There is so much more to Florida than Disney World and Universal Studios. Endless glorious beaches with powder-white sand and warm shallow waters are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, kayaking and adrenaline-filled water sports. Thousands of snowbirds flock from the snow-biting winters of Canada and northern America to warm their souls and explore this extraordinary state. Florida has various nicknames, including the Sunshine State and Space Coast, where the countdown of three, two, one resounds across Cape Canaveral as onlookers watch gravity-defying rockets launching into space.
Florida is on the south-eastern tip of the States. It is surrounded by water, with the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast and the Atlantic on the east. The sub-tropical climate, exciting coastal towns and lakeside villages attract snowbirds to mobile homes, condominiums, boats and RV sites throughout the winter months. Here are our top places to stay in Florida for snowbirds.
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Fort Myers and Sanibel
Just off the western coast of Florida lies Fort Myers and 50-miles of some of the most spectacular beaches in America. Almost year-round sun rays glint off the sparkling indigo waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Over 100 sub-tropical islands allow for ample days of paddling the endless shores, searching for treasures and colourful shells. Relaxed resorts and bustling seafood restaurants line Fort Myers Beach awaiting the nightly fiery sunsets. At the southern end of host Estero island, nature lovers can enjoy good walks or bike rides and snorkelling or kayaking the pristine barrier reef waters. The gated communities that nestle happily in golf resorts attract sun-seeking winter visitors.
Sanibel city is on eponymous Sanibel Island, known for its beaches awash with shells from the Gulf of Mexico. The towering 19th-century lighthouse protectively guards manatees and the bird-packed marshes, swaying palm trees, upscale real estate and the J N ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge covering almost half the island. The waters are home to the biggest pods of fun-loving bottlenose dolphins in the world.
Naples and Marco Island
At the southern end of Florida’s west coast is Naples, a town crowned for its luxurious contemporary shopping and boutique artful treasures. Bayfront is worth a visit with its quirky shops, galleries and restaurants. Challenging verdant golf courses drop down to the sea, and friendly parks welcome the sporty set, walkers and picnickers. Waterfront real estate is on the doorstep of the untamed wilderness of the everglades. Naples quite rightly boasts that it has over 700 restaurants serving some of the best food in the state. Wander along Naples Pier as the sun sets over the sea and watch for the green flash that happens just seconds after the sun disappears over the horizon. It is a phenomenon unique to Southwest Florida.
A vehicular bridge links Naples and Marco Island to meet mangrove-lined estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands. The island has glorious resort hotels, marinas, golf courses, beaches and various networks of inland waterways. Tigertail Beach Park is a tidal lagoon that’s popular for paddleboarding and other non-motorised water sports. Many of the homes are water-fronted, so boating is a way of life.
Tampa Bay sits on a large natural harbour and shallow estuary on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is a vibrant blend of Cuban and Spanish verve with shoreline communities and pretty waterways that run idly through the city. The two-and-a-half-mile Tampa Riverwalk attracts residents and visitors at all times of the day and night. Yogi’s practise their sun salutations as the sky turns pink to a new day; walkers, runners and fitness enthusiasts appreciate the warm air as they do their daily steps. Hip bars, innovative restaurants and art galleries all come to life at night under a canopy of twinkling stars. Turn of the century and contemporary buildings provide accommodation for snowbirds from Canada.
There is always something to do. The TECO Manatee Viewing Centre overlooks the manatee sanctuary that takes care of the much-loved gentle giants. Tampa Museum of Art has seen pop-up exhibitions of Andy Warhol’s pop art and Norman Rockwell’s art reflecting idealistic American culture. Be sure to venture to the Tampa Heights waterworks building and dine in Ulele, a famous barbacoa grill restaurant named after the legendary Native American Princess.
Clearwater is a must for sun-loving snowbirds; it holds the record for 768 days of sunshine. That’s over two years of non-stop golden rays. The town has an exciting calendar of events throughout the year. Pier 60 has a fun circusy-vibe of street performers, fire-breathers, tightrope-walkers, jugglers and an array of toe-tapping music. Most activities are beach-centric because there are miles and miles of them. Every spring, Pier 60 hosts the Sugar Sand Festival, a glorious event on the beach where talented artists craft giant castles and sculptures in the sand, conduct art classes, and various fun activities for families. Chefs serve their regionally-inspired food from lively pop-ups and food trucks.
Thousands of spectators head to the water’s edge in the autumn to bear witness to The Bright House Clearwater SuperBoat National Championship & Seafood Festival. This rip-roaring speedboat competition is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The powerful boats can reach up to 100 miles per hour. The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is a well-attended soulful jazz festival where international musicians perform swing, jam band, rock, folk, Americana, funk, ragtime and blues. Past performers have included Gladys Knight and Kool and the Gang. There are many reasons that Canadian snowbirds make Clearwater their winter home.
Culturally rich in history, Sarasota lay barren after Spanish explorers expelled the Calusas in the 15th century. The Armed Occupation Act ceded farm folk 160 acres of land and six months provisions to reside in Sarasota in the mid 19th century. Sailing boats and steamships were their only access to the outside world until the Tampa railroad was complete in 1902. John Ringling built his namesake circus, a stunning, Venetian-style, bay-fronted winter home, an art museum and college, providing solid foundations for the creative town that it is today. Siesta Key Beach has been recognised numerous times as one of the most spectacular windswept beaches in North America. The town has a busy calendar of events, art galleries, theatre and opera, not to mention a vibrant dining scene.
Sarasota is full of delightful landscapes, including the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens with its extraordinary collection of orchids. They have various art exhibitions and events that take place throughout the year. The historic Spanish Point is home to nature trails and mangroves that pepper prehistoric seafood middens. Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest parks made up of wetlands, prairies, hillocks and pinelands. It’s a popular park for walkers and cyclists and those who enjoy messing around on the water in kayaks or the world’s largest airboat. There are hundreds of alligators that live in this breathtaking watery ecosystem. The brave can traverse the slightly terrifying canopy walk above the trees.
Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte
Punta Gorda is an ideal destination for snowbirds that yearn to be outside in the fresh air. One of the favoured communities for winter homes is Punta Gorda Isles, a waterfront community with well over 50-miles of wide, saltwater canals for dreamy living. Daily life revolves around water activities. The calm canals are perfect for languid paddleboarding, kayaking adventures and fishing from the end of your garden. Charlotte Harbor attracts motorboat and sailboat lovers.
Sport is important in Port Charlotte; it’s home to seven golf courses and home to the training ground for the Tampa Bay Rays each spring. Tippecanoe Bay is a protected environmental park boasting an exclusive network of hiking trails that meander through the coastal estuaries, scrublands and pine woods. Punta Gorda has retained its vibrant history with candy-coloured Queen Anne-style wooden architecture. There are endless opportunities to appreciate nature with waterside shopping at Harborwalk, Charlotte Harbor, and Fisherman’s Village, a unique full-service destination resort. Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte was the home of Sallie Jones, the first school superintendent. Pretty walled botanical gardens, fountains and statues make for beautiful afternoon strolls.
Fondly known as St. Pete’s, which was founded in the late 19th century when the railroad came to town. Not only does it have award-winning beaches but the impressive Salvador Dali Museum. The museum has an incredible permanent collection of over 2,400 Dali works and houses many visiting exhibitions each year. The impressive Fort De Soto Park is a much-revered boating community and county park covering five islands on the Gulf of Mexico. Accommodation offerings range from camping, boutique hotels and luxury homes for extended stays. The waterfront offers a range of activities such as fishing, beach-living, or kayaking to try and find the elusive manatee, leaping mullet, turtles, and cormorants. Jump on the ferry to Egmont Key and discover the ruins of Fort Dade, the small lighthouse, and, if you are lucky, the gopher tortoises and their burrows.
Back in St. Petersburg, wander to the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Centre. Be inspired by the extraordinarily vibrant collection of fragile glass sculptures from world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. For four decades, the master glass sculptor has pushed the boundaries of contemporary art. An iconic 20-foot sculpture celebrates the collection. Each installation provides a unique visual experience. Downtown St. Petersburg offers many divine eateries and shopping facilities, including the Art Pool Gallery, a vintage clothing boutique with hand-crafted jewellery and antique home goods. Various theatres have regular productions of theatre, classic films, opera, dance and comedy.
Kissimmee juxtaposes nature, theme parks and waterside living. Lake Tohopekaliga has lots of walking trails, playgrounds and a fishing pier. The Seminole Indians once lived close by; they respected the lake and gave it the meaning of ‘we will gather together here’. Kissimmee has a quaint main street that’s alive with cafés, bars and antique stores. The rest of the city is modern and blends into Greater Orlando.
When Walt Disney World was built, it devastated much of the wetlands and sensitive natural habitats. The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve is a protected, undeveloped 11,500-acre preserve. It results from the ensuing court case that forced Walt Disney World to compensate for the irreparable ecological damage it caused. The park’s scrub, woodlands and fields are home to bald eagles, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes and hundreds of other flora and fauna species.
How Yardly Can Help
Now that you’ve seen the appeal to heading south during the Canadian winter, you’ll need to get your ducks in a row at home. One headache that arises is property maintenance! Yardly’s here to help maintain your property with snow removal while you’re down south in Arizona. And, if you choose to stay longer we even offer yard care services including lawn mowing, weed control, and spring and fall clean ups. Request your free quote today!