Wow, what a crazy few days. Between all the exploring (and lots of driving in circles) we did, I didn't have a spare second to write a post.
After having lunch in Atlanta, we spent the day driving straight to Florida. Overwhelmed by the amount of choices we had as far as places to start off in (neither of us had ever been to Florida aside from going to Disney, which after this experience I don't think is allowed to count), so we pretty much just decided to jump on the very narrow peninsula on the east coast of the state and head south until we didn't feel like driving anymore. There's not really a major highway running down this peninsula, so we got to drive through a lot of small tourist towns and see a lot more than we would have had we just stayed on I-95.
We finally got sick of driving in around the middle of the state (almost parallel to Orlando, but a little farther south), right before Daytona Beach. We pulled up Hotwire.com and booked the cheapest hotel we could find, since we didn't plan on spending a lot of time in it and felt we were in a safe area. The hotel seemed normal enough upon check-in, but when we got up to our room I was absolutely stunned.
THIS was the view from directly out the balcony window. And I bet you're probably thinking jeez, how the heck much did you spend on this??! And the answer to that question is not $150/night, not even $75/night. This hotel cost us $34.50. Thirty. Four. Fifty. Walking distance from Daytona Beach. The week of Spring Break. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place. We were confused and amazed, too. Hotwire is always pretty hit or miss, but man, I never in my life could've expected such a hit.
We spent the evening exploring the town, and the next day decided to check out some of the state parks in the area. (There were a lot). I'll be honest I wasn't expecting a lot, just a lot of grass and palm trees and maybe a close encounter with an alligator or two, but again, I cannot even explain how pleasantly surprised I was.
This is Bulow Creek State Park, home to an abandoned sugar mill from the 1700's. A $4 honesty policy entry fee gets you access to miles of trails around the mill, as well as a self-guided tour.
The slogan on our parking pass was "#TheRealFlorida", and until we actually pulled up to the trails and parking area we kept making fun of it. But actually, I had no idea that anything like this even existed in the entire United States. I've never been to anywhere really "tropical" before, so I'd never seen anything like this in my life. It was so cool and so unlike anything I'd ever seen before that I couldn't believe my eyes.
Next up, we took the Old Dixie Highway (A beautiful drive along the water winding around rivers, the ocean, and tons of tropical flora & fauna) to Tomoka State Park only a handful of miles away. Mostly lots of trails, we found a path that lead to something of a secret hideaway at the end, which opened up to a breathtaking bay that was totally empty except for us. There were signs everywhere saying to watch for alligators, but (to my sort of dissatisfaction, I kind of was curious to see one) we didn't come across any.
There were lots of fallen palm trees and panoramic views that looked straight out of a desktop background; I've said this a few times but I really couldn't believe my eyes.
All in all I'm coming away from this experience extremely personally offended that most people come to this beautiful state and just hover in giant crowds on blacktop (and shell out thousands to do so! I'd take this over Disney any day, and for 3 days our grand total we spent on accommodations and activities for two people was $77.)