Florida For Free
Florida’s theme parks, world-class hotels and boundless outdoor excursions can have you shelling out a pretty penny for a good time. But plenty of free activities still await -- and we’re not just talking about the endless miles of beautiful beaches, either. With possibilities that include brewery tours, free ferry rides and museums that won’t cost you a cent, there’s a free activity with your name written all over it in Florida.
MiamiWith cigar shops and fruit stands, Little Havana is always an interesting place to visit. But this Cuban enclave in downtown Miami really shines on the last Friday of each month during Viernes Culturales or “cultural Fridays.” A street party on Calle Ocho -- that’s “8th street” in Spanish -- transforms the neighborhood’s main drag into an open-air gallery with sculptors, musicians and passersby all converging for al fresco fun. Watch people dance to salsa tunes under the moon. And bring your appetite to try Cuban specialties such as ropa vieja (shredded, seasoned beef).
TavernierLocated on the tropical isle of Tavernier in the Florida Keys, this wildlife rehabilitation center is an inspiring, if sometimes sad, place to see hawks, owls, falcons and seabirds being rehabilitated following natural and man-caused injuries. There’s a bird hospital onsite (closed to the public), where veterinarians treat birds with the hopes of eventually releasing them into the wild. But some birds, such as ospreys, which have suffered irreparably broken wings, have been here for decades. Follow a boardwalk through the outdoor facility -- a collection of roofed cages home to birds such as pelicans and blue herons -- and admire views of Florida Bay. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
KissimmeeYou’ve got to love an Orlando-area attraction that not only offers free admission and live music 3 nights a week, but doesn’t charge you for parking either. Such is the scene at Old Town, a village-style attraction with a Main Street feel (quaint buildings, old school wooden facades) where you can browse the shops and restaurants in a lively street scene setting that includes the largest weekly car cruise in the US, held every Saturday.
St. AugustineThe sprawling Castillo de San Marcos gets a lot of the St. Augustine spotlight. But many visitors prefer to visit this nearby fort along St. Augustine’s southern river approach because it’s far less crowded -- and it includes a ferry ride. The fun begins with the ride from the mainland to the barrier island, where beautiful oak trees dripping with moss, southern magnolia trees and a stretch of sandy beach await. Kids scout the waters of the Matanzas Inlet near the ferry dock for sea turtles and the occasional snapper. Meanwhile, interpreters lead guided tours explaining the fort’s history: It guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach during colonial times. It’s also located a few yards from the barrier island beaches of the Matanzas Inlet, where nearly 250 French Huguenots were slaughtered by the Spanish.
GainesvilleOne of the 10 largest natural history museums in the country, this museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Florida’s geologic history through fossil exhibits from the Eocene era (from 56.5 to 35.4 million years ago), when Florida was still underwater. Located on the University of Florida campus, the museum includes some 28 million cultural artifacts such as ancient dug-out canoes. The museum is also home to feel-good fun; the outdoor “Butterfly Rainforest,” a 6,400-square-foot screened space you can walk through, includes hundreds of living butterflies and moths, with waterfalls and lush subtropical and tropical Florida foliage as backdrop.
JacksonvilleOne of just 5 Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour locations in the country (there are 12 breweries nationwide), the Jacksonville outpost offers free tours and beer sampling. Guests of all ages are welcome on the tour, during which you’ll see the stainless steel mash tanks where the brewing process begins and tanks used in the finishing process, when the beer is filtered and chilled to 32 degrees. At the end of the tour, guests 21 and up can sample seasonal brews, old standards and new products. Cheers!
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