I didn’t visit Florida until I was 30-years old because I had assumed it was a culturally vapid place filled with strip malls and Mickey Mouses. Once I drove over the border, I discovered the problem had been me. Do a little research on that strip mall and discover J.C. Penney himself bought 150,000 acres in Northern Florida for what turned out to be a failed agricultural utopia. Look deeper into Mickey and learn of the creepy experimental Disney community (of 10,000 residents) that drops fake snow in December. This state is weird! Cultural? Questionable. But distinctly American? Whether you like it or not, yes. So check your Debbie Downer attitude at the Welcome Center (first exit off the highway, free OJ, go there), loosen up, and have some fun on the weirder side of the Sunshine State.
1. Go to a Natural Spring/Make your own Pancake Station – De Leon, FL
Florida is up to here in natural springs, so go to one claiming to be the real Fountain of Youth and offering a make-your-own-pancake station. Take a dip in some of the coldest water I have ever been in (second only to trying to swim in Maine at any time of the year), then warm up next to a griddle table and start pouring your pancakes. Why do these two things go together? Because it is how Ponce de Leon used to celebrate after a long day of conquesting. Well, probably.
2. Visit the Psychic Capital of the World – Cassadaga, FL
Founded in 1875 when a medium from New York received a message from his Indian spirit guide, this town remains the psychic capitol of the world. Put on your ankle length skirt and dream catcher earrings to stroll the streets filled with palm readers and energy reorganizers. The town was featured in an X-Files episode and a Bright Eyes album, so whether you are a nerd or really depressed, you have to see this place for yourself.
3. Pirate Reenactment- St. Augustine, FL
Once a year, seemingly normal people everywhere dress up in their pirate garb and take over St. Augustine. This town is worth visiting anyway because it is historic and beautiful, but your experience will be heightened if you get to watch battle reenactments (you know, that famous pirate battle you learned about in World History), drink weird cocktails out of steins, and shop at Thieves Market.
4. Pecan Park Flea & Farmers Market – Jacksonville, FL
There are tons of flea markets in Florida, but this one is the largest and has an adjoining RV campground and beer garden. Because of those last two things, it feels more like a gypsy village than a shopping venue. Enjoy the live music, local vegetables, and all sorts of odd booths and trinkets. Get a beer, eat a pickled pig’s foot, and look at some taxidermy.
5. Get your Geek on – Orlando, FL
Don’t count Orlando out just because Disney and Sea World make you feel dirty and claustrophobic. Much like Las Vegas, this city hosts a lot of conventions and while I wouldn’t normally think that means a good time, in Orlando it can. You haven’t lived until you’ve been to a Star Wars convention and just this weekend the center is hosting MegaCon, a comic book, science fiction fest. Sure, the center also welcomes the Florida Association of Public Purchasing Officers, but it is still worth checking out the calendar of events.