Northeast Florida

Hang out with pirates and ghosts (Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island): Ghost tours, pirates and an annual shrimp festival are the highlights of a port town that is only a couple of hours by car from Central Florida, though it's almost at the Georgia line. It offers a lot of similar history to St. Augustine, but without the congested commercialization.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Fernandina Beach was literally a safe harbor for pirates. Its port is among the deepest on the southeast coast, once allowing pirate galleons to enter even at low tide. Now that legacy is celebrated by one of the oldest pirate clubs in the United States, whose costumed members add color to the local streets.

For ghost tales, take a carriage tour of the Victorian homes in the "Silk Stocking District" just off Centre Street. Many of the homes, built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are still owned by descendants of the original families (ameliaisland.com).

Commune with beaches and birds ( Canaveral National Seashore): This expansive national park features isolated beaches — including Playalinda, which is favored by nude sunbathers — and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The latter is one of Central Florida's amazing free diversions. Stop at the Visitor Center (State Road 402, 5 miles east of U.S. 1) and check out the butterfly garden, hammock and wetland prairie. Take your vehicle on the 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive, a good place to see more than 500 species of birds and wildlife.

One can spend a good part of the afternoon idling along on the gravel trail, spotting ospreys, wood storks, ibis and egrets as well as monstrous gators (321-861-0668; fws.gov/merrittisland).

Watch the sunset over Mosquito Lagoon ( New Smyrna Beach): JB's Fish Camp is one of those rustic places that time forgot. It's nestled between the beach and the Indian River, about 7 miles south of the Islander Resort, along South A1A. Tasty grouper sandwiches are served on the outdoor deck, accompanied by gorgeous sunsets.

In addition to food and spirits, JB's also offers kayak rentals on an hourly to weekly basis, for those who want to get a closer look at the river — and burn off calories from the grouper sandwich.

While in town, make sure to check out the shops along the Flagler Avenue business district, a convenient stop on the way to the beach (386-427-5747; jbsfishcamp.com).