Exploring the “Real Florida”

Hello again from Florida,

Wherever you are, I hope you are all staying warm as we battle the cold that seems to have taken over our country.  We are currently in Florida and have also struggled with the cold.  The last few mornings we have woken to temperatures in the 20’s.  I know that may seem like a heat wave to most of you but certainly not what we were expecting while in Florida.

When planning this trip we decided to go in a different direction than most would go when traveling to Florida in the winter months.  Prior to this trip we have been to the Keys and spent time walking on the white sand beaches of the lower portion of the state.  On this trip, we decided to explore what is called by many “the real Florida”  After being in this region for a couple of weeks we have decided that Florida might as well be two different states as different as the regions are.  The northern region of the state is swampier and marshy with towering cyprus trees and tall palms.  It is much more desolate than the rest of Florida.  What we are impressed with is the wildlife that we have seen in this region.

When we departed Savannah in mid December, we woke to temps in the low 40’s with bone chilling rain.  We packed the trailer hoping for the weather to turn as we traveled South.  We arrived in St. Augustine a few short hours later and we felt like we drove right into July.  The sun was shining and it was 80 degrees.  Although the temperatures were above average we were happy to rid ourselves of sweatshirts and dig out our shorts.  We stayed at a lovely state park just a few miles outside of St Augustine.  Anastasia state park is on the ocean and we spent the next several days enjoying walking the beach, eating taco’s at roadside stands and enjoying the lovely, although somewhat touristy town of St Augustine.  St. Augustine is the oldest town in the US, founded in 1565 by the Spaniards.  It had a very European feel and with the warm temperatures, if we closed our eyes we were able to imagine we were walking down a side street in some small town in Spain.

From St. Augustine, we arrived at Paynes Prairie Preserve outside of Gainesville.  The prairie was a surprise to us.  When I think  of prairies I envision the prairies out west with prairie dogs and tumbleweeds.  The prairie in Florida is rich and vast with a peaceful feeling and a variety of wildlife.  Paynes Prairie is worth a stop of you are traveling 75 South, it is located right outside of Gainesville and easily accessible from the highway.  We saw a large variety of birds as well as alligators, eagles, a band of wild horses, wild pigs, turtles, deer and armadillos.  There is also a herd of buffalo on the prairie but for all the miles we hiked, they eluded us.

From Paynes Priaire we headed to Salt Springs Park in the  Ocala National Forest  The weather had changed when we arrived at the park and so we opted to not swim in the springs.  Although the water temperatures stay consistent at 71 degrees year round it was still a little chilly for us.  There were a few brave souls that swam and were able to see manatee.  We were in search of manatee so we headed to Manatee State Park.  This park did not disappoint in our search.  Manatee SP  also has hot springs and the manatee were in the springs to take advantage of the warm water and weather.  The first day from the boardwalk we were able to see a pod of 7 manatee.  They are slow, gentle and very large so it’s not difficult to miss them.  The following day we rented a canoe and paddled around a pod of them.  It’s a little unnerving to be in a canoe with a 12 foot, 2000# mammal swimming under your boat.

During our stay we celebrated Jeff’s birthday in Cedar Key.  We found a great little bar to celebrate and as a bonus watch the Michigan game.  Cedar Key is a funky little town that has the charm of the lower keys but not all the tourist.  It’s definitely worth a stop if you are on the Gulf side of the state.

The following day we again went into Cedar Key and met Jeff’s fellow CFL members, Mac and Nita and enjoyed great conversation and the best clam chowder that we have ever had at Tony’s restaurant.

From Manatee we made the big turn and headed West.  We are currently at Florida Cavern’s state park outside of Tallahassee.  Yesterday, I toured the caves which were really interesting.  Today we will do some hiking and get ready for our departure tomorrow which will take us back to the white sandy beaches of the Gulf.

We have enjoyed our time in the “wild”  but we are ready to get back to the pavement of the city streets.  We are looking forward to exploring Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, Austin and San Antonio in the next few weeks.

We hope that you are all doing well, and that you are staying warm and that your New Year has gotten off to a fantastic start.

Loving our life living in Valhalla and still chasing 70 degrees!

Happy New Year!

Erin and Jeff


11 thoughts on “Exploring the “Real Florida”

  1. So happy to have caught up with you two.
    I will be waiting and watching for more updates.
    I love reading your blogs and looking at all the pictures .
    Safe travels.


    1. Hi Pat,
      I’m glad you were able to catch up with us. So far, the trip is going along nicely. We are currently in Santa Rosa Beach on the Gulf in the Florida panhandle. Tomorrow we will move an hour north and leave the gulf behind us for the next week or so.
      I hope you and Tom are staying warm in Michigan.


  2. Beautiful photos! We went to several of these cities when we did our explore a couple of years ago. We kind of liked Tallahassee, the live oak trees and surprisingly hilly terrain were so unlike the Florida we had known. Heading west along 30A? You’ll get a kick out of the Airstream food trucks in Seaside, FL. Thanks for sharing your adventure!


    1. Celine, We are only a short bike ride away from Seaside. We saw the Airstream food trucks yesterday and it’s on our list this week to ride back and enjoy some good food truck food. We didn’t see much of Tallahassee as our campsite was 70 miles away and there was an ice storm the morning we were traveling. We camped at Caverns State Park and it was a much nicer park that we have been in recently. Felt a little like Michigan with forest rather than palms.


  3. As usual, thanks for the report. And thanks for all the gorgeous photos. They are splendiferous. Hope you are successful in finding and following warmer temperatures. If so, please send some north. Look forward to your next report.


    1. So glad you enjoyed my state. As a 6th generation Floridian living in another part of the world, I was so glad to see the parts of the state you have shared. Been to salt springs hundreds of times, but always thot the water was cold. We use to crab in salt springs… lots of blue crab used to be there even though way inland and fresh water. Cedar key has always been a favorite place for sea food and art. Thank you for sharing!


      1. Jerri,
        Glad we could take you down memory lane. I didn’t know you were a Floridian. We are currently on Santa Rosa beach on the emerald coast and will be here for the next week. The Gulf is really beautiful, with a different feel than the Atlantic.


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