The other Florida

Most people visit Florida for its theme parks and party beaches, but there is another side. The state is a place of incredible natural beauty and home to some of the most powerful and influential people of the 20th Century. If you’re looking for something beyond the “usual Florida vacation,” keep reading for some of our favorite outdoor spaces and hidden cultural treasures.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The Florida Keys have always been one of our favorite places, and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of the reasons. The coral reef encompasses 70 nautical square miles off the coast of Key Largo, and the park includes mangrove forests, tropical hammocks and numerous beach habitats. 100-feet offshore from Cannon Beach there are remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck, and with sailing, diving and snorkeling tours leaving several times a day, it is a great place to experience the magic of the Keys.

St. George Island State Park
In a state known for its white sand beaches, St. George Island State Park is one of the most pristine. A long barrier island between Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, St. George is a place of sand dunes, sea oats and sunsets. It is tranquil and unspoiled. There’s also no shortage of activities, with boating, fishing, swimming and all the things you want from a beach minus the crowds and high-rise condominiums.

Keep reading below for three more Florida favorites…

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
It would be a shame not to see manatees while in Florida. The Homosassa Springs have always attracted them, and today the park is a key part of the state’s manatee rehabilitation program.

In addition, the park has many of Florida’s other native wildlife species. The rangers offer wildlife encounters and presentations throughout the day, and the freshwater springs and cypress swamps offer a beautiful environment for kayaking.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Located in Fort Myers, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates were the winter quarters of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The grounds, gardens and houses, including Edison’s workshop, are open to the public. This is a chance to go back in time and see how two influential men lived a simple yet elegant lifestyle in the days before air-conditioning.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Situated on the shores of Sarasota Bay, the grounds of this unique Florida attraction is much more than a circus sideshow. Though John Ringling was one of the seven siblings who created the Ringling Brothers Circus, his former Florida estate includes lavish gardens, an art museum with several large paintings by Rubens and yes, even a circus museum. Ringling had an opulent lifestyle. From the imported marble floors to the exquisite furnishings, this is the place to see just what money could buy.

From lavish estates and art to beautiful natural scenery, Florida has lots to offer the visitor sick of roller coasters and mouse ears. Chart a course for the “other Florida” on your next visit.

The most amazing New Year’s Eve luxury travel experience you can imagine

Find 17 of your closest frends and bring them to Palmasola. The beachfront estate will deploy its full-time staff of 16 to attend to your needs in this 25,000 square foot paradise, which includes Chef Peter Lodes, who has worked Michelin starred restaurants around the world. He’ll pull together Mexican and Mediterranean flavors for you and your guests, pairing each meal with exquisite wines, which you’ll enjoy in the villa’s dining rooms, verandas or just outside under the moonlight.

The destination’s New Year’s Eve package is designed to give the 18 of you an experience you’ll never forget. It includes all meals for everyone in the estate, a Mexican Fiesta night (with tequila tasting and traditional dance performance), and a traditional piñata party for the kids. Guests get full access to the nearby Four Seasons Resort, which includes a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

Set up on 200 feet of shoreline, the villa has a media room (with home theater), heated pool, Jacuzzi and fitness center. There are two game rooms — one for adults and another for kids — not to mention two residences and two more apartments, adding up to nine bedrooms. Workaholics can spend some time in the business center, which comes equipped with computers and WiFi access.

To relax or invest, vineyards worth a look

Take a beating in the stock market this year? There’s nothing quite like a dose of financial abuse to make you want to disappear to wine country for a week or two. While you’re out there, though, it may pay to turn your head back to investing, if only briefly. Lease or buy a vineyard-or just hide in a villa for a weeks-with a bit of help from BeautifulPlaces.

Sorry for the reality check, but this form of therapy isn’t cheap. The BeautifulPlaces properties are upscale, and the amenities are focused on the high net worth crowd. The Napa and Sonoma Valley properties range from Tuscan estates to Provencal cottages, from Carneros to Dry Creek Valley, CA. As these lavish settings would suggest, guests typically take advantage of the certified nannies, professional photographers and in-villa spa treatments that BeautifulPlaces can arrange. If you’re inclined, get a unique tour of the night sky with the help of an astronomer.

No, I’m not joking.

Of course, if you’re hitting Napa or Sonoma, wine is on your mind. Tours, tastings and custom wine blending experiences can be arranged. Even people like me have access to these activities, though. If you’re looking for something unique, spend some time with Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein. President and wine guru of Full Circle Wine Solutions, he’ll walk you through an intricate tasting day. This “day” may start months in advance, when Goldstein talks to you about your preferences-food and wine-as well as whether you collect (or, like me, just gulp right from the box glass). When you hit the ground, Goldstein will create wine and meal pairings you won’t soon forget, especially when you’re “cooking” meals in the microwave at home.

If all this isn’t enough, and you just have to buy a vineyard, BeautifulPlaces will put you in touch with Premier Pacific Vineyards. These guys invest in and develop vineyards along the west coast. For serious financial types, this is a great way to get a foot in the door.

Head out to California wine country, but be ready to drop a few bucks along the way. It’s probably worth it. After the way the markets have treated us this year, even the rich deserve a break.