FLORIDA Small town earns big applause

Once a bustling railroad depot, Arcadia is known for its yesteryear look and popular rodeos.
ARCADIA, Fla. -- With Florida becoming more crowded and more commercialized every year, it's nice to find a community that has consciously tried to preserve a slower, quieter way of life. For a taste of old Florida and a look at the way things used to be, come to Arcadia.
Located about an hour east of Sarasota or an hour north of Fort Myers, the small town was once a bustling railroad depot. Today the railroad is gone, but the depot remains to lure tourists with a red brick shopping arcade. There are two dozen antique shops scattered through the business district in buildings that date from the early 1900s. There aren't many updates here -- most of the buildings retain their original facades for a picturesque, old-fashioned downtown look.
It's possible to park at one end of Oak Street and shop all the way to the other end before you're worn out, especially if you stop halfway at the Arcadia Tea Room Restaurant. Eat in the enclosed arcade, or step inside one of the tiny, high-ceilinged dining rooms for a light lunch followed by gourmet coffee and one of the restaurant's trademark desserts.
Animal influence: Adding to the peaceful, small-town ambiance, Arcadia is central to Florida's ranch country. One local resident said there are more cows in Florida than there are in Texas. Even though this seems hard to believe, there are undoubtedly thousands of cows in the pastures outside town. Horses are popular, too. In fact, every March and July Arcadia hosts the state's largest rodeos.
Several bed-and-breakfast inns serve Arcadia. At the west end of Oak Street, within easy walking distance of town, is Arcadia's Magnolia House, where a quiet and comfortable night can be spent. The owners are teachers at a local college who have spent many hours restoring the old house to its present condition. One room held a tall four-poster bed that was a favorite hangout for the family's cats, Bogie and Bacall. After a breakfast of mushroom quiche, muffins, yogurt and fruit in the high-ceilinged, blue-patterned dining room, a day on the water would be the plan for the day.
A peaceful ride: The Peace River, just west of town, provides canoeing, kayaking and fossil hunting for visitors in search of easy-going water sports. Renting two canoes from Canoe Outpost, one of the oldest and largest outfitters in the state, and starting up the river, mindful of the alligator sunning himself nearby, the hours slowly go by.
The emptiness of the Florida rivers is always amazing, at least in the wintertime. Peace River lives up to its name, with miles of solitude broken only by the occasional house, the occasional 'gator, a handful of nervous blue herons and platoons of sunbathing turtles.
Forget traffic jams, forget crowds of people, forget the bustling suburbia that has taken over much of Florida. This is why people go on vacation , to drift silently on a sun-dappled river with no agenda but picture-taking and no business but searching out fossils.
Going back to the hustle and bustle eventually, of course, one leaves with a pleasant memory of Florida the way it used to be.

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