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Places Welcoming You

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Crystal River, Florida
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Hudson, Florida
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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Bronson, Florida

Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Florida has the most coastline of all the Lower 48 states. From the northern Emerald Coast to the Florida Keys, the Sunshine State offers beauty and adventure.

Fun-Filled Cities

Located on the Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay packs lots of amusement parks as well as brilliant Ybor City, a Cuban enclave that serves up outstanding food and cigars. Head south to Miami and South Beach for trendy entertainment spots, iconic architecture and beautiful beaches. A bevy of small towns and big cities line Florida’s shores. St. Petersburg, Daytona, Destin and Pensacola are just a few of the sublime coastal retreats.

Aerial shot of the Florida Everglades.

Florida Everglades. Getty Images

Ocean Waters and Pretty Pinelands

Located on Florida’s southwest coast, Everglades National Park protects over 1.5 million acres of Florida’s wetlands. Explore the prairies, pinelands, marshes and mangroves by foot, on a bike or in a boat, while watching for abundant wildlife. Take an airboat tour to skim across the water at high speeds, enjoying the sights along the way. Several trails snake through Everglades land for unforgettable hikes.

Theme Park Central

In the heart of Florida, Orlando rolls out larger-than-life theme park thrills. Walt Disney World, Legoland, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld offering magical adventures to eager guests. Where else can you swim with real dolphins, play Quidditch with Harry Potter, see mind-blowing Lego creations and have a play date with Mickey Mouse?

Sunshine State Getaways

Even though Florida doesn’t have dramatic elevation changes — its highest point, Britton Hill, is 345 feet above sea level — Florida’s trails still lead hikers to some exciting discoveries. Some of the state’s best hikes can be found along the Florida National Scenic Trail, which runs 1,300 miles from Florida’s panhandle through myriad landscapes all the way to the state’s southern tip. For a quintessential Floridian experience, check out the Bulow Woods Trail between Flagler Beach and Ormond Beach, taking hikers under a canopy of massive live oak trees. Cyclists will find an abundance of trails in the Sunshine State.

Daytona Days

In mid-February, stock car engines rev as top racers vie for one of the top honors in NASCAR. The 500-mile Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway ranks as one of the top events in motorsports. Feel like dining with Mickey? While any time is an excellent time to visit Walt Disney World, foodies won’t want to miss the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, held each fall.

Colonial Past and Rocketing Future

In the 1500s, Spanish settlers established the city of St. Augustine as the capital of colonial Florida. The town honors this legacy with prominent Spanish architecture throughout town and cultural events featuring Spanish food and music. Take a drive along the Old Florida Heritage Highway to experience “Old Florida,” where small towns and simpler times beckon visitors. Visit the sleepy antique stores and sample the local cuisine at welcoming eateries. Along the Atlantic coast, Florida has played an essential role in the nation’s space exploration, from the launch of early rockets from Cape Canaveral in the 1950s to the human-crewed space shuttles from the Kennedy Space Center.

Stone fortification with palm trees nearby.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustin. Getty Images

A Pirate’s Life for Me

Raise the Jolly Roger and don an eye patch at the annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest. For over a century, Tampa has hosted this lively event each January. The festivities start with the pirate invasion of Tampa Bay with a flotilla of boats, followed by a spirited parade modeled after Mardi Gras.

Sharks and Shells

Get the blood pumping at the Shark Valley Trail in the Everglades. This 15-mile loop trail goes right through alligator territory. Off the Fort Myers coast, Sanibel Island’s network of trails provide a relaxing way to explore this beautiful destination. On Sanibel’s beaches, visitors are allowed to bring home some of the ample seashells that litter the shore. For unique hiking, paddling and hunting opportunities, head to Big Cypress National Preserve, with its 700,000 acres of swamplands.

Franklin County

Named after the Founding Father whose likeness is on the $100 bill, Franklin County is a quaint and cozy coastal county that’s as green as the currency. The verdant region sits on the Florida Panhandle and is one of the least populated counties in the state, but its human presence has nonetheless been significant. Archaeologists have discovered traces of human settlements dating back 12,000 years, and Native American tribes thrived in the area for eons, subsisting on fishing off the warm Gulf waters. These days, fishing is still a big industry in Franklin County, and its mellow way of life attracts visitors seeking relaxation, adventure and a chance of catching “the big one.”

Fun on the Water

Virtually 90 percent of Franklin County falls under the rubric of protected parkland or nature preserve. The community’s mammal inventory includes black bears and the elusive Florida panther, while the region’s swamps, beaches and waterways entice passionate bird-watchers. Find fun in the form of canoeing along the 100 miles of the Apalachicola River’s swamplands or go hiking across pristine white-sand beaches. With the small-town hospitality of the county’s rough diamond towns Franklin is a flashback to sultry “Old Florida.”


A plate with lime-green key lime pie topped with whipped cream.

Getty Images

Regional Dish

Florida Key Lime Pie

Living up to billing as the official Florida state pie, this iconic dessert offers equal parts tart and sweet in an unforgettable combination. Made from fresh key lime juice, condensed milk and egg yolks poured into a graham cracker crust, the deceptively simple recipe means restaurants and roadside stands are free to put their own twist on it. Finding your favorite never tasted so good.


 

Fun if By Boat

There’s no point going to the coast if you’re not going to enjoy the water, and in Franklin County, a number of relaxing and eye-opening boat tours are available. If you prefer dry land, take a trip into the Apalachicola National Forest, Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or Tate’s Hell State Forest.

Historical Franklin County

The Apalachicola Maritime Museum reflects on the things that made this region great, including fishing and trade, while at the John Gorrie State Museum, you can learn about another big part of Franklin County’s history, and one that has nothing to do with the coast. John Gorrie lived in Apalachicola during the early 1800s, and is known for his pioneering work in the fields of air conditioning and refrigeration. The museum looks back on his life and work, and includes a replica of his first ice-making machine.

Guiding Lights

Lighthouse fans will enjoy touring the Cape St. George Light on St. George Island. A museum and interactive archive tell the story of this landmark, which traces its history back to 1848.

Okeechobee County

Known as “Florida’s Inland Sea,” the sprawling Lake Okeechobee is the centerpiece of this fun-loving Florida region. Visitors from all over the world come each year to make the most of its recreational opportunities, while taking some time to enjoy its tranquil surroundings.

Welcome to Florida’s Finest

Encompassing more than 700 square miles is Lake Okeechobee, the largest lake in Florida. One of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, Lake Okeechobee is approximately half the size of Rhode Island and serves as a magnet for anglers from across the United States. Indeed, the lake is home to champion-size catches. Charter fishing excursions are ready to take anglers to the prime fishing spots for largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill. Guided nature and Eco tours are also available.

Bird Business

The lake is home to a variety of plant life and is known as a place to spot bald eagles, brown pelicans and other bird species. If you’re a hunter, local outfitters can help you bag boar, turkey and even alligators. If catching a big reptile isn’t on your “to-do” list, you may still see them on one of the tour-operated airboats that specialize in finding the variety of wildlife in the region.

Hiking Okeechobee County

For a land tour option, try Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. More than 100 miles of paved and unpaved routes circle the lake with plenty of shaded spots for picnics. There is a sweeping view of Lake Okeechobee from Herbert Hoover Dike, which is found along the trail. Keep a lookout for a wood stork or heron, as well as otters.

Florida Main Street

The arts play a big role in the town of Okeechobee located on the north side of the lake. Okeechobee’s Main Street is lined with murals presenting the history and popular activities of the Okeechobee region with a Smithsonian Waterway Exhibit stopping at the Historic County Courthouse, December 2016 through January 2017. Events like the Speckled Perch Festival and Car Show keep the town rocking. The town is also home to Quail Creek Plantation and OK Corral, which both offer quail, turkey and pheasant hunting along with clay shooting.

Okeechobee Art

In June, the Okeechobee’s Art & Wine Walk kicks off. Each downtown business will feature an artist showcasing their artwork or music, and will offer guests wine tasting, appetizers and promotional offers. In July, Okeechobee celebrates the National Day of the Ameican Cowboy with a cattle drive through town, a livestock market and the Cattlemen’s Ranch Rodeo. Also on tap is a barbecue competition and vendors selling western wear and goods. The event salutes Okeechobee’s heritage as center for cattle ranching and commerce.

Taking it Easy

To slow things down a bit, take a leisurely visit to Wagon Wheel Horse Farm. Here, you’ll find pony rides for the kids, horse riding lessons for grown-ups and farm animals on-site. If you would like to experience the more exotic animals that make their home in the area, visit Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Here, you can come up close and personal to Florida panthers and other wild cats. Also on hand are peacocks and lemurs. There is nothing like a walk through the butterfly garden at Arnolds to finish your day.