What to Buy in Florida: Shopping for True Souvenirs from the Sunshine State

Clyde Butcher's fine art nature photography makes a meaningful souvenir.

Clyde Butcher’s fine art nature photography makes a meaningful souvenir.

Mickey Mouse ears and crates of oranges: That is so last century when it comes to shopping for souvenirs that truly say “Florida.” Harry Potter is the new Mickey Mouse, and key lime products are much trendier in the citrus department.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You don’t need another pink flamingo knickknack – and pink flamingos don’t even live in Florida outside captivity.
  • You don’t want to be THAT tourist with the red nose and Mickey Mouse ears.
  • Great for people who want to remember the essence of Florida in its art, nature, and food.

Whether you’re rewarding the cat-sitter or looking for a true piece of Floridiana to remember your sunny vacation, here’s my list – as a Floridian of 30-plus years – of gifts that make a statement.

  1. Things manatee. Florida’s most loveable creature, the manatee swims waters throughout the state. Various attractions pay homage and sell relevant souvenirs that range from mana-tee shirts to plush toys. The best place to find manatee gifts – charms, clever “manatea” diffusers, puzzles, bags, and even dresses – is in Crystal River. The national wildlife refuge here counts more than 550 manatees in its waterways every winter, and manatee lovers come to swim along with them. Try the dive shop at Plantation on Crystal River resort or downtown’s Manatee Toy Company. Nearby, the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s gift shop also has a nice selection.

    Plush manatees are also as lovable as the real thing.

    Plush manatees are also as lovable as the real thing.

  2. Key lime stuff. There must be 150 ways to turn key lime juice into food and bath products down in the Florida Keys. Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe will even freeze pies for travel. More convenient for transporting, the shop carries everything from key lime fudge to key lime barbecue sauce. At the northern end of the island chain, stop at Key Largo Chocolates for key lime truffles.
  3. Art laureate. Nothing better recalls Florida’s land and seascape than an original work or print of local art. Some suggestions on artists who have gained honorary “laureate” status in the state: photographers Alan S. Maltz and Clyde Butcher, painter Christopher Still, and vibrant creator Leoma Lovegrove. Look for historic works by the Florida Highwaymen movement for something truly special. Look for the book Reflections: Paintings of Florida 1865-1965 for some of their works and others.
  4. Drink to youth. In St. Augustine, the gift shop at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Site sells bottled water from the park’s spring. Okay, it’s a little kitsch, but the water truly is imbued with healthful properties — but it’s the same water you will drink where ever the widespread Floridan Aquifer spans, which is most of Florida.
  5. Yo ho rum. Florida recently passed a law that craft distilleries can sell a limited amount of their product on site, which has caused a small boom in the rum distillery industry. Drinking the local rum may too make you feel younger! Most recently, Key West’s Legal Rum Distillery opened in Old Town’s historic Coca Cola plant. In the Fort Myers area, look for Wicked Dolphin Rum’s spiced rum flavored with Florida sugar cane, citrus, and spices. In Sarasota, check out Siesta Key Rum.
  6. Shelling out. Seashells are free on the beach, just make sure there’s no critter inside before you pack them. Sanibel Island is the established world-class shelling capital. It also has a shelling museum and a number of shell shops where you can buy what you don’t find. Many also sell shell crafts, which can range from tacky little shell animals to stunning works called Sailor’s Valentines. Check out Sanibel Seashell Industries for the best selection and prices.
  7. Tervis Tumblers. Now found in outlets throughout the United States, this iconic insulated drinkware comes from a factory in Osprey, Florida, just outside of Sarasota. Perfect for keeping beverages cold poolside and at the beach, the sturdy plastic mugs, tumblers, and water bottles are guaranteed for life.


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