Florida has long been a haven for those seeking relief from the cold days of a northern winter. Most visitors are eager to trade in their snow shovels for waving palm trees and long walks on sun-kissed beaches.

Another enjoyable and relaxing day along Lake Okeechobee. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arriving Easter Week, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, stepped ashore, liked what he saw and christened the place La Florida, the Land of Flowers. What a sight that would have been.

This rich and diverse history can be explored in towns such as St. Augustine, the original site of Ponce de Leon’s landing and considered the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in America. The city was established 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Florida is more than 480 miles at its longest and 360 miles at its widest point with 1,200 miles of coastline, 7,700 lakes, and 11,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus the Everglades. As the poet Loren Eiseley said, “If there’s magic to be found on this planet, it is to be found in water.”

All Snowbird destinations have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

The difference between Florida and Arizona is like the difference between jungle and desert, between the quiet Everglades and the raging Colorado River, between development and the untouched frontier, between ocean surf and palm oasis, and between flat grasslands and towering mountains.

For both Arizona and Florida, of course, climate is the big draw, and the two destinations certainly have that in common.

Fishing along the Nature Coast near Crystal River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you asked visitors to Florida for their most vivid impression of the Sunshine State, there’s no predicting the responses you might receive:

  • Visiting with Mickey Mouse and friends
  • Endless days of glorious sunshine
  • Beautiful sunset over shimmering ocean waves
  • Pristine beaches
  • Rows and rows of orange and grapefruit trees
  • Fresh-from-the-water seafood
  • Ever-delicious key lime pie
  • Space shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center
  • NASCAR drivers circling the track at Daytona International Speedway
  • Quaint fishing camps along the Nature Coast or Lake Okeechobee
  • Paddling a canoe or kayak into the unspoiled environment
  • Observing Florida’s varied wildlife—alligators, manatees, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, ibis, anhingas
  • Well-manicured golf courses that challenge the best but still please the rest
  • Strolling the cobblestone streets of historic St. Augustine
  • Visiting world-class art galleries, mansions, and museums.

While it may surprise the first-time visitor to the state, this popular winter destination is very different from place to place.

A Gulf Coast sunset. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida offers some of the world’s most diverse and stunning scenery, from the rivers and forest of the northwest to famous Lake Okeechobee in center of the state to the quiet lagoons on the Keys.

Depending upon where you travel in the Sunshine State, you will find the Historical Florida, the Original Florida, the Theme Park Florida, the Natural Florida, and the Beachy Florida.

In this series of articles we’ll hopscotch the state and offer suggestions for discovering Florida as a Snowbird destination.

Worth Pondering…
I am going to St. Petersburg, Florida, tomorrow. Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I’m sick of the job—it’s a thankless one and full of grief. I’ve been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.

—Al Capone, 1899-1947

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Snowbird destinations: Arizona, Part 3