Weekend Getaways - Part One

I love weekend getaways ... don't you? Florida's got some great destinations for a long weekend. Here are a few of my favorites in West Central Florida:

Anna Maria Island
One of the best beaches on the Gulf of Mexico to kick back, this quiet island north of Sarasota offers beautiful beaches, casual restaurants and a range of accommodations from beach cottages to hotels and condos. Not much for kids to do and not much nightlife, but a great place for adults who just want to relax and recharge. A great location to watch the storms move over the Gulf of Mexico in summer (photo above).

Homosassa Springs
If you want a guaranteed manatee siting in a natural setting, head to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park about 75 miles north of Tampa. Naturalists provide programs daily. This is a nice family excursion with lots of native animals, birds and plants to enjoy along a lovely boardwalk. Stay in nearby Crystal River for best options in lodging and other daytrips.

Sanibel Island
Renowned for its shelling, this tiny island off of Fort Myers is a favorite for its lush vegetation and white, sandy beaches. Try to visit just after a storm for best shot at finding shells and sharks teeth. If you're into nature, check out the 6,300-acre "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Rooms can get pricey during season, but there's plenty of cheaper lodging in nearby Fort Myers.