Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River, Florida
Helen Hatzis
Helen Hatzis
June 8, 2024 ·  3 min read

Rediscovering Florida: A Journey Beyond the Tourist Trail

I embarked on a 12-day solo adventure that would take me through regions in Florida that I had not yet explored. After collecting my rental car, I set off to uncover the serene and often overlooked treasures of Crystal River, Central Florida (Polk County), DeLand, Tarpon Springs, and back to Tampa Bay, where I flew in. Each destination offered a unique glimpse into Florida’s natural beauty and cultural heritage, far removed from the bustling theme parks and crowded beaches which are all within driving distance.

Driving through these regions, I was captivated by the tranquillity of nature and the abundance of ecotourism opportunities. Florida’s natural landscape is a sanctuary, boasting 175 state parks, trails, and historic sites that span over 813,000 acres, with 100 miles of pristine, sandy white beaches. I found myself immersed in the lush environments of spring-fed rivers and botanical gardens, exploring a quieter, more reflective side of the Sunshine State.

I encountered countless memorable moments, each one worthy of its own blog post. Here are some highlights I’ll cover:

Crystal River
I explored Three Sisters Springs, with its crystal-blue waters, a haven for manatees. The Crystal River Archaeological State Park, a National Historic Landmark, captivated me with its six-mound complex that once served as a ceremonial center for Native Americans. This site offered a profound connection to the past, revealing the rich traditions of the indigenous people who once lived there. And don’t even get me started on Monkey Island in Homosassa – it was an absolute delight! I can’t wait to share more about it with you.

Lakeland (Central Florida)
In Lakeland, I discovered a vibrant city. A college designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Bonnet Springs Park – you won’t believe what this public green space used to look like! The breathtaking driveway leading to Bok Tower, another National Historic Landmark. And the pontoon boat tour of the famous Winter Haven Chain of Lakes was unforgettable. This area is a mecca for waterskiing enthusiasts!

DeLand (West Volusia)
Staying in DeLand, a pedestrian-friendly city with a cool vibe, I enjoyed its weekly Artisanal Farmers Market on Fridays. The lush nature is just a short drive away. DeLeon Springs State Park, once home to the Mayaca Indians, offered a serene escape and a chance to connect with nature. Another notable stop was Blue Spring State Park along the St. Johns River, renowned for its manatee conservation efforts. DeLand’s vibrant downtown is filled with unique shops, cozy cafes, and impressive murals that add to its artistic charm.

Tarpon Springs
Each region I visited felt like stepping into a different world. This was particularly evident in Tarpon Springs, a vibrant community steeped in Greek heritage. The blend of Greek culture, cuisine, and traditions made me feel like I had travelled far beyond Florida’s borders.

Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is where urban sophistication meets coastal charm, offering a vibrant mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. Downtown’s skyline contrasts with historic buildings and the tranquil Riverwalk. Ybor City’s cigar history, and Channelside’s cutting-edge developments, showcase Tampa’s diverse appeal. Culinary delights range from gourmet dining and authentic Latin cuisine to a steakhouse renowned for its extensive wine collection, boasting one of the largest private wine collections in the world. The restaurant boasts over 500,000 bottles!

My journey was carefully crafted with a deep appreciation for nature, culture, and art – all the things that make my heart smile. The itinerary below reflects the essence of my time in Florida. I hope it inspires you to explore this beautiful state’s quieter corners and discover your own hidden gems.

Safe travels!

COMING SOON: Exciting New Blog Posts on Each Visit!

First stop: 3 days in Crystal River

Second stop: 3 days in Lakeland (Central Florida)

Third stop: 2 days in West Volusia

Fourth stop: 2 days in Tarpon Springs

Fifth and final stop: 2 days in Tampa Bay