The San Diego Zoo
Exotic animals are stars on YouTube, but there’s nothing like seeing them live, said Christopher Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times. At the San Diego Zoo (sandiegozoo.org), you don’t need a mouse or monitor to “lock gazes with a viper” or “coo at an adorable giant panda.” When I visited recently, “one of the giraffes stared me down for so long I thought it might demand to see my ID.” Now in its 97th year, the nation’s second-most-visited zoo houses a whopping 3,700 animals and can proudly trumpet its role in bringing back such threatened species as pandas and California condors. I spent one morning transfixed by a panda mother of six who was breakfasting on bamboo stalks. Later, I got “slimed by rhino spittle,” fed a squadron of flamingos, and communed with my old favorites, the same Galápagos tortoises that have lived at the zoo since 1928. Beat that, Internet.
A hidden gem in Dunedin
If you’re looking for a throwback Florida experience, consider Dunedin, said Virginia Linn in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A sleepy town of 37,000 on the Gulf Coast, Dunedin has plenty of quiet charms, including the waterfront Fish Market, which sells fresh catch until 10 each night, and a Donald Ross–designed golf course that was long the home course of the PGA championship. But Dunedin’s true gem exists just offshore. A 20-minute ferry ride through emerald blue waters gets you to Caladesi Island, home to “three miles of one of the most pristine beaches you’ll ever see.” Once crowned the best beach in America by coastal scientist Stephen Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach,” this unadulterated, powdery white strip is completely unlike Florida’s cluttered mainland beaches. Stroll along beautiful Caladesi and instead of hot dog stands or “junky surf shops,” you’ll spy American oystercatchers, seagulls, and other wading birds. “This is the way Florida is supposed to be.”