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Where Florida gives up its secrets

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Welcome To The Sunset State!

By Susan & Simon Veness

Los Angeles might think it has cornered the market for desirable locations with its Sunset Strip – that high-profile, nightlife-heavy, 1.6-mile stretch of the famous Sunset Boulevard – but here comes Florida to prove otherwise!

If you believe LA, or even California as a whole, is Sunset Central, then we beg to differ. Because Florida can rightly claim it is not only the Sunshine State but it actually has a whole other identity – as the sunSET state.

Indeed, we have often marvelled at the vast array of vibrant, coruscatingly brilliant sundown moments just from our back garden, so we decided to go back through our photo albums for a compendium of memorable sunsets from throughout the state, and we think they’re worth highlighting.

More than anything, they confirm Florida is a genuine source of magnificent vistas and unforgettable evenings. As if the state doesn’t have enough to recommend it, this compendium of stunning skyline landscapes should put the tin lid on it…

Walt Disney World, Orlando

Here are two views of Orlando’s most popular and celebrated attraction that highlight the fact you don’t necessarily need to be doing any of the rides or shows to be royally entertained by the views. First of all, here’s the shopping-dining-nightlife area of Disney Springs putting on its evening finery as if auditioning for a role in the next Cirque du Soleil show!

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Next up in our parade of dazzling horizons, this is the EPCOT park, with a display of gorgeous glows that makes the whole World Showcase area of the park even more appealing.

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Where to stay: plan a stay at the gorgeous Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and you will be at heart of all the Disney magic – and within walking distance of EPCOT.

St Pete/Clearwater Beach, Gulf Coast

If we had to admit to a single location in Florida that most firmly ticks the ‘Sunset’ box, it would be the section of the St Pete/Clearwater area immediately west of Orlando. Here, the daily sundown ritual is full of possibilities, notably at Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60, where it rivals the famous Mallory Square celebration at Key West, and is rather more family-friendly.

And, if you go to the most northerly section of this particular piece of coastal luminosity, in the Scottish-tinged city of Dunedin, you can enjoy both an outstanding panorama and an excellent bar experience on the rooftop hangout of The Fenway Hotel, where 1920s elegance is never far away.

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Where to stay: to be ideally located within walking distance of the Clearwater Beach attractions – including Pier 60 – the Sandpearl Resort is definitely the place to be, while it is only a 15-minute drive to Dunedin.

Head down to the St Pete Beach section of this fabulous seaside procession and you can enjoy the kind of sunset sensation we have relished numerous times atop the Bellwether Beach Resort, right on the seafront. Perched on the 11th floor, Level 11 is the outdoor bar with the superlative view, and it’s hard to beat this particular location for occasions like this.

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Where to stay: there really is only one imperious and elegant resort when it comes to St Pete Beach, and that is the striking pink edifice of The Don CeSar, a wonderfully cossetted 1920s period piece that sill delivers superb contemporary style.

Kissimmee, Central Florida

Orlando’s mild-mannered alter ego is often an exercise in rural charm and hospitality, as well as an ideal place to head for an eco-adventure along the lakes, waterways or seemingly endless countryside (home of America’s original cattle culture, dating back nearly 500 years).

And, when you’d like to combine a nature tour with a spectacular sunset, take an airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga at the right time of day and you will be able to take photos like this:

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Where to stay: enjoy all the facilities of a resort with the privacy and space of a vacation villa at the Windsor at Westside Resort, an ideal location for all of Kissimmee and especially good for families.

Tomoka River, Daytona Beach

Before you all rush to point out that Daytona Beach is on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and therefore the place to be for great sunrises rather than the evening version, let us reassure you there are several ways to enjoy a westward-ho viewing perspective that WILL provide the necessary vantage point.

Take a late afternoon trip on the Tomoka River, for example (and we heartily recommend Yellow Dawg Fishing for this), and you can enjoy a truly magnificent finale as the sun drops away to the horizon.

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Where to stay: for Daytona Beach, our top tip is the Shores Resort & Spa, idyllically situated right on the miles of open beachfront and with the kind of gracious service that underlines the keen-to-please nature of the area. Get up early enough and you can also enjoy eye-catching sun-rises like this, too!

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Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island

You can also file this under east coast oddities, as the hideaway of Amelia Island in the state’s often-overlooked north-east corner offers some highly tempting photo possibilities to the west thanks to the sunset cruises that sail out of Fernandina Beach into the Amelia River between the island and the mainland.

With the fact that, in summer, the big thunderclouds are often still prominent just inland, this often provides some remarkable photo opportunities as the sun drops behind the cloud.

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Where to stay: there are several truly high-quality hotels tucked away in this relative backwater, and you definitely cannot go wrong at the Omni Amelia Island Resort, where its seaside location is backed up by a wonderful array of amenities, including championship-quality golf and tennis.

Florida’s Panhandle

Proving that you don’t need to be on the west coast to soak up the sunset vibe, Florida’s blissful Panhandle region in the far north-west is also a brilliant location to afford the kind of evening views that go hand-in-hand with a great cocktail or three.

Sunset cruises are another key part of the scene here, and you can easily enjoy the best that the daily sundown ceremony can provide from the deck of a yacht or catamaran with Paradise Adventures.

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Or you can remain a true landlubber and enjoy the view comfortably ashore, somewhere like beautiful Santa Rosa Beach, where you may just have the place to yourself.

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Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Where to stay: head for Marriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point and you will have scored a truly tranquil hideaway for your Panhandle sojourn, set amid lush tropical gardens and with a pool deck to match, while also being close to St Andrew’s State Park for great beach time.

Fort Myers, Gulf Coast

Once you head south along the Gulf Coast, there are any number of idyllic locations that can serve up the necessary westward views at sundown. Find one with a pier, and you have just the material you need for a majestic shot (like this one at Fort Myers Beach, courtesy of Visit Florida).

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Photo by Chris Joy for Visit Florida

Where to stay: the iconic Pink Shell Beach Resort will provide all the sunset vistas you need to capture that memorable photo, while also featuring plenty of activities, and the wonderful tropical holiday style of Bongo’s Bar & Grill.

The Florida Keys

It’s simply impossible to think of the Keys and not imagine sensational sunsets, as the two pretty much go hand-in-hand. The full 125-mile length of this island chain is tailor-made for great sundown moments on its leeward side (to the west), and you’ll be hard-pressed NOT to get a great photo.

Take to the air over Islamorada and you get an absolute grandstand view of the nightly twilight fiesta, with the sun slowly sinking into Florida Bay. Happily, you can get a pretty good look at ground level, too, as a lot of smart business people have set up restaurants and bars on this side of the island to provide all the celestial beauty you could ever want.

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Photo by Paradise Media courtesy of Visit Florida

Where to stay: it’s hard to beat the all-round style and amenities of Cheeca Lodge & Spa hereabouts, an uber-elegant beachfront gem that boasts four restaurants, two pools and a wonderful Spa and well-being centre. It is also just a short walk to Pierre’s at Morada Bay Keys for gourmet dining with a stunning view.

Key West is the epi-centre of Sunset Style, though, with daily celebrations based on Mallory Square that include lots of street entertainment, plenty of specially-made cocktails, and a general throng of evening conviviality. It includes local acts like Will Soto, who has been entertaining crowds here for more than 20 years…

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Photo courtesy of The Florida Keys & Key West Tourism

Where to stay: when it comes to being at the heart of the nightly sundown celebration it’s hard to beat the Pier House Resort & Spa for location and style, just two blocks from Mallory Square but still a little oasis of calm amongst the frenetic Key West scene.

Our Back Garden!

In all honesty, you usually don’t need to be anywhere special in Florida to enjoy a beautiful view as the sun says goodbye each evening. Our back garden faces due west, hence we are always in pole position for an impressive spectacle. The trick is often just to find a body of water at the right moment to reflect the full glory of that solar farewell.

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Where to stay: we’re not likely to be open for hotel business any time soon, but we do have plenty of top-quality resorts within a short drive, and the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort is often our choice for a good night out, with all the necessary grand views.

Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.

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