WHY VISIT FLORIDA
Sizzling beaches or a theme park bonanza might tempt you to Florida, but there’s more to the Sunshine State than golden sands and Disney shows.
That said, Miami is a fabulous place to kick off your sojourn. The city’s sprawling South Beach delivers what the postcards promise: brightly colored lifeguard huts, promenades of art deco architecture, and a steady stream of tanned bodies. It’s a place to pedal a powder-blue cruiser, sip refreshing mojitos, or shimmy in sultry clubs.
Miami’s not all about the beach, though. Head to a Cuban block party on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, take a dip in the Venetian pool at Coral Gables, or peruse the wares in the Design District.
The Florida Keys archipelago, south of Miami, is a Caribbean-flavoured getaway with beautiful beaches and clear blue waters. For something wilder, head to the sprawling wetlands of the Everglades National Park, home to alligators, manatees, and the endangered Florida panther.
Orlando is theme park central. You can whizz through Disney’s Space Mountain or see a real rocket at the Kennedy Space Center located on Merritt Island, less than an hour from the city. Nearby Daytona Beach offers sandy resorts, seaside amusements, and a packed calendar of motor racing events.
Along the Gulf Coast in western Florida, the cities of Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples serve up culture and tranquillity alongside stellar sunsets, while Tampa and St Petersburg boast sweeping beaches and picturesque historical sites.
Tucked in among the rolling hills of North Florida, the state capital, Tallahassee, is a popular university town strictly Southern in tone, and a gateway to the stunning beaches located in the Panhandle.
WHAT TO SEE IN FLORIDA
- Florida beaches: by far the star attractions in Florida are its beaches. The Atlantic coast has fun-loving Daytona, Ft Lauderdale, and the sizzle of Miami Beach, the Gulf side is where the real treasures lie. Islets like Sanibel Island and the city of Fort Myers are simply magical, with perfect sand and clear, calm water. Head north into the Panhandle for beaches just as nice and less touristy with standouts like St Andrews State Park and Gulf Islands National Seashore ensuring much of the shore stays protected.
- Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: Orlando is the vortex of kid-sized entertainment, with major amusement parks like Universal Studios, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT. But the original, and world champion of fun, is Disney World. The sheer size of Disney World is mind-boggling and is essentially a self-contained city with dozens of different resorts, an inter-park monorail system, golf courses, and endless rides. Enjoy the world of Disney through its modern rides, old-fashioned carnival games, and magical residents.
- Miami: Florida’s main metropolis is one of the world’s top cities in terms of seaside recreation, sizzling nightlife, and cultural arts. By day, South Beach’s Lummus Park Beach is a quirky mix of beautiful sand and funky locals. After dark, it’s a world-class club and bar scene party until the early hours. The Design District is cool, while a solid dose of Cuba is available in Little Havana. Though somewhat overhyped, Miami nearly lives up to its lofty reputation.
- Florida Keys: the Keys trickle away towards Cuba from the very southern tip of Florida. Comprised of more than 400 tiny islets running for 150 miles into the blue abyss of the Caribbean, one of America’s most scenic roads links most of this island chain. From chilled-out Key Largo and Big Pine Key to the legendary Key West at the very end of the line, these islands are a world unto themselves. As sung about by classic rockers the Beach Boys, expect an overdose of beauty in the Florida Keys.
- St Augustine: the oldest still-inhabited European settlement in the US is this cool Gulf Coast city, founded by the Spanish in the 16th century. Unlike most of Florida’s over-the-top tourist attractions, St Augustine has genuine charisma. Its Colonial Spanish Quarter is as romantic as anything in the States, with its mossy, live oak trees and coquina buildings. This town is the perfect complement to Florida’s romantic beaches, whether you’re a history buff or a young couple looking for a private escape.
- Everglades National Park: most picture the Everglades as a gigantic swamp full of alligators. The latter is certainly true, but this majestic subtropical wild area encompasses most of southern Florida and is truly a treasure of nature. The 40-mile river at its heart is rarely more than knee deep and runs agonizingly slow. Experience the Everglades by airboats, quick little buzzing powerboats that skim the saw grass past an endless parade of wildlife, or slowly canoe through its waterways. There are also land trails that showcase another facet of this amazing national park and really should not be missed.
- SeaWorld: more of an adventure park than an amusement park; SeaWorld is a 200-acre marine center that manages to combine education, marine life, and fun into one quality package. The atmosphere is relaxing, even with its exciting water rides and roller coasters. The animal shows are the main highlight, as are the feeding pools that let you get very close to some friendly sea creatures.
- Kennedy Space Center: if you have any interest in outer space and the astronauts who have traveled there, you won’t want to miss visiting Cape Canaveral, Florida. This amazing complex is a surefire hit with the kids, but it’s no childish theme park. After its recent multimillion-dollar makeover, the Space Center is as cool as ever, with IMAX films, interactive computer simulations, and loads of memorabilia. There are also a dozen real launches each year, so check the schedule to catch a liftoff.
WHEN TO GO TO FLORIDA
The best period to visit Florida is from xxx to xxxx.
On average, Florida tends to maintain warm temperatures throughout the entire year with slightly lower temperatures during the winter months. Summers are long, warm and particularly humid, lasting from May to October. And the winters throughout the state are quite short and dry, lasting from December to February. In January, the coldest month, the average temperature is 61°F (16°C). In July, the hottest month, the average temperature is 82°F (28°C).
The climate in Florida is heavily influenced by the fact that the state is a peninsula, surrounded completely by the sea. Since the sea is able to store heat, the coastal areas tend to maintain s slightly warmer temperature in the winter than the central areas of the state. This also explains why the average temperature of the surrounding sea in Florida is the highest in the month of July (84°F or 29°C), making it one of the best times of the year for swimming.
WHAT TO DO IN FLORIDA
Take an airboat ride with an alligator
Since identity theft, Medicare fraud, and cocaine smuggling are all frowned upon by the federal government, the most Florida thing you can still legally do is ride an airboat out into the Everglades. Many of the airboats are captained by former smugglers who know the mangrove forest better than most people know city streets (yes, 100% true), and their stories are almost as captivating as the alligators that swim alongside their boats. It’s a rare chance to see the Florida that was there before it was all artificial beaches and condos and meet the people who make it the most colorful state in America.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Florida.
- Daytona Beach Bike Week: if it’s March then it’s time for motorcycles to roar into Daytona for a week of rowdy biker fun. This event has been happening since 1937 and is a premier US event for motorcycle enthusiasts. Besides the preening, there are races, competitions, music concerts, and lots of partying.
- Afro-Cuban Dance Festival: Florida International University hosts one of Miami’s most popular festivals every April. The sounds and culture of the state’s Latin culture come alive in the streets of Miami, Little Havana, and other neighborhoods with live music and dance performances. Backing this up are loads of great food and cultural workshops, lectures, and other events designed to educate, as well as entertain.
- Florida Film Festival: Orlando hosts one of the state’s top film festivals every April for 10 days of cinematic indulgence. Everything from independent flicks to Hollywood blockbusters and documentaries is on show, backed up by special food events, music, and other cool activities. Of course, there is also competition for the best film in several categories.
- Florida Renaissance Festival: each April, Miami turns back the clock a few centuries and indulges in a week of Renaissance style and fun. The Cauley Square Historic Village is the site of this amazing festival featuring traditional craftspeople, jousting knights, period food, drinks, music, and more.
- Pensacola Seafood Festival: Florida certainly has its share of amazing seafood, and every September the city’s historic Seville Square turns into a giant foodie mecca with seafood at its core. Around 150 arts and crafts vendors set up stalls selling their unique creations and live music runs until the sun goes down. During the day there are loads of kids’ activities in Pelican Park.
- Sarasota Blues Fest: every September, the city of Sarasota welcomes the blues to the Ed Smith Stadium. But with truly something for everyone, this music festival has expanded its offerings to include folk, rock, and other genres. It’s been going strong for more than 20 years and always draws a solid lineup of bands and musicians.
- Jacksonville Light Parade: each November at Thanksgiving, the town of Jacksonville transforms itself into a wonderland of lights and a magical parade of boats along the St Johns River. This amazing spectacle is only rivaled by its fireworks show, which features waterfalls of lights off the bridges and other stunning scenes.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH FLORIDA
Public buses only run in Florida’s largest towns and cities. So if you are staying in a small beach town like Sanibel or Destin, you’ll need your own car to do any moving around. Greyhound buses, however, are great for traveling between towns because they cover nearly every little destination in the state. These buses are excellent value and comfortable enough for a few hours on the road.
Only Miami has an inner-city train network operated by the city government. There are two forms of the train in the city, notably the Metromover, a light rail system that basically circles the downtown area, stopping at most of the major attractions and shopping districts. It’s useful for getting around and the views from its elevated track are lovely. Metrorail is a larger network of elevated light rail trains that runs for 21 miles between the downtown core and the southern suburbs. Metrorail is more for locals and typically doesn’t hit any major tourist attractions.
The Amtrak train runs the length of Florida, stopping at its terminals in downtown Miami. It is possible to travel by rail from Miami all the way to Los Angeles (68 hours) or New York (26 hours), but the travel time is extremely long, even without any of the delays that commonly plague Amtrak. However, the trains are comfortable and the ride is typically scenic. If time is on your side, a cross-country train is a wonderful way to see all of America. But in reality, the train fares are about the same price as a low-cost flight.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON FLORIDA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6,-5 (-5,-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN FLORIDA
Typical food in Florida
- Key Lime pie (i.e. dessert made with lime, egg yolks, sugar, cream and condensed milk, topped with airy, smooth meringue)
- Cuban sandwich (i.e. ham, shredded roast pork, Swiss Cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread)
Souvenirs from Florida