• Wentworth Museum and Historic Pensacola: A collection of historic homes, museums and other sites (www.historicpensacola.org) highlights Pensacola’s history dating to the mid-1500s under Spanish, French, British, Confederate and American control. Admission to the The T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; admission is free.
For a look inside the historic homes in Historic Pensacola Village, you can take a tour for $6. The University of West Florida Archaeology department often conducts digs in the area and visitors can get a close-up look at a dig in progress.
• The Destin Docks: The sign welcoming visitors calls Destin “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” The sign is an homage to a time when the area was known for its fine snapper fishing and shrimping rather than high-rise condos, but fishing remains a huge part of local culture. Destin has a large charter boat fleet and visitors can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars searching for marlin and mahi on a deep-sea fishing expedition. For visitors who don’t want to spend serious money on offshore fishing, Destin’s fishing docks still offer an entertaining stroll. Fishermen unload and clean their catch and display the fish for passersby to view, and the large grouper, snapper and other fish are usually an impressive sight.
Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grand resort (www.emeraldgrande.com/harborwalk-village.aspx), located on the west end of Destin, have a variety of seasonal events year-round and make a fun place for visitors to stroll before or after checking out the day’s catch.
While the region does boast some of America’s most beautiful beaches, there are also some out-of-the-way spots that reveal a different side of this sunny state.
• Jose Marti Park: While it’s physically located in Tampa’s historic district called Ybor City, this tiny park is really part of Cuba. Yes, THAT Cuba. It was named after the revolutionary who helped oust the Spanish from Cuba in 1900 and who also spent time in Florida. The land was bought by a couple in the 1950s to honor the man himself and given to Cuba. To this day, property records show that the owner of the 0.14 acre park is the “Cubano Estado,” or “Cuban State.”
• Teddy’s Tampa: In 1898, before he was president, Col. Teddy Roosevelt stayed in Tampa on his way to fight the Spanish-American War in Cuba. He and the First United States Volunteer Cavalry — also known as the Rough Riders — bivouacked and planned the invasion at the Tampa Bay Hotel, an ornate structure with silver minarets built by a railroad magnate. The building is now part of the campus of the University of Tampa and houses a museum.
• Mafia Cemetery: Did you watch the movie Donnie Brasco? Remember how Donnie and Sonny Black met up with famed mobster Santo Trafficante Jr., the mafia boss of Florida and Cuba? In Tampa, you can see Trafficante’s final resting place at the L’Unione Italiana Cemetery in Ybor City. Trafficante died in 1987 at a Houston hospital after a triple bypass. During his funeral at the Tampa cemetery, police officers stood outside and took photos of the mourners.
• Sunset Beach: Almost all of the Tampa-area beaches are located west of the city in Pinellas County, and all of them are gorgeous. But one of the nicest and most secluded is Sunset Beach, nestled at the tip of a small beach city named Treasure Island. There are few businesses on this part of the barrier island; it’s mostly homes and condos. From downtown Tampa, take I-275 South to 22nd Avenue South, then head west.
• St. Petersburg waterfront: Downtown Tampa is mostly concrete and steel, but across the bay is a kinder, gentler cityscape. You can stroll along parks and waterfront between the historic, Mediterranean-revival Vinoy Hotel and the eye-popping Salvador Dali Museum. Pass by the Museum of Fine Arts, a marina, a yacht club and some gorgeous banyan trees. On nearby Beach Drive, cafes, bars and stores line the street.