by Jamie Rich | July 1, 2024

Editor’s Note: Set Off for Adventure

Editor in Chief Jamie Rich takes us through the Summer 2024 Adventure Issue.

Flamingo Editor In Chief Jamie Rich. Photography by Kristen Penoyer.

​​In a sleepy Central Florida town, about 45 miles outside of Tampa, lies a 400-foot-deep freshwater cave system—the deepest known in the nation. Every day, 117 million gallons of 74-degree water bubble up from the subterranean aquifer into a limestone basin. This natural spring is also the only place on Earth where certified, real-life mermaids have been performing synchronized water ballet below 16 feet of crystal-clear water for the past 76 years. 

One of my favorite family memories is making the pilgrimage in the summer of 2016 with my daughters, then 4 and 8, to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The three of us sat in awe inside the chilly, 400-seat underground theater while the mermaids swished their purple tails, swirled in their iconic circle formation, sipped compressed air from hoses and even drank a Coke underwater as part of the show. Equal parts kitsch and geological phenomenon, this natural spring is on the National Register of Historic Places and a bucket-list experience for any Floridian. And while the mermaids are pure entertainment, they shine a light on one of Florida’s most precious resources and sources of drinking water that must continue to be protected.

Weeki Wachee Springs is one of Florida’s 175 state parks, which include historic sites like the more than 1,000-year-old Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park, pristine shorelines like the driftwood strewn Boneyard Beach at Big Talbot Island State Park (on our cover) and geological wonders like the 120-foot-deep sinkhole at Devil’s Millhopper State Park. It’s easy to take state parks for granted, maybe because they are inexpensive and accessible, but the truth is, these are priceless preserves.

There’s an adventure in our pages for everyone, from the bibliophile to the backcountry explorer. 
– Jamie Rich

In the cover story of our Summer 2024 Adventure Issue, we unravel the natural curiosities, historical significance and even family dramas that gave rise to these Sunshine State sanctuaries. As a gift to readers, we also partnered with the design team at A.B. Newton and Company to create a pullout poster mapping all the parks and their signature characteristics. We hope this summer (or maybe the next five) you’ll use the map as a checklist to visit them all, from Perdido Key State Park in the northwest corner of Florida to Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys. 

With the arrival of summer also comes hurricane season—a stark reality of life in Florida—and this year is predicted to be one of the most active in recent history. In the spirit of our Adventure Issue, we go into the proverbial eye of the hurricane with a cadre of storm chasers, including Mike Boylan of Mike’s Weather Page, who has become an oracle to his vast online audience hanging on his every data point. 

Next, we take shelter from the storms to bring you an insider’s look at one of Florida’s greatest cities, often dismissed as the ultimate tourist trap. In our Orlando travel story, we debunk the stereotypes and share its hidden gems, high-end hangouts and buzzworthy neighborhoods. Even if your summer plans don’t include a visit to the theme parks, we promise you’ll want to go to the not-so-touristy O-Town. 

Finally, we venture over to the Gulf Coast to hunt for scallops and snorkel in the seagrass underneath Pasco County’s iconic stilt houses in an online exclusive published on Scan the QR code on page 18 to meet Capt. Mark Dillingham and dive into this classic summer pastime.

Throughout this issue, we bring you conversations with extraordinary Floridians across the peninsula. We swim a lap with Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel, nosh on gourmet ramen with St. Augustine chef Barry Honan, delight in the colors of Little Havana with artist Tony Mendoza and wander the stacks of The Lynx bookstore with author and owner Lauren Groff. There’s an adventure in our pages for everyone, from the bibliophile to the backcountry explorer. 

In the process of creating Vol. 25, I learned a lot about our state—as I always do—but especially about Florida’s state parks. These recreational refuges are much more than places to hike, camp, surf or see a mermaid show. Drifting among the oak hammocks and the crystal spring waters are important lessons that reveal a window into our past and future. There’s something almost magical about spending time on these protected public lands. So, I challenge you to pick a spot you’ve never visited on our state parks map, right now. The question is: Where will you go?