Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sunshine State Journey--a Trip through the East Central Coast of Florida

A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a trip that enabled us to, once again, explore a state that promises something around every corner. This time our excursion took us to Titusville, where we rented a very cute and comfortable VRBO. Titusville is part of what is known as the Space Coast of Florida because it is home to the Kennedy Space Center. We chose Titusville after we discovered that accommodations were a little more reasonable than they were in Daytona--the area we wanted to explore. (For those who aren't regular readers of this blog, in the past I have covered the Space Coast and the many things to do in the area. You can read all about it here. Merritt Island is not to be missed if you're a bird lover.)

When we arrived in Florida, it was rainy-- a situation that continued throughout our stay. The locals informed us that prior to our visit, the area had dealt with a lot of dry weather, so they rather welcomed it. Because of this, my pictures may seem a bit gloomy.  If I were a beach lover, we may have felt a little ripped off, but there were plenty of things to do inside, so, for us the rain wasn't as big a problem as it could have been while we were there.

The Daytona Speedway
One of the first things many visitors to Daytona like to experience is the Daytona Speedway. Located in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Speedway is a racing venue that opened in 1959 and has been the site of numerous historic moments in motorsports, including the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
Daytona Speedway Photos, Courtesy Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
The track's banking, with 31-degree turns, challenges drivers' expertise and adds an edge-of-your-seat element to the racing experience.
The Daytona International Speedway also offers guided tours, allowing fans to explore the garages, Victory Lane and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

The Museum of Arts and Sciences
Not far from the Speedway is the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS)which includes both classical and contemporary works in the form of sculpture, painting and other mediums. It's also home to interactive and educational science exhibits which cover a large range of topics. 

Within the MOAS campus is the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art celebrating Florida's landscapes and history and containing the largest private collection of Florida art in the world.

The MOAS showcases classical and contemporary works.

An exhibit I found particularly interesting was the Coke exhibit at the Root Family Museum at the MOAS. 
Vintage Coke dispensers.

Chapman Root was a Pennsylvania boy from Wayne County who moved to Terre Haute while serving as an officer and director of North Baltimore Bottle Glass Co. In early 1901, he decided to erect his own factory and did well enough in the business to buy a 160-acre silica sand mine just outside Terre Haute for glass bottle production. Soon he was competing against 11 other companies to make the Coca-Cola bottle. Root's company won the contract in 1915 and the rest is history. The Root Family Museum showcases Root's collection of Coca-Cola dispensers and memorabilia.

More vintage coke dispensers.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

About 14 miles south of Daytona is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, which beckons travelers to learn about more about seafaring mysteries of the past. The lighthouse took one-and-a-quarter million bricks to build and dates back to 1883. At 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the United States. Guests can ascend the 203 stairs for a spectacular view. and also roam the property, which is comprised of 11 additional buildings. Among them are the principal keeper's dwelling and outbuilding, the first and second assistant keeper's dwellings, a video theater where guests can watch a 20-minute film of the light station's history and its upkeep and more. Building #10 contains the Lens Exhibit Building, which is not to be missed. There guests can learn all about various lenses, including the famed Fresnal lenses made in France and a lens made by Chance Brothers and used at Ireland's Spit Bank Lighthouse--the last lighthouse to be seen by passengers aboard the Titanic.
Keepers of the lighthouse.

Taken inside the Lens Exhibit building.

Towards the rear of the property is an area shown on the map as "Coastal Hammock." I neglected to explore that territory, so when I arrived home and saw details in the brochure, I wished that I had paid more attention to the map they had given us. The "Coastal Hammock" was an area of importance to the lighthouse keepers in that it provided a source of items for their "cookpots," which included squirrel, opossum, snakes, birds, turtles, snakes and raccoons. Guests who visit are cautioned to bring bug spray since mosquitoes can be heavy during certain periods of the year.

The Marine Science Center

Located a short drive from the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is The Marine Science Center, a facility whose mission is to educate the public on marine education, rehabilitation and conservation. When we visited, I had the opportunity to pet a stingray and now if people ask me what that feels like, I can tell them slimy velvet. 
Guests can pet the Stingrays, which feel like slimy velvet.

The small facility doesn't take long to tour and visitors can view aquariums housing marine creatures and also enjoy the nature trails surrounding the facility. A priority for the center is sea turtle rehabilitation and guests can view the turtles and learn about the rehabilitation process. 

Frank toddles around in the recovery tank. 

Vero Beach
Next up was a trip to Vero Beach, which was over two hours to the south, but an area definitely worth seeing. It boasts beautiful unspoiled beaches along the Atlantic and features boutique shops for blocks. We're already thinking about staying in the area on a future visit.

Our first stop in Vero Beach was McKee Botanical Garden, a lush, tropical oasis that spans 18 acres of lovely, landscaped grounds containing a collection of tropical plants, palms and flowering trees. 
Water features include ponds, streams and water lily displays. The destination dates back to 1929 and was one of Florida's earliest attractions. 

An owl keeps a watchful eye over the gardens.

A unique bench to rest and observe.

Those with kids in tow might be interested to learn that McKee has a dedicated Children's Garden to engage the little ones in learning about and interacting with flora and fauna.

This cool, steampunk-looking telescope/planter enables visitors to see plants close up.

A giant mushroom.

The walk through McKee is beautiful and serene and on the November day when we visited, few people were around due to a threatening storm. Thankfully, we were able to take in the entire experience before the downpour.

The Vero Beach Museum of Art

The entrance to the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Next, we visited the Vero Beach Museum of Art where the work of M.C. Escher was front and center. The temporary exhibit runs through the end of December and explores the graphic artist's mathematically inspired work. Escher lived from 1989 to 1972 and one of his most famous pieces titled "Drawing Hands" was among the collection. Note for left-handers--Escher was one.

One of Escher's more famous works called "Drawing Hands."

Another one that stood out to me was "Three Spheres," a study of reflective surfaces. 

In "Three Spheres" Escher studied reflective surfaces.

In addition to the Escher exhibit, the Vero Beach Museum of Art features a collection of American, Asian and contemporary pieces. It also offers programs for children, adults and families which include art classes, workshops, lectures and gallery talks. While we were there, a classroom of children were being led by a guide who was educating them on the background of the Dutch artist and his many works of art.

The Treasure Museum
Our last stop was the McClarty Treasure Museum north of Vero Beach, which is run by the Florida State Park system.  It displays artifacts from the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet, offering an educational experience for those interested in exploration and underwater archaeology.

The 1715 Fleet, which was battered by a hurricane, was comprised of about a dozen merchant ships carrying cargoes of gold and silver from the American colonies to Spain. About 1500 men, women and children who survived the disaster made their camp at the site where the Treasure Museum stands now.
A docent stands at the ready to greet visitors and explain the story of the survivors and what has been discovered at the site over the years.

A recreation of an encampment erected by the survivors.

Artifacts found after an archeological dig.

Governor General Corcoles ended up sending a relief party to assist the stranded individuals and also recover the cargo.

At the end of the tour, visitors can climb to a lookout point outside to get a view of what the victims may have beheld. On the day we visited, the weather was threatening, so it wasn't hard to imagine how it may have appeared all those years ago.
Visitors can climb a hill to a lookout point at the end of the tour.

Well, that's about it for this blog entry. What may be surprising is that we did all this in a period of four days. Although it included quite a bit of driving, it did expose us to new and different destinations in a state that is just brimming with things to experience.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Exploring Historic St. Augustine

Last month I wrote about the St. Augustine, Florida region as an alternative to Disney World where I highlighted destinations that can be particularly enjoyable for families. This month I'm going in a different direction by pointing out places adults are more apt to appreciate.

Remarkable Museums

Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum was once home to the Hotel Alcazar.

You can't tour St. Augustine without learning about Henry Flagler. Flagler is something of a celebrity in St. Augustine. The American industrialist founded Standard Oil and has been described as a key figure in the development of Florida's Atlantic Coast. If that's not impressive enough, he was also responsible for founding both Palm Springs and Miami.

If not for Flagler, the Lightner Museum located at 75 King Street would not exist. The imposing structure was once home to the Hotel Alcazar, which was commissioned by Flagler to appeal to wealthy tourists who traveled south for the winter on his railroad. (Yes, Flagler also owned a railroad, which was completed in 1912 and known as the 8th wonder of the world at the time.) The Hotel Alcazar was designed by New York City architects Carrier and Hastings in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style. The talented architects also designed the New York Public Library and the former Ponce De Leon Hotel, which is located across the street from the Lightner Museum and is now part of Flagler College.

The hotel shuttered its doors in 1932 and was sold later to Chicago Publisher Otto C. Lightner in 1947, who converted it into a place to store his collection of Victorian art. In 1948, Lightner turned the museum over to the city of St. Augustine.

The first floor of the Lightner Museum, known as the Victorian Science and Industry Room, displays rocks, shells and minerals, Native American artifacts, examples of Victorian glassblowing and mechanized musical instruments dating from the 1870s through the 1920s.

mechanized music makers

The mechanized musical instrument room displays artifacts dating from the 1870s to the 1920s.

glass steam engine
The Excelsior dates back to 1850 and was a working glass steam engine.

The piece above is called the Excelsior. The working, glass steam engine was featured in exhibitions throughout the Northeast and was included in P.T. Barnum's first museum. It dates back to 1850 and was blown by William H. Allen, a master scientific glass blower.

The second floor contains cut glass, Victorian art glass and stained-glass work from Louis Comfort Tiffany's studio and others.

Tiffany stained glass
St. Augustine, by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The third floor of the Lightner Museum contains sculpture, paintings and furniture.

Carerra marble statue
"Young Girl Crocheting," 1889, Carrera Marble, signed by Ella Pollock Bidwell.

carved teak chairs with mother-of-pearl inlary
Carved teak with mother-of-pearl inlay from the Arabian Peninsula, ca. 1880.

Mahogany and mother-of-pearl table
Mahogany, Mother of Pearl, 1920.

Viewable from the upstairs balcony is the drained swimming pool of the Hotel Alcazar, which now serves diners as the Cafe Alcazar.

Former swimming pool at the hotel Alcazar
Visitors of the Lightner Museum dine in what was once a swimming pool at the Hotel Alcazar.

Another museum worth visiting is the Villa Zorayda Museum, also located on King Street. Built in 1883 by a Boston Hardware Merchant and amateur architect by the name of Franklin Webster Smith, the museum was inspired by Spain's Alhambra.  The Villa Zorayda served Smith as a residence for 20 years before the building was leased and transformed into a social club in 1913 by Lebanon immigrant Abraham Mussallems.  
Villa Zorayda sign

In the 1920s, the club became a gambling casino and speakeasy before the Mussallems                            began using it as their private residence. In 1933, the couple decided to share the priceless antique collection with the public by opening it as a museum, which has been maintained by the family for more than a century now.
Zorayda Room
The first room guests see upon arrival.

The museum today features the antique collection of the original owner, Franklin Webster Smith and that of the Mussellems. In 1993, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

brass heater

Zoyarda overview

Zorayda room

Harem room at the Zorayda
The Harem Room 
Pictured above is the Harem Room, which originally served as a second story porch in Franklin Smith's original design. Its name was inspired by a window which enabled residents to peek outside, but prevented strangers from seeing inside.

Roulette wheel at the Zorayda
A 1920s roulette wheel reminds visitors that the museum was once a casino.

Zorayda room

One of the most interesting antiquities in the Villa Zorayda is a 2,400-year-old cat rug taken from an Egyptian tomb, which guests are prohibited from photographing. 

Prepare to allot approximately 45 minutes for the self-guided audio tour. 

A different type of museum the whole family can enjoy is the St. Augustine Light House and Maritime Museum, which is run by a non-profit whose mission is to preserve the stories of the nation's oldest port. 
At. Augustine lighthouse

Guests who visit will to learn more about the lighthouse keeper's job, which included carrying oil up 219 steps to the top. A total of eight landings are available for visitors to catch their breath and read more about the popular structure that is depicted on many souvenirs in the St. Augustine area.

St. Augustine lighthouse interior
Photo courtesy of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

The learning experience continues with shipwreck artifacts, WWII-era structures and an exhibit called "At Home with the Harns," which focuses on the life of a lighthouse keeper's family in the 1880s. An interactive exhibit enlightens both adults and children on school activities and games that were popular during the period.

View of the Keeper's House from inside the tower (courtesy of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum).

Guests are also invited to stroll the grounds, which feature a butterfly garden, a shipyard play area and nature trails. 

The Old Jail

If you wish to tour a museum documenting a darker past, there's the Old Jail Museum located at 167 San Marco Avenue. The jail is tucked into the same area as a few other destinations, like the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and the Oldest Store Museum, both of which I wrote about last month.

The reason I didn't add the old jail to the family activity blog post is because the facts can be very disturbing, but for older children this may not be a problem. A guide dressed like a prisoner tells graphic stories about the inmates and the conditions in which they were held.  The jail was in operation from 1891 to 1953 and at least eight prisoners were hanged there. Visitors can view the gallows outside before moving into the structure itself to see the living quarters of approximately 72 prisoners. 

Sheriff Perry at the Old Jail in St. Augustine
Lifesize depiction of Sheriff Joe Perry 

Stool pigeon at the Old Jail in St. Augustine
A tourist "stool pigeon " gets put in the cage.

The guide relates the story of the huge, sadomasochistic Sheriff Joe Perry who took delight in subjecting the prisoners to the worst conditions possible. What I found particularly interesting was that Perry was the son of a Baptist minister. One would expect the man to have more empathy, but not old Perry. According to our guide, the prisoners were used as free farm laborers during the day and returned to the jail at night where the Florida heat was practically unbearable in such close quarters and where air conditioning was but a dream.

Room in the old jail in St. Augustine
More than a few prisoners were usually contained within a small room.

The few female prisoners (about a dozen at any one time) were raped and forced to cook and clean in between. 
Sheriff's room at the old jail in St. Augustine
The Sheriff's Office.

According to records, inmates lasted about two years, before dying from maladies like infection, malnutrition and violence.  

Sheriff Joe Perry at the old jail in St. Augustine
The tall, hulking Joe Perry looks down upon his kingdom.

Today, people share stories of hauntings in the Old Jail, like Sim Jackson, who was hanged in 1908 after murdering his wife with a straight razor. Charlie Powell is also said to roam the grounds. He was thrown in the facility for beheading a man who spread rumors about his wife. Guests who want the opportunity to experience things that go bump in the night can sign up to take a night tour called the Ghosts and Graveyards tour.

Day tours are held every 20 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

Ponce de Leon statue at Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is located at the site of St. Augustine's original settlement. Here guests will receive an education on both the Spanish settlers who arrived in the 1500s and the Native Americans  known as the Timucua. 

Fountain of youth drinker
My husband drinks from the "Fountain of Youth."

Exhibits include a 30-foot-high Discovery Globe illustrating the routes of the explorers who traveled to the New World, along with a Navigators' Planetarium where guests can learn more about the navigational tools used by those early explorers. Also onsite is a reconstructed Timucuan Village and a reconstructed mission called the Mission of Nombre de Dios, now recognized as the first Catholic mission established in the United States and built in 1587 by Franciscan Friars. The Mission was built on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth, discovered through an archeological dig and then recreated on the site where it once stood.  

Beautiful peacocks freely roam the grounds and boy do they make a racket!

Also located onsite is a blacksmith exhibit, beautiful peacocks that freely roam the grounds and, of course, "The Fountain of Youth." Having worked as a water judge, of course I have to remark upon the water I tasted. It smelled slightly of sulfur and tasted a bit metallic. My husband may have gone back for seconds. We're still waiting for it to work its magic. 

Mission de Nombre Dios
The Mission of Nombre de Dios.

The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Set Sail on a Sunset Cruise

St. Augustine sunrise
The sun sets near the Mission Nombre de Dios

Before leaving St. Augustine, we made it a point to set sail on a Sunset Cruise and the photo of the sunset alone was worth it. The 90-minute, adults only cruise aboard the Osprey was a relaxing way to view various landmarks like the Mission Nombre de Dios (the Big Cross), the Bridge of Lions that spans the Intracoastal Waterway, the St. Augustine bayfront and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.


St. Augustine lighthouse

beach at St. Augustine


Good Eats
Kingfish Grill in St. Augustine
The Kingfish Grill offers beautiful harbor views.

The Kingfish Grill is located within steps of the Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor and many patrons dine there before taking the sunset cruise. The restaurant offers fresh, delicious food and a beautiful view of the harbor. If you enjoy sushi, this is the place to be. I ordered a spicy tuna roll and it was the best I'd ever had. 


Conveniently located hotels with comfortable accommodations include The Ponce, The Flagler Inn and the Beachers Lodge Oceanfront Suites.

The Ponce, located at 111 N. Ponce de Leon Blvd., is a comfortable option, with standard rooms containing two queen-sized beds, an outdoor pool and free internet access.
The Ponce Hotel
The Ponce Hotel 

The Flagler Inn, located at 2700 Ponce de Leon Blvd., is a boutique-style inn, with an onsite Mexican restaurant. The Inn is a good choice for families and all rooms contain a microwave, a coffee maker and a refrigerator. Free continental breakfasts are served each day.

Room at Flagler Inn
A double queen room at the Flagler Inn.

The Beachers Lodge Ocean Front Suites located on Crescent Beach, touts rooms that overlook the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to ocean views, the units all have private patios and/or balconies and kitchenettes making it yet another good choice for families.

These are just a few suggestions can help you jumpstart your vacation to the oldest city in the United States. St. Augustine is quaint, full of history and offers something new and unique around every corner.