Sanibel Island 

Oldest to Newest and Everything in Between

The very name Florida, as envisioned in the way the first Spanish explorers and settlers articulated the name, "La Florida", brings to mind pictures of flowers of every hue and variety.  But thousands of years before Ponce De Leon and Hernando De Soto began their expeditions to this intriguing peninsula, the land was occupied by both "native" Floridians and animal species of all kinds.  The Indians living throughout the peninsula fully utilized the cornucopia of food and water,  not only surviving but thriving in this lush land.  Today, much of the nomenclature scattered throughout the State dates back to the names given by the Indians and Spanish.  Saint Augustine, Punta Gorda, Punta Rassa and many other towns have their origin in the Spanish explorations and settlements.  Similarly, the Tequesta and Calusa Indian tribes left their mark with such names as Apalachiola and Choctawhatchee, though these names and words were as the European settlers "heard" them rather than written by the native tribes.  Today, the curious traveler can see the imprints of Spanish colonization and native Floridian impact in traveling throughout the state.  Unfortunately, the Indian history can only be found in the villages established for tourism throughout the state.  There are no "natural" Indian villages. But these constructed villages are an interesting way to get to know Florida. 

Saint Augustine, the oldest city in America, boasts a small but immensely charming historic district which serves as a living library of Spanish colonization.  Every traveler to Florida should spend some time in olde Florida, and Saint Augustine is a perfect starting point.  Saint Augustine’s historic district is arguably the most delightful "city" scape in the whole of Florida and historical/architectural explorations can easily be interwoven with the ghost tours, fishing junkets, great restaurants and beach visitations, all so easily accessed.  There really is no other town in Florida with such old world charm.  To some degree, therein lies one definitive statement of the peninsula’s development.  While wild life areas were kept in tact in many locations, the history of Florida was much compromised or even destroyed as old gave way to new and history gave way to glittery.

But, let’s face it, the majority of tourists coming to Florida are coming for the sand and sea.  Happily, there is no end of that in this state flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico on the West Coast.  The biggest challenge is deciding which beach, which town, which Island to visit and explore.  Those seeking a more cosmopolitan beach visit with plenty of opportunities for tagging on some cultural expeditions should consider at least three locations. 

Further north on the Gulf Coast is the town of Sarasota, dubbed the cultural capital of Florida...and for good reason.  The museums, galleries, shops, cafes can be the addendum to lazy days spent on Long Boat and Siesta Key, meccas for the beach lover.  South on the Gulf Coast, the Islands of Sanibel and Captiva beckon seductively with their off, off, off the beaten path feeling and plethora of nature viewing.  Yet, a few minutes drive from these Caribbean-like island jewels is the Edison Estate as well as the town of Naples, so rich in vision with all its pastel colored buildings.  Far, far South on the east coast is Miami with its vibrant culturally diverse and hip art deco section of South Beach.

If you are looking for essentially a beach vacation, you should take greatest heed about picking the location.  The feel of being on a Sanibel is fundamentally different than the feel of being in Sarasota, and likewise the Miami hustle and bustle is a totally different environment altogether.  A beach is not a beach is not a beach, so narrow down to your top three priorities in vacationing and go from there. 

Despite the atypical busy hurricane season in 2004 and 2005, most of Florida is ready and waiting for the tourist.  Your greatest value in vacation choice will depend on how willing you are to do a little research.  This is time well spent and greatly rewarded!