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Discovering the real Florida: Four myths about Florida

Even people who live in Florida get it wrong.

They think Florida is all shopping malls and theme parks; its beaches are all commercial and crowded; it’s flat, boring and lacks history. People say: Too bad I live in Florida, I love the outdoors and there’s no place to hike.

All wrong.

For 35 years, I’ve sought the natural and authentic Florida and for the last five years, I’ve made discovering the real Florida my “job” through

And I’d like to refute all those misconceptions. There is another Florida. You just have to know how to find it.

Myth #1: Florida is flat

True, you won’t find mountains here. But there are beautiful rolling hills and I’ve bicycled some trails where pedaling those hills has gotten my heart pumping. Mount Dora, at 184 feet above sea level, is full of delightful hills. Its country roads are popular with bicyclists who want to use a few gears. Here’s more about Mount Dora, which is a popular destination for festivals and antiques.

Bok Tower view: Yes, you are on a hill.
Bok Tower view: Yes, you are on a hill. Yes, you are in Florida. (Photo: Wikimedia/Averette)

Then there’s the Lake Wales Ridge, an area that protruded from the ocean when most of Florida was underwater a million years ago. It’s located along the I-27 corridor south of Orlando and there are hills here, too. Visit Bok Tower, where Edward Bok fell in love with a place called Iron Mountain, elevation 298 feet. He turned the hilltop into Bok Tower Gardens, with beautiful trees, flowers and a carillon. (Admission is adults $18; children 5 to 12, $8.

Good birding at Corkscrew Bird Rookery Swamp Trail.
A beautiful trail at the Corkscrew Bird Rookery Swamp Trail in Naples.

Myth #2 If you like to hike, leave Florida

Florida has scads of hiking trails. The longest is the Florida Trail, a national scenic trail that starts in Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge near Naples and ends at Gulf Islands National Seashore at historic Fort Pickens. Here’s more about the Florida Trail.

Some of our favorite hiking spots: Lake Louisa State Park near Orlando, Naples Bird Rookery Swamp and Ocala National Forest.

Myth #3 Florida is too new to have much history

One of my favorite activities is discovering Florida’s fascinating history. If you think Florida only got wacky and weird lately, then you haven’t been to the historic sites I’ve visited.

Here are two that are full of surprising stories: The free Key West cemetery and the Koreshan State Park near Naples, which preserves the story of a 19th century cult.

Here are my 10 favorite historic sites in Florida, all fascinating.

Historic buildings at Koreshan State Park
Historic buildings at Koreshan State Park: One of Florida’s unusual historic sagas

Myth #4 Florida beaches are all crowded and commercial

There are few things more fun than discovering secret beaches – and, yes, they’re a thing. Reaching them is often an adventure. Here are two of my favorites: 

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge north of Jupiter is at the end of a dead-end road with no signage suggesting there are miles of unspoiled beach here. We stumbled on it bicycling and felt like we had won the lottery. More on the hidden beach at Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge.

Secret beach: Hobe Sound NWR seascape
Hobe Sound: A vast wide beach with few people and no nearby development.

Cayo Costa, a state park reachable only by boat that has nine miles of unforgettably beautiful beach. You can visit it as a daytrip or stay overnight in cabins on camping. More on Cayo Costa’s hidden beaches. (Cayo Costa took a direct hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 and will be closed for most of 2023.)

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