Florida’s summer heat can be a sweet treat Florida’s summer heat can be a sweet treat

The cooling mister stands are parked on every café patio. Flip-flops and bathing suit cover-ups are suddenly acceptable attire for lunch. Pina colada-scented sunscreen becomes the season’s hottest perfume and floppy hats are donned by men and women alike.

Yep, it’s summer in Florida.

While the first tendency is to run for air-conditioned hills and stay there until October, experienced Floridians and visitors know how to embrace the summertime swelter with some fun and delicious tricks of the trade, usually involving ice-cold beverages and frozen treats, some splashes of cool water, and the occasional shady retreat when the sun is at its peak.

Unlike the shallow ocean water along the beaches, which can be warm during the hottest months, Florida’s natural springs are a perfect low 70s in the summer, and the surrounding beauty is breathtaking. Ichetucknee Springs State Park, about 40 miles from Gainesville, is especially popular for tubing, and inner tubes of all sizes can be rented for $15 or less along State Highway 20. Dunnellon’s Rainbow Spring and Rainbow River are great for canoeing and kayaking if you want to check out some of Florida’s backcountry, including towering canopies of cypress trees, plus hawks, egrets, turtles and the occasional fat, lazy alligator.

While natural water sources have their appeal, the state’s man-made water parks are among the nation’s best, providing whole days or weekends of entertainment for families and couples. Orlando’s Aquatica is great for thrill-seekers, with its towering, multi-drop Ihu’s Breakaway Falls slide and up-close encounters with dolphins and penguins. Tampa’s Adventure Island has relaxing cabanas and Weeki Wachee’s Buccaneer Bay has mermaids and slides that feed into springs.

When you’re craving refreshment, stop by Plant City’s Parkesdale Farm for a strawberry milkshake or Nokomis Groves for a famous orange soft-serve. And don’t forget that breweries are air-conditioned. The citrus-tinged High Head pale ale at Jacksonville’s Green Room Brewing or the Floridian Hefeweizen at Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha Brewery might be all you need to bring your core temperature down so you can head back out into the sunshine.

Slushy drinks can also be found aplenty, especially at Florida’s theme parks. Disney World’s famous Dole Whip floats are a must, as are the frozen lemonade cups at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Adults craving something a little stronger should check out the Daiquiri Deck, which has locations in Siesta Key, Sarasota’s St. Armands and Venice, and serves up dozens of fun flavors on tap.

When you’re simply looking for a quiet break, head indoors for a dose of cool air and some culture to go along with it. Attend a play or concert at Jacksonville’s magnificent Florida Theatre, restored from its 1920s magnificence, or at Sarasota’s 18th-century Asolo Theatre. Downtown Tampa’s historic Tampa Theatre is an ornate, Mediterranean-style gem, with its Wurlitzer organ and twinkling, starry ceiling, and it shows independent, foreign, and documentary films nightly.

Florida’s aquariums, especially ones with splashy interactive displays, are fabulous places to ride out the heat wave. You can spend hours in Tampa’s 250,000-square-foot Florida Aquarium, filled with elegant seahorses and waddling penguins. The Key West Aquarium has daily shark and turtle feedings and a cool touch tank. They also offer exclusive online web cams for a bird’s eye view, underwater view, shark cam and reef cam. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is small but offers a behind-the scenes tour of its working hospital and rehab facility, plus you can meet Winter and Hope, the two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that starred in Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.

After chilling out indoors, you’ll be ready to embrace the subtropical temperatures. And there’s always Mother Nature, who often provides a respite in the form of afternoon showers. Then get back outside and enjoy the rest of your Florida summer.

By Emily Nipps

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