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Things to Do in Florida - page 6

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Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea

Originally constructed and dedicated in 1885, Saint Mary Star of the Sea was the first Catholic Church in Key West and the fifth Catholic Church erected in all of Florida. It has a long and storied history, including housing a convent, school and, later, a hospital. Though the original church was destroyed by fire in 1901, it was rebuilt in 1905; the exterior and interior design reflects the eclectic period of American Victorian architecture and was the first non-wooden Catholic church in South Florida. Today, the Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea is a popular destination for several reasons. In addition to the history contained within its grounds and the tranquility felt in the church, the property is also home to a Grotto containing statues of Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette. Built to keep Key West and its residents safe from hurricanes, it seems to fulfilling its mission; the island has not suffered from a severe storm since the Grotto was constructed in 1922.

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House of Blues Orlando

Come for the barbecue and stay for the live entertainment at House of Blues Orlando. Just far enough away from the main Disney World Resort restaurants and entertainment venues to make a dent in the crowds, House of Blues has long been a favorite of both locals and park visitors. The venue hosts all kinds of performers, from local favorites to world-famous stars. Even when there isn’t a concert, music will be playing and TVs will be on for sports fans.

The dual restaurant and concert venue set-up provides something for everyone. Families love House of Blues for its many kid-friendly meal options, while couples enjoy the sprawling patio, where live music can be heard. Diners rave about the shrimp, grits and barbecue ribs, and night owls particularly like the concerts and the late-night bar menu that goes along with them.

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Anhinga Trail

To get an up close and personal view of wildlife in the Everglades, particularly the bird life, the Anhinga Trail is one of the premier wetland trail in the National Park Service. A self-guided walk of about .8 miles (1200 meters) round trip, the trail is easily completed in about 45 minutes. The paved boardwalk curves through Taylor Slough, one of the few waterways that retain water year-round, making it particularly attractive to a variety of wildlife.

The saw-grass marsh is teeming with an abundance of Everglades residents, including alligators, turtles, anhingas (a type of water bird found in the Everglades; the name means snake bird or devil bird), herons, cormorants, egrets and many other birds. Because the boardwalk allows visitors to wander among the wildlife, it consequently makes the animals and birds less afraid of humans, allowing closer viewing of alligators, anhingas and other native species.

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Dry Tortugas National Park
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With its name coming from the Spanish word for "Turtles," it's no surprise that the main attraction that the Dry Tortugas have to offer is their beautiful tropical wildlife. The abundant sea life and colorful coral reefs, along with legends of shipwrecks and sunken treasures, are what draw visitors to the seven small islands off the coast of Florida known as the Tortugas. The Dry Tortugas National Park preserves the islands as well as the famous Fort Jefferson.

The park's centerpiece, Fort Jefferson, is a massive but unfinished coastal fortress that is the largest masonry structure in the West hemisphere. It is composed of over 16 million bricks. Come and marvel at the enormous structure, with its stoic, plain construction. After looking at Fort Jefferson, be sure to enjoy the beautiful wildlife the islands have to offer, whether you go snorkeling, scuba diving, saltwater fishing, or bird watching.

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More Things to Do in Florida

St. Paul's Key West Episcopal Church

St. Paul's Key West Episcopal Church

1 Tour and Activity

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has an excellent location along popular Duval Street in Key West, but even without that enviable piece of real estate, the church would be hard to miss. On sunny days, its white exterior stands out brilliantly against the bright blue Key West sky. Inside, you’ll find a peaceful reverie from the bustling vibe of Key West.

The St. Paul Episcopal Church dates back to 1833 and was the first church community in the United States south of St. Augustine; however, the current church structure is actually the fourth one as hurricanes and fires ravaged the first three churches. In 1919 the fourth church was completed following the plan to construct it mostly out of concrete to make it more durable. This proved true until the 1990s when the salt and sand from the nearby beach and ocean accumulating within the walls over the decades resulted in splitting of the walls, leading to a risk of the church caving in.

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Flamingo Visitor Center

Flamingo Visitor Center

The original site of the village of Flamingo, the Flamingo Visitor Center is located at the Everglades National Park’s southern entrance, about 38 miles from the main entrance. What was once a robust center has deteriorated in the past years due to hurricane damage.

The marina at Flamingo is popular with boaters and offers limited services including a marina shop, rentals for water activities such as canoes, kayaks and skiffs as well as fuel. Guided boat tours (the only boat tours allowed inside the park) depart approximately every 30 minutes from Flamingo, offering fully narrated tours by national park-trained naturalists. Opportunities for camping are plentiful and houseboats are available for rent.

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Vandenberg Wreck

Vandenberg Wreck

The newest attraction on the Florida Keys’ wreck diving trail, the Vandenberg was sunk off the coast of Key West in 2009 and rests in 140 – 150 feet (42.6 – 45.7 meters) of water. Originally christened the USS General Harry Taylor, this 522-foot vessel originally served as a transport ship in World War II. The US Air Force acquired the vessel as a missile range instrumentation ship in the 1960s and named it the USAFS General Hoyt S Vandenberg. The ship was reacquired by the US Navy and later retired in 1983. The Vandenberg is one of the largest ships ever purposefully sunk as an artificial reef and is considered one of the best wreck dives in the United States.

Fun Fact: the Vandenberg had a brief moment of cinematic fame playing a Russian science ship in the 1999 movie Virus. Some of the Cyrillic lettering that was added for the movie is still visible on the ship.

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