7 Great Places to Eat in San Juan, Puerto Rico
With its beautiful white-sand beaches, a picturesque, colorful old town, and tropical Caribbean climes, Puerto Rico’s capital city has plenty to recommend it. But if you visit San Juan and don’t do some serious eating, you’re really missing out. From rich coffee (some of the best in the world) and stellar pastries (be sure to try the quesito, a tangy-cheese-filled treat with a crisp, sugary exterior) to snacks (the stuffed fritters known as alcapurrias are especially addictive) and fine dining, you really can’t go wrong. Here are seven delicious, budget-friendly bites from my last trip—each one $18 or less.
1. Jose Enrique
A chance to support a local civic-minded chef who also happens to be a James Beard award semi-finalist, and one of the island's most lauded culinary ambassadors to boot? Yes, please. Chef José Enrique offered up his restaurant as the initial base of operations for the disaster-relief work his friend José Andrés’s organization, World Central Kitchen, did in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and on top of that, his food is really something special. Though it’s a casual spot located in the neighborhood of Santurce, in a humble building sans signage, Jose Enrique is hardly nondescript. Between the bright-green exterior and the reasonably priced, ever-changing menu of traditional Puerto Rican favorites, it’s one for the highlight reels. For starters, try the poppers ($12), battered and fried chunks of fish in a creamy, spicy sauce, or the crab (above; $14), served cold with tomatoes, red onions, and herbs, doused with lime, and layered with a slice of avocado on a platter of crispy green plantains. Though they're equally good, the mains are pricier, so consider making a meal of the appetizers, and you'll walk away happy. (Pro tip: The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so arrive early and prepare to queue up. Lunch is a great option, especially mid-week—I went on a Wednesday, got there when it opened, and had my pick of the tables.)
176 Calle Duffaut, San Juan; 787.725.3518; joseenriquepr.com.
2. Lote 23
Launched in late 2016, Santurce’s Lote 23 is equal parts food park and community center: Its kiosks and Airstream trailers feed locals and tourists alike, and it’s a destination for yoga, music, and dancing too. If you’re coming to eat, you can fill up on hearty plates of pernil or fried chicken, go light with a poke bowl, snack on an order of croquettes, perk up with an iced Puerto Rican cold-brew coffee, and fill in the remaining cracks with a handmade popsicle from Señor Paleta. These are not the vaguely fruity concoctions you may remember from your childhood—we’re talking vibrant, full-bodied flavors here, from gelato-style varieties like peanut, pistachio, nutella, and dulce de leche to tropical sorbets like mango, guava, soursop, and passionfruit (above). They all ring in around $3 a pop (...pun intended), and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
1552-1558 Avenida Juan Ponce de León, San Juan; lote23.com.
With a chic, industrial-meets-contemporary dining room facing a lush, interior garden and a chef who’s worked with famous names like Ferran Adría and Eric Ripert, this fine-dining space in Santurce has the potential to be a real budget-buster. The smart bet is to swing by at lunch to sample chef José Santaella’s upscale, market-driven cocina criolla for less than $20, or belly up to the bar in the evening for a cocktail and a small plate or two. Drinks-wise, the spicy paloma ($15), with smoky mezcal, grapefruit juice, crushed red pepper, and a ginger-tahini salted rim, is an exceptional accompaniment to the empanadillas (above; $14), a plate of snack-sized empanadas with fillings that change from day to day. (Mine were stuffed with chorizo and cheese, a basic-sounding combination that tasted anything but.) Planning a splurge meal to kick off or wrap up your trip? This is the place to go big.
219 Calle Canals, San Juan; 787.725.1611; josesantaella.com.
4. Verde Mesa
In the heart of Old San Juan (one of our 51 Affordable Discoveries for 2019!), this small restaurant features pressed-tin ceilings, eye-catching mason-jar light fixtures, a hodgepodge of vintage furniture, friendly service, and superb Mediterranean-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Vegetarian-friendly dishes are a rarity on the island, but here they’re more than just an afterthought—case in point, a refreshing ceviche-style chayote salad spiked with mango, lime, and cilantro; a hearty pumpkin and barley porridge with kale, pecorino, and roasted eggplant; and a vegetable-laced mound of rice, a signature dish. On the meatier side, the Moroccan-spiced lamb stew is a stand-out, bones and all, but the real winner is the octopus appetizer ($18), a pile of perfectly charred tentacles showered with pea shoots and served on a bed of smoky piquillo-pepper puree. They don't take reservations and there's usually a wait, but you won’t regret putting in the time.
107 Calle Tetuan, San Juan; 787.390.4662; facebook.com/verdemesa.
5. La Bombonera
This circa-1902 Old San Juan bakery and café teases passersby with a tempting window display of assorted pastries, but don’t succumb—at least not ‘til later. You’re here for one singular sandwich: the Mallorca, a sweet roll layered with your choice of fillings, pressed until the edges are warm and crisp, and dusted with a heap of powdered sugar. You can have it with simple accompaniments like butter or chocolate, but I can never turn down a savory-sweet combination and chose the egg, ham, and Swiss ($7). The yolk was still soft, the cheese wasn’t quite melted, and the rich, salty filling just about stood up to the sugary roll. But it was the hot sauce that brought things into balance. I would’ve paid the fees to check a bag so I could bring home a bottle of the tangy, garlicky, house-made concoction, and I am an avid never-checker. Order a cortado ($3), a strong little cup of coffee with a touch of milk, to go with your sandwich, and pick up a few of those pastries on your way out, too.
259 Calle San Francisco, San Juan; 787.705.3370; facebook.com/labombonerasanjuan.
6. Kiosko El Boricua
For a taste of real-deal Puerto Rican snack food, jump in the car (or grab an Uber) and head out of town. Some 10 miles east of Old San Juan on the island’s north shore, the Piñones area boasts an array of roadside kiosks hawking local bites against a backdrop of postcard-perfect beaches. There’s always a line at Kiosko El Boricua, and for good reason: Everything's made to order, and it's all delicious. Try the pastelillos (turnovers with a shatteringly crisp exterior and a thin, soft layer of dough underneath) with crab (above; $5), the alcapurrias (fritters made from taro root and green plantains) with salt cod ($3.50), or the piononos (stuffed sweet plantains that are often rolled around the filling, but here it's more like a plantain sandwich) with beef ($4.50). The seafood tacos are also great, but this is where I should note that Puerto Rican tacos and Mexican tacos are not the same thing—the Puerto Rican version is yet another a deep-fried turnover-style snack, so don’t go in expecting a soft corn or flour tortilla. Come hungry, spring for a cheap beer to wash it down, and carry your haul across the street to tuck in on the sand.
PR-187 km 8.0, Bo Torrecilla Baja, Loíza; 787.596.1684; facebook.com/kioskoelboricua.
7. Chocobar Cortés
A fourth-generation chocolate-making operation dating to 1929, Chocolate Cortés originated in the Dominican Republic before expanding production to the founder’s native Puerto Rico, and today, the bean-to-bar company’s locally and sustainably grown cacao varieties are starting to earn worldwide recognition. You can taste the goods at Chocobar Cortés, a cocoa-focused café in Old San Juan. Visit at brunch for sweet dishes like chocolate pancakes and French toast, or try the equally tasty, if a bit unconventional, savory preparations: roasted pumpkin soup with a white chocolate and wasabi crostini, perhaps, or a crispy chicken roulade with blood sausage and caramelized chocolate tomato sauce. My friend and I stopped by just after sunset and opted for pre-dinner drinks, a chocolate martini ($12) laced with Baileys for her, and a frozen mocha hot chocolate ($5) with whipped cream and chocolate nibs for me. Both were luscious and refreshing, and the quality of the chocolate was unmistakable. Ground chocolate is for sale, so yes, you can try this all at home.
210 Calle San Francisco, San Juan; 787.722.0499; chocobarcortes.com.
10 National Historic Landmarks You Won't Believe Are Actually Landmarks
Of the 90,000-some sites on the National Register of Historic Places, a list determined by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, only about 2,500 are deemed to have enough historical and cultural significance to be recognized as National Historic Landmarks. Churches, forts, historic homes, banks, bridges, and even boats are a dime a dozen. Lesser known, however, are the mining sites, landfills, and zany statues. Here are a few of the more unlikely sites that have had an impact on our culture and influenced who we are as Americans. 1. Lynch Knife River Flint Quarry: Stanton, North Dakota Several thousands of years before North Dakota’s oil mines triggered a Gold Rush-style blitz of industry, the Plains Indians in the area were mining flint, a resource so valuable to them that archaeologists insist that you can’t talk about the native culture without mentioning it. They mined over 150,000 pounds of the stuff to make arrowheads and other tools. One of the biggest quarries, the Lynch Quarry site, which spans over 690 acres, has, thanks to the efforts of local landowners, staved off development and infiltration by coal companies. It’s remained intact to the point that the anvils used to sharpen arrows and such are still there. Arguably the nation's most overlooked natural resource, it became a landmark in 2012. 2. Peavy-Hagline Experimental Concrete Grain Elevator: St. Lewis Park, Minnesota (McGhiever/Wikimedia Commons) Before there were skyscrapers and Space Needles or, for that matter, telephone poles, there were grain elevators. The Peavy-Hagline Experimental Concrete Grain Elevator, a rural tower that stretches 125 feet into the air, is the first of its kind in the United States and, it’s presumed, the world. Before it was built in 1900, elevators were made of wood, but this one was an architectural marvel of its time. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, it served as a model for future concrete structures built around the United States, satisfying the builders’ intention to prove that concrete could indeed be used in elevator construction. French architect LeCorbusier praised it as "the magnificent First Fruits of the new age." 3. Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill: Fresno, California For the most part, we take garbage pickup for granted these days: You put it out on your curb and it disappears. But regional sanitation systems are part of a tremendous, complex industry, and it’s come a long, long way as cities have expanded and developed. The Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill is ground zero for innovation in the sanitation industry. The creators of the landfill, which operated from 1935 to 1989, at which point it spanned 145 acres, are known for pioneering trenching, compacting, and daily burial techniques to tamp down on rodent issues and other problems. Urban problem-solving at its finest. 4. Lucy the Elephant: Margate City, New Jersey (Mary Katherine Wynn/Dreamstime) Dumbo notwithstanding, Lucy, located five miles from Atlantic City, is easily the most famous elephant in the United States. The six-story, nine-ton quadruped, originally made of wood and tin sheeting (she was buttressed with steel in 1970), has appeared in movies, television dramas, comic strips, various History Channel and Travel Channel specials, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and more. She's been a restaurant, offices, and a tavern. And as a testament to her endurance, she was virtually unscathed during Hurricane Sandy. Tourists visit her to climb the spiral staircase inside her to a hodwah on her back that delivers 360-degree views of the Jersey Shore. The National Park Service, which declared her a landmark in 1976, notes her as being a prime example of novelty architecture, an oversize structure designed in an unorthodox shape. 5. Howard High School: Wilmington, Delaware In 2005, when Howard High School in Wilmington, Delaware, became a National Historic Landmark, then state senator Joe Biden said in a statement, “The selection of Howard High School as a historic landmark is fitting because it encompasses both the struggles of our past and the promise of our future. Our hope is that this recognition will serve as a very visible and powerful reminder of just how far we have come and how much further we must still go." The school played a critical role in the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared it unconstitutional to segregate public schools. (The Brown case was actually a combination of five cases, including one that contested black students be bused to Howard, a black school, when a white high school was closer to their home.) Students here learn history not just from the books, but from their everyday surrounds. 6. American Flag Raising Site: Sitka, Alaska (Sphraner/Dreamstime) Really? A flagpole? Rest assured, it’s not just any old flagpole. The flagpole that marks Castle Hill, which was later renamed Baranof Castle State Historic Site, is where, in 1867, the Russians relinquished Alaska to the United States and, soon after, where the 49-star American flag was raised to commemorate Alaska’s new statehood for the first time. The pole is perched on a rock ridge that’s nearly 60 feet in the air, a prime perch for observing Sitka's gorgeous and historic cityscape. 7. Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1: Arco, Idaho Idaho is one of the 11 states that Lewis and Clark crossed during their epic expedition from 1804 to 1806, so, accordingly, the landscape is dotted with an assortment of landmarks marking their path. But there is one among them that has nothing to do with that dynamic duo: Declared a landmark in 1965, you might say the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 is where nuclear energy was born. The desert-situated decommissioned reactor was the world’s first nuclear power plant to generate electricity when, in 1951, it illuminated four 200-watt bulbs. This relic of the past is commemorated as a harbinger of the atomic-energy-driven future. 8. Fireproof Building: Charleston, South Carolina Many buildings are declared landmarks because they're where a historical person lived or died, a monumental event happened, or a company set up its manufacturing operation. There are loads of landmark banks, courts, jails, hotels, and churches. But only the grand Greek Revival-style County Records Building in Charleston carried the superlative classification of most fire-protected building when it was built in 1829, making it oldest fire-resistant building in all the land today. The structure is solid masonry and stucco, with iron shutters on triple windows, which allowed for more light, which meant less need for candles. These and other architectural features made it so sound that it survived the 1886 earthquake. In recent decades, it housed the South Carolina Historical Society, which renovated the building and opened it as a museum last summer. 9. Davis-Ferris Organ: Round Lake, New York (Courtesy Grace Mayo/Wikimedia Commons) The stately, massive Davis-Ferris Organ was built in 1847 for $2,500 and sat in Manhattan’s Calvary Episcopal Church until 1888, when it was purchased by a Methodist camp for $1,500 and moved to a town auditorium in Round Lake, a village in upstate New York that has been on the National Register of Historic Places itself since 1975. The instrument features pipes wide enough for a small child to crawl through, earned the approval of the National Parks Service in 2016. It’s said to be the oldest and largest organ of its type. (For any organ aficionados out there, that’s a three-manual organ, to be specific.) 10. Baltusrol Golf Club: Springfield, New Jersey A.W. Tillinghast, who passed away in 1942, is the Frank Gehry of golf courses. He designed more than 265 of them throughout his prolific career, and the 36-hole golf course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, which was completed in 1918, is often seen as one of his greatest achievements. In 1919, Golf Illustrated wrote, "What they are planning at Baltusrol is on a vaster scale than anything that has ever been attempted in American Golf.” It’s since played host to numerous professional tournaments, including seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships.
9 Beach Bars You Need Right Now
There are few things better than relaxing on a beach with a cocktail in hand, especially when the weather at home sinks below freezing. From party-forward day-drinking bars to hole-in-the-wall classics, let these nine amazing beach bars across the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean serve as you bucket list for the whole of 2019. Now, what are you waiting for? Cheers! 1. TnT: Los Cabos, Mexico Tucked inside the ritzy Chileno Bay Resort & Residences sits the seaside cantina, TnT. They offer a selection of Mexican street-style tacos, and you can’t go wrong with the camarón, deep-fried shrimp doused in chipotle mayo, jicama and cilantro. Then dive into the real treat on the menu—premium tequilas, mezcals, and raicilla, a lesser known but no less terrific agave spirit. Don’t leave without sampling the Sonora Commercial, made with aged tequila, eucalyptus syrup, lime, and Mexican Tepache, a fermented beverage made from the peel and the rind of pineapples. Try to plan your visit after sunset, when the fire pits are lit and guests can sip under the stars. Reservations required a day in advance. (aubergeresorts.com/chilenobay) 2. The Rusty Nail: Cape May, New Jersey Blue and orange umbrellas dot outdoor boardwalk planks in front of what was once regarded as “the longest bar in all of Cape May.” The Rusty Nail, the Jersey Shore’s iconic surfer bar, has been well known along the Eastern Seaboard since the 1970s. A seaside haunt open May through December, it features an outdoor fire pit in the warm weather months and indoor fireplaces once the air chills. Order a cone of fried shrimp and wash it down with an Orange Crush, a classic Garden State beach cocktail made with Absolut Mandrin, orange, triple sec, and lemon-lime soda. If you’re on vacation with the family, this is an ideal spot to for the whole crew. The Nail is open to young, old, and the four-legged, complete with a full doggy menu. (caperesorts.com/restaurants/capemay/rustynail) 3. Mai Tai Bar: Honolulu, Hawaii Mad Men fans will immediately recognize the Royal Hawaiian, the iconic pink hotel where Don and Megan Draper honeymooned in the heart of Waikiki Beach, Oahu. Explore the basement of the property, an ode to the hotel’s decorated past, then head to the Mai Tai Bar. The hotel’s beach-side enclave, speckled with umbrellas and pink chairs, is known across the island for its variety of mai tais. Order the 96 Degrees in the Shade to cool down. A frozen mai tai with Captain Morgan, fresh pineapple-passionfruit purée, lime juice, orgeat, and mint, it's topped with a generous dark-rum floater. (royal-hawaiian.com/dining/mai-tai-bar) 4. Rick’s Cafe: Negril, Jamaica Rick’s Café, perched atop a 35-foot cliff on the west end of Negril, is known as the island’s best spot for watching the sunset. Patrons arriving at this vibrant multi-level watering hole before dusk are treated to another phenomenon: cliff diving. As island music plays, a soundtrack often provided by the in-house reggae band, locals and tourists alike head behind the bar to tiered jumping points of varying heights for a serious adrenaline rush. Not into cliff jumping? No problem. Order a rum punch and kick back at an indoor or outdoor table. If the plan is to see the sunset, arrive no later than 4PM, as seats fill up fast. And don’t forget a camera for an Instagram-worthy snap. (rickscafejamaica.com) 5. Navy Beach: Montauk, New York White picnic tables and navy blue umbrellas mark Navy Beach, a waterfront wonder set on a 200-foot private beach in Montauk, one of many seaside communities tucked within the Hamptons, New York’s coastal getaway. A casual bar and eatery, guests arrive by both land and sea. (There’s a dock for boaters to tie up on Fort Pond Bay.) Once inside, be sure to try out the classic Dark & Stormy, a blend of Gosling’s rum, ginger beer, and bitters. If you’re with an entourage, opt for a pitcher of Navy Grog, rum mixed with grapefruit, orange, and pineapple juices. When hunger strikes, order the buttermilk fried chicken with a side of truffled mac. And don’t be surprised when you see an added charge on your tab—from May to September, a donation of $1 is added to each check in support of the Navy SEAL Foundation. Helping out never tasted so good. (navybeach.com) 6. Flora-Bama: Perdido Key, Florida Flora-Bama, the self-proclaimed most famous beach bar in the country, gets its name from its unique coordinates straddling the Florida-Alabama state line. A landmark in the Gulf Shores community, this energetic watering hole offers live entertainment 365 days a year, with events that range from chili cook-offs and fishing rodeos to the Annual Mullet Toss and beachfront concerts. Flora-Bama is best known for its Bushwhacker, a milkshake-like concoction from a secret recipe involving five different types of liquor. The likes of Kenny Chesney have paid homage to the bar with lyrics like “I'm in the redneck riviera, It's getting crazy, getting hammered, sitting right here at the Flora-Bama.” (florabama.com) 7. Soggy Dollar Bar: Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands Accessible only by boat, the Soggy Dollar Bar has been serving its famous Painkiller cocktail on Jost Van Dyke since the 1970s. Made with a top-secret recipe of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple, and orange juice and topped with freshly grated nutmeg from Grenada, the potent drink makes the trek to this salty saloon worth the effort. Devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, Soggy Dollar’s owner and employees worked diligently to re-open in early 2018 for its rum-loving fans—and potential fans. Have a friend stopping by without you? The bar is famous for their “Drink Board,” an opportunity to buy a drink ahead of time for someone visiting. (soggydollar.com) 8. Pelican Brewing Company: Pacific City, Oregon A love of beer and the ocean brought Pelican Brewing company to life in 1996 on Cape Kiwanda, situated about 100 miles west of Portland in coastal Pacific City. Today it’s the only beachfront brewpub in the Pacific Northwest. Head straight for the bar and order a Kiwanda, a pre-Prohibition cream ale inspired by one of America’s 19th-century beer styles, marked by a floral aroma and clean finish. Pelican Brewing Company offers seven year-round beers, as well as seasonal specials and a small-batch series called Lone Pelican. For those that can't make the trip, a live brewery webcam allows for an instant beach-bar fantasy get-away. (pelicanbrewing.com) 9. Clayton’s Beach Bar: South Padre Island, Texas Everything's bigger in Texas, and the beach bars are no exception. To wit: Clayton’s Beach Bar. With a capacity for 5,000 guests, the venue features touring acts like Billy Currington and Nelly, and each March, it plays host to the largest free spring-break stage in Texas. Known for its frozen margaritas and Turbo Piña Coladas, this popular beachside bar is a partying hotspot and treats patrons to fireworks on the weekend. Whether heading to Clayton’s with friends or the kids (it’s family-friendly), be sure to have a designated driver or an Uber on speed dial—the bartenders are notoriously heavy handed. (claytonsbeachbar.com)
America's Best Beer Destinations, Ranked.
The craft beer revolution has been brewing for years. Throughout the U.S. independent breweries have been opening at an astonishing clip. As of this moment, there are more than 7,000 craft breweries, an exponential growth from the 1,511 that were active in 2007. Big beer has taken notice and started buying smaller operations. AB-InBev, owners of titans like Budweiser and Michelob, purchased Blue Point Brewing on Long Island for $24 million. MillerCoors, which owns the monoliths Miller and Coors, purchased a large stake in popular Terrapin Brewing Company in 2016. Anchor Brewing, the oldest craft brewery, which dates back to the 1890s, was sold to Sapporo, Japan’s fourth-largest beer brand, in 2017. The list goes on. Numbers Don't Lie A study released this month spells out just how much this already huge industry is growing and the economic impact in each state. Using research provided by the Brewers Association, C + R Research crunched the numbers to come up with a detailed map of how much who is producing in which states. The way we see it, the conclusions make an excellent guide for beer-lovers who are hitting the road. The state with the highest production isn’t where you might think. Sure, California’s coast is lined with breweries and Colorado has been a state that gets lots of attention for its breweries’ often being ahead of trend. Colorado is also the gathering point each fall for the Great American Beer Festival, which draws enthusiasts who come by the thousands to taste from hundreds of American beers. But it’s the quiet, modest state of Vermont that makes more beer per capita than anywhere else. There are 11.5 breweries per capita producing the equivalent of 151.2 pints per drinking-age residentd. The second-place state might also come as a bit of a surprise, but the land known for Glacier National Park and Yellowstone apparently has plenty of gorgeous landscape for brewers to work their craft. Montana clocks in with 9.6 breweries per capita, a tie with Maine. Oregon and Colorado follow suit 8.5 and 8.4 breweries respectively. Alaska (6.8 breweries per capita), Washington (6.7), and Wyoming (5.7) pull up behind them. Plenty of Pints All Along Beer Trails Most breweries around the country have tours and tasting rooms, but it’s always wise to call ahead, as organized tours might take place on particular days or times. Also, when you’re visiting a city, check to see if there are brewery trails of some sort. Denver, Massachusetts, San Diego and plenty of other cities and states have information and maps for self-guided tours, while cities like Anchorage and Asheville offer tours where experts lead you to different venues to meet local brewers and taste their wares.
In Florida, a day at a park doesn’t always have to mean hanging out with The Minions, Mickey or Big Bird, though it often does. No surprise, considering the Sunshine State is synonymous with popular theme and water parks. But, Florida is also home to 175 state parks scattered from the Panhandle to the Keys, each offering an opportunity to experience the state’s myriad natural and cultural treasures, whether streams and rivers threading through a verdant landscape, a system of caverns peppered with stalactites, miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, dense tracts of forests dripping with moss, or historic forts and lighthouses. The entire compendium of state parks shows off Florida’s grand diversity of ecosystems, from mangroves to pinelands to dunes, as well as the resident and migrant creatures that call these vast expanses home or pay a seasonal visit. In the six state parks below, a grand array of enticing scenery and activities are on full display. (You can learn more at floridastateparks.org.) 1. Oleta River State Park Just 30 minutes from downtown Miami, Oleta is considered Florida’s largest urban park and one offering numerous water- and land-based activities. Inside the park, BG Oleta River Outdoors (bgoletariveroutdoor.com) rents canoes and kayaks so visitors can paddle through dark, foliage tunnels along the mangrove-lined river and then on to peaceful Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway with opportunities to spot river otter, and sea turtles. (This concession also offers full moon and one-hour Friday sunset kayak tours.) And, despite Miami’s perfectly flat topography, Oleta is considered one of Florida’s best mountain biking venues, with more than a dozen miles of interconnected, challenging single track coursing beside the park’s waterways. 2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park On the southern tip of Key Biscayne, Bill Baggs is most noted for its one-mile-some beach -- perfect for sunning and swimming -- that’s often named as one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach. Bird watchers are also attracted to this park that’s a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating species, such as Cerulean and Bay-breasted wood-warblers. Anyone walking to the southern tip of the Pond Trail will be near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest structure that provides stunning views of Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne and South Beach. 3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Named for the tallest of the coastal dunes along the Gulf of Mexico that resembles a ship’s sail, rising over 25 feet high, Topsail Hill, located in the Florida Panhandle, preserves these white quartz dunes with lakes -- a unique ecosystem -- where fresh and saltwater mix. Those with a fishing license can try to snag catfish, bream or bass in one of these lakes, or cast from the beach for Spanish mackerel, pompano or red fish. The paved Campbell Lake Bike Trail -- named for this coastal dune lake, a popular picnic spot -- that’s shaded by tall longleaf pines appeals to cyclists. 4. Hillsborough River State Park Just a few minutes north of Tampa, Hillsborough is one of the few spots in Florida featuring whitewater rapids. Those who bring their own canoe relish the small section of Class II rapids. The park also rents canoes that can be put in just below the rapids on this blackwater river, the color deriving from the tannins leaching from fallen leaves. Growing along the shore, live oaks, magnolia and cypress trees provide for shaded paddling, with opportunities to see otters or alligators on the banks. History buffs often sign up on a guided tour of the reconstructed Fort Foster, a replica of the circa 1837 fort from the time of the Second Seminole Indian War. 5. Honeymoon Island State Park Having received its name after several dozen honeymoon cottages were constructed (and subsequently demolished) in the early 1940s, this barrier island remains a stunning day-trip from Tampa for nature lovers. Though beachgoers flock to the sandy and seashell/rock studded four-mile stretch, a wild landscape of tide pools, sand dunes and salt marshes await those walking past the last parking lot to the shaded Osprey Trail. Hikers will find monarch butterflies fluttering about and the ever-present scent of pine. (A real treat is seeing osprey with their young.) 6. Caladesi Island State Park A short ferry ride away from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi was once attached to its sister island prior to a major hurricane in 1921. Though now connected to Clearwater Beach after a land bridge formed, Caladesi feels like the Florida of another era, once visitors wander past the ranger station/concession, with nothing but the sounds of bird calls, and the tide lapping at the powdery beach. In 2018, Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi’s dazzling quartz sands as one of the country’s top 10. A network of sandy trails wind through the heart of this island where signs remind visitors that the dense interior is snake territory.
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