Ernest Hemingway once described Key West as "the best place I've ever been anytime anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms. ... Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." That is a real, unedited quote. Although we might never know the result of that night of absinthe-induced debauchery, we do know why our home state inspired such fawning praise.
Hemingway so admired Florida's unparalleled natural beauty because, like many great people, he was a resident. Since the author's death in 1961, the state has continued to touch the lives of actors, athletes, musicians, judges and presidential candidates. This story is a celebration of Florida products, human and inanimate, with meditations on its greatest natural scenes by some of the state's most noteworthy people.
Professional surfer Kelly Slater. [Getty Images]
"My favorite spot is either the Thousand Islands area in the Banana River behind Cocoa Beach or Sebastian Inlet State Park. I love the diversity of Florida's wildlife from the birds to alligators, fish, manatees, sharks. There is no shortage of things to go around. I grew up in both these places. We camped, dove, fished and surfed Sebastian many weekends as kids. We would also ride our motor bikes through the swampy area roads and find clams and stone crab claws for dinner. I spent a lot of my youth wake-surfing behind boats, fishing and camping in the Thousand Islands behind my house in Cocoa Beach. It was kind of our private land to build forts on and pretend we were adults as teenagers. I've got great memories of those times and the sense of adventure it gave us as kids."
"I truly love Florida. While growing up here in the 1940s and 1950s, I got to see firsthand what people are now wanting to see as part of 'ecotourism.' I really enjoy all of Florida but Palm Beach County is my home, and I believe that the beaches along the Palm Beach County coastline are the best natural treasures in Florida. They are wide, clean and are closer to the Gulfstream than any other place in North America. It doesn't get much better than that."
Dave Barry [Getty Images]
Dave Barry is most likely going to fast to see scenes like this as he races across the Everglades. [Getty Images]
"I'd say the Everglades, because there are so few traffic lights, which means I can sometimes reach speeds approaching 100 miles per hour on my way across."
Sunset at Siesta Key. [Photo by Stan Meyer]
"I have owned an old cracker house on Point of Rocks, a neighborhood on Siesta Key, for about 15 years. It is my favorite place on earth, let alone Florida. It's on the beach and that is the natural part. My favorite natural spot in Florida is 50 feet behind my house where I go kayaking every time I am there."
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Dogs play in the surf at Davis Islands dog beach. [Times]
"We are big fans of taking our dogs to the dog beach on Davis Islands. Not sure you consider that natural, but it's a beautiful spot and the dogs love it. It seems like a mini-island getaway for you and your dogs. Plus anytime you can let your dogs go crazy and let them get energy out, that makes them happy. It also makes it easier on you the rest of the day. We have three dogs, a black lab, a golden retriever and a white maltese."
Hikers make their way along the Florida Trail in the Big Cypress Preserve. [Photo by Robert Coveney / Florida Trail Association]
"In my book, Trail Reflections, I list my favorite hikes around the world and there are five. I mention one in Florida and that is the beginning of Florida Trail from Oasis Visitors Center on Tamiami Trail north to Interstate 75. It's a three-day hike. The trail is through Big Cypress Preserve, which lies west and north of the Everglades. Big Cypress is a series of cypress heads, just natural depressions in the landscape and pine islands which are just a slight rise in the landscape so the pine can thrive. So this vast area is very flat, so flat that there's not a single lake or stream flowing anywhere in it. ... It reminds some people of Africa ... because of the open brightness. The best time to go is in February."
Author Randy Wayne White poses at his home on Sanibel. [Times]
"I think it would be the Archaeological Preserve in Pineland — the Randell Research Center. It's 60 acres of shell mounds, remnants of pyramids, burial mounds, canals, courtyards built by contemporaries of the Maya. My old Florida Cracker house sits atop a mound that abuts the archaeological preserve, and, in my garden, I find remnants of pottery and shell tools with every stroke of the hoe. For more than 3,000 years, that small intersection of space has been inhabited. People have lived and died and told stories, and I tell stories there still. Perhaps it is fanciful, but on a windy night, the highest mound places my house in the lee of the moon, and the sense of time and continuum is profound."
Clyde Butcher prefers his 8 x 10 Deardorff wooden field camera. [Times files]
Loxahatchee River State Park — 1991" by Clyde Butcher.
"My favorite spots are the ones that haven't been touched by man. Those include Big Cypress, the Lower Santa Fe River and the Loxahatchee River. On the Santa Fe, there's a cypress tree that's 53 feet in circumference. ... Loxahatchee is the Grand Canyon of Florida, a canyon of trees."
A satellite image of Florida's Big Bend area. [NASA photo]
"There is another Florida. It's underwater. My favorite part of it is the beautiful, expansive seagrass meadows that really start around the Tampa Bay area and extend northward to Panama City and beyond. They call it the Big Bend area. Most people are not aware of this amazing place. That is a nursery area for so many creatures that Floridians know and love from fish and manatees to little shrimp and birds that find safe havens there and food, too. ... It's just magical and still largely intact and definitely worth saving. ... When people ask me where my favorite place is in Florida, I have to say, almost anywhere 50 years ago, but having said that, that arc of clear water that extends along Florida's northwest coast is just magical."
NASA astronaut Norman Thagard waves from the capsule of the Soyuz rocket at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 11, 1995, during a pre-launch visit. [Associated Press]
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Florida in October 2014. [NASA photo]
"The hills of Tallahassee. I was born in Marianna and grew up in Jacksonville. While I like my hometown, I remember it being pretty flat. Tallahassee has lots of hills and trees. There's a patch of woods behind us so it looks like we live outside of woods. I could sit out on deck and look out towards the woods. We once had an alligator in the pool. We also had a mother raccoon raise her two little children in our upper deck."
A gumbo limbo tree at Desoto National Memorial in Bradenton. [National Park Service photo]
"Where I used to live, I lived in Bradenton, and right around the corner from my house was a beautiful park. It was called ... what was it called? De Soto Park! It was really calm. I would go there, just relax. Observe all the beautiful trees. It was right on the bay. Just very nice."
Marion Hammer. [Photo by Jeffrey Camp]
"We naturally don't reveal our favorite hunting or fishing spots because you'd end up having too many people enjoying it, too, and there'd be nothing left. But we live in Tallahassee and we hunt, fish, camp and just generally enjoy the surrounding areas. ... We are a state with an abundance of natural out-of-doors activities that really cost you nothing. It's there. God gave it to us. And so we enjoy all of it."
Legendary long distance swimmer Diana Nyad posed for this photo before attempting to be the first person to swim the 103 miles from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage. [Miami Herald (2010)] (
The Seven Mile Bridge to the Florida Keys. [iStockphoto.com]
"Every time I go back to the Keys, instead of flying, I take the drive. And every time, I am under the spell of the magic of the drive from Homestead to Key West. I don't know if it's literal, but there are no fast food joints, there's no big Ritz Carlton hotel. It's all local Florida, with fishing shacks, and now there are dive shops of course, but it hasn't become commercialized. I don't know that you can take a road trip anywhere in the U.S. and not be besieged by fast food nation. I just find it intoxicating, that drive."