Florida is America’s second-most-visited state — California is the first — and attracted more than 126 million visitors last year. But there’s another, quieter Florida that exists alongside the one that is so deservedly popular. Beyond the beach blanket and amusement park crowds, the Sunshine State has several new small hotels of real character, as well as one of the most interesting restaurant scenes in the country.
We began our recent trip on Amelia Island, 35 miles northeast of Jacksonville, and then headed south to Winter Park, near Orlando. From there, we continued to Miami Beach. Finally, we drove to the Gulf Coast along Highway 75, concluding our 800-mile road trip in Sarasota, where a world-class cultural scene belies the city’s population of fewer than 60,000 inhabitants.
Amelia Island is a 13-mile-long Atlantic Coast barrier island justly known for its gorgeous beaches and golf courses (including the oceanfront Golf Club of Amelia Island), as well as plush resorts like the 446-room Ritz-Carlton. With its wide sidewalks, diverse architecture, palmetto palms and live oaks draped with feathery jade-green Spanish moss, the 50 square blocks of Fernandina Beach’s historical district form the core of a lovely small town.