Florida

Adventures in Florida: A Trip to the Christmas Tree Forest

Santa's Christmas Tree ForestAs part of my 26 at 26 bucket list, I was dying to visit a pumpkin patch this year. Like most young women between the ages of 18 and 35, I absolutely love autumn and everything that comes with it: the drop in temperature, the cuter clothing options (I live in Florida but somehow have an entire drawer dedicated to scarves), the seasonal flavors, and especially Halloween. In fact, I love this time of the year so much that I redecorated my apartment with fall/Halloween décor back in mid-September. 🙂

In spite of my love for all things autumnal, I haven’t been to a pumpkin patch in years, so this year, I decided it was time to pick out a pumpkin of my own. Of course, I wasn’t going to go to just any old church or high school to do this. Instead, I decided to visit Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis.

My sister and I made the trip out to Eustis and were surprised at how much fun we had. Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest had free admission, along with family-friendly activities that required ticket purchases, such as a zip-line, hayrides, and pony rides. We did purchase a pumpkin from their abundant patch, but we actually discovered something better: the petting zoo.

Santa's Christmas Tree Forest

Without a doubt, one of the happiest moments of my whole life!

Anyone who has ever come into contact with me knows about my love for animals, so our trip to the farm was a dream come true. At first, Julie and I visited the goats, my absolute favorite farm animals, and the pigs. We learned the hard way that pigs bite (sorry, Julie!) and that goats can bite a little bit too if they think you have food. Of course, our favorite part of the whole trip was when we had the chance to hold the baby goats!

One of my dreams in the next five years is to adopt a dog, but now I will need to get a baby goat as well. The one that I held was incredibly sweet (even though she loved to gnaw on my hair!) and clearly my favorite animal on the whole farm. I definitely plan to return, if only to play with the baby animals!

Yes, I’m a crazy animal lover, but for those of you who live in Central Florida, I fully recommend Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm for your next weekend excursion. The farm not only hosts events and attractions throughout the year, but is friendly for all ages (families included). I know I’ll be back in the near future!

What’s on your bucket list for this year? Share in the comments section below!

How is my bucket list progressing? Click here for links to recaps and to see what I’ve been up to!

 

26 at 26: My Birthday Bucket List

26at26Hey readers! For those of you who have been keeping up over the past year, I created a bucket list at age 25 to prioritize the fun things in life and to give myself something to look forward before my next birthday. I had a blast putting the list together and trying new things over the next 12 months, as recapped in my previous post, and the list brought me so much joy that I decided to repeat it at age 26. My birthday was just last month, and I’m excited to embark on new adventures in the coming year.

I’ll be crossing off each item over the next year on my 26 at 26 page here, and plan to write a few blogs in the next year about some of these experiences. Happy reading!

Things I’d Like To Do While I’m 26

  1. Take a stroll through the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami.
  2. Visit a fortune teller/psychic.
  3. Take a marshmallow-making class at Wondermade.
  4. Attend a tea party or visit a tea room.
  5. Take a behind-the-scenes Disney tour.
  6. Get my writing published somewhere new.
  7. Watch a Bollywood film.
  8. Play a game of Dungeons & Dragons.
  9. Visit the Plant Street Market in Winter Garden.
  10. Pursue new public speaking opportunities.
  11. Take a mother-daughter trip.
  12. Visit the Orlando Museum of Art.
  13. Finish an old writing project.
  14. Go to a performing arts show.
  15. Complete another round of Whole30.
  16. Take a day trip to Bok Tower Gardens.
  17. Visit my best friend in Omaha, Nebraska.
  18. Practice meditation every day for a month.
  19. Read Gone With The Wind.
  20. Take a candy-making class with my family.
  21. Go to a pumpkin patch.
  22. Visit the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.
  23. Take an Art Deco Walking Tour in Miami.
  24. Visit the CARE Foundation animal sanctuary.
  25. Tour the Flagler House in West Palm Beach.
  26. Visit the Wynwood Art District in Miami.

What adventures are you looking forward to this year? Share in the comments section below!

25 at 25 Bucket List: My Year of Yes

happybirthdaytomeJust a few weeks ago, I celebrated my 26th birthday! 🙂 I still can’t believe how quickly the time has passed or how weird it feels to know that I’m now inching a little closer to 30 than 20. It’s a weird transitionary time in my life: I still call my parents every time I need to know how to do something, but I also sometimes catch myself sharing really sage wisdom with a random college student and it truly feels like an out-of-body experience. (I’m pretty sure Britney Spears had a song about this.)

I started to feel this way leading up to my 25th birthday and was less enthused about turning another year older, so last year I created my “25 at 25” bucket list. I can get a little too wrapped up in the day-to-day craziness and find myself saying, “I wish I went there” or “I wish I had done that,” so at 25, I was determined to change this. I embarked on a Shonda Rhimes-esque year of yes, taking charge of my life and saying yes to new opportunities and adventures. I completed almost every item on my list, and many of those items led to new interests and hobbies. After attending a class on health and wellness at the East End Market, for example, I developed a newfound love for essential oils and aromatherapy. The class also led to my purchase of a gorgeous jade money tree, which brightens up my home and makes me incredibly happy every time I walk in the room, and a succulent — neither of which have died yet! My trip to Saint Augustine with my mom was one of the major highlights of my year, and visiting my best friend in the mountains of North Carolina was the exact change in scenery I needed.

Having this bucket list encouraged me to prioritize myself and be more open to new experiences. It translated to other areas of my life, as I found myself saying yes to local festivals and social gatherings I might not have otherwise attended (and having a great time).

Below is a quick recap of my 25 at 25 bucket list. Stay tuned for my 25 at 26 list, coming soon to a sporadically-updated blog near you. 🙂

  1. Leave the state of Florida for a vacationI took a trip to Boone, North Carolina, from 3/6 to 3/10, with a stop in Tennessee. Check out my recap of the trip here and my day trip  to Asheville here!
  2. Go to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. Anyone who knows me can probably guess that the goats were my favorite animals at the Central Florida Zoo when I visited with friends on 11/7/15. Read more about my experience here!
  3. See a local performing arts show. I went to see the Orlando Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on 5/1/16. It was beautiful, and I can’t wait to attend another performing arts show at such a gorgeous venue.
  4. Visit my sister in her new apartment once she leaves for graduate school. I visited Julie’s apartment for the first time on 11/27/15.
  5. Go to the planetariumI visited the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College and attended The Star of Bethlehem show on 12/12/15. Read more about my experience here! We had such a great time that we ended up attending the Winter Sky Festival in January and have been keeping an eye out for more planetarium events this year.
  6. Pursue public speaking opportunities. This was a big one for me! I participated in several guest speaking opportunities that allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and become more accustomed to public speaking. Here’s what I did during that time:
    • Taught Junior Achievement classes focused on identity theft prevention for high school seniors (9/21/15 and 2/16/16)
    • Spoke as guest panelist on career panel at Seminole State College (9/22/15)
    • Presented as guest speaker for the Knights Special Events Society (10/14/15)
    • Participated in OCPS Teach-In to teach elementary school students about how to be a “super saver” (11/18/15)
    • Spoke as guest panelist for the Month of the Woman Panel at UCF (3/14/16)
  7. Roam around Leu Gardens in Orlando. I visited Leu Gardens on 7/24/16 and had an amazing time. If I ever meet the right guy, we are getting married in the rose garden. I decided this the moment I saw it. 
  8. Take a wine and painting classI loved this! The ladies in my family and I attended one of these classes and painted the Eiffel Tower on a starry night background on 4/8/16. The painting is up in my apartment now and is such a great reminder of a wonderful night.
  9. Spend the day in St. Augustine. My mom and I ventured out to St. Augustine from 1/9-1/10/16 and had so much fun. Check out the recap here! We are planning more mother-daughter trips for the future.
  10. Visit the Morikami MuseumI visited on 10/16/15 with my parents. The gardens were beautiful, and I learned so much from my visit. Read more about my experience here!
  11. Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Magic KingdomThis one did not happen because of scheduling conflicts, but it is on the list for 26. 😉
  12. Apply to MBA schoolI not only applied, but I officially began my MBA program in May 2016 and am now in my second semester. I have a great cohort and am excited to see where this program takes me!
  13. Start a small side business for career coaching and resume writingThis one did not happen because my priorities changed. I realized with growing responsibilities at work and school, I didn’t want to add to the mix at this point in time.
  14. Ride the swan boats at Lake EolaI’ll be honest… I sort of forgot about this one. Maybe next year!
  15. Take a Spanish class. I took a “Spanish for Tellers” course through CUNA Professional Development Online, focusing on banking and financial terms, and completed the course on 12/22/15.
  16. Tour the Lakeridge Winery in Clermont and attend a wine tasting. I went to Lakeridge Winery for the Annual Grape Stomp Festival on 8/13/16, which included complimentary wine tastings.
  17. Go berry picking. I picked 2.5 pounds of blueberries at the Tom West Blueberry Farm on 5/22/16. U-Pick was such a fun experience, and my only regret was not doing it earlier in the season so that I could go back. Check out my recap here!
  18. Attend a class at the East End Market. I attended “Be a Resolutionary” workshops at East End Market on 1/30/16, which led to a new love for aromatherapy and houseplants. Check out my recap!
  19. Try a meal from a food truck. I attended Jazz on a Green in Lake Nona and ordered a grilled chicken gyro from It’s All Greek to Me on 11/14/15. It was pretty good!
  20. Host a murder mystery partyThis was too difficult to coordinate while juggling new responsibilities, but it may happen in the future.
  21. Embark on another round of Whole30I completed a round of Whole30 from January 1-30. Always a great way to detox my system!
  22. Drive out to New Smyrna BeachI spent the day out at New Smyrna Beach on 7/30/16, received a parking ticket after parking in the wrong spot on the actual beach (oops), and enjoyed a late lunch at Breakers.
  23. Watch a mob movie. I watched and enjoyed Key Largo on 9/3/16, among other movies featuring mobsters in the past year.
  24. Eat a macaron for the first timeI tried a vanilla macaron from Le Macaron on 10/17/15 and have since had them several other times in other flavors as well. I can’t believe that a year ago, I’d never eaten a macaron in my life!
  25. Treat myself to a spa dayI spent a morning at Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa on 3/27/16. So relaxing!

What was on your bucket list for the year? Share in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Blueberry Picking in Ocoee

Hey there, readers – it’s been a while! A lot has happened since my last post, most notably that I started an MBA program and seem to know more about regression analysis these days than who’s who on The Bachelorette. It has been a wild ride so far, hopefully to be shared in another blog post soon!

Last month, as a much-needed break from studying, I decided to knock another item off my 25 at 25 bucket list. Just days before the season’s end, I took a little road trip out to Ocoee and stopped at the Tom West Blueberries U-Pick Farm.

TomWestBlueberries

I may stumble in and out of the world of paleo living, but one thing is for certain: I will always love my fruits and veggies. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that – as someone who lives in a warm climate hospitable to many types of produce – I would have to go berry picking someday.

In Florida, the peak strawberry and blueberry seasons run in the early springtime from around March to May, depending on your farm and crop of choice. Tom West Blueberries is a family owned and operated farm, offering activities for all ages during the U-Pick season.

TomWestBlueberriesThe process, while simple enough, was a whole lot of fun. Once I arrived, I grabbed a bucket and hopped on a tractor, which dropped me off in the nearby blueberry fields. There I had the opportunity to taste and pick the emerald blueberries, a very large and sweet variety of blueberry that I would highly recommend to anyone who visits in the future.

Tom West Blueberries

By the end of my blueberry-picking adventure, I picked and purchased about 3 pounds of delicious, perfectly blue blueberries, which I shared with friends, classmates and family over the next week. In hindsight, I wish I’d picked more so I could freeze them and enjoy even longer! Not only were the blueberries perfectly in season, but there was something so rewarding about eating something I had personally hand-picked at the farm, rather than in the grocery store. (Sorry, Publix – I still love you!)

tomwestblueberries2

Whether you’re looking for fresh produce or simply a fun way to spend the afternoon, I highly recommend visiting a local U-Pick farm! The experience really does appeal to all age groups, and if I ever have children, this will be a must-visit for them too. I look forward to returning to Tom West next season, and can’t wait to visit other local farms for different U-Pick experiences soon!

What types of U-Pick farms have you visited? Share in the comments section below. 🙂

For recaps of my other bucket list adventures, click here!

Adventures in Florida: A Weekend in St. Augustine

When I turned 25 just a few months ago, one of my first orders of business was to plan a trip to St. Augustine in the New Year. When I was a child growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine played a big role in my fourth grade education, as the oldest European-established settlement in the country and the first overnight field trip destination my classmates and I ever visited. I visited the town in passing a few times since, but wanted to spend more time in St. Augustine this winter.

In early January, my mom and I packed our bags and took a short road trip to the nation’s oldest city, where we would stay for the weekend.

LightnerMuseum

Our first stop was the Lightner Museum, which was originally the Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler. Aside from the gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and picturesque landscaping, the museum boasts collections of antique musical instruments, sculptures, paintings, the stained glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and several other historical and science exhibits as well.

LightnerMuseum

During our visit, we were also able to see the hotel’s original spa and Turkish bath areas. However, nothing was more festive and exciting than our lunch at the Cafe Alcazar, a restaurant located where the indoor pool used to be. I loved my hummus salad almost as much as the cafe itself, and would highly recommend grabbing a bite there for an elegant and unique dining experience. (After all, how often do you get to eat lunch in a swimming pool?)

Cafe Alcazar

After the Lightner Museum, we walked over to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Of course, my mom and I drank from the Fountain of Youth, so now I’m hoping to be young and beautiful well into my nineties. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll let you know how well the fountain really worked. 🙂

Fountain of Youth

We roamed around the park for the afternoon, visited the exhibits, watched a few videos on the discovery of the settlement, and fell asleep during the observatory show (okay, that was just me!). I also made a few unlikely friends.

Fountain of Youth Park

Seriously, these guys were everywhere!

After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we ended the night with a Ghosts & Gravestones ghost tour. I have always been a fan of ghost tours, and this one did not disappoint! We stopped at the Lighthouse Park and at the Old Jail, where we were visited by an old (slightly terrifying) prisoner. We had a fantastic time, all while learning about some of the more macabre history of St. Augustine.

Castillo de San Marcos

The next morning, we headed out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest fort that was owned by several nations at different points in history. It was an incredible experience to walk through a place that survived so many wars and attacks, in the footsteps of so many others before us.

Castillo de San Marcos

After the Castillo, we enjoyed a quick lunch in the Old City before heading back home. I had a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite traveling companions, and would recommend St. Augustine to anyone planning a vacation. 🙂

For a recap of my other Bucket List adventures, click here!

Have any of you been to St. Augustine? What were your favorite experiences?

Adventures in Florida: A Night at the Planetarium

As some of my readers know, I created a 25 at 25 Bucket List for my 25th birthday back in September, consisting of 25 things I hoped to do over the next year. (Want to know how it’s going so far? Click here!) One of those adventures included a trip to the planetarium – something I hadn’t done since elementary school. I’ve always been interested in astronomy, as well as the mythology used to explain many of the stars in the sky, and I thought that a planetarium visit would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a planetarium just a few miles up the road at Seminole State College! The Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium costs just $6 for an adult ticket (free for SSC students and $4 for seniors, K-12 students and students from other colleges), and offers a variety of public shows to choose from.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Two weeks ago, my friends and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and attend the planetarium’s Star of Bethlehem show, which we learned is one of the most popular seasonal shows for planetariums worldwide. The show focuses on the story of the Magi and the birth of Jesus, as well as the scientific theories behind what the “star of Bethlehem” could have possibly been.

I enjoyed the mix of science and religious folklore throughout the show, and appreciated that the narration never became too preachy or alienated any of its audience. Instead, the show allowed for viewers to decide for themselves what to believe about the star, and encouraged viewers not to turn science and religion into a mutually exclusive either/or scenario. My friends and I are from different religious backgrounds, but the show appealed to all four of us and we all left having gained new historic, religious and scientific knowledge.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Based on my experience at the Star of Bethlehem show that night, I will definitely be returning to this planetarium for other shows in the near future! In January, I also hope to attend the free Winter Sky Festival that the planetarium will be hosting. What a perfect way to enjoy a winter night in Florida!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Have you visited the planetarium recently? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Unique Holiday Gift Guide for All Friends

Unique Holiday Gift Guide for All FriendsNow that Thanksgiving is over, the holiday shopping season has officially begun. Hopefully all of you have survived Black Friday! Even I managed to brave the mall and come home with a few goodies this weekend. Of course, as Hanukkah and Christmas loom near, it’s important to start shopping for our friends and loved ones as well.

I absolutely love gift-giving. With so many cool and customizable products out there, I enjoy putting thought into the presents I buy rather than slapping a bow on something really generic and calling it a day.

This week, I’d like to share my holiday gift guide for all types of friends. Most of these products are ones that I either personally own, have sampled, or have purchased for someone else in the past. The best part? You can purchase any of these online in the comfort of your own home! No need to start any fist-fights at the mall this year. 🙂

  • Unique Holiday Gift Guide for All FriendsThe Animal Lover: A custom-made shirt from Pop Your Pup!
    Pop Your Pup creates graphic T-shirts featuring pop art designs of your pets. Choose a shirt style and background color, submit a photo of your/your friend’s pet, and the graphic artists at Pop Your Pup will work their magic to make a one-of-a-kind shirt that really does look like your pet. The turn-around time is awesome, and 10% of proceeds are donated to local Humane Societies. I’ve ordered two of these shirts for birthday presents already, and they were a huge hit!
  • The Friend with School Spirit: A bottle of his or her school’s Masik Collegiate Fragrance.
    Masik Collegiate Fragrances is the brainchild of Katie Masik, who wanted to create perfumes and colognes that evoked memories of certain colleges and universities. Last year, I reviewed their University of Florida perfume and their Florida State University cologne, and even though I’m not a Gator fan, I still sometimes wear the UF perfume! The scents are inspired by the buildings, traditions and local plant-life of each university. Click here for a list of all schools represented so far to see if your friend’s school is listed!
  • Unique Gift Guide for All FriendsThe Sweet Tooth: A box of Wondermade‘s handcrafted marshmallows.
    (Paleo readers: You may want to shield your eyes for this one!) I stumbled into Wondermade one afternoon on one of my walks through downtown Sanford. The café is a local one, where patrons can buy marshmallow skewers and s’mores of all flavors that they can pair with coffee or hot chocolate. Wondermade also has an online store, where consumers from near and far can buy boxes of marshmallows in Christmas and fall flavors, as well as other unique flavors. I love to support local businesses, especially ones with such delicious products!
  • The Healthy Chick: A piece of (totally inedible) Organic Fruit Jewelry.
    Okay, paleo friends, you can start reading again. 🙂 Organic Fruit Jewelry is exactly what it sounds like — real fruit dried and preserved into jewelry! This is an eclectic and fun gift, and no two necklaces/earring sets are exactly alike. I’m obsessed with the lemon slice necklace and will definitely be investing in mine soon!
  • The Single Friend: A copy of The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry.
    I’m a nerd at heart, so reading a book that relates mathematical concepts to dating and marriage was obviously right up my alley. This is a great read for anyone — single or not — who wants to see just how applicable these theories and formulas are to our lives. I was never a math lover in school, but I really enjoyed this book! (Check out the related TED Talk if you’re curious.)
  • il_570xN.436081413_kwxfThe Sports Fan: A personalized highway distance sign to your friend’s favorite team’s stadium/arena.
    I absolutely love these stadium signs as a way to support your favorite team! You choose your team’s venue from the Travelsigns Etsy shop, and plug in the number of miles between there and your home. This a great gift for that guy in your life who still hasn’t put anything up on his wall.
  • The Harry Potter Nerd: This Golden Snitch bracelet from Ashley Bridget.
    Seriously, have you seen anything prettier? The Ashley Bridget website features other Harry Potter jewelry as well, along with other gorgeous pieces from their NFL, collegiate, sorority, fairy tale and other collections. 🙂
  • The Career Guy or Girl: A customized business card case.
    You can find these anywhere, depending on your friend’s preferences, but I purchased mine from the ChicMonogram store on Etsy. This is a great gift for someone who recently graduated from college and is just starting a new job. For nearly my entire first year at my current job, I didn’t have a business card case, and instead found myself carrying the cards around at networking events like the unpolished peasant I was. With my personalized business card case (featuring my full name, not just my monogram), I have something to store my business cards and it makes for a great conversation piece!
  • The Fancy Friend: Anything from the Downton Abbey collection at World Market.
    I am in love with this collection’s 2-tiered serving stand and tea spoons, and I don’t even watch Downton Abbey! Buy a few items from this set for your tea-loving friends who like to entertain.

How are you shopping for the holidays? Share your favorite finds in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: David Beckham and Old Hollywood

026-ginger-rogers-and-fred-astaire-theredlistGood evening and happy Friday to all of my lovely readers! I hope everyone is having a wonderful month of November and getting excited for Thanksgiving next week. 🙂 I’m fighting a sinus infection, but I’ve still had my share of adventures lately — some community service projects, a local jazz festival, and even a couple of items crossed off of my bucket list! What have you been up to?

As always, enjoy this week’s roundup of link love, and share your own favorites in the comments below!

Things I’m Loving Lately

What links are you loving lately? Share your favorites in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Central Florida Zoo

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Squad goals.

My inner child had the time of her life over the weekend when I took my very first trip to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. As some of my blog readers know, I’ve been dying to visit this zoo for quite some time — it’s practically in my backyard and it made its way onto my 25 at 25 Bucket List! (To see my progress so far, click here.) I was overcome with excitement when I convinced a few friends to tag along, and I enjoyed every minute of my visit. 🙂

Total disclosure: I’m an unapologetic nerd when it comes to my love for animals. I know there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to zoos, but there’s no denying that zoos can instill in us an empathy and love for all creatures from a young age. You gain exposure to species you’ve never even heard of from areas of the world you’ve never been. If you live in Florida, a giraffe is probably not going to wander in front of your window one morning, so seeing one in person can be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, I had a great time at the zoo. 🙂 It was Lemur Conservation Day, which meant that we learned little factoids about lemurs throughout the day and even observed part of a zookeeper talk on lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur at Central Florida Zoo

Aside from lemurs, the Central Florida Zoo features a cheetah, leopard, cougar, dromedary camel and many other animals, as well as a fairly extensive herpetarium and a variety of birds. The adorable otters were swimming when we arrived in their area and were possibly the happiest animals in the entire zoo, followed closely by this boer goat (who just might definitely be my spirit animal).

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

I was also enamored with these two Indian rhinos, Jahi and PJ, and compared them to two of our family dogs throughout the visit based on their proximity to one another. 🙂

Rhinos at Central Florida Zoo

For those of you who live in the Orlando area or are making a trip out here, the Central Florida Zoo is well worth the visit. I’m so happy I was able to finally experience it after years of living only a few miles away! It is a relatively small zoo, but it has a good variety of animals and plenty of activities for children as well.

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

MorikamiA couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to cross another item off of my 25 at 25 Bucket List: visiting the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. When you’ve lived somewhere for most of your life, you start to take it for granted, and sometimes miss out on some of the amazing hidden gems right in your own backyard. It is my goal this year to pursue new experiences in Florida and visit some of the places I’ve always wanted to see. The Morikami Museum was definitely one of those places, and it did not disappoint.

The Morikami Museum sits on 200 acres of Japanese gardens, all representing different eras of garden design. I went with my parents on a breezy, overcast day — perfect walking weather in Florida — and it felt like we were in another time and another world.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We learned about the history of the Yamato Colony, a pioneering group of Japanese farmers who settled in South Florida in the early 1900s. The colony never grew past 35 farmers, especially because it consisted mainly of young single men (most women weren’t interested in relocating from Japan to the Yamato Colony). However, the land was donated by one of the last colony members and preserved as a place to celebrate Japanese culture and educate others on the lesser-known history of Japanese heritage in Florida.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We also walked through the museum, modeled after a Japanese villa, and visited the art installations as well. The art installations focused on life during World War II in the Japanese internment camps, a dark time in America’s history. I didn’t know much about the internment camps prior to my visit (just that they existed), but the exhibitions were so moving that they inspired me to learn more after I left. I am now reading Julie Otsuka’s novel When The Emperor Was Divine, which focuses on a family sent to an internment camp in Utah, and still can’t believe that this really happened here less than 100 years ago. One room of the museum features The Tag Project, a set of seven hanging installations that consist of replicas of each identification tag for all of those displaced to internment camps. It creates a startling visual of just how many people were displaced at that time.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Visiting the Morikami Museum was an amazing educational experience that I cannot recommend enough.  For those who live in South Florida or are planning a trip, take some time to walk through these gardens and learn about the Japanese culture, past and present.

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!