It wouldn’t be fair to you if we talked only about beaches, sun, sand and Walt Disney. If these are the reasons you’re visiting, you won’t be disappointed. Why do you think it’s called the Sunshine State and attracts 40 million visitors a year?
Florida’s got sunshine plus much more: culture, history and landscape.
Florida can be enjoyed from seven different perspectives:
- Gold and Treasure Coasts
- Orlando and the Space Coast
- Gulf Coast
- Everglades and the Keys
Florida used to be the 20th most populous state in the 1950s; today, however, it ranks fourth. The largest segment of the population are the retirees who easily adapt to Florida’s great climate, leisure mind set and low taxes. Don’t be misled though in thinking that Florida sports an “old face wrinkled by too much sun.” The state has attracted waves of younger people and have turned Miami into a swinging and trendy resort. Latin Americans have been coming to Florida since the late 1950s. The result? Jubilant festivals, salsa music and great cuisine! Miami
has two million people who occupy the city’s 2,000 square miles. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to imitate the local commuters, the public transportation system has buses, the Metrorail and the elevated Metromover located downtown. You also get a Water Taxi service, although its service is limited.
If you hear someone in Miami say “SoBe”, he’s referring to South Beach where you just might spot your favorite model or movie star. South Beach stretches from 6th Street all the way to 23rd Street. It is a busy place where you can rub knees with body builders, drag queens and beachcombers. If you want to sample and gawk at Art Deco buildings, this is the place for you.
Other places to see in Miami are the Holocaust Memorial (1933 45th Meridian Avenue), Bass Museum of Art (2121 Park Avenue), Metro-Dade Cultural Centre (101 West Fagler Street), Little Havana (home of Cuban immigrants who contribute to the perpetual gaiety and vibrance of the area), the Venetian Pool (De Soto Boulevard) and Coconut Grove Village (get off Coconut Grove from the Metrorail).
An incredible number of yachts – that’s what Fort Lauderdale is about. And what complements these yachts are of course the stately mansions that line the prime neighborhoods. Ride along Las Olas Boulevard – Fort Lauderdale’s busiest – and enjoy the eateries and boutiques.
Boca Raton is a wealthy city. Admire the architectural finish of the Cloister Inn, now part of the Boca Raton Resort and Club. Want to try some expensive shopping? Spend an afternoon in Mizner Park, named after Addison Mizner, an architect who had big dreams for Boca Raton.
Another rich winter resort is Palm Beach, stomping grounds of the rich and famous.
What you see is what you get! And what you do see is genuine amusement right here in Florida’s Orlando and Space Coast.
Start with the Kennedy Space Center (please call ahead to see if it’s open because it has to close occasionally for operations upgrades – 321-867-4636). It sits on Merritt Island and is known for the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969. It houses the Galaxy Center which has two IMAX screens.
Then you have the Walt Disney World Resort – the largest entertainment site in the world. Visit the theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom. Note that Walt Disney receives millions of visitors; busiest times are:
- Christmas and Easter
- June to August
- last week of February
You may want more of that Hollywood feeling after your Disney-MGM visit so head for Universal Studios Orlando. It has two theme parks and multiple choices to feed a hungry soul. Teens will love Hard Rock Café and Monster’s Café, while mom and dad would enjoy seafood at Lombard’s Seafood Grill.
Check out Kissimmee on the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. It means “Heaven’s Place” and it used to be a grazing place for cows. Not anymore. Instead you’ll get exciting rodeo shows. The state’s oldest rodeo is held at the Silver Spur Arena every February and July.
If you’re still not “beached-out”, drive over to Daytona Beach – a favorite destination of hundreds of thousands of American students during spring break. Cars are allowed on the beach, by the way.
Our sister, a resident of Florida, recommends a visit to St. Augustine – a stretch of more beaches, marinas and golf courses. It has its own interesting history which you can swallow and savor on foot, or hop into a horsedrawn carriage. Ask to see the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, a structure built from cypress and red cedar wood.
If you’ve ever wondered what a sand pine forest is like, go to the Ocala National Forest where there are campgrounds and swimming activities. Deer and otter abound, and certainly a great place for bird-watching enthusiasts.
While in Tallahassee, visit the Old Capitol Building and the Museum of Florida History. While in Pensacola, visit the Historica Pensacola Village and the TT Wentworth Florida State Museum. This museum keeps old Coca-Cola bottles and other oddities from pre-Columbian times.
If you get as a far as Apalachicola, visit their National Forest and the John Gorrie State Museum.
Don’t skip Tampa. It is one of Florida’s fastest growing cities and has the ideal harbor. Many Spanish citizens were attracted to Tampa who began arriving as early as the 1500s. St. Petersburg is another favorite destination and people who are fans of Salvador Dali come to St. Pete specifically for the Salvador Dali Museum.
Check out the Pier with its numerous shops and restaurants. Remember the Ringling Brothers and their Circus? If you have time, drive to Sarasota, a rich cultural center with a lively waterfront. Drop by the Ringling Museum Complex which echoes a lot of Italian architecture. The circus owner, John Ringling, invested his $200 million fortune in Sarasota.
Don’t know if you like panthers, but if you’re curious, you just may see one in the Big Cypress Swamp – it is a popular lodging area for hundreds of plant and animal species. It also protects the endangered Florida panther. Travel writers say the one third of the swamp is covered by cypress trees gracefully standing along long, narrow forests. Its largest protected enclave is the Big Cypress National Preserve. From this point, take a break and enjoy the view.
A place that has stirred the passions of some travelers is the Everglades National Park – an idyllic setting for wildlife and fauna, not to mention 400 bird species.
And who hasn’t heard of the Keys? The Keys constitute a chain of fossilized coral islands that run southwest of the tip of the Florida peninsula. Key Largo is the largest island in the upper section of the Keys. Visit – better yet - go snorkeling in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – where the underwater is sheer wonder. Big game fishing fans can opt for Islamorada which has seven islands to offer for the best game fishing in the state.
In Key West, watch out for Bahama Village – where you get the best of the Caribbean beat. Visit the home of Ernest Hemingway where he lived for nine years. It’s where he wrote To Have and Have Not.
- Orlando (Disney World, Epcot Center, Universal Studios, Sea World)
- Key West
- Tampa Bay
- Adventure Island
- Daytona Beach
- Cocoa Beach
- Cap Canaveral Space Center
- St. Augustine
- Daytona Speedway
- Key Biscane
- Fort Lauderdale