February 2008 Issue
Looking for a break from the wintertime blues? An escape to the Sunshine State, with its sun-drenched sandy beaches and balmy ocean breezes, is a a surefire ticket to bliss.
To plan your Sunshine State vacation go to: VISITFLORIDA.com or call 1-800-250-2293
Strolling barefoot along the ocean’s edge. Combing the sand for seashells. Capturing photos of a surreal tropical sunset. Splashing in the surf. The calming sounds and captivating scenery at the beach can induce tranquility in any tired soul. Florida boasts more than 1,100 miles of coastline, and many beaches recognized nationally for their natural beauty. Here we present some alluring destinations where travelers can discover the beach and everything beyond.
Charmed Existence: Amelia Island
On Amelia Island, majestic live oak trees and lush maritime forests blend seamlessly with white quartz beaches and towering sand dunes. The quaint barrier island, which sits 30 miles north of Jacksonville on the northeast tip of Florida, is a nature lover’s paradise, brimming with unspoiled natural areas and native flora and fauna. A bicycle ride along the coast or through 1,100-acre Fort Clinch State Park affords scenic views of 40-foot sand dunes, massive live oaks, maritime hammock and estuarine tidal marsh. Birdwatchers can catch ospreys, purple sandpipers and great blue herons in flight at a spot on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Kayak trips allow the adventurous to explore the salt marshes of Timucuan Preserve, and to perhaps meet a dolphin, manatee or sea turtle along the way.
With such simple beauty and charm, it’s no wonder Amelia Island was named one of the top 10 North American islands in CondÃ© Nast Traveler’s 2007 Reader’s Choice Awards. The nod also recognizes the area’s warm Southern hospitality and storied past. During its 400-year history, Amelia Island was ruled by eight different nations, and each left an indelible mark on the small stretch of land. Narrated horse-drawn carriage rides through historic downtown Fernandina Beach, with its shrimp port and multicolored Victorian brick buildings dating from 1873 to 1900, take visitors back in time to learn about the people and places that have shaped the island’s landscape.
Dotting the coast and historic downtown are award-winning inns and hotels, among them the Amelia Island Plantation and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, which was also recognized by CondÃ© Nast Traveler as one of the top 50 resorts in the United States.
Set to Sail: Fort Lauderdale
Glamorous, sun-worshipping crowds flock to Fort Lauderdale Beach all year round to see and be seen, and to enjoy the area’s powdery white sand and cobalt blue waters. The most magnificent view of the famous beachfront promenade, however, may not be from a pavilion in the sand. With 300 miles of inland waterways and 44,000 resident yachts, Fort Lauderdale, situated midway between Palm Beach and Miami in Southeastern Florida, is known as the “Yachting Capital of the World.”
For an invigorating experience, visitors can charter a yacht or sailboat and cruise through the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean, admiring the awe-inspiring panoramic ocean views. Companies such as Bahia Mar Yachting Center and Best Boat Rentals provide everything from powerboats to sport fishing boats to luxury yachts. Whether guests want to snorkel, water-ski, spot sea wildlife or simply relax and sip a cocktail, they’ll find the ultimate sailing adventure in Fort Lauderdale. Each October, the city hosts the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the world’s largest, where more than $2 billion worth of boats, yachts, superyachts and accessories are showcased on six sites across the city.
Those who prefer their spot on the shore won’t be disappointed. The beaches in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, which spans from Deerfield Beach south to Hallandale Beach, were the first in Florida to receive a Blue Wave Beaches designation by the Clean Beaches Council, a national coastal group that recognizes the nation’s safest, cleanest and most user-friendly shorelines.
Fort Lauderdale is an action-packed city bustling with activities, sporting events, entertainment, fine dining and nightlife. A must-see is the legendary Elbo Room, a nightspot made famous in the 1960 film “Where the Boys Are.”
Travel Resources:Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800/22-SUNNY
, www.sunny.orgBahia Mar Yachting Center,
800/755-9558Best Boat Rentals
954/779-386649th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, www.showmanagement.com
Breath of Fresh Air: Naples
Those who haven’t experienced Naples might fall prey to the notion that the tropical oasis is a sleepy winter playground for the rich and retired. Surprises are in store when visitors arrive at the charming seaside enclave in Southwest Florida. These days, Naples and nearby Marco Island draw a younger, more dynamic crowd that brings infectious energy to all aspects of life. Downtown Naples, once quiet, has undergone a stylish rebirth. Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South are now vibrant environments packed with restaurants, cafes, sophisticated shops and art galleries. Cultural pursuits abound at more than 130 art galleries, and venues such as the Sugden Theater and the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts. Families flock to the area to frolic in the sand, go shopping, play a round of golf (Naples is known as the “Golf Capital of the World”), enjoy pampering at the spa, or explore the area’s natural surroundings.
The allure of Naples still starts with its award-winning beaches. The Travel Channel named Naples “America’s Best All-Around Beach” in 2005, and Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, included the area’s Barefoot Beach in the top 10 on his 2006 America’s Best Beaches list. Barefoot Beach is a secluded 342-acre haven north of Naples on one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in Southwest Florida. Rich with lush tropical vegetation and wildlife, it is a hidden gem.
Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, attracts families who want to enjoy its beautiful beaches, and activities such as boating, fishing and kayaking. La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, a sleek, stylish beachfront boutique resort on the island’s Gulf Coast, has taken a place on the CondÃ© Nast Traveler Gold List.
Sugar and Spice: Siesta Key
Year after year, Siesta Key captures coveted spots on the lists of America’s best beaches. There must be something special about the shoreline of this barrier island, which sits just west of Sarasota on the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s the sand. Dazzling white, clean and powdery soft, the quartz sand on Siesta Key is so breathtaking that it was named the World’s Finest, Whitest Sand in the Great International Sand Challenge in 1987. The Travel Channel awarded the island its Best Sand in America nod in 2004, and Dr. Beach included Siesta Key Beach in his 2007 picks.
Over millenniums, rivers carried quartz grains from the southern Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf waters and down Florida’s coast. Quartz grains are ultra fine, without coral or shell fragments, which makes their texture as soft as confectioner’s sugar. The beaches in Siesta Key consist of 99 percent pure quartz grains, a concoction that is highly prized by beach-seeking vacationers.
While it’s tempting to curl one’s toes in the sand throughout a stay on Siesta Key, other activities beckon. Visitors can swim in azure waters and snorkel at the Point of Rocks, an area rich with coral rock formations and colorful fish. Spending an evening in artsy, eclectic Siesta Village, the island’s bustling center, is an opportunity to sip a frozen drink, nibble on conch fritters and shop for island-style wares crafted by local artisans.
Just to the east of Siesta Key is Sarasota, a thriving city that blends Old Florida charm with urban sophistication. Visitors can shop at upscale boutiques, peruse art galleries, and dine in Zagat-rated restaurants. Each March, baseball fans can catch Cincinnati Reds spring training games at Ed Smith Stadium.
Catch of the Day: Emerald Coast
It’s every fisherman’s dream. The turquoise waters off Florida’s Emerald Coast are teeming with marlin, sailfish, red snapper, grouper, king mackerel, tarpon and blackfin tuna. It’s no wonder the Northwest Florida shoreline, which includes Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, is known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”
The harbor docks house the largest charter fleet in Florida, more than 200 vessels, ready to take visitors to the ocean for deep-sea, inshore and bottom-feeding fishing excursions. The underwater 100 Fathom Curve, the point where the continental shelf drops, draws closer to Destin than any other place in Florida, creating the fastest deep-water access on the Gulf.
Fishing is one of many recreational activities, among them snorkeling, parasailing and windsurfing, offered along the Emerald Coast. The area is a favorite destination for families, providing 24 miles of sweeping sandy beaches, clear emerald waters, and small towns with laid-back Southern hospitality. As anyone might guess, the seafood is second to none. Diners at Harry T’s Boathouse can tuck into Gulf seafood, steak or pasta while getting glimpses of shipwreck relics. Harry T. Baben was a circus trapeze artist who led the 2,113-passenger rescue of luxury cruise ship Thracia when it sank off the northern Gulf coast in 1927. The restaurant is decorated with the ship’s salvaged fixtures and furniture, and circus memorabilia. Overlooking picturesque Destin Harbor, AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar serves specialties such as Oysters Rockefeller and blue crab claws in an atmosphere inspired by classic Jimmy Buffett tunes.
The vibe on the Emerald Coast is carefree. Experiences there are reminiscent of the days when family beach vacations were all about enjoying life’s simple pleasures, and taking home big memories.
Travel Resources:Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
, 800/322-3319, www.destin-fwb.com
Florida’s northeastern tip has emerged as a popular destination for those who love the game of golf. Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and Amelia Island Plantation have noteworthy championship golf courses, and each May, professionals such as Tiger Woods and Davis Love III tee it up for The Player’s Championship at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass.
Golf architect Pete Dye orchestrated one of the country’s greatest golf courses, the famed 6,857-yard Stadium course, at the TPC at Sawgrass. Its challenge factor, including treacherous sandy areas, water oppositions on each hole and Scottish links-style bunkers, have earned the par-72 course a Silver Medal from Golf Magazine, and a ranking in America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses in Golf Digest. Number 17, a par-three island hole with imposing winds and water, is one of the most photographed holes in the world.
Last summer, Dye oversaw a restoration of the Stadium course, including the installation of a modern drainage system to create firmer, faster conditions. A new 77,000-square-foot Mediterranean Revival clubhouse, which combines Old World charm with top-rate technology, serves as the club’s centerpiece. The official hotel of the TPC at Sawgrass, the 4,800-acre Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa, also got a $16 million renovation recently, and features a 20,000-square-foot freestanding spa, lagoon fishing, and an extensive children’s club. (800/457-GOLF, www.sawgrassmarriott.com)
The shoreline from Palm Beach south to Miami is a veritable playground of sights, sounds and attractions. Situated amid the glamorous beach scenes, luxury yachts, sporting events and hot nightlife are some of the state’s most prestigious golf links. The private Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, often listed among the nation’s top five courses, is one of the most sought-after tee times in Florida. The PGA Tour has big tournaments at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens and Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.
When golf’s greatest players arrive at PGA National Resort & Spa to participate in this year’s Honda Classic, February 25 to March 2, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion course, one of five 18-hole courses on the property, will present new challenges. It was already the third-toughest course on the PGA Tour, with six of the 50 most challenging holes in golf and the most difficult par-three hole in Florida. Still, the resort has made some notable improvements, expanding the fairway on the third hole, and reconfiguring bunkers on holes 10, 12, 13 and 14.
Nearby, The General, a course designed by Arnold Palmer, is getting a new irrigation system, redesigned native landscaping, reconfigured hole shapes and bunkers, and laser-leveled tee locations.
PGA National is a coveted destination for devout golf enthusiasts, as it has five championship-level courses, all orches-trated by masters, wrapped around a recently renovated world-class resort with pools, restaurants and a European-style spa.
The property has hosted more than 19 PGA championship events, among them the 1987 PGA Championship, the 1983 Ryder Cup, and two decades of PGA Seniors tournaments. (800/633-9150, www.pgaresort.com
There’s a good reason why the signature course at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami is called the Blue Monster. Even the best golfers are in for a challenge when they play this 7,125-yard beast, venue of the annual CA Championship tournament, which was named “Best Course in Florida” by Travel & Leisure Golf magazine in 2007. The course layout, including its series of strategically placed bunkers, long fairways, unique assortment of water hazards, undulating greens and deep Bermuda roughs, requires players to employ skill and strategy to achieve a good score. Golf Magazine named the famous 18th hole, with its signature fountain, one of the Top 100 Holes in the World.
In preparation for this year’s CA Championship, the resort refined the Blue Monster course, which was originally designed by Dick Wilson and later restored by Raymond Floyd, by moving bunkers, installing TifEagle Bermuda grass on the greens, and re-landscaping the entire course.
Five championship courses are available for play at the Doral resort, a Marriott property with 693 luxury rooms and suites, a European-style spa and Blue Lagoon watermark. (800/71-DORAL, www.doralresort.com
Orlando may be all about theme parks and family fun, but it also boasts several prestigious &nbdash; and picturesque &nbdash; golf courses. Properties such as Ginn Reunion Resort and Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge play host to major tournaments, and resorts like Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate attract golf lovers of all skill levels to play where the professionals do.
Three golf legends &nbdash; Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus &nbdash; are behind the challenging, championship-caliber courses at Ginn Reunion Resort, a 2,300-acre destination resort south of Orlando that is the home to the LPGA Ginn Open.
The professional women take to the tee at Palmer’s Legacy course, a 6,916-yard layout with elevations up to 50 feet, and Watson’s 7,154-yard Independence, a parkland-style course bordering a nature preserve. Rounding out the mix of Hall of Fame player designs is Jack Nicklaus’ Tradition, a target-style, 7,300-yard course nestled in a hilly landscape that is straighter than his usual left-to-right layouts.
Professional golfer Annika Sorenstam recently opened a 5,400-square-foot, state-of-the-art teaching facility, the ANNIKA Academy, at Ginn to help golfers perfect their swing.
Guests at the resort stay in luxurious villas or residences, and enjoy amenities such as a cardiovascular fitness center, swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurants and The Spa. (888/418-9611, www.reunionresort.com
At his namesake property, Arnold Palmer wanted to give guests more than tees, greens and golf instruction. The legendary golfer, who has achieved 92 career victories and four Masters titles, created an inviting lodge experience at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, just outside Orlando, in which guests feel like members of a private club. In addition to 27 holes of championship golf, the club features the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy and a spa, salon, fitness center, pool, tennis courts and elegant dining rooms. Each year, the PGA Tour makes a stop at Palmer’s world-ranked Bay Hill course, which spans 270 acres along the Butler Chain of Lakes. The most difficult hole is the 414-yard, par-four 18th, where the green is surrounded by water on the right, and bunkers and heavy grass on the left. The second hole, a short 189-yard par-three, also presents a challenge, as the green slopes severely from right to left. (888/422-9445, www.bayhill.com
Central West Area
The legendary Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, which hosts the PGA Tour’s PODS Championship each March, is known for its lush, rolling landscape, with towering pine trees and shifts in elevation of 70 to 80 feet.
The awe of the surroundings, however, won’t last long. The difficulty of the daunting 7,340-yard course, designed by Larry Packard, requires total concentration on its narrow, tree-lined fairways and fast, firm greens. A favorite hole is the fifth, a par-five, 605-yard monster with a huge uphill elevation change from tee to landing area, and a green that slopes downward behind the hill.
Innisbrook, which is close to Clearwater and Tampa, has four championship golf courses often praised for their quality. Now that Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and CEO of Salamander Hospitality, has purchased the property, the whole resort is likely to join the ranks of the world’s greatest golf destinations. Johnson plans to spend $25 million to $35 million on upgrades, everything from adding a full-service spa and restaurants to enhancing the rooms and golf courses. (800/456-2000, www.innisbrookgolfresort.com
It’s not a surprise that Naples is known as the “Golf Capital of the World.” Its course offerings, among them the noteworthy Calusa Pines Golf Club, the Naples National Golf Club and Tiburn at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, are second to none. The world’s best players love to hit the links at courses on Florida’s Southwest coast.
During his professional career, golfer Greg Norman achieved 86 career victories, an induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame and two British Open championships. The Great White Shark’s greatest accomplishments of late are his renowned golf course designs, one of which is Tiburn Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples.
The 36-hole course, venue for the Merrill Lynch Shootout, is one of the area’s highlights, noted for its serene scenery, stacked-sod wall bunkers, coquina sand and missing rough. Tiburn, also home to the Rick Smith Golf Academy, is comprised of the 7,288-yard Gold course and the Black course, which measures 7,005 yards.
The Ritz-Carlton is known for its unparalleled accommodations and service, and its Naples properties, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort and The Ritz-Carlton Naples on the beach, are no exception. The AAA-Five Diamond, Mobil Four-Star Mediterranean-style Golf Resort features 295 guest rooms, five dining establishments, and a large pool area with poolside service. (239/593-2000, www.ritz-carlton.com