SEASHELL HUNT: Know your beach denizens
As you hit the beach this summer, dazzle your out-of-town visitors with a little knowledge of what those pretty shells scattered on the shore actually are. If you don't know your beaded periwinkle from a fighting conch, you should. And it's pretty easy to identify Florida seashells once you call up the vast gallery of thumbnail pictures at seashells.org or shellmuseum.org, the wesbsite of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel. The Shell Museum has more than two dozen permanent exhibits that detail everything from shells' history as the oldest known currency to their inspiration found in fine art and architecture. The museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with live tank talks. $11, $5 for children 5 to 17 years old, free for 4 and younger. If you are in Sanibel, make sure you stop by the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, one of the country's largest undeveloped mangrove systems, best known for its amazing array of seabirds.
SPOTLIGHT: Florida Caverns State Park
About an hour northwest of Tallahassee in Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park, with its deep underground caverns, is the only state park in Florida to offer cave tours to the public. Even on a hot summer day, there's a bit of a chill. Or maybe that's from the goose bumps you get when you see the dazzling formations of limestone, like nature's draperies. The Chipola River and Blue Hole spring provide areas for fishing, canoeing and boating. Guided cave tours are offered Thursday through Monday for a 45-minute hike that is moderately strenuous. Call ahead to (850) 482-1228 to make sure tours have not sold out for that day. Camping reservations may be made at reserveamerica.com or toll-free 1-800-326-3521. Park admission is $5 per vehicle, and cave tours are $8 per person, $5 for ages 3 to 12. floridastateparks.org.
GO DARK: KIWANIS MIDNIGHT RUN
One of the prettiest night runs of the year is the Kiwanis Midnight Run 10K along Causeway Boulevard in Dunedin, with a turnaround in Honeymoon Island State Park. The race starts just after midnight Sunday (technically Monday at 12:15 a.m.), making it an Independence Day run. The course is flat and lit by more than 700 luminarias, and the air is about as cool as it gets for this time of year. Shorter races on Sunday begin at 11 p.m. (1-mile) and 11:25 p.m. (5K). Proceeds benefit numerous area children's charities. $8-$45. (813) 833-5511. kiwanismidnightrun.com.
GREAT GEAR: Locking up valuables
It can be tough to keep up with a wallet or phone when you're trying to play in the surf or struggling with a big catch at the end of a fishing line. The Beach Vault is one of the more clever gadgets to come along to provide some security by burying your valuables underground. The plastic container is shaped like an oversized screw. Drop in your belongings and twist the vault into the sand. Cover it up with your beach blanket and no one will know you've got your stuff stashed away safely. $39 at thebeachvault.com.