Manatee encounters and more
Until the end of March, things slow down significantly at Blue Spring State Park outside DeLand, Fla. Water activities such as paddling and swimming cease in this central Florida park, but visitors don’t seem to mind. Most come for the manatees, those gentle giants huddled together beneath the crystal-clear waters.
The nearby St. Johns River turns chilly in winter so Florida’s manatees head to the park’s spring which remains a warmer 72 degrees. Visitors can walk the boardwalk that parallels the spring run and see hundreds of these peaceful creatures gathered. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
Then, from the middle to the end of March, thousands of fireflies emerge in Blue Spring, this time attracting hundreds of the human species to witness the light spectacular.
These outdoors adventures are only part of what makes DeLand and surrounding areas the perfect Florida getaway. The town’s home to a historical downtown district — voted America’s BEST Mainstreet — with award-winning restaurants, shopping and historic Stetson University. Located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, DeLand could also be part of a larger Florida vacation.
For more information on DeLand and the various state parks with springs surrounding the city, go to Visitwestvolusia.com.
Walk downtown and enjoy the many boutiques, numerous historic attractions and museums and the beautiful grounds of Stetson University. Stop by the Visitor’s Center and pick up a map that details the artwork of The DeLand Sculpture Walk, then enjoy the whimsical and elegant art pieces throughout town. Be sure to pause at the DeLand Wings Mural by Erica Group where visitors take selfies as they transform into angels.
Two historic properties perfected into boutique hotels provide guests with more than a good night’s sleep. The Deland Hotel harkens back to the 1920s and features vintage furniture and claw-foot bathtubs in guest rooms along with a relaxing lobby and outdoors space to enjoy cocktails and wine. Inside the hotel, on the ground floor, diners may indulge in the sushi bar The Twisted Chopstick.
Also built in the 1920s, and following a major renovation, the Artisan Downtown lies in the heart of DeLand and includes boutique guest suites that offer a chic, contemporary complement to the historic property.
Start the day with pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House at Deleon Springs State Park. They don’t just deliver every kind of pancake imaginable, you get to make them yourself on the grill in the middle of the table.
After visiting the manatees, sample a refreshing beer from one of the four breweries located on the county’s “CoolCraft Beverage Trail.” If coffee’s more your thing, the trail features three java spots as well.
Finish the day with an elegant dinner at Cress, chosen as Best Overall Restaurant in the 22nd Annual Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards, not to mention being honored as a “Smart Catch Leader” with the acclaimed Beard Awards.
In 1894, George Colby and a group of spiritually minded people traveled from New York to central Florida in search of a haven for their religious beliefs. Today, the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp — designated a Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places — still offers services with mediums, relaying messages from the beyond. For more information, visit Cassadaga.org.