Depending on what you’re used to weather-wise, Florida is fairly toasty much of the year. So summer plans in the Sunshine State should definitely involve plenty of water time and/or air-conditioning. As the southeasternmost U.S. state, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico on its west coast, Florida boasts hundreds of miles of beaches. Waterside activities by boat and at the beach bring cooling ocean breezes, while water parks tame the heat with waterslide spray and lazy river lounging. As for A/C environments, cooling culture comes in the form of a mind-bending museum.
Tube the Ichetucknee River
A spring-fed, pristine river in north central Florida, the gentle waters of the Ichetucknee are a tuber’s paradise. As you float gently along its course, the entire 6 miles of the river average 20 feet wide and five feet deep, with dappled shade from overarching trees draped in swaths of Spanish Moss. Most of the river lies within the boundaries of the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, a perfect put in point with additional amenities and activities. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming are offered at certain points in the 2,700-acre park, which is also a haven for wildlife such as beavers, otters, softshell turtles, and wood ducks.
Water Parks in Tampa and Orlando
Disney properties in Orlando have water parks of their own, and they are amazing. For water park-only concessions, two others also stand out. On the Gulf side of the state, Tampa’s Adventure Island is sure to please every member of your entourage. The massive water park, which covers some 30 acres of property, lies just northeast of Tampa, directly across the street from Busch Gardens theme park. Along with water slides that reach dizzying heights and an idyllic inner-tube float river shaded by palms, the park features dining and entertainment options.
Near the big theme parks in Orlando, Aquatica is another behemoth of a water park and a great choice for a day of cooling fun. The sprawling Orlando complex features all of the splash pools, slides and rides, along with perks like cabana rentals for privacy and extra creature comforts. There is even an all-day, pre-paid meal plan option that can be added to your admission ticket, letting you indulge in all of the park’s dining options.
Crystal River/Homosassa Springs
These adjacent natural spring systems on Florida’s central Gulf Coast provide a perfect place to enjoy Florida in summer. Each area is centered around a conservation refuge overseen by government parks. The coastal city of Crystal River is the nearest population center to Kings Bay, which is fed by some 70 springs within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Year-round inhabitants of these shallow waters are protected manatees, which can also be seen from boardwalk trails at Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge.
To the northwest is Crystal River Archaeological State Park, which preserves and interprets the remains of an early Native American settlement and its ceremonial mounds. To the south is another manatee hotspot, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which also has nearby swimming and water recreation access.
Chill at the Dali Museum
After a day in the sun and water, you can take in a cool afternoon of culture in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. The same exacting temperature and humidity control in the museum to keep the surrealist art safe will keep you cool and comfortable, as well. As interesting as it may be in art books, the warped works of Spanish surrealist painting master Salvador Dali are that much more evocative and intense in person. Part of this is sheer scale, with some of his most prominent paintings taking up massive swaths of wall space in one grand gallery, such as the trippy, 13-foot by 10-foot oil on canvas “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” (1699).