How to ditch Toronto's winter for the perfect vacation in gorgeous Florida
The sun has been making the odd, fleeting appearance as of late to tease the arrival of spring, but we still have a chunk of the notoriously cold and unpleasant Canadian winter ahead of us.
Coping with Toronto's current climate naturally prompts dreams of somewhere warmer where, instead of donning a heavy winter puffer for your one trip out of the house before sunset, you can soak up some
much-needed vitamin D in the sand and imbibe some fruity drinks on a patio.
But as you're complaining about the cold and yearning for its end, just ask yourself: Why am I not turning these dreams of summer into reality?
That reality is in Florida, where summer fun can be had all year round, and a visit is just a quick (and affordable) flight away.
The Palm Beaches and St. Pete/Clearwater are two stunning Florida destinations that you absolutely have to hit up when you're visiting the Sunshine State, and we've got the perfect guide for how to make the most of your dreamy mid-winter vacay:
Florida may be best known for its thrilling amusement parks, bustling cities and divine Keys, but the Palm Beaches are the place to be if you're looking for a great break from the Canadian cold.
With squeaky-clean sands, warm waters and few crowds, the region is super hospitable, with enough to see and do that you'll be tempted to stay all winter long, snowbird-style.
There's nothing quite like the beaches of Singer Island, with soft white beaches, picturesque palm trees and balmy, swimmable waters for a day of fun. (Tip: head out extra early for some coffee and breathtaking sunrises over the ocean.)
Singer Island offers more than 10 miles of beach to enjoy, including in John D. MacArthur State Park, where you can spend hours on land or sea hiking, biking, snorkelling, scuba diving, boating and more.
Rent a kayak or paddleboard from the Singer Island Outdoor Center for a self-guided trek around the waters of the area, or try a diving lesson, boat ride or fishing tour from some local professionals. You can also learn more about the local ecosystem and see some wildlife on a guided paddleboard tour or dolphin tour.
"There's something so special about being out on the ocean. I was both mesmerized and terrified by it. The smell of the salt water and the warm breeze was something I wanted to put in my pocket and bring back to Toronto with me," blogTO's Brian-Lynn Brieiro said of her recent trip to Florida.
"Pair that with the chance of seeing wildlife that you've only really seen through a screen makes for a magical experience. You can tell that the guides are fully invested in the experience, and they're passionate about sharing what they know. Pro tip: bring some binoculars if you have them!"
You can also visit the tropical Peanut Island Park for an afternoon of swimming and other water activities, or take a walk around Coral Cove Park.
For an educational experience, head to the MacArthur Beach Nature Center, Manatee Lagoon and Loggerhead Marinelife Center to learn more about (and interact with) local turtles and other flora and fauna, and the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum for a history lesson and tour.
Then, stop at the Two Drunken Goats Beach Cantina for a beachside cocktail and snack before heading to the Sailfish Marina Restaurant or Johnny Longboats for some fresh seafood.
And, for an incredible stay, the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Resort has luxurious all-suite beachfront accommodations, the ultimate spa experience, and tons of activities.
The resort offers snorkel, paddleboard and kayaking equipment at its Activities Tiki Hut, and meal options ranging from sophisticated American regional cuisine to casual bites with an ocean view.
"I honestly felt like a queen during my stay at this resort. They have the sweetest staff and the most inviting entrance, but the first thing I noticed was the ocean sounds. I have an actual obsession with the beach, so I could tell that it was close, and calling me!" Briana said.
"I obviously knew this place was nice based on what I saw online, but being here in person was mind-blowing. I don’t think I've ever stayed in a room so nice, especially one with such an incredible view. I spent my mornings and evenings watching the sun rise and set from the balcony."
In terms of things to do, Briana's favourites were snorkelling and their heated pool.
To best experience the opulent Palm Beach Island zip code, head to Worth Avenue where you can shop the most haute couture, dine on some pristine patios and scope the lavish architecture, which includes European-style courtyards (or "vias") complete with lush gardens and fountains.
On Briana's visit to Worth Avenue, she swooned at her surroundings.
"I'm a sucker for pretty buildings, well-maintained streets and greenery everywhere. I could not stop talking about the vegetation all over, but Worth Avenue was next level. It had an elegant European feel to it, with its extravagant architecture and landscaping," she said.
"The main strip is clean-cut and bright, but if you walk slowly you’ll find hidden narrow lanes with additional restaurants and shops to explore. I spent the majority of my time in their various courtyards which were secluded from the hustle and bustle of the strip. Need new photos for the 'gram? I recommend this place. The photo opportunities are endless."
The extremely Insta-worthy neighbourhood is complete with palm tree-lined roads, historically registered spots amid hidden laneways, designer stores galore and all types of fare — try Pizza Al Fresco or Ta-boo' for delicious eats, Breeze Ocean Kitchen for the beachy view, Swifty's for some live music, and Renato's or Cafe Boulud for an even more elevated dining experience.
Just a hop over the bay from the busy city of Tampa is St. Pete/Clearwater, a barrier island community with natural beauty and local charms that will guarantee a phenomenal trip down south.
"St.Pete/Clearwater felt like home. Staying at Hotel Zamora and exploring the areas nearby made me feel like I was a part of the community. When it comes to travel, I love experiencing a place amongst the locals and being here I felt just that," Briana told blogTO.
The gulf beaches are known for their sugary-white sands, crystal aquamarine waters, nature trails, outdoor experiences and more, while the community is known for its arts, nightlife, food and drink, and family fun.
Grab a room at the Hotel Zamora, an oasis conveniently located near both the beach and downtown, but still off the beaten path along the Intracoastal Waterway. The accommodation has attractive Spanish-inspired architecture and decor, an elegant restaurant and a rooftop with 360-degree views of the region.
"Going to Hotel Zamora at the end of the night felt great because of how quiet it was; much needed after such an action-packed evening," said Briana.
The totally revitalized St. Pete Pier is a waterfront destination on 26 acres fronting the alluring Tampa Bay. It's a picture-perfect place to meander around, whether on foot or bike, and is full of all types of fun for all ages, from food and drink to swimming, watersports and live shows.
"St. Pete Pier was an extremely lively area. There were people singing on the streets, patios were packed with people enjoying the food and the weather, and there was music coming from all over. In short, the vibes were immaculate," Briana said.
Stroll through The Marketplace full of local vendors and kiosks to satisfy all your shopping needs, take part in some hands-on learning at the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center and wet classroom, or browse some local art, like the Bending Arc net sculpture that you can engage with by simply looking up.
On exploring the pier into the evening, Briana said it "came alive at night. There was music blasting from the bars at the end of the pier, with the soft sounds of the waves crashing against it and people chit-chatting all around. There is no better way to describe this place other than lively. We took a second to look back because the view of the skyline is incredible at night."
Relax in the ample green space around the pier before heading to Pier Teaki, the hot new spot that is a modern take on classic tiki cocktail bars with a spectacular rooftop lounge called the Canopy. The roof is the perfect vantage point to catch an awe-inspiring Florida sunset that you will have to post to make everyone back at home jealous.
For dinner, it's a short walk to Allelo St. Pete, which offers an extensive wine list and upscale Mediterranean-style plates such as beef tartare, cauliflower and branzino in a chic space that opened just last summer.
Pass-A-Grille is a must-see beach town and historic district with adorable shops, art markets, rooftop bars, restaurant terraces, piers, and more.
The beach itself is a paradise, with powder-soft sand and dunes perfect for spreading out a blanket and getting lost in the sound of the ocean and its view, especially at sunset, after a day of reading, swimming and lazing in the sun.
Pass-A-Grille became one of Briana's favourite destinations on her recent trip.
"This was probably one of my favourite stops because it had everything I loved! Food, drinks, a charming look, and a beach where you could watch the sunset — the best one I’ve ever seen."
The community feels wholesome and welcoming, but there was something about that sunset that etched a spot in Briana's heart: "My socials were littered with that view for days. That experience is so deeply ingrained in my mind and I hope everyone gets the chance to see what I saw one day."
After taking in the view, saunter around 8th Avenue with its captivating string lights, stone streets and beachfront. For a meal, try Seahorse Restaurant, known for its breakfasts and seafood lunches, or The Dewey, a local fixture with a warm vibe that boasts re-imagined beach cuisine and a great wine and cocktail list.
This area is undoubtedly the hippest in town, and was the original LGBTQ2S+ neighbourhood in St. Petersburg.
Wander around soaking up the area's murals and shopping at trendy boutiques before a caffeine fix at Black Crow Coffee, to be followed by cocktails at Intermezzo. For a full meal and some great local beers, try Bench Brewing Company and Grand Central Brewhouse, which both have tasty eats and sips.
"I loved this area because it reminds me of some of the trendy streets in Toronto," said Briana, "minus all the greenery, which, no offence to Toronto, makes it that much nicer to explore."
Whether you're into art, nature or the outdoors, St. Pete/Clearwater has many opportunities to expand your mind.
The streets of the city are lined with 100+ urban murals and all sorts of street art thanks to SHINE St. Pete, an annual mural festival that has physically transformed the city and helped to foster its rich arts community.
Take a guided walking tour or adventure around on your own through this outdoor public gallery full of jaw-dropping works that make for the perfect social media post.
Briana was amazed by the detailed artwork on her trip: "I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many large murals in one neighbourhood. There was so much artistic diversity that you’ll never see the same thing twice. It's basically a free outdoor museum to explore with the best weather."
For even more art, visit the Dalí Museum, an architectural wonder of a building with a vast array of works by the renowned artist across a number of exhibits, experiences and special exhibitions.
"You don’t have to be a fan of Salvador Dalí to appreciate his work, but in this case, I am and I have been for a very long time," Briana told blogTO. Despite being familiar with his work, standing right in front Dalí's art was totally surreal, she explains.
"His large canvases make you feel so small. You can literally spend hours here because each piece is so intricate it might take you a second to see everything he's included. Do not sleep on this museum! There's something here for everyone."
And when you've worked up an appetite, Bodega on Central is perfect for lunch, with fresh, made-to-order Latin street food that includes great veg and vegan options.
For nature lovers, there's the Shell Key Preserve, where you can encounter diverse marine life.
Swim, snorkel, or embark on a kayak tour with Get Up and Go Kayaking, which has clear boats so you can see all of the tropical critters below as you pass through incredible mangroves and past white sand beaches and sandbars, learning all the while.
"Who doesn’t love kayaking?!" Briana said. "It's one of those activities that almost everyone can do and enjoy at their own pace." This activity in particular offered a physical and educational experience.
"The guide knew everything there was to know about the Shell Key Preserve, so I not only walked away with some good memories, but I also have some new fun facts up my sleeve."
"I think one of the most interesting things I learned was that oysters are able to change gender, so if there’s too much of one, some change to reproduce. But what's even crazier is that they can fertilize their own eggs!" Briana encountered many oyster beds on her tour while discussing marine life and looking around through her clear kayak.
"Since the kayaks are clear, we could see everything down below! In general, I’m a big outdoor enthusiast so I was ready for round two by the end."
After round one, two, or three out on the water, grab a bite at a local business like Billy's Stone Crab Seafood Restaurant and Bar, a sprawling, charming spot along the water's edge; or Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish, a quaint one-of-a-kind resto — both have been around for more than 50 years!
After all this fun in the sun, you'll probably be tuckered out as you head home to Canada. With so much to do in The Sunshine State, you'll be planning your next trip down to Florida in no time.
And from what was surely an unforgettable trip, Briana shared this sentiment.
"I didn’t even leave yet and I already wanted to go back. They say time flies when you’re having fun and it honestly felt like I blinked and it was over. No offence to Toronto, but I could have stayed. At least the sun gave me the boost I needed to survive the rest of this winter."
Discover The Palm Beaches
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