By Danielle Charbonneau
Some of the best advice I was ever given is: “If you live like a tourist in your own town, you’ll never get bored.”
I have found this advice to be remarkably true. As an adventurer by heart and a columnist covering fun things to do in South Florida, I’ve spent the last several years exploring and experimenting. From kite boarding to scuba diving, wake boarding to cooking classes, sensory deprivation to turtle watching, indoor skydiving to high-speed go-carts — I have now tried at least four dozen of South Florida’s most entertaining activities. I have compiled a guide for your summer bucket list, broken into by category.
This is PART TWO: Experience Nature
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GO DIVING: Shipwreck Park
Shipwreck Park is an underwater park consisting of a series of 16 different shipwrecks, underwater art displays, coral reefs and artificial reefs designed to stimulate the local marine ecosystem and provide divers with amazing underwater experiences. Shipwreck Park is a nonprofit organization on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of preserving our natural coral reef system.
The centerpiece of Shipwreck Park is Lady Luck — a 324-foot tanker vessel called the Newton Creek which was sunk July 23, 2016. Before sinking the vessel, casino-themed artwork was installed on the ship, including card-sharks and a showgirl octopus. Divers can take pictures with the “casino staff” statues underwater. The Lady Luck project was sponsored by Isle Casino.
Another highlight to Shipwreck Park is the Okinawa — a 107-foot by 26-foot army tug boat which, before it was sunk, was adorned with artwork by sculptor Dennis McDonald. The theme is a whimsical dive bar called the Midnight Sun. The name was chosen by Finlandia Vodka as the sinking project’s largest sponsor. The dive bar includes sea creatures and a magical mermaid holding a “Gazing Globe” that lets you see your reflection. Divers can also penetrate the opening in front of the wheelhouse, swim into the engine room and up and out through the dive bar.
Several other sunken vessels are especially notable, including: the Guy Harvey — a 185-foot by 30-foot wide ship with murals painted by world renowned wildlife artist Guy Harvey; the Captain Dan — a 175-foot long coast guard tender known for attracting large barracuda, grouper, amberjack and whale sharks; and the Union Express, a 170-foot long Dutch coastal freighter which lays portside in two pieces. Book a diving trip with any local dive operator to visit Shipwreck Park.
For more information visit http://shipwreckparkflorida.org[/vc_column_text][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_column_text]
GO SHARK TAGGING: An Excursion with the Guy Harvey Research Institute
This educational and hands-on experience invites you to spend the day aboard a boat with researchers from the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Nova Southeastern University. Attendees will have opportunities to see, touch and work with sharks up close. The primary objective is to collect data and release the sharks before they become stressed.
Attendees will get to help prep the rigging, reel in the sharks and place tags on the sharks’ fins. The funds collected from the excursion will be used to support the research and education efforts of the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Nova Southeastern University, which benefit shark conservation. The excursion is limited to 25 people aboard. A full lunch, beverages and snacks are included.
Find out when the next available excursion is by calling 954-788-0208. The cost is $185 per person. Attendees should arrive no later than 8am at the boat dock at Pompano Dive Center (101 N. Riverside Drive, Ste. 111, Pompano Beach). The boat will depart at 8:30am, to return around 5:30pm. Public parking is available across Riverside Drive from the center.
GO SUPPING: Key Biscayne
With mangrove swamps, crystal clear aquamarine waters, an array of marine life, fish and coral, Biscayne National Park is one of the most picturesque places to try SUPping (Stand Up Paddle Boarding). If standing isn’t your thing, you can also rent a pedal-boat or kayak. Bring your furry friends along too; Dogs are allowed on the beach and on board. You can rent a bike to cruise around the Key, or rent beach chairs, umbrellas and towels to relax on shore. Key Biscayne has something for everyone.
3979 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne, 786-301-3557
GO RIVER WILD: BLUE SPRING STATE PARK
Blue Spring is the largest spring on the St. Johns River. The crystal clear spring runs a few miles long where visitors can fish, swim, canoe, kayak and tube. Qualified scuba divers can descend into the spring cave as well. Multiple pavilions are available for groups, and picnic tables are scattered around the entire park. The park also features volleyball courts and a playground. Hontoon Island State Park is a short paddle down the St. Johns River. There are also 51 campsites with water and electricity hookups, plus six cabins.
Hours of operation, fees and rental information can be found at floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring. 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, 386-775-3663
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO JAPAN: MORIKAMI MUSEUM AND JAPANESE GARDENS
Listen to the birds chirping, meander through the Bonzai garden, stroll through the Bamboo grove, admire Japanese art, taste an array of Japanese sake, partake in a relaxing tea workshop or dine on authentic sushi — all can be enjoyed at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, which features a museum, garden, restaurant and tea house. Morikami offers a variety of tours and cultural programs. Learn more at morikami.org.
The Morikami Museum is located at 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, morikami.org, 561-495-0233
VISIT SPACE: PLANETARIUM SHOWS AT THE SOUTH FLORIDA SCIENCE CENTER & AQUARIUM
The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is home to the first and only public planetarium in Palm Beach County. The Dekelboum Planetarium presents daily shows utilizing a brand new, state of the art “Digital Sky Scan” — a full-dome, digital video presentation. Planetarium shows are in addition to general admission to the Science Center. Cost per show is $5 for non-member adults, $3 for non-member children.
Or, go to the Planetarium after-hours for an out-of-this-world psychedelic experience at one of the Planetarium’s laser light shows, which are generally the second Friday of every month. The laser light shows are themed to musical groups such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, U2, Daft Punk and more. Laser show times vary. Cost is $10 in advance; $12 at the door. Tickets sell out quickly, so book your tickets early online.
After the laser show, enjoy some of the Center’s first floor exhibits, including a hurricane simulator.
The South Florida Science Center & Aquarium is located at 4801 Dreher Trail North, West Palm Beach sfsciencecenter.org,
GO ON SAFARI: Lion Country Safari
Lion Country Safari is a drive-through zoo with over 1,000 wild animals including giraffes, wildebeest, rhinoceroses, ostriches, monkeys and the kings of the kingdom — lions. The drive-through park is divided into seven themed sections and is accompanied by an audio tour (either via CD or the park’s app). The animals are active in wide-open-spaces, so the experience feels much more authentic than a traditional zoo. Lion Country Safari made USA Today’s top-ten drive through safari list. Following the driving tour, visitors can go to Lion Country Safari’s water park (which includes five rides, a thrilling water slide and water spray-ground); Or meander the walking park, which has dozens more animal displays, such as a monkey island, sloth tree, flamingo pond, porcupine zone and alligator area. Complimentary shows occur all day at various animal exhibits and at the Animal Theater, a covered venue space for educational talks and showings. There is an animal petting zoo, restaurants and snack vendors. The park recommends leaving four to five hours to do both the drive through and walk through zoo. The drive through safari took my group about 90 minutes.
Admission is $37 for anyone between the ages of 10 and 64, $33 for seniors 65 and older, $28 for children ages 3 to 9; and free for toddlers. Parking for the walking zoo is $8 per vehicle. If you book online, parking is free and every ticket is discounted $2. Coupons are also available online for various other discounts.
Lion Country Safari is located at 2003 Lion Country Safari Rd., Loxahatchee, lioncountrysafari.com,
BEFRIEND TURTLES: GUMBO LIMBO NATURE CENTER
Gumbo Limbo nature center started as a coastline preservation project in the 1970s and has since grown to include a sea turtle rescue, multiple outdoor aquariums, a boardwalk nature trail, the FAU research center (which guests can observe from an aerial walkway), a gift shop and a butterfly garden. Admission to the center is only a $5 recommended donation, and every day at 1pm a guided tour is given to guests to answer questions. In addition to the large sea turtles such as loggerheads, the center also has tons of baby green back turtles, a tortoise, sting rays, sand rays, lobsters, blow fish, lion fish and a whole slew of other marine life to admire.
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is located at 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Entry is a suggested $5 donation. Visit gumbolimbo.org or call 561-544-8605 for more information.
ISLAND HOP: Deerfield Island Park
Deerfield Island Park is Broward County’s own little natural oasis. Guests can board a ferry to the island from Sullivan Park (1633 Riverview Rd., Deerfield Beach). Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10am to 3pm on-the-hour, guests can board the boat to the island, walk the park’s Coquina trail and admire the area’s flora, fauna and wildlife.
The Friends of Deerfield Island’s welcoming committee greets guests as they arrive on the island and has educational activities for kids to enjoy as they explore the island. On any given day, guests may get lucky and see a gopher tortoise (the island is an official refuge for them), osprey, manatees, lizards, butterflies, spiders and a whole array of plants.
As you meander the trail, you can admire three different types of mangrove on the island — white, red and black. The red mangrove is nicknamed the walking plant because as it grows, it looks like it’s walking out into the water. The wandering sailor plant, which looks kind of like purple ivy spreading across the ground, is also called the wandering Jew because the plant wanders like Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness.
Look for the the “sunburned tourist” — a tree named for its bark, which flakes and peels like a tourist without sunscreen. And admire the strangler trees, which wrap around a host tree, stealing the host’s nutrients and “strangling” the host as it grows.
You’ll also see Florida raccoons, which look more rat-like and scrawny than those up north. They don’t need the extra layer of fat and don’t hibernate.
Be sure, too, to taste the Brazilian pepper plant — the plant’s little red bulbs will flood your mouth with the taste of spicy black pepper.
Picnic tables with grills are available on a first-come-first-served basis — a perfect destination for a family day-cation.
The island also offers kayaks and paddleboards for rent so guests can explore the perimeters of the island. Rentals are available through What’s SUP Paddleboarding every weekend from 10am – 4pm. The cost is $25 for a two hour rental.
For more information about kayaking and paddleboarding, visit whatssuppaddleboarding.com.
For more information on The Friends of Deerfield Island Park, visit friendsofdip.org.
THIS SUMMER ADVENTURE GUIDE IS A SIX-PART SERIES…
Click below to find more great activities to add to your summer bucket list:
PART ONE: GAMES & PLAY | This part of our summer adventure series has adventures to bring out your inner child, challenge your mind and free you to play.
PART TWO: EXPERIENCE NATURE | This part of our summer adventure guide will get you in touch with nature.
PART THREE: ADRENALINE JUNKIES | This part of our summer adventure series has adventures for adrenaline junkies.
PART FOUR: CREATE & LEARN | This part of our summer adventure series has adventures that will get you learning and inspire your creativity.
PART FIVE: RELAX |This part of our summer adventure series has relaxing activities to rejuvenate your mind, body & soul
PART SIX: ROAD TRIPS, DAY TRIPS & BEYOND | This part of our summer adventure series has day trips, road trips and a few travel ideas.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]