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Florida summers bring fun ways to beat the heat

Summer can be one of the best times to visit Florida. Refreshing afternoon rains cut the heat, outdoor beach bars and restaurants turn on their cooling misters, and the sparkling ocean is more inviting than ever. Beyond the beaches, many activities offer fun and cool experiences.

If you’re anywhere near the state’s Atlantic coastline, make the journey to the Space Coast’s Kennedy Space Center, where you can get an up-close view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, travel through the history of the Apollo era, and meet a real astronaut. Bonus: When you’re finished learning about the wonders of space exploration, the Atlantic coast is known for the best surfing and skimboarding in the state.

Florida is also a shopper’s dream, with more than a dozen large outlet malls around the state, all offering designer duds at cut-rate prices. What better way to cool down than to browse through Kate Spade handbags, Kenneth Cole shoes and Tag Heuer watches? Prime Outlets Ellenton, Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall in Sunrise, Prime Outlets St. Augustine and Silver Sands Factory Stores in Destin are some favorites, and all have restaurants and coffee shops for breaks between bargain hunting. Plan to make a day of it for the most successful shopping trip.

For unforgettable and Old Florida experiences, the small, lesser-known theme parks dotted throughout the state provide kitschy fun, often under shade or in air-conditioning. Check out the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee, where finned females swimming in spring waters have been entertaining guests for almost 60 years.

Plant City’s Dinosaur World is a favorite stop for kids with its actual-size models of prehistoric species, plus fossil digging and a hands-on dinosaur museum. And no Florida vacation would be complete without alligators. St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm Zoological Park features rare albino gators and Maximo, a 15-foot 3-inch saltwater crocodile. And in Glades County’s Palmdale, the family-owned-and-operated Gatorama has snake skins on the walls and humongous gators and crocs out

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