Florida

Florida Beach along the Gulf by CC user adam_skowronski on Flickr

Introduction

Among many Americans, Canadians, and others from around the globe, Florida is the ultimate holiday destination in the United States. While winter exacts its chilly toll on most of the other states in the Union, most of the Sunshine State stays toasty warm, thanks to its toasty subtropical climate.

Enterprising entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this envy-inducing weather for decades, building dozens of theme parks across the state that delight young and old alike, but there is more to Florida than Mickey and the gang.

A rich history waits to be discovered, one that spans from the days of the Spanish through the troubles of the Civil War to the past century of breakneck development. This attractive land has attracted artists and authors, both of whom have extensive museums celebrating their work, and of course, this coastline of this state is lined with beaches: pocket-sized or endless strips of sand stretching to the horizon, urban playgrounds filled with the rich, chic, and hip or quiet slices of paradise.

Out there, your beach is waiting, so what are you waiting for? The water’s always fine, and there’s a spot on the coast with your name on it … you just got to find it for yourself.

Castillo de San Marcos by CC user dougtone on Flickr

What To Do – Culture & History

Those seeking out the history and culture of Florida should begin where it all began (for European colonization at least) for this most southeasterly of American states. Saint Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, making this city the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the USA.

Roughly a century after its founding, Castillo de San Marcos was built to adequately defend Saint Augustine after a devastating pirate attack. During its career, its walls faced down two British sieges, and it was actively involved in the Civil War. Its massive fortifications endure to this day, making for an excellent start to your Floridian cultural wanderings.

The family that started one of the world’s most famed circus acts made a lot of money off their enterprise during its heyday reinvested much of their financial gains into fine art, leading to the inevitable creation of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Located south of Tampa in Sarasota, this institution is known for its collection of portraits by Peter Paul Reubens, as well as other fine drawings, sculptures and photographic art by countless other accomplish artists. Also on site is a circus museum, which tells the story of one of America’s most famous traveling shows.

While you’re still in the Tampa area, make the trip to St. Petersburg to check out the Salvador Dali Museum. This tribute to one of the world’s most famous surrealist artists contains the largest collection of pictures by the Spanish artist than any other gallery outside of Spain, making it a must-see for those into alternative culture and art.

Ernest Hemingway Home by CC user cgnphotography on Flickr

After getting your fill of Tampa, Orlando, Miami, and the rest of the mainland, set out to the Florida Keys for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Yet, even here there are cultural highlights that should be explored if one can muster the willpower to put down their pina colada.

Start with Ernest Hemingway House; located in Key West, this house hosted the famed writer throughout much of the 1930’s, and was the first house on the island to have indoor plumbing. Aside from obvious highlights like his writing desk and his lush garden outside, cat lovers will not want to miss this place, as descendants of Hemingway’s original cats continue to live on the property, and are cared for my museum staff.

If you have a thirst for adventure, hire a boat and make for the Dry Tortugas, an archipelago of islands more than 68 miles west of Key West. On one of these prototypical desert islands lies the remnants of Fort Jefferson, an unfinished fort that was to become a colossal defensive position in a choice position between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Today, its still impressive hexagonal walls and paradisaical location draw up to 60,000 people per year, and even if this sort of attraction isn’t your bag, the islands have enough ecological appeal to make it a place that you won’t want to miss.

Walt Disney World by CC user cdharrison on Flickr

What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions

When it comes to more modern attractions in the Sunshine State, none stand out quite as much as Walt Disney World, the world renowned home to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The sheer scale of these attractions necessitates a least a week to do it all justice, so don’t rush through, especially if you are with kids. Numerous rides, learning pavilions, sound stages, water theme park rides, animal encounters, meetings with idolized cartoon characters and much, much more await you here, so enjoy yourself and live in the present moment: you will be visiting freakin’ Disney World after all!

Those transfixed by the moon landing, the impending mission to Mars, and all things related to outer space need to spend at least a day at the Kennedy Space Center. Located on the Atlantic coast east of Orlando in Titusville, this compound is where America’s space missions blast off towards the heavens.

While access to the launch pad is strictly prohibited, a museum nearby grants insight into the history of NASA, guided tours allow you to experience restricted areas safely, and regular launch viewings will grant you the wonder that your parents felt when they watched the first Apollo mission lift off (even if it is just a rudimentary satellite launch).

While many people think of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees when it comes to Florida’s coast, the most southerly tip of the Floridian peninsula is home to the Everglades, which is one of the most important wetlands in the USA. Manatees, crocodiles, and the elusive Florida panther thrive in this environment, and the best way to see these animals and the environment that sustains them are through airboat tours and ranger-led programs, both of which are planned so that the impact of human activity here is minimal.

Miami Beach by CC user googlisti on Flickr

At this point, you might just want to conk out on a fine beach somewhere after all the running around that you have been doing following this guide. If your lounging plans involve the comforts of a big, multicultural city after a day playing in the waves, South Beach is where you ought to center yourself.

Located in Miami Beach just east of Downtown Miami itself, this beach faces the subtropical Atlantic with fine, powdery white sand, and is backed by a glitzy city filled with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs.

If you’d rather experience Florida’s beaches in a quieter, more rural setting, exploring the Florida Keys will yield more successful results for you and your party. Key Largo offers excellent snorkeling and diving due to its close proximity to the Everglades, Bahia Honda Key will grant you the deserted beach camping experience you’ve always dreamed about, and Key West has all the party atmosphere that South Beach has, minus the pretension. No matter your tastes in tropical islands, the Keys are bound to offer something for everyone’s interests!

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