The following first appeared as part of Live & Play, a special section in the June issue of Military Officer magazine. The magazine is available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more and access the digital edition here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)
By Christina Wood
Each region of the Sunshine State has its own appeal. Northwest Florida, stretching from Pensacola to Apalachicola, mixes Gulf Coast breezes with Southern charm and a dash of outdoor adventure for the whole family.
The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola has a vast collection of military aircraft and artifacts. From March through November, you can catch the Blue Angels practicing.
With a pristine beach and shimmering dune lake, Grayton Beach State Park includes four miles of trails snaking through a salt marsh, rolling dunes, and a coastal forest.
Fort Pickens, which sits on the tip of Santa Rosa Island, is the largest of five brick forts built to defend coastal Florida after the War of 1812. Built with slave labor, the fort was in use in some form until 1947.
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North Central Florida, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee, offers opportunities to enjoy the state’s undeniable natural beauty. Troy Spring State Park, on the banks of the Suwannee River, is home to a 70-foot-deep spring where you can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive. The remains of a Civil War-era steamboat can be found in the shallow waters of the spring.
National Geographic Adventure and Forbes give Gainesville high marks for livability. The city is best known as the home of the University of Florida Gators, but it also offers museums, theaters, 30-plus miles of biking and hiking trails, and access to seven area state parks.
Cedar Key has lovely beaches, fishing, art festivals, and peaceful natural preserves. Houses and stores perch above the Gulf of Mexico on stilts, and just offshore, the untouched islands of Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge offer sanctuary for birds.
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Northeast Florida includes Jacksonville, home to the Florida Theatre, which pays homage to the glamour of the 1920s. It now hosts hundreds of concerts and performances every year. The Ritz Theatre, also built in the 1920s, was where African Americans went to see movies, and it’s now a museum dedicated to the city’s African American heritage.
More than 300 years old, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. and the oldest surviving structure in St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers. It’s the oldest continuously inhabited settlement established by Europeans in the country.
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is held in downtown Fernandina Beach, which lays claim to being the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry.
Sponsored Content: Just outside Jacksonville and an hour north of St. Augustine, Atlantic Beach, Fla., offers ready access to the beaches, parks, and history of northeast Florida. Explore life at Fleet Landing, where the social culture reflects its military roots while expanding to encompass retirees from all occupations. Fleet Landing offers a vibrant lifestyle with luxurious amenities, a wide range of fulfilling wellness activities, gated 24-hour security, and homes and apartments to fit every lifestyle. Independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory support are on campus, with Mayo Clinic nearby. Fleet Landing is an accredited, nonprofit CCRC in northeast Florida, just minutes from the beach. Interested? Learn more here.
Central West Florida includes the urban attractions of Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg, but it also has natural appeal. The mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park have been entertaining audiences since 1947. The park features a 400-seat submerged theater where visitors can see them perform in the clear waters of one of the state’s warm springs.
In the 1880s, Ybor City was home to some of the world’s most famous cigar factories. Today, visitors to the National Historic Landmark District can wander brick-paved streets, sip café con leche at a sidewalk café, and explore nightlife.
Central Florida is home to Orlando’s theme parks and much more. Ocala is the heart of Florida’s horse country. One of the world’s leading centers for thoroughbred breeding and training, the region has produced six Kentucky Derby winners and 20 Breeders’ Cup champions.
The world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany can be found at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park.
Sponsored Content: Sun City Center, Fla., affords easy access to shopping, beaches, performing arts, sports arenas, the airport, MacDill AFB, and VA health care. Nestled on a 140-acre nature preserve in Sun City Center is Freedom Plaza, a continuing care retirement community for those who choose to pursue their dreams in an engaging environment with the added peace of mind knowing that, if needed, health care is available on site. Enjoy golf on our own Freedom Fairways, tennis, or pickleball, or join one of the many other outdoor activities offered. Residents have priority access to fully staffed health care centers on campus. There is a safety net of services and support offered through our comprehensive health care centers, including skilled nursing, rehab, assisted living, and memory care. Learn more at FreedomPlaza.com.
Central East Florida is a launch pad for adventure. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex celebrates Florida’s role in the country’s space program, from NASA’s pioneering missions to the ongoing launch of private spacecraft.
Since the hard sands of Daytona Beach first attracted race car drivers in the early 1900s, Daytona has been synonymous with speed. Today, races are held at the Daytona International Speedway.
Lake Okeechobee is one of the country’s premier freshwater fishing destinations. The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, a 109-mile path around the lake, is great for biking and hiking.
Big Cypress Swamp is so wild that ghost orchids and Florida panthers are undisturbed. The Big Cypress National Preserve celebrates the region’s culture once a year during the Swamp Heritage Festival.
Southeast Florida is where the action is. You don’t have to party ’til dawn to enjoy South Beach, though. Take a tour and explore the area’s signature architecture instead. The South Beach Art Deco District includes more than 800 protected buildings.
Gilded Age tycoon Henry Flagler built Whitehall, a glorious mansion in Palm Beach, as a wedding present for his wife. Today, it’s open to the public.
The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West for more than 10 years. His former home is now a museum and his favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s, now hosts an annual Hemingway look-alike contest that never fails to attract an abundance of white-haired men with bushy beards.
Live & Play State Listing
- Live and Play: Alabama
- Live and Play: Arizona
- Live and Play: Arkansas
- Live and Play: California
- Live and Play: Florida
- Live and Play: Georgia
- Live and Play: Maryland
- Live and Play: Nevada
- Live and Play: North Carolina
- Live and Play: Oregon
- Live and Play: Pennsylvania
- Live and Play: South Carolina
- Live and Play: Texas
- Live and Play: Utah
- Live and Play: Virginia
- Live and Play: Washington