Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), who was elected to her first term in 1980, is one of two women in the Senate. She has lived in Florida for 27 years and now makes her home in Winter Park, near Orlando. She was asked recently to write about her favorite Florida places.
Picking a favorite spot in Florida is a job no one should have to do -- the choices are endless. From Pensacola to Key West, vacation spots abound. The state offers excitement and relaxation, from north to south.
* St. Augustine. The history of St. Augustine is a magnet that draws me to this beautiful area. At San Agustin Antiguo -- a restoration of an 18th-century village on St. George Street in the old town -- you can view the daily lifestyle of the Spanish colonists and watch costumed performers portray them at their livelihoods and crafts. The original fort still stands, complete with the working weaponry and formal guards. Tours are conducted daily.
Another wonder is the Zorayda Castle, a fascinating reproduction of Spain's Alhambra palace. Within its walls visitors see how the Moorish kings lived, entertained and ruled Spain, and -- of special interest to me -- how this influenced Florida. To take in all of this historic area, I suggest riding the St. Augustine trains, "tourmobiles" that stop at favorite sightseeing spots and also give an overview of the area. St. Augustine is a combination of the best of the new Florida, with its broad beaches and wonderful seafood restaurants, and the beauty and the tradition of old Florida.
* Orlando. Southwest of St. Augustine's rich cultural area is the hub of our state, metropolitan Orlando -- a center of commerce, agriculture and tourism. Orlando itself is a booming, growing city that offers much to both visitors and residents. The hotels are new and the airport is modern, efficient and convenient. I find any restaurant or shop on Park Avenue in nearby Winter Park to be a sure winner, and one of my favorite beauty spots in February and March is the Kraft Azalea Gardens on Lake Maitland.
Outside Orlando, children and adults can get lost in the wonderlands of Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World, Circus World, Busch Gardens and Cypress Gardens. Little-known Bok Tower Gardens, north of Lake Wales, provides a quiet retreat, with 128 acres of gardens and nature trails and a daily 3 p.m. carillon recital from the majestic Bok Singing Tower. Not far from Orlando, on Florida's East Coast, is the Kennedy Space Center. When I take a tour of the center, I feel I'm stepping into the 21st century and beyond.
* Miami. In South Florida, especially in Miami, diversity is the name of the game. The city of Miami is a tropical paradise, right in the continental United States. The aspect I like most is its international flavor -- Miami is the Sun Belt's center of trade, finance and industry. Because of its thriving agricultural and industrial base, business people from around the world find the city the perfect location for meetings. The only problem is that with so much to see and do, you might have trouble keeping your mind on work.
Miami offers a multitude of activities for everyone in the family. Whether soaking up warm sun on a beach, taking a long stroll at sun-up or scuba diving, you cannot help admiring the beauty of America's purest and most colorful ocean waters. When you're not looking at the endless variety of fish, you may want to try catching a few -- or go sailing, water-skiing or windsurfing.
In the Miami area you can play golf or tennis on some of the world's most famous courses and courts. There is always shopping and dining, especially in unique Bal Harbour and Coconut Grove. Whether you're dressed up or dressed down, Miami has restaurants that rival the best anywhere in the country. Best of all, they specialize in fresh seafood and Caribbean cuisine. My special favorite is Cuban black beans and rice, of which Miami fortunately has an abundance.
Whether I visit during a blustery northern winter or the long, warm days of summer, there are always special events going on. From the Orange Bowl football classic in January to the Aqualympics in April to the Hispanic Heritage Festival in October, Miami is constantly a source of celebration. Special permanent attractions range from historical museums to Indian villages, and from Japanese gardens to the Metrozoo. The city also provides its visitors with unique avenues to explore, learn and understand the history of Florida, an important part of which is the rich cultural mix with Latin America and the Caribbean. It is this diversity that has made Miami the crossroads of the Americas.
I have not even touched here on the West Coast -- that is a story in itself. But from north to south, on both coasts and in between, Florida is a varied and very special state.