cardinal and then, sure enough, I spotted a Blue Jay. I feel that Mike likes to send them to me and I usually see at least one every day. My sister said it’s unusual to see Blue Jays in Florida.
Lido Beach – St. Armands Circle- Sarasota
I drove south from Bradenton to meet up with my friend and her college roommate at Lido Beach. Parking is free at Lido beach public lot. There is a concession stand and a very short walk to the water once you step onto the sand. The waves were bigger here and some people were surfing or using their paddleboards to surf. We had lunch at a Tiki bar in a nearby hotel. The shops in St. Armands Circle are fun to browse around in, especially if you are looking for art, jewelry or warm weather fashions. The restaurants and ice cream shops are also quite popular. My only complaint would be the traffic getting to the beach during February break is really slow.
Siesta Key Beach- Sarasota
Voted the #1 Beach in the U.S.A., I made two day trips to this beach during the week. The Beach is beautiful. The walk to the water is quite long and they even have some type of rug path to make it easier for people with wheels to access the water. The sand is extremely soft and fine. The texture is a mix between sugar and flour. It sticks to your skin, but comes right off in the clear, salty gulf water. The waves were not big at all on the days that we visited. I walked 3 miles the first day and started coughing. I soon realized that quite a few people were coughing too. It seems they were experiencing “red tide”. The water looked turquoise and when I waded in I could see my feet. When the red tide is in the air people may experience respiratory irritation causing people to cough.
The second day I visited was sunnier, not so windy and very crowded. Parking is free, but the public lot was filled by 12:00 noon. We had lunch in the Siesta Key village and I enjoyed an oyster Po’ Boy at The Old Salty Dog.
After a visit like this it is interesting to think about what my plans are for the future? Can I imagine myself retiring and moving to Florida? I have family there. The beaches are nice. I could probably teach in Florida, but maybe my next chapter in life will be different. I think I could be happy renting out umbrellas or lounge chairs from a shaded cabana at the beach. I would just need to live closer to the water since the traffic seems to be an issue. Although the amenities in the gated communities are nice too. Well, I probably won’t be retiring for a few years anyway – so I’ll keep working and so that I am able to afford more travel adventures. Sounds like a plan!