The Sunshine State has been beckoning my presence for years now—especially since I got bit by that damn incurable travel bug. But with an aunt and uncle, two friends and now a CouchSurfing buddy calling Florida home—combined with the fact that I now live closer to the Florida state line than the New Jersey state line—I really couldn’t put it off any longer. And I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s my 15-day road trip itinerary through Florida. Read it and weep, peeps. (I don’t know why I said that, just really had the urge.)
First stop: Jacksonville; Friday-Monday
One of my dear friends from those crazy college days has lived in Jacksonville for the past few years, and it was the perfect first stop. If you’re in Jax on a Saturday morning or afternoon, you’ve got to hit the Riverside Arts Market (RAM). It runs on Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm and is a ton of fun. There are cute local vendors with handmade crafts, soaps, art and other artisan items.
Go with an empty stomach, because there’s a whole ton of food (to taste and to purchase). Had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I heard the price for a chicken gyro (steer clear, friends), but then I found the calypso chicken bowl at some Caribbean sort of food stand. $5 for a generous serving of rice, beans, chicken and tropical salsa goodness. Boom.
My friend had a carrot dog. With ginger sauerkraut. I’m not sure how I feel about this. There are many things I’d like to say right now but really shouldn’t.
We also went to this awesome health food place where I got my kale/spinach/celery/apple juice, and then an antique store where I found a totally sweet vintage Beatles poster for 24 bones. The man behind us in line was fascinated with a Beanie Baby, and he made sure we knew it. It was a duck. I couldn’t find the fascination myself. Maybe I was missing something.
Because this was my birthday celebration road trip, we had to do something a little extra special. Thus, we threw a Birthday Beach Brunch at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. We consumed a disgusting amount of goat cheese (which we had purchased at RAM—buy the garlic and basil and the fruit trio; you won’t regret it), bread, fruit, salad and mimosas and tried to find a hiking trail. Directionally challenged, and perhaps a bit tipsy, we headed to the car and passed the trailhead on the way out. I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.
Second stop: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park; Monday
I stopped at Paynes Prairie Preserve for a quick hike per the recommendation of a coworker, and I’m so happy I took her advice. The natural landscape and plantlife in Florida is so much different than what I’m used to. Although I was freaking out about alligators chomping on my legs for lunch (I was alone), I was able to muster up the moxie to enjoy the scenery. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a surprisingly ungraceful buck deer in the middle of the trail, and some wild turkeys gobblin’ like nobody’s business. Thanksgiving was a little more than a week away. I was getting hungry. (Is that terrible?)
A good trail to check out is the Bolen Bluff Trail. At 2.6 miles roundtrip, you’ll encounter deer, wild horses and turkeys, and look out for tree frogs. The trail doesn’t take very long (I was on a time crunch), so if you’re looking for something to really get the blood pumping, check out Cone’s Dike or Gainesville-Hawthorne.
Third stop: Lakeridge Winery
The drive from Jax to the Keys was a hefty one, so after going out of my way to head to Paynes Prairie Preserve, I was kinda dreading the six-hour drive ahead of me. About halfway through, the universe answered my desperate optimism in the form of a green sign. It read: “Winery Ahead.” And then there was another sign. That one read: “Tasting Next Right.” Need I say what happens next? (I made a right.)
I bought two bottles of wine: Chablis and Blanc Du Bois. A strategic move would be to try them all. And maybe schmooze with the lovely lady (or sir) for some seconds.