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Overview: Florida

Florida is renowned for amusement parks, orange crops, winter vegetables, the Kennedy Space Centre, and a popular destination for retirees. It is the flattest state in the United States, and Lake Okeechobee is its largest freshwater lake.

Florida is affectionately known as “the sunshine state.”  On average, Florida has 300 days of sunshine per year. And that’s just one of the reasons that Florida is home to a whopping 20 million people, which makes it the third most populous state in America. People from all over the world flock to Florida for the warm days and happy atmosphere.

From the ocean to the Everglades, this tropical paradise has plenty to see and do! With beautiful beaches, fantastic weather, plenty of wildlife, fun theme parks, and fantastic food, it’s no wonder that Florida is a trendy destination for vacationers and snowbirds alike.

Florida has the most golf courses of any state in America (1300+) and approximately 1,000 people move there each day.

Florida is the southeasternmost U.S. state, with the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. It has hundreds of miles of beaches. The city of Miami is known for its Latin-American cultural influences and notable arts scene and its nightlife, especially in upscale South Beach. Orlando is famed for theme parks, including Walt Disney World. ― Google

Florida is 500 miles long and 160 miles wide at its most distant points. The geographic centre of Florida is located in Hernando County, 12 miles NNW of Brooksville. Florida is bordered by Georgia and Alabama to the north. On the west, Florida is bordered by Alabama and the Gulf of Mexico.

How to get there

white american airplane parked on airport
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

Orlando houses three airports. To reach famous attractions in Central Florida, drop by at the Orlando International Airport. To reach most of South Florida, consider dropping in at Miami International Airport. Meanwhile, Tampa International Airport mainly serves the Gulf Coast and has direct service flights to London Gatwick. The fourth largest airport in Florida, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, is serviced by a number of domestic low fare carriers.

To reach most of the major cities in Florida, opt for the bus service by Greyhound and Redcoach. These two connects major cities in Florida. Meanwhile, Amtrack Auto Train carries tourists between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida. While the Amtrak Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains begin in New York City and ends in Miami.

International travellers to Florida may need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), which can be obtained through the official government website.

Things to do

Whether you’re looking for big-city excitement and entertainment or small-town quiet and curiosities, the best places to visit in Florida are the ones tailored to your taste. While Jacksonville is the most populated city in the Sunshine State, tourists often overlook its strengths as a vacation spot next to theme park-heavy Orlando or the beach-blessed coastal cities such as Miami. But Jacksonville’s parks, museums and historic sites are marvellously laid out and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is an amazing attraction for visitors young and old.  

There’s also Tampa, enjoying a revitalized downtown that includes some of the city’s best restaurants, urban parks, bars and a Riverwalk that attracts joggers, bikers and couples out on a stroll. Fort Lauderdale is one of the best places to visit in Florida for those wanting a winning combination of beaches, shopping and dining. 

For visitors looking for a more quiet place to visit in Florida that still offers plenty of activities, cities such as Cape Coral, Gainesville, Fort Myers and Pensacola offer the perfect getaway plans. All offer top-notch golf courses, cozy bed and breakfast inns and fabulous restaurants without the traffic of the big Florida cities.

Palm Bay, the biggest city in the Space Coast area, has some of the state’s best nature trails at the Turkey Creek Sanctuary but also has beaches and other attractions for both kids and adults.  Some prefer more off-the-beaten-path towns such as Dunedin with its tiny but charming downtown and nearby parks, the historic St. Augustine filled with old stone fortresses and museums or quaint Mount Dora and its fun shops and restaurants. 

Tiny Weeki Wachee built its livelihood on its 70-year-old underwater mermaid show and its natural springs, and Arcadia is known for some of the best antiquing around, all concentrated within a few blocks. 

Theme Parks

Thrill-seekers love the daredevil rides and young children are wide-eyed at meeting life-size versions of their favourite movie and book characters. Florida theme parks trade in fantasy for all ages. Fun is an international language and Florida’s theme parks certainly prove that. Orlando International Airport welcomes flights from more than 50 international destinations. Orlando is theme park central, housing the vast Disney World and Universal Orlando complexes.

Beaches

There’s no shortage of charming getaways, nightlife hotspots and fishing meccas along the state’s coastline. Both the Gulf and Atlantic sides have plenty of cool or quaint towns with their own sandy shores, attracting both young and old looking to escape busy lives.  With 825 miles of beaches to choose from, from Pensacola Beach to Daytona Beach to Siesta Key to Miami Beach, each coastal oasis has its own vibe.

Roadtrippin’

A trip from the top of the peninsula to the southernmost point is doable in a day or two.  Check out some of the small-town, family-friendly events going on within an hour or two’s drive from Jacksonville, Orlando or Miami. Or hit some of the best campsites in north Florida, coolest natural springs in central Florida or most popular outlet malls among true bargain hunters in South Florida. 

Browse the Florida map and take a detour off Interstate 4 to check out some odd museums and parks, or break off from I-75 to do some nature hiking or wine tasting. Relax on a front-porch rocking chair and try fresh citrus juices at the Grove House in Lake Wales or make a day trip out of a stopover in beautiful Naples or the laid back New Smyrna Beach. 

If you’re anywhere near the Everglades, swing over to Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, where you can learn the history of the Seminole Tribe or sample frog legs or alligator tail at the Swamp Water Café. It’s easy to hunt down some of the lesser known but most memorable Florida destinations by doing a little bit of map-scanning before you travel.

Kennedy Space Centre

The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral is a must-stop for would-be space travellers. The history of the area and the U.S. space program is fascinating and entertaining, too. Farther up the coast is America’s oldest city, St. Augustine and the 16th century Castillo de San Marcos fort. 

Diving

Whether fresh, salt or brackish, Florida waters are meant for fishing, but there’s far more beneath the surface. Off Florida’s Miami coast divers from around the world explore coral reefs at Biscayne National Park and, further down the Keys, slip into turquoise waters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s only underwater state park. Off the northern Gulf Coast, the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail marks dive sites for dozens of wrecks-turned-artificial reefs, including the massive USS Oriskany, a WWII-era aircraft carrier. 

Happy Trails

Add recreational trails created atop historic railroad beds, bicycle trails that will soon connect the Gulf to the Atlantic, back roads that offer a great escape whether in a car or on a motorcycle and ever-changing vistas that making photography a snap… and it all adds up to something wild and wonderful.

Wildlife

Much of the state is traversed by the Great Florida Birding Trail, a network of 510 wildlife-viewing sites found along a flyway for migrating birds. And between Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key on route to Key West, you’ll pass a habitat for the elusive Key deer, the smallest in North America.

You can also see wildlife by taking a nature tour, dropping into award-winning zoos or scheduling a visit to private preserves that protect wolves, bears, elephants, tigers, lions and primates.  Nature itself is preserved at places such as the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches along barrier islands east from Pensacola, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge ,where 140,000 protected acres look largely the same as they did thousands of years ago.

Explore Florida and you’ll also find St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and hundreds of state parks where guests enjoy camping, swimming, hiking, picnicking, canoeing, kayaking and, in one unique park, the universe: Florida’s Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is the only state park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. 

Nightlife

For those looking for the best and most wild times that Florida nightlife has to offer, Miami never fails to deliver. Miami nightlife is famous for its beautiful people, exclusive clubs, romantic rooftop bars and nonstop parties. South Beach is known for its sexy ultra-lounges and high-energy dance clubs, but even those looking for a more subdued, relaxed or more intimate evening can find a number of laid-back taverns, underground music venues, dive bars and late-night taco joints throughout downtown Miami, the Wynwood Arts District, Coconut Grove and other popular areas.

Orlando nightlife offers an array of grown-up activities from upscale wine tastings to cigar bars to highly entertaining dinner shows. A most popular spot in the summer is Icebar Orlando, billed as the largest permanent ice bar in the world with a below-freezing bar made of ice and a warmer adjacent room for dancing, drinks and food.

Orlando’s famous International Drive is filled with after-dark options, including sports bars to cheer on your favourite team, a hookah lounge, a country bar with a mechanical bull, various billiard and game rooms, go-kart tracks, movie theatres, blues clubs and more. 

The Tampa nightlife scene is just as lively, with a recent downtown resurgence of fine dining and unique bars as well as long time hotspot Ybor City, a historic district filled with restaurants, coffee shops, late-night retailers, martini bars, gay dance clubs and live music venues. Tampa’s Channelside District is a great place to enjoy the urban waterfront or play a round of bowling at Splitsville, or catch a nearby play or musical at downtown’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts. 

Golfing

Florida is the golf capital of the world, with more than1300 courses in every corner of the state.  No two golf courses are alike in Florida. The World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine should be on the itinerary. The history of the game is told through exhibits and interactive displays, while each Hall of Famer has his or her own space in the Member Locker Room.  And naturally the Hall of Fame has two courses, one named the King and Bear, co-design by Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus.

History

Florida history and art in Florida is quite modern. In fact, visitors might be lucky enough to watch the paint dry at the murals that appear with regularity in Miami and St. Petersburg. That’s how contemporary that work is.  Miami’s Wynwood Walls urban graffiti district is drawing artists and visitors alike to the funky section of the city. Walking tours and breweries are also part of the scene.

St. Petersburg’s annual SHINE festival brings muralists from around the world to paint on 20 brick-and-mortar canvases around the city. When the 10-day festival is over, the work remains for the benefit of lovers of art in Florida.  Visionaries brought art from other places to new homes in Florida. Salvador Dali’s monumental masterworks are at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg while the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany reside at the Morse Museum in Winter Park.

Travel Tips

  • Florida is the boating and fishing capital of the world. It has more than 7,700 lakes, 11,000 miles of rivers, 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, and has produced more than 900 world fishing records, more than any other state, or country. Florida has more than 700 freshwater springs
  • Strong winds, storms, and hurricanes. They are seriously a big issue for people living in Florida
  • It takes approximately 7–8 hours to drive down the east coast of Florida, from Jacksonville to Key West
  • Alligators appear in multiple places around the continental United States, but they’re most predominantly known for living in Florida because of the Everglades and a large number of swamps
  • The best time to visit Florida is from the end of November to mid-May. With average temperatures of between 20-25 degrees and a very low rainfall, you can get a great Florida holiday in the Autumn, Winter and Spring.
  • One of the most efficient ways to travel within Florida is by rental car. Another means of transportation is Amtrak
  • Tipping is really important

 

For more on Florida visit visitflorida.com 

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