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Florida by Land: Escape to an Urban Sanctuary

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A lighthouse stands on the beach at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

Wherever you are in Florida, nature is never far away. Throughout the state, there are gardens, parks, and other green spaces sprouting in some unexpected places, including in or near big cities, within bustling retail districts, and off busy interstate exits.

Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo

In the middle of densely populated Pinellas County is a 50-acre oasis of calm called the Florida Botanical Gardens. There are 18 different gardens here, most with Adirondack chairs on which you can linger awhile to savor the surroundings. “The inherent natural beauty inspires and encourages the inner artist, photographer, and poet in all of us,” says Terry Berube, Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation president. “Visit any time of year and you will find others taking photos, painting, and just slowing down from the fast pace of life.”

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

Bok Tower Gardens includes more than 600 acres of central Florida woodland gardens, nature trails, conservation lands, and groves. For quiet contemplation, walk the mulched trails through the site’s original gardens, designed and built in the 1920s by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. For brilliant color, visit in late winter and early spring , when 150 varieties of camellias and hundreds of azaleas begin to bloom. New for 2015: the addition of several new outdoor spaces, including a children’s garden, outdoor kitchen, and wild garden.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne

Located only eight miles from downtown Miami, Cape Florida State Park is a convenient choice for a quick nature infusion. The peninsula park offers 1.25 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach, nature trails along Biscayne Bay and through mangrove wetlands, and flat paved and unpaved bike trails (rentals available). “The best time to visit the park is from October through early March,” says park manager David Foster. “The temperature is a bit cooler, and we welcome less visitors, providing the opportunity to relax and experience the natural beauty of Key Biscayne on your own.”

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach

Each of Morikami's six distinct gardens, collectively named Roji-en: Garden of the Drops of Dew, has a Zen-like vibe, but the Bamboo Grove arguably is tops for tranquility. “Close your eyes and stand still to listen to the bamboo sway in the breeze,” says Samantha Levine, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens marketing and events manager. “The melodic and peaceful sounds are complemented by the grove's proximity to Morikami Lake.”


Practical Tip: The Metro Bus's B line stops a block away from the Cape Florida State Park entrance gate. From there, it’s less than a mile to the beach and a mile and a half to the lighthouse.

Fun Fact: The 205-foot stone Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens houses a 60-bell carillon, a musical instrument composed of precisely tuned bells arranged in chromatic progression. A keyboardist plays the Singing Tower carillon daily, performing short selections on the half hour and hour and concerts at 1 and 3 p.m.

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