Welcome to Florida
Vibrant cultural influences, an exceedingly rich history and diverse natural landscapes welcome visitors to Florida. Nicknamed the Sunshine State, the weather that greets visitors here generally stays on the warm side, although the vast peninsula is no stranger to wind and rain.
Each region of Florida boasts its own claim to fame. The Emerald Coast of the Panhandle is renowned for the exquisite white sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and welcoming towns like Panama City, Destin and Pensacola. The rural northern region retains the Dixie vibe of Old Florida and is home to the state’s largest city, Jacksonville, and the nation’s oldest European settlement, St. Augustine.
Heading to central Florida takes you to the theme park capital of the world, Orlando, but there’s more to the region than thrill rides. On the Atlantic Coast, stock cars hurtle around the track in Daytona, while rockets burst skyward at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. As the long state of Florida stretches southward, you’ll find dynamic coastal towns like Tampa, Sarasota and Naples on the west coast, as well as hot spots like West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and the colorful urban playground of Miami on the east coast.
Head to the Everglades for a peek into a stunning ecosystem, then continue to one of the most spectacularly beautiful roadways in America, the Overseas Highway, which connects the Florida Keys. At the highway’s terminus, you’ll find a city like no other, Key West.
Sand, Sun and Everglades
With the most miles of shoreline in the contiguous United States, Florida is synonymous with long stretches of sand. Visitors discover an endless variety of terrain along the more than 1,300 miles of coast, including silky-smooth, sugar-sand beaches that give way to clear emerald waters. The challenge comes not in finding a beautiful beach, but in narrowing down the dozens of options.
While Emerald Coast locals lay claim to exceptional white sand beaches, the other coastal communities have bragging rights of their own. Vibrant South Beach reflects the art deco architecture and dynamic atmosphere of Miami. Those seeking peace and quiet (and seashells) will want to visit Sanibel Island, just off the coast of historic Fort Myers. Clearwater and Siesta Key are up-and-coming favorites, while Naples and Palm Beach are dripping with glamour. Wherever you land, stick your toes in the sand and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views.
Along with its beaches, Florida has an abundance of public lands. Everglades National Park’s 1.5 million acres of wetland wilderness encompasses an abundance of native plants, alligators, panthers and flamingos. More than 160 state parks can be explored throughout the state, with seemingly boundless hiking trails, fishing and a variety of recreation opportunities. At Manatee Springs State Park, the namesake creatures swim in ethereal blue waters. Head to Falling Waters State Park to marvel at the silky curtain of Florida’s tallest waterfall. De Soto National Memorial, Troy Spring State Park and Gamble Plantation Historic State Park showcase the state’s rich history.
Florida is home to the southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West. This eccentric town boasts a vibe all its own. Colorful cottages line charming neighborhood streets, while lush trees and flowering plants bask in a Caribbean climate. A little bit Bahamian and a little bit Cuban, Key West is home to adventurous cuisine, vibrant arts and seemingly never-ending music.
A splendid day might consist of a stroll through the shops and galleries, a relaxing meal at a café and a night of live entertainment. Adventure-seekers will find another world to explore in the waters off the shores, where you can swim with dolphins or snorkel among the colorful fish of the coral reefs. Take the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, where visitors can tour a historic fort and dive down to explore the wreckage of the three-masted, steel-hulled windjammer Avanti, which sank here in 1907. For a special treat, observe nesting sea turtles. The stunning vistas of endless blue waters won’t disappoint.
On Florida’s northeast coast, St. Augustine bridges the past and present. Long before the Pilgrims landed on America’s shores in 1620, St. Augustine thrived as a Spanish colony, founded by conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. Walk along St. George Street to admire historic structures and beautiful architecture. Discover imposing stone buildings with iconic red roofs that echo the city’s rich Old World heritage. Set sail to Anastasia Island, where a historic lighthouse stands guard. Walk the stone fortifications of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fort in North America. History comes to life as the sound of cannon fire reverberates throughout the structure in stunning re-enactments.
On the Gulf Coast, the city of Tampa Bay boasts world-class museums, fantastic waterside attractions and a Cuban-American enclaves that dazzles with fantastic cuisine and irresistible music.
Central Florida offers a treasure trove of theme parks. While Gatorland in Orlando may have been one of the state’s first amusement parks, Walt Disney World in the same city reigns supreme. Mickey and Minnie have been welcoming visitors since 1971 with immersive experiences and white-knuckle rides. Over the decades, the park grew to include the global landscapes and cityscapes of Epcot; the movie glamour of Hollywood Studios; and the wild habitats of Animal Kingdom. Nearby, Universal Orlando Resort bustles with characters from Dr. Seuss books, Marvel Comics and more.
Feeling magical? Hogwarts Castle rises high over Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, transporting visitors into the pages of the popular namesake novels. At SeaWorld, fans of marine life can learn about the unique animals that live in our oceans. To interact with these enchanting creatures, a visit to Discovery Cove is a must. If you have children in tow, head to Legoland, where amazing structures and fun rides stimulate kids.