A24’s Florida Travel Guide Is Weird and Beautiful
There is a scene towards the beginning of the movie 2017 The Florida Project where the three young protagonists take a walk on Kissimmee’s Route 192 tourist strip in an attempt to score free ice cream. Behind them, kitschy sets parade: a gigantic wizard’s head attached to a gift shop, a store shaped like an oversized half-orange. “I love the orange lid,” says one child. “It’s called a peelsays another. Finally, they arrive at their destination: the ice cream parlor, made of fiberglass molded into a chunky vanilla ice cream cone.
These are fleeting moments, an homage to both the fuzzy oblivion of childhood and the patchwork technicolor weirdness that makes up their Disney-adjacent world. In the film, Central Florida is just a background setting, but a chunky new guide to cult movie studio A24—Florida! A hyper-local guide to the flora, fauna, and fantasy of America’s most remote state— provides all the context.
In these pages, you will find that the gigantic wizard’s head belongs to the magic castle’s gift shop, which, despite its outward appearance, is apparently a fairly ordinary tourist product (although you box buy a preserved alligator head for $12.99). You’ll also learn that the movie’s Twistee-Treat Ice Cream Shop is an iconic state chain with only a few remaining locations, and not all currently offer frozen desserts.
And while Eli’s Orange World’s gigantic half-orange isn’t in the book, Clermont’s Citrus Tower, built in 1956, does. There you can always have a coffee with orange cream in the cafe on the ground floor. It represents a time when oranges were the region’s main economic engine, before Walt Disney razed the majority of the 80,000 miles of orange groves to make way for the happiest place on earth.
Search “Florida” on our site and a slew of eclectic results pop up – the shipwrecks and mangroves of Biscayne National Park, the best places to watch sea turtle nesting, the psychics and spiritualists that make up the town of Cassadaga, and the next big thing in Miami competitions: professional pillow fight. The marriage of the state’s natural wonders and let’s say… iconoclastic characters are best put in the introduction to A24’s book by Tyler Gillespie, author of The Thing About Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood Stateand Florida Man: Poems. He describes a skinny dip in Clearwater Beach and encountering flashes of bioluminescence in the water. “It must be magic,” he thinks. “Or maybe it’s toxic.”
In addition to The Florida project, some of A24’s most notable films use the splendor of the state—spring breakers, Zolaand Moonlight (Pasco County nudists from Zola let it all hang out in their own spread). But a few movie mentions are all you’ll see of the studio in the guide. Rather, they handed the reins over to the people who live and breathe the Sunshine State in a nearly 600-page tome of a love letter.
Essays by authors like Jeff VanderMeer and jaxpsychogeo.com’s Tim Gilmore delve into everyday life, from enjoying wildlife refuges to circus lessons to attending monster truck rallies. The three Ds of Jacksonville are also highlighted: writers Dawnie Walton, Dantiel W. Moniz and Deesha Philyaw, whose works depicting the trials of black figures in North Florida were published within months of each other with a great success, binding them forever.
The professional mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park headline a section, with instructions on how to live the mermaid life as an ordinary earthling (just in time for the new Little Mermaid film). The Space Coast chapter shows prime locations for tailgating liftoffs at Kennedy Space Center, and Florida supermarket chain Publix gets its due (complete with its own ode, by Orlando podcaster and writer Nick D’Alessandro). The wacky state mascots also make an appearance (apparently not everyone was too keen on renaming the Jacksonville Suns baseball team the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp).
There are events (Tampa’s Gasparilla Parade of Pirates), inclusive roller-skating clubs (Gay Commie Skate Crew in St. Petersburg), a sunken treasure map, and if you want some history? Oh boy, there’s history, including a focus on those preserving cultural legacies like Miami reporter Nadege Green of @blackmiamidade.
And lest you think they’re keeping secrets to themselves, all newcomers are invited, with pages of instructions on how to participate in local festivities. Do you want to participate in the annual Interstate Mullet Toss in Flora-Bama? A chart on page 28 states: Arrive early, pick your dead and wet fish, kiss your mullet (according to tradition) and go for it.
Culinary wonders feature both stories and recipes. Try a Honeydripper, straight out of Jacksonville, or, of course, a Key Lime Pie, which comes with its own controversy. Learn what it’s like to growl worms and why landlocked forest earthworms are the best. There’s even an annual Worm Gruntin’ festival to add to your calendar.
You can find your best angle at the prehistoric spring of Devil’s Den or roll a cigar and perfect the art of the Cuban sandwich at Ybor City in Tampa. And while hopefully you’ll never have to fight a shark, if you find yourself in that situation, there are instructions for that as well. Hit it mostly and hope for the best.
“My version of Florida always starts at the beach because that’s where I fell in love with the state’s nature and saw its magic,” Gillespie says in the intro. “But he also lives in souvenir shops that sell alligator heads as gifts. Florida has been the butt of some (deserved) ridicule, to the point where the Florida Man trope has taken on a life of its own. But putting the book in the hands of those who love — and thrive — on its quirks makes us want to do it too.
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