Archive for September, 2012

Florida Paddling Day… This Saturday, October 6!

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved getting into a canoe or kayak and heading out on rivers like the Ichetucknee and Wekiva and on lakes like Maitland and Osceola and just… paddling. It’s as close to nature as you can get, and it’s something that everyone should experience.

If you haven’t yet, then Oct. 6  is a fine day to start.

This Saturday is Florida Paddling Day, as designated by members of the Florida Professional Paddlesports Association (don’t worry, I didn’t know there was one, either). Now that I do, you can bet I’m going to write tons more about it. This is a statewide network of professional paddlesport outfitters and retailers whose mission is to promote paddling in Florida.

What a great idea. And what great timing. October is when people all over the state look forward to heading outdoors to savor the refreshing autumn weather. Best of all you can set sail on a paddle board, innertube, canoe, kayak or anything that floats your boat.

For more information about this day and the ‘Splash Mobs’ that will create flotillas across Florida, visit

Continue reading Florida Paddling Day… This Saturday, October 6! »

Destination: Micanopy

I love rambling around Florida and finding that, despite time and progress, some places have stayed pretty much the same.

One place that’s done it better than others is Micanopy, which you'll find about 12 miles south of Gainesville.

Maybe the saving grace of this square-mile town of 650 is that it sits right between two major highways (I-75 and US 441) but because it’s hidden from sight from each roadway you have to know about Micanopy to make the effort to find it.

And people have. Singer John Anderson used the town in the lyrics of his classic song, Seminole Wind. Michael J. Fox came here to shoot Doc Hollywood.

But it’s still a sleepy, Old Florida town where clothes dry on the line, folks ride horses down dirt roads and friends gather on front porches for conversation and to appreciate the simple life.

So drop on by to see the shops along Cholokka Boulevard. Visit the historic cemetery and walk the dirt roads and look around at the old oak trees and Spanish moss and think about doing something you haven’t done in a long while.

Taking it easy in Old Florida.

Continue reading Destination: Micanopy »

Destination: High Springs

It's the casual tempo of High Springs, the small northwest Florida of 3,600, that entices travelers yet masks its popularity.

Located about 20 miles northwest of Gainesville on U.S. 27, folks are constantly discovering that High Springs’ diversity and unique offerings of art, antiques, and outdoor adventures make it a refreshing getaway, and so they head off the beaten path because they feel it’s high time for High Springs.

Surrounded by natural attractions, the town attracts canoeists, cave divers and campers heading to the nearby Santa Fe River. Visitors are coming here for the crystal clear springs and they're getting geared up for adventure at local outfitters. In the downtown village shoppers arrive for antiques and gifts and restaurants, and when the sun goes down locals attend shows at the historic Priest Theatre.

Native Floridians have fond memories of Old Florida, They'll find it's still here in High Springs. 

Look for more information about this special community at VISIT FLORIDA.

Continue reading Destination: High Springs »

Photo: Gazebo, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka

Ravine Gardens State Park’s manicured gardens also include gazebos for resting.

Continue reading Photo: Gazebo, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka »

Boogie Woogie Festival at Art’s Garage in Delray Beach: Nov. 15-16

There’s something vastly entertaining about the boogie-woogie style of piano playing, which means the entertainment level will increase tenfold when some of the best of the best take the stage at Art’s Garage during the Boogie Woogie Piano Festival in Delray Beach on Thursday and Friday, November 15 & 16.

The style has a long and amazing history, going way back beyond the legendary Fats Waller, but to know that a style of music is still popular more than a century after it entered the mainstream is incredible. Why has it been around so long? Come to the festival and find out. Tickets are only $25 ($40 for a two-day pass) and you’ll discover the various regional styles of playing by performers including “English Bob” Andrews, Lee Pons, and Tom Worrell (New Orleans); “Barry Cuda” (Key West); Victor Wainwright (Tennessee); Jim McKaba – (Chicago); Kelley Hunt (Deep South)… all wrapped up with midnight jams.

Even better, it's in Delray Beach which is already a cool place. Add some great boogie woogie and it’s even better. By the way: Art’s is a "multi-disciplinary cultural hub for visual artists, musicians, performers, film presenters and arts educators." It's also a BYOW (Bring Your Own Whatever) club where you can bring in a bottle of wine or a picnic basket and enjoy “an evening of art and conviviality with friends” — Arts Garage style.

You'll find Art's (561/450-6357) at 180 NE First Street. You'll find even more information about this wonderful town at VISIT FLORIDA.

Continue reading Boogie Woogie Festival at Art’s Garage in Delray Beach: Nov. 15-16 »

Car2go: A Smart Way to Get Around Miami

Getting around Miami just got easier.

Thanks to a new car sharing program, 250 smart cars are now zipping around town for on-demand use as part of a free-floating network that stretches from Coconut Grove and Brickell to downtown and the Design District.

Anyone with a membership card can jump in a car, drive it for as long as he or she likes, and pay by the minute.
Launched in late July, the car2go program is modeled after bike sharing programs catching on in places like Miami Beach, Delray Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg.

Zipcar originally pioneered the car sharing concept on college campuses, including the University of Miami, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida. Miami Beach started the first city car-share in Florida in January with Hertz On Demand, although it started off with just 20 cars ranging in size from compact to SUV. Miami is the first to employ smart cars in such large numbers.

Car2go is designed to appeal to young, urban residents who don't own cars, but its simple registration process means that visitors also can use the program as an alternative for traditional car rental.

Drivers can register for the program online at Visitors planning to use the program should register at least two weeks before their trip to allow for time to receive their membership cards in the mail.

The card, embedded with a radio-frequency identification chip, is the key that unlocks the cars. By holding it over a card reader installed in the windshield, members can get into the car and enter their PIN number into a touch screen on the dashboard. The PIN allows the car to be turned on using a key kept in the dash.

Thanks to a partnership with Miami Parking Authority, members can park the smart cars at a street meter or in a city lot free of charge. Members can use the cars for as long as they want, without having to commit to a specific return time or location. They pay 38 cents per minute or a maximum of $13.99 an hour. Rates get cheaper the longer a car is driven. (One day is no more than $72.99.)

Parking, fuel, maintenance and insurance are included at no additional cost, and there are no annual or monthly fees beyond a one-time $35 registration charge.

There's green appeal, too: The white DaimlerChrysler "smartfortwo" cars, with their recognizable royal blue stripes, consume very little fuel, emit minimum levels of carbon dioxide and reduce traffic congestion by leaving a small footprint.

Members can search for the closest available car on the program's smart phone app.

"I've only had to walk a block or two to find one," said James Thompson, a Miami resident who works downtown and uses the car sharing program for lunch trips into Wynwood and the Design District.

Drivers can take the cars outside of the city limits to explore South Beach, Coral Gables and other places within 200 miles. They just have to return the cars to a meter or pay station space in the city of Miami when they're done.

Miami is one of five U.S. cities currently using the car2go program. Anyone who has a membership card can also use the smart cars shared in San Diego, Portland, Washington, D.C., and New York, with up to 100 other cities expected to join by 2016, said Katie Stafford, the car2go Communications Manager for North America.

The program also exists in three cities in Canada and seven in Europe, although American members currently don't have sharing access to those programs.

"What we're seeing is a lot of people using them for less than 30 minutes," Stafford said. "If you're visiting Miami, you can use it to get around or to take quick trips from, say, a hotel near Brickell to go to an art gallery or dinner in Wynwood."

The car2go program is responsible for refueling the cars, but if a user does take the time to gas one up, he or she can use a gas card stored in the car and get 20 minutes of credited drive time. The cars are equipped with the basics – air conditioning and radio – as well as a GPS system and an in-vehicle phone system that connects to the company's call center for help.

Driving one of the 8-by-4.5-foot cars feels a lot like driving a go-cart. There's very little acceleration power, so users have to be cautious about pulling out in traffic. But the shoebox size also means the cars are easy to parallel park on Miami's busy streets.

Despite the mini size, there's plenty of leg and head room up front. Cargo space in the back can easily fit two suitcases.

"My friend and I were shoulder-to-shoulder when we used one together the other day, but I actually had to pull the seat forward a notch to reach the gas pedal," said Thompson, who is over six feet tall.

How to Register for car2go

Online: Go to and click "sign up now." The registration form asks for basic contact info, as well as a valid U.S. driver license number and info from a Visa or Mastercard that will be charged 38 cents per minute each time one of the smart cars is used. Once approved, a Member Card with an embedded radio-frequency identification chip comes in the mail. The process takes one to two weeks.

In person: By late October, the car2go office at 2935 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, is scheduled to be open for walk-in applicants. The company hopes to have the membership process speeded up to one to two hours at that point.

Driving record: Applicants' driving records are checked. Membership may be denied if there are convictions for reckless driving or DUI in the past three years, or three or more moving violations in the past two years, among other serious offenses.

Age: Members have to be 18 years of age or older.

Cost: Registration is a one-time fee of $35.

More info: 786-452-8739

Continue reading Car2go: A Smart Way to Get Around Miami »

Photo: Car2go in Wynwood District, Miami

Launched in July, Miami’s car2go program is modeled on bike sharing efforts catching on in cities throughout Florida.

Continue reading Photo: Car2go in Wynwood District, Miami »

Photo: Car2go, Miami

Miami’s car2go program is designed to appeal to young, urban residents who don’t own cars.

Continue reading Photo: Car2go, Miami »

Flagler Beach – You'll Eat It Up

Yowling stomachs and yowling from the back seat signal meal time for most four-wheeled Florida travelers.

How lucky if the uprising coincides with a passage through Flagler County.

A three-mile detour east off Exit 284 (SR 100) of Interstate 95 leads straight to Flagler Beach, an unpretentious coastal community that serves everything from morning caffeine to evening sweets – all with a tinge of salt air.

"I think it's always a surprise to come off the interstate and see how close the ocean is and the variety of places that are available," said Georgia Turner, vice president, tourism, Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. "The old Florida and laid-back atmosphere is something you don't see everywhere."
Troll for breakfast, lunch or dinner where Moody Boulevard (SR 100) dead-ends at Oceanshore Boulevard (A1A). Side streets off either also yield numerous choices.

For those yearning to pair coffee with an ocean-view sunrise, Maggie's European Bakery & Cafe touts European pastries; Java Joint, vegetarian fare. Both front A1A. Complete sit-and-eat breakfasts draw crowds at Friends Café, off South Flagler Avenue, and at Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill, where big windows capture the Atlantic sunrise.

Beachside Bakery, also on A1A, stocks cases with homemade breads, muffins and cinnamon rolls. Doughnuts nestled on a top shelf one recent morning – some fat and cakey, others glazed and studded with sprinkles.

Grab a dozen while they last, pair them with coffee, milk or juice then cross A1A, where any covered picnic table will do.

Those picnic tables, plunked in sand above the beach, line the commercial area of Flagler Beach's compact shoreline. The east shoulder of A1A offers enough room to park near most tables, meaning if lunch is your preferred detour, try ordering two slices and a drink from one of the town's handful of pizza parlors, and throw a beachside picnic.

Or request any local deli or grill to package your sandwiches, salads or burgers for the same purpose. You won't need the salt shaker; the brine is in the air.

Scout the New York City-style hot dog stand back outside Beachside Bakery, where the cook on duty will slather it up with all the usual condiments.

Then – yes – walk your dog to the beach.

"We've got everything from a fried fish sandwich to Blue, which is at a hotel and might not be what you expect, but still very good food at very good prices," Turner said.

If air conditioning beckons, Flagler Fish Company, off South Daytona Avenue, is a fish market and seafood kitchen wedged in the same space. A recent three-taco lunch special – one each of shrimp, portobello mushroom and steak – oozed spice, sauces and grilled vegetables.

Colorful metal sea life sculptures lining the walls can be purchased to-go. One refrigerated case contains all necessary decoration; the crème brulee and banana bread are homemade. Flagler Fish Company also sells its house seasoning.

At Johnny D's Beach Bar & Grill on A1A, claim a green-padded stool at the outdoor counter across from the beach and order through a window to the kitchen.

Further south, across from the Flagler Pier, Ocean Art & Books is a good browsing stop, with local artists (painters, photographers and glass sculptors) featured along with New York Times bestseller beach reads.

If a surfboard is handy, catch a few sets off the Pier. Many afternoons, youngsters not long off a school bus sprint across A1A, boards in tow, to join you.

For dinner, go early or late to Flagler Fish Company, which isn't large. Or return to the beach, where restaurants serve up the ocean with cocktails.

The Golden Lion Café, also open-air on A1A, and Finn's Beachside Pub, at the corner of Moody Boulevard (SR 100) and A1A, both offer the beach-bar vibe and elevated views of the Atlantic.

"So many of the restaurants are starting to put decks on their businesses, so you can enjoy your food with a view of the ocean," Turner said.

A Flagler Beach stop on the first Friday of each month means additional fun from 6-9 p.m. First Friday festivals offer live music, car cruises, children's games and pet-themed activities and more at the tiny Veterans Park where A1A and Moody Boulevard intersect. Shops and galleries also stay open late.

Who leaves the beach without ice cream? Don't.

Sally's Ice Cream on A1A provides traditional soft-serve. Both Sally's and The Waffle Cone, on South 4th Street, feature hard-packed flavors from the Working Cow Creamery in St. Petersburg – small-batch, pure-ingredient stuff that tastes like it.

"I always get a big, 'Wow,' when I bring people off the interstate," Turner said.

All you must do is stop.

If You Go

Note: A complete list of Flagler Beach restaurants, shops and galleries can be found at

Directions from Interstate 95: Take Exit 284 and head east on State Road 100 (which becomes Moody Boulevard). Go approximately three miles to Flagler Beach. State Road 100 ends at A1A (also Oceanshore Boulevard in Flagler Beach).

Flagler Fish Company
180 S. Daytona Avenue
Flagler Beach

Golden Lion Café
500 N. Scenic Highway A1A
Flagler Beach

Finn's Beachside Pub
101 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Beachside Bakery & Café
509 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Johnny D's Beach Bar & Grill
1005 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Blue at the Topaz
1224 S. Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill

1848 S. Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Maggie's European Bakery & Café
909 North Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Java Joint
2201 North Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

Sally's Ice Cream

410 North Oceanshore Boulevard
Flagler Beach

The Waffle Cone
South 4th Street
Flagler Beach

Continue reading Flagler Beach – You'll Eat It Up »

Find a Horticultural Haven in Ravine Gardens State Park

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, a quirk of Florida geology, unfolds like one of its touted blooms.

The modest sign on Twigg Street only hints at what lies beyond – a cool green oasis in hotter months and a floral showstopper in the winter and spring.

Ravine Gardens isn't a traditional plot. Its architect is erosion, which over eons collapsed a sandy bluff near the St. Johns River into something odd for the Sunshine State – a 120-foot-deep ravine.
Depression-era projects by the federal Works Progress Administration and the city of Palatka transformed the ravine into a naturalized public garden, with pathways, walls and steps, and the installation of thousands of native azaleas and other plants.
Today, Ravine Gardens, which dates to the mid-1930s, is a horticultural haven for both Palatka and Putnam County residents and the area's many visitors.
"The park gets a lot of use," said Emily Rodriguez, Ravine Gardens' park specialist. "It's not often that you see a natural garden this extensive."

Over 100,000 azaleas provide a riot for the eyes during the peak January-April bloom. Five of the park's 146 acres are formally landscaped, including terraces that lead down one slope to the ravine and its creek.

Fountains spout amid terraces. Limestone walls line flower beds and walkways. A rose garden rims the uppermost terrace, framing the largest water spout, the Azalea Fountain. Rodriguez sees many brides and grooms come and go from the upper terraces.

"We have weddings every other weekend," she said.

About two miles of trails crisscross the ravine, Rodriguez said, ranging from a smooth stroll on its floor to steeper climbs up and down its walls. Two suspension bridges span the chasm at separate locations, providing kid-friendly bouncing and creek views.

"I've seen otters down here," Rodriguez said, pointing east from one bridge toward the river. "The creek leads out to the St. Johns and they find their way up here."

The spring-fed creek averages a water temperature of 72 degrees year round and is passably drinkable, although "We don't recommend it," she said.

Embedded among Palatka homes and businesses, Ravine Gardens evokes its history in every detail. The circa-1935 administration building – pecky cypress-paneled and pine-floored – has been restored. An outdoor picnic and gathering pavilion adjacent to the uppermost terrace replicates the original 1935 concession stand.

The Court of States, another formal garden across from the original administration building, is outlined with rock-columned trellises and crowned with an obelisk monument to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the WPA founder.

Rodriguez said the flags of the first 48 states – Ravine Gardens was established prior to Alaska and Hawaii statehood – fly in the Court of States during festivals and events. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

All year, expect a morning stampede of runners, walkers, cyclists and hikers.

"The parking lot will be full before the park is even open," Rodriguez said.

In late summer, Ravine Gardens is more about texture and layers, quietly green except for crape myrtles, roses and beds of bright marigolds and vinca. Giant queen palms muscle through live oak branches.

More compact, old-growth sago palms share hillsides with equally old and enormous azaleas.

The park's 1.8-mile paved loop is open to pedestrians and vehicular traffic until one hour before dusk. Restrooms, a playground, picnic areas and a designated fitness area for stretching can be found along the way.

At its height, the loop appears to whisk users through the treetops among massive live oaks, burnished gold-green magnolias, pines, chickasaw plums and southern red cedars.

At its lowest point, the loop dips to where the ravine empties at the city's old waterworks plant. Ponds here are thick with water lilies – and warning signs for alligators.

Fitness or not, all that exploration works up appetites, so head back to Palatka's historic downtown a few miles northeast of Ravine Gardens.

Angel's Diner, which claims to be the state's oldest (1932), is de rigueur for first-time Palatka visitors and diner aficionados.

Tiny and almost stubbornly retro in appearance, it's renowned for fresh hamburgers and onion rings, plus milkshakes and malts.
A few blocks west of Angel's off 4th Street, digest those calories while browsing Elsie Bell's Antique Mall. The 3,000-square-foot space houses quality vintage wares from 30 dealers in another old Palatka building – a former sanitarium-turned-funeral parlor that retains original stained-glass windows.

A case near Elsie Bell's entrance is stocked with old-fashioned candy varieties if Angel's milkshakes or malts didn't provide enough sugar.

Across 4th Street, on the Putnam County Courthouse grounds, the Maltby Live Oak shades everything around it. Named for former county agent Hubert Maltby, the tree is at least 125 years old, according to a granite marker that also claims a branch spread of 116 feet and a circumference of 13.5 feet.
Indeed, metal posts prop the Maltby's largest, most sprawling branches.

Nearby signs say, "Please don't climb on trees."

If You Go

Note: A complete list of Putnam County and Palatka restaurants, shops and galleries can be found at

Ravine Gardens State Park
1600 Twig Street, Palatka
Directions: From U.S. Hwy. 17-State Road 100, turn south on Moseley Avenue then east on Twigg Street. Park entrance will be on your right.

Angel's Diner
209 Reid Street, Palatka
Directions: In downtown Palatka. Reid Street also is U.S. Hwy 17-State Road 100. Angel's is on the south side of Reid Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

Elsie Bell's Antique Mall
111 North 4th Street, Palatka
Directions: In downtown Palatka. Turn south off Reid Street (also U.S. Hwy 17-State Road 100). Shop is on left, across from Putnam County Courthouse.

Continue reading Find a Horticultural Haven in Ravine Gardens State Park »