In shopping districts around the world, it’s almost a cliché to see husbands and boyfriends sitting on benches in quiet complacency, awaiting the return of their wives or girlfriends.
But men who travel to the heart of Central Florida have kicked over the proverbial bench, put it through a wood chipper and immersed themselves in outdoor recreation ranging from racing and airboating to fishing, camping and golf.
Of America’s 50 states, Florida is clearly the one built for speed. On land, in the water and in the skies, Florida is a place where people are in perpetual pursuit of speed. This passion goes into overdrive each March at the Sebring International Raceway.
Whipping across a section of tarmac where WWII pilots once earned their wings aboard B-17 Flying Fortresses, the 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the toughest races in motorsports—a high-test, high-adrenaline challenge that began more than half a century ago.
It was in 1950 that engineer Alec Ulmann envisioned a squadron of sports cars engaged in an endurance race similar to France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. In March 1952, racers lined up for the first running of the now-fabled race, and over the years, the best drivers in the world, including A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and 2018 Sebring Hall of Fame inductee Paul Newman, have flown around the track’s four miles of twists and ultra-tight turns that spring open into straightaways where drivers reach speeds of 180 mph.
This collective energy reaches critical mass when the 12 Hours of Sebring gears up for action. Even though the raceway is featured on more than a dozen video games, it’s the third weekend in March when race fans turn off the TV and tune into the real thing. Many return year after year for the awesome party atmosphere, to catch up with friends, swap stories and relax over a long weekend—often springing for a four-day pass to catch all of the bonus action associated with the 12-hour challenge.
Not only do the world’s most passionate racing fans and skilled drivers travel here, so do the world’s most dedicated anglers. Lured by nearly 100 lakes spread across the Sebring area, amateurs and tournament pros alike arrive determined to catch the fish that consistently outfoxes anglers: the largemouth bass. Also lurking in waters are speckled perch, redear perch, bluegill, warmouth, catfish and gar.
With the vast majority of local lakes remaining in their natural state, they retain the true beauty of Florida. From Avon Park to Lake Placid, from Sebring to Lorida and east to Fort Basinger, an unhurried Old Florida vibe drifts from lakes to rivers to creeks, washing ashore at rustic marinas that pre-date Disney by decades.
Anyone who’s ever been fishing with friends knows that landing a trophy catch is only part of the experience. The simple pleasure of planning a weekend with friends, staying at a fish camp or waterfront inn, and putting work on hold in favor of putting a boat in the water is what a Sebring fishing excursion is really all about.
Powered by a muscular engine spinning an aircraft-style propeller and with nothing beneath the waterline, an airboat hydroplanes over the surface to create a high-speed sensation like no other. As you skim over the reeds and slip into arcing curves, there’s a good chance you’ll reach areas only local captains know about.
From marinas on Lake Istokpoga, airboats speed into the backwoods via Arbuckle Creek, which remains largely undisturbed and undeveloped. Distinct environments ranging from cypress swamps and grass prairies to ranchlands and oak hammocks create a natural haven for bald eagles, wild turkeys, osprey and deer. In the waters and on the banks, once-endangered alligators are now found in abundance, a situation that makes this region one of the few in America where hunting alligators is permitted. For some travelers, that’s reason enough to plan a road trip to the Sebring area.
With a third of the nation out of work in the 1930s, President Roosevelt found jobs for citizens through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Across America, tens of thousands of CCC workers built bridges, roads, dams and, due west of Sebring, Highlands Hammock State Park.
In these 9,000 acres of Florida wetlands and woods, you can explore 15 distinct natural communities via a 2.5-mile loop road that leads to hiking trails piercing deeper into the wilderness. The beauty of this preserve is that you don’t have to come and go. You can come and stay, because built into the park is a campground that accommodates tent and RV camping. So stay the night—or the weekend. Hanging out with your friends in a setting like this is a much-needed reminder of what life is all about.
Some people would tell you there are four basic food groups. But anyone who’s traveled to Sebring’s Blue Lagoon Saloon will tell you there are only three: Buffalo wings, raw oysters and beer.
From this foundation, the hyper-casual, ultra-cool sports bar serves up food and drink specials seven days a week. It’s a great place to meet old friends and make new ones.
With year-round sunshine, golf in Sebring can’t be beat. The Citrus Golf Trail is a collection of courses that appeal to any level of player and offer a wide range of unique terrain. Look for custom golf packages that include top-notch accommodations.