Small Town Summer
While Florida may be best known to tourists for its beaches and theme parks, there is a lot more to the state. There are still small, quiet, friendly towns just begging to be discovered. They highlight the natural beauty around them and are marked by roads draped with oak trees and Spanish moss that lead to crystal-clear rivers and waterways. And to the locals, these hidden gems that give you a peek into Old Florida may be the best part of our state. Below are snapshots of three locations that will transport you back in time and prove that small doesnt mean boring.
Known as the Little Town that Time Forgot, Micanopy is both Floridas most underrated small town and it’s most famous. Located 10 minutes off I-75 15 miles south of Gainesville, Micanopy is tiny. It only has 600 residents, but it is full of Old Florida scenes and experiences. Visitors can experience the natural beauty of Florida and enjoy the charm and small-town hospitality of yesteryear through a mix of shops and parks. Micanopy invites you to slow down and enjoy the simpler pleasures of life under the shade of moss-covered oaks, in sidewalk cafes, boutiques, and antique shops, or hidden restaurants paying homage to Florida Cracker culture through great food and atmosphere.
Continuously occupied since its founding in 1821, the world was first introduced to Micanopy as the setting of Michael J. Foxs 1991 film Doc Hollywood. Almost the entire town is a historic district and many of the buildings have historical plaques, making your afternoon stroll also a history lesson. Visitors can search for a gothic cemetery or take a side trip to Cross Creek, the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park (where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author wrote The Yearling) or Paynes Prairie State Park, where you can see wild bison and horses from a 50-foot observation tower.
The crown jewel of Micanopy is the 1845 Herlong Mansion. Set far back from Cholokka Boulevard (the main road), the Herlong Mansion is meant to impress you. It has a landscaped walkway, elaborate Corinthian columns, antique and period furniture, and expansive porches on the first and second floors perfect for enjoying an afternoon drink and a good book. After all, with only about a half a dozen shops and only a few restaurants, you can explore all of Micanopy in a short amount of time, but whats the rush?
Looking for Mayberry by the sea? Then look no further than Cedar Key. This quiet, Hemingway-esque fishing island near North Central Florida is a delightful slice of Old Florida. Gloriously isolated, it is loved for its natural beauty, emerging art scene, funky tin-roofed homes, 50s-style motels, quaint shops, award-winning clam chowder, and relaxed atmosphere. In 2011, the readers of Budget Travel magazine named Cedar Key as Floridas #1 small town.
Cedar Key offers multiple options for outdoor enthusiasts, including fishing excursions, hiking trails, and sunset cruises. The Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 20,000 species of birds, luscious landscapes, and waterways peppered with mangroves. And the white-sand beaches and aqua-blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico are never more than a few feet away.
Locals are in no particular hurry to get anywhere. Most of the less than 800 residents travel by golf cart and there are no chain restaurants, grocery stores, or hotels here. In fact, most of Cedar Keys houses and stores, which are perched on stilts above the water, are dark by 10 p.m.
If you want to slow down and escape to a simpler time, Cedar Key is the place for you.
Best known for its fresh seafood, particularly oysters, Apalachicola is a small fishing village in Northwest Florida. You may come for the food, but youll fall in love with its rustic charm. With virtually no traffic or city noise, Apalachicolas more than 900 historic listings, including small cottages stained-glass churches make it a laid-back slice of Old Florida.
Nestled along a bay and river that share its name, Apalachicola highlights the natural beauty of the area and offers many options for recreation. Visitors can relax in waterfront parks, reel in the days catch on the water, hit the trails in the Apalachicola National Forest, or shop in any of the artsy boutiques downtown. But, the most charming sites in Apalachicola are on any of the side streets. Here, youll find historic, meticulously maintained homes and landscapes. Make sure to make time to try some of the locally caught seafood in one of the restaurants above the Gulf. If you time it right, you can take in an unforgettable multi-colored sunset.
Seafood, sand, surf, and sunsets. What more could you ask for?