Backroads of Paradise:
A Journey to Rediscover Old Florida

Cathy Salustri

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“[Salustri] delights in letting people know that to really discover Florida, you have to turn off the congested interstates and explore the state’s towns and cities.”—New York Times  
 
“Across 5,000 miles of Florida back roads, Salustri shows readers the state’s hidden gems, uncovering anything from sugar sand to working oyster boats. With Salustri, readers will gain an in-depth look at the Florida that isn’t often seen in travel brochures.”—Booklist  
 
“Provides a perspective different from the theme park and beach images most commonly associated with Florida.”—Library Journal  
 
“The ultimate Florida road-trip. . . . Anyone who shuns interstates for backroads in order to rediscover old Florida should rush to buy this lovely book!”—Tallahassee Democrat  
 
“Funny, salty . . . informative and poignant.”—Creative Loafing Tampa  
 
“Salustri’s enthusiasm for Florida is evident and contagious. . . . You are sure to be intrigued, if not in love, by the time you finish.”—Florida Book Review  
 
“This book will remind you why Florida is considered paradise, just in case you had forgotten.”—Tampa Bay Magazine
 
"A handy road companion for any tourist, newcomer, or longtime Floridian who wants to get off the beaten path and travel back in time."--Bobby Braddock, Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter

"In staccato bursts of frenzy and passion, Salustri has written a modern love story affirming her tangled relationship with the Sunshine State. Retracing the routes of 1930s guidebooks, she re-creates the great Florida road trip."--Gary R. Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida

"This delightful trip through space and time gives us glimpses back and ahead at our ever-evolving Florida. Salustri stops along the way to mourn the parts of paradise we've lost and to celebrate what's still around to enjoy."--Craig Pittman, author of Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country

"A compelling, bittersweet odyssey across seventy-five years of Florida changes, a trip filled with dreams tarnished now by overdevelopment but still harboring a few unspoiled pieces of paradise."--Brian Rucker, author of Treasures of the Panhandle: A Journey through West Florida


In the 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project sent mostly anonymous writers, but also Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy, into the depths of Florida to reveal its splendor to the world. The FWP and the State of Florida jointly published the results as Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, which included twenty-two driving tours of the state's main roads. Eventually, after Eisenhower built the interstates, drivers bypassed the small towns that thrived along these roads in favor of making better time. Those main roads are now the state's backroads—forgotten by all but local residents, a few commuters, and dedicated road-trippers. Retracing the original routes in the Guide, Cathy Salustri rekindles our notions of paradise by bringing a modern eye to the historic travelogues.



Salustri's 5,000-mile road trip reveals a patchwork quilt of Florida cultures: startling pockets of history and environmental bliss stitched against the blight of strip malls and franchise restaurants. The journey begins on US 98, heading west toward the Florida/Alabama state line, where coastal towns dot the roadway. Here, locals depend on the tourism industry, spurred by sugar sand beaches, as well as the abundance of local seafood. On US 41, Salustri takes us past the state's only whitewater rapids, a retired carnie town, and a dazzling array of springs, swamps, and rivers interspersed with farms that produce a bounty of fruit. Along US 17, she stops for milkshakes and hamburgers at Florida's oldest diner and visits a collection of springs interconnected by underwater mazes tumbling through white spongy limestone, before stopping in Arcadia, where men still bring cattle to auction. Desperately searching for skunk apes, the Sunshine State's version of Bigfoot, she encounters more than one gator on her way through the Everglades, Ochopee, and the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters.



Following the original Guide, Salustri crisscrosses the state from the panhandle to the Keys. She guides readers through forgotten and unknown corners of the state--nude beaches, a rattlesnake cannery, Devil's Millhopper in Gainesville--as well as more familiar haunts--Kennedy Space Center and The Villages, "Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown." Woven through these journeys are nuggets of history, environmental debates about Florida's future, and a narrative that combines humor with a strong affection for an oft-maligned state.



Today, Salustri urges, tourists need a new nudge to get off the interstates or away from Disney in order to discover the real Florida. Her travel narrative, following what are now backroads and scenic routes, guides armchair travelers and road warriors alike to historic sites, natural wonders, and notable man-made attractions--comparing the past views with the present landscape and commenting on the changes, some barely noticeable, others extreme, along the way.



Cathy Salustri is the arts and entertainment editor at Creative Loafing Tampa and lives in Gulfport, Florida.

There are a lot of Florida tourism books that direct readers from one tourist trap to the next, but underneath the Sunshine State’s shiny façade reside rich history and diverse culture. This is where Salustri...comes in....direct[ing] Florida tourists away from busy theme parks and interstate highways by revisiting the path cut by the 1939 Federal Writers Project (FWP) book, Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, and taking readers along for the ride.-- Booklist

Both a love letter to Floridas long forgotten and a clear-eyed analysis of the Floridas we are living in today....Funny, salty...informative and poignant.-- Creative Loafing Tampa

Follow[s] the many pre-interstate tours marked out in the Florida guidebook and report[s] on the changes that had taken place in the 70-plus years since the guide was published. Tallahassee Democrat

Salustri recreates the ultimate Florida road-trip…Anyone who shuns interstates for backroads in order to rediscover old Florida should rush to buy this lovely book! Tallahassee Democrat

Salustri…delights in letting people know that to really discover Florida, you have to turn off the congested Interstates and explore the state’s towns and cities. New York Times

Provides a perspective different from the theme park and beach images most commonly associated with Florida. Library Journal

Salustri’s quotable wit and compelling descriptions of Florida’s natural beauty would make the book worth reading even if the material were not so entertaining. Florida Book Review

A delightful trip through this curious state. New York Journal of Books

If you really want to know Florida, Cathy teaches us, you have to get off the interstate. Drive some backroads. Paddle some rivers. Or you can at least start by reading this book. It’s a good one. Florida Illustrated

This book will remind you why Florida is considered paradise, just in case you had forgotten. Tampa Bay Magazine

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