For decades, fans have flocked to Florida for a pre-season preview of America’s favorite pastime: baseball. Boasting more than 74 million citrus trees, Florida’s aptly named Grapefruit League squeezes out home runs and plenty of fun from late February through March.
With 15 Major League teams, the Sunshine State is the sweet spot for fans of baseball and saving money. The average cost of a ticket to see the Mets play in New York is $61, but tickets start at $25 to see them play in their spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, 90 minutes south of Cape Canaveral.
This spring, West Palm Beach holds the hottest ticket in baseball. That’s because the two teams who share West Palm’s FITTEAM spring training stadium, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, both made it to last year’s World Series. The Nationals were last year’s winner, while the Astros won in 2017, the opening year for this rookie South Florida sports complex.
Of course there’s a lot more than just sports to be enjoyed in Palm Beach. The arts are thriving, and a stop at one of the local museums, like Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens or Flagler Museum, is a must. Or take a stroll to gawk at the price tags at the upscale boutiques (think Lilly Pulitzer, Chanel, Gucci) lining Worth Avenue, Palm Beach’s version of Rodeo Drive. Head over to brunch at the grande dame of Palm Beach hotels, The Breakers, for a break from hot dog-and-burgers ballpark fare.
Just 15 minutes north is the northernmost Palm Beach County town of Jupiter, home base for the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Though this sleepy beach town has a population of only 65,000, it’s home to the largest number of professional golfers in the country. With perfect weather, quiet beaches, and magnificent golf courses, it’s no wonder some 35 PGA Tour pros live there, including Tiger Woods.
Take time to enjoy nature by renting a canoe and paddling through the cypress tree-lined waterways of the Loxahatchee River at Riverbend Park, only 10 minutes from Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium.
Enjoy the water while dining as well. For a romantic night out, book a waterfront table at the upscale 1000 North. Make sure and ask for a view of Jupiter’s iconic red lighthouse. For more laid-back waterfront dining, head over to Guanabanas, a beloved local hangout known for its live music and casual island vibe.
The Jupiter Beach Resort and Spa is the only oceanfront hotel in Jupiter, making it a great lodging choice. Ride one of the hotel’s free bicycles 15 minutes south to the Juno Beach Pier. A day-long fishing permit at this classic Florida pier is $4 for adults, $2 for kids. Fishing poles, tackle, and bait can be rented on site.
Florida’s Atlantic Coast scores with three spring training facilities, but it’s the Gulf Coast that sees most of the Big League action, with teams spread from as far south as Fort Myers up to the Clearwater/St. Pete area.
For Boston Red Sox fans, Fort Myers is a fantasy getaway. Daily direct flights from Logan make it easy to enjoy pre-season baseball at JetBlue Park, known as Fenway South. The Minnesota Twins also call Fort Myers home. Should you want to round out your Fort Myers trip with a little more excitement, it’s a two-hour drive along Alligator Alley to the Atlantic Coast’s Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
An hour north is where the Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves play. Another 40 minutes north, and you’ve landed in Florida’s “Cultural Coast” of Sarasota, home to a professional ballet, opera, orchestra, ten theaters, and the brand new Sarasota Art Museum. Of course Sarasota’s also home base for the Baltimore Orioles and, a half-hour north, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Don’t let the pristine beaches and vibrant arts scene of the Clearwater/St. Pete region throw you a curve. It’s also got a winning sports scene, with three Major League teams playing within an easy drive of swanky Sandpearl Resort, located on a magnificent wide stretch of Clearwater’s powdery, white beach. Sandpearl’s on the main drag of Clearwater Beach, where you’ll find hip restaurants, surf shops and the iconic Pier 60 with its nightly sunset party. The Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays play in stadiums twenty minutes from Clearwater Beach. Tampa’s George Steinbrenner Field, 45 minutes away, is home to who else but the New York Yankees.
If you’re game for combining spring training baseball with a trip to Disney World, Universal Studios or other theme parks, the Detroit Tigers play a half hour from Orlando.
For baseball lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this: sunny weather, affordable tickets and the rare chance to get up close with the best players in the Major League. If you’re a baseball fan, you won’t strike out with a spring visit to any of these Florida destinations.
Featured image: Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers Florida, home of the Minnesota Twins (Evan Meyer / Shutterstock)