Sunday, June 2, 2013

Visit Key West

As the city that wanted to secede from Florida, Key West has been able to maintain its unique personality. Key West, Florida is the Southernmost City in the Continental United States. The city is at the end of U.S. Highway 1 and A-1-A, which travels along the eastern coast of Florida. The city is about 150 miles south of Miami and less than 90 miles north of Havana, Cuba. Even though the driving distance between Miami and Key West is about 150 miles, the drive between the cities can take between four and five hours because of the two lane road that traverse the Florida Keys.

Key West is a unique city because it seems like it is at the end of the world. Once visitors get to the island, the only way off is by turning around and driving back, or finding a boat that will take you elsewhere. Over the years, many artists have made Key West their home because of the continually pleasant weather, the hospitable attitude, and the inspirational attitudes of the city.

Many popular writers and musicians have lived in Key West. One of the most famous residents was the writer Ernest Hemingway. His home on Whitehead Street has become a tourist attraction where visitors line up each day to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle that lead Hemingway to write masterpieces like A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. His six-toed cats have become legends around the island and his favorite drinking spot, Sloppy Joe’s, is still one of the top attractions in the city. Visitors to the Hemingway House get to hear the story of Papa Hemingway complain about his then wife, Pauline, spending his last dime when she decided to install an extremely rare and expensive pool on the island made of rock-hard coral. To make fun of the story, Hemingway poured his ‘last penny’ into the concrete that surrounds the pool. Another special attraction in the home is the small Picasso sculpture that has inconspicuously sat on a little side table for hundreds of thousands of visitors to see.

Along the western side of Florida, sunsets are special occasions and the sunsets in Key West are no exception. Each night, hundreds of locals and residents find a spot in Mallory Square to watch the sunset. The locals often include street performers who dance on stilts, paint themselves gold, or make balloon animals for children. As the sunsets, everyone pauses to watch it set into the Gulf of Mexico and then everyone claps once the last ray sets into the Gulf.

Another popular celebrity resident of Key West is crooner, Jimmy Buffett. His popular song from the 1970’s, Margaritaville was inspired by the laidback lifestyle in Key West. Visitors and locals can enjoy the Key West vibe by visiting his restaurant and bar that he named after his song. Margaritaville is a place where guests can enjoy a big Cheeseburger in Paradise while listening to songs performed by local bands trying to make it big in the city.

Many of the visitors to Key West arrive on cruise ships. The cruise port brings in just under one million tourists each year as the town becomes more and more popular on the cruising scene.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas might not be your first choice for places to visit when you are planning a vacation, but there are plenty of great outdoor activities to do in this southern state. Arkansas is home to mountain ranges, rivers, and hot springs. The state might still have the reputation of being “backwoods,” but the state has been home to many successful people and it continues to be a place full of culture and enterprise.

Hot Springs: America’s First Resort

One of the most beautiful parts of the state is the area near Hot Springs. This area is named for the hot springs that make this city unique. This part of Arkansas is home to Hot Springs Mountain which feeds the hot water springs. This area has been a popular with tourists because of the hot baths that were built over the springs, where tourists would rest in the healing water of the hot baths. The baths are now closed and have become a part of the Hot Springs National Park where the buildings along Bathhouse Row from the 1800s and early 1900s have been preserved for history.

If you are interested in more than history, the Hot Springs area is also home to beautiful lakes that provide opportunity for water sports and activities. Lakes Hamilton, Catherine, and Ouachita have plenty of room for boating, waterskiing, fishing, and swimming. There are many relaxing resorts with lush green golf courses, horseback riding, and more. Along the lakes there are also plenty of areas with hiking trails that allow you to get safely lost in the woods for the day.

Dig for Diamonds

One of the most unique features of Arkansas is that it contains one of the largest diamond mines in the world. Crater of Diamonds State Park is in the middle of an extinct volcanic crater. Visitors can literally dig for diamonds in the huge plowed field. What sets this park apart from other diamond excavation sites is that visitors get to keep whatever they find. You are not guaranteed to find any diamonds, but people do find them every day. There is a small fee to begin digging and the park does rent a full digging kit for a low price.

Visiting Little Rock

If you prefer spending time in the city, Little Rock is a nice city with plenty of things to do. Those who love shopping for antiques have plenty of great shops to visit. There are also plenty of historic sites to visit, especially since Little Rock had a prominent role in  the Civil War and in the Civil Rights movement. The city is home to the Clinton Presidential Center which holds the library, foundation, and school of public service. The Clinton Presidential Center has regular daily activities and many special events for visitors of all ages and political inclinations.

The state also has other areas that provide opportunities to explore. Fayetteville is home to two theaters that tourists and locals enjoy visiting: TheaterSquared and the Walton Arts Center. Blanchard Springs Caverns provides a unique place to visit underground caves and the nearby Blanchard Springs Recreational Area has several outdoor activities available for visitors, too.

Who knew Arkansas would be a top vacation destination?