If you want to head outside, check out our summer guide listings — we'll get you there. But if you want to stay cool, here are seven cool places to visit in Florida this summer. Most of them are indoors — but two take you down below the surface and sea, where it's always cool.
1. Raise your glass (and liberate the ladies) at the best dive bar ever
The Flora-Bama has it all: mullet tosses, live music, royal reds and, yes, a church. Sure, you can sit on the sand or on the covered first floor, but if you're really hot, head upstairs to the a/c and the stage where countless talents have played.
Plus, you can leave your bra as a souvenir. We suggest you bring an extra, in case the spirit (and one too many bushwhackers) moves you.Flora-Bama Bar and Oyster Lounge, 17401 Perdido Key Dr., Pensacola. 850-492-0611. florabama.com.
2. Tour the Hotel Ponce de Leon
If you find yourself in St. Augustine — and every Floridian does, eventually — do yourself a favor and check out the inside of Flagler College. No, not to go there — to take a tour. It's a Spanish Renaissance Revival style hotel, built by Henry Flagler. He paid Louis Tiffany to design the inside, and if you take the tour, you get to see the glitz and glamour of another era. The tour's the only way to get beyond the lobby without paying tuition; trust us, the tour's cheaper (and has less algebra).
Flagler College/Ponce de Leon, 74 King Street St., Augustine. 904-829-6481. flagler.edu.
3. Snorkel with a parrotfish
If you love sandy beaches, you need to meet the parrotfish. After all, they make sand. They eat coral and digest it and there you have it: parrotfish poop. Or, as we like to call it, sand. If that doesn't thrill you, how about coming face-to-face with a moray eel, Sergeant Majors, barracudas (they're actually kinda cute) or any other coral reef dwellers? John Pennekamp State Park has snorkel trips and they provide the gear. If you want to stay cool, under the sea's a good place to do it — just don't forget to put sunscreen behind your knees.
102601 Overseas Highway (MM 102.5), Key Largo. 305-451-6300. pennekamppark.com.
4. Go underground with Florida's caves
Journey to the center of the earth at Florida Caverns State Park. OK, well, not the center — but as far below Florida's surface as you can get without needing gills. These dry air caves are dark, cool and fascinating — as is the wooded hiking trail around the park. The tours require a guide, but they're worth it (and not just to beat the heat). After all, knowing all about Florida's caves is invaluable party talk (and something most Floridians themselves have never seen).
Florida Caverns State Park, 3345 Caverns Rd., Marianna. 850-482-1228. floridastateparks.org.
5. Have a pusalow at the state's oldest diner
You need a pusalow. You don't know it, but you do. As the sign promises, Angels Diner is the oldest in Florida. It's near the St. Johns River in Palatka, and the burgers and fries are scrumptious, but if you really want to indulge, seriously, the pusalow is the way to go: chocolate syrup, vanilla, milk and ice. It sounds simple, and it is: Simply yummy.
Angel's Diner, 209 Reid St. Palatka. 386-325- 3927 Find them on Facebook.
6. Ogle the hot guys who built our state parks
If you love our state parks — and who doesn't? — it's vital you visit the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at Highlands Hammock State Park. For $30 a month — $25 of which went home to mom and dad — these strapping young lads planted trees (some called them Roosevelt's Tree Army), made roads and created parks. In Florida, they built our first state parks, which were modeled after the National Park Service. Much of their work still stands today in parks across the state. But this museum, among the mossy and palm-fringed splendors of central south Florida, pays them homage. While at Florida's first state park, duck into this museum and pay attention to the artifacts, written records and photographs of these physically divine young men who made Florida's parks into the spectacular natural showcase they are today.
CCC Museum at Highlands Hammock State Park, 5931 Hammock Rd, Sebring. 863-386-6094. floridastateparks.org.
7. Get your history with a side of fun
It's an official-sounding name but the Orange County Regional History Center hosts events that are anything but stuffy. For example, their "Tacky Tourist" night (June 9) will focus on roadside attractions, tourist food (finding out what this means should be enough incentive for you to go) and things like the Fountain of Youth. But if you can't make it for that, no big deal — they always have stuff to see, and it's not that dusty old history either: They have the original The Dharma Bums manuscript (no one tell St. Pete).
Orange County Regional History Center, 65 E. Central Blvd, Orlando. 407-836-8500. thehistorycenter.org.
8. Go ahead, dream of Jeannie
Remember I Dream of Jeannie? It all took place...well, in a sound stage. But it was set in Cocoa Beach because of its proximity to Kennedy Space Center, where astronaut Major Nelson kept his woman in a bottle. Today, all that remains of that mid-century sitcom is I Dream of Jeannie Lane, but Major Nelson's employer remains. Go and see rockets up close and, on May 19, watch an actual rocket launch. You can also see a simulation of the Apollo 8 launch and take a look at various space ephemera. Bonus: You can camp at neighboring Cape Canaveral, part of the port authority and, the next morning, hope over to Roberto's for a great breakfast. We suggest the surfer special, over medium and, if you're on vacation, a breakfast beer. You won't regret it.
Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, Titusville. 855-433-4210. kennedyspacecenter.com
Cathy Salustri is the arts & entertainment editor for Creative Loafing Tampa. Her book about a month-long road trip across Florida's backroads, Backroads of Paradise, is available at big box stores and online, but she'd prefer you buy it from a local bookseller. Follow her adventures at greatfloridaroadtrip.com, on Twitter, or on Facebook. She also has a personal website and an Instagram, which has mostly pictures of her dogs. Email her here.