POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Florida beaches, history offer up romance

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Anna Maria Island

Watching the sunset is a romantic option in Anna Maria Island. (Bradenton Area CVB / June 4, 2010)

It's February, that romantic time of the year when pitchers and catchers report for spring training and, uh, what's that?

Oh, of course, it's also time for Valentine's Day.

If watching baseball players stretch and field ground balls isn't the best idea for a romantic couple's getaway, there are plenty of other options in the Sunshine State.

Here's a quick roundup of winning destinations. Play your cards right now, guys, and there might be a couple's spring training game in your future.

Anna Maria Island (visitannamaria.com): Perhaps nowhere on the planet are sunsets celebrated with such reverence as Anna Maria Island, where the dimming of the day inspires bell-ringing and spontaneous applause. This seven-mile stretch of barrier island on the Gulf Coast, about 20 miles west of Bradenton, is a slow-moving haven for bicycling, parasailing, ice-cream eating and horizon gazing.

Key West (fla-keys.com): You want romance? The courtyard at Ernest Hemingway's Home and Museum is an eternally popular wedding spot, even though the author's own romantic life wasn't without its bumps. And there's also the potential for memorable sunsets at Mallory Square, where the sunset is celebrated by an array of street performers and musicians.

St. Augustine (floridashistoriccoast.com): The history that extends from Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon's landing on the peninsula's east coast more than 500 years ago makes an impressive backdrop for romance. St. Augustine Beach is a short drive from the dining and shopping in the Colonial Quarter as well as historic attractions such as the Castillo de San Marcos. After dark, one of the many ghost tours also can be surprisingly romantic.

The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel (fortmyers-sanibel.com): Sunsets also are a highlight on these Gulf Coast beaches, where visitors can blend history (The Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers) with inviting stretches of white-sand beaches. Although Sanibel and Captiva have been developed a bit in recent decades, there are still unspoiled beaches perfect for building mansions of sand or toting a bucket to fill with Atlantic kitten paws, angel wings and other trinkets. At Bowman's Beach or Blind Pass, it's still possible to look around and feel wondrously, romantically secluded.

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