Many visitors come for the beaches and the year-round sunshine. For others, it’s the magic of Disney World or the subtropical exploration of the mysterious Everglades. It might even be the laid-back island lifestyle of the Keys, or the Latin-infused hedonism of Miami. Whatever it is that draws travelers to Florida, it keeps them coming back for more.
With a total area of 58,560 square miles, this southeastern-most state is divided into four main sections. The Florida Panhandle includes the state’s capital of Tallahassee, as well as Pensacola, Destin and Panama City. Unlike some other parts of Florida, the Panhandle has clung on to its Southern culture, maintaining conservative values, warm hospitality and traditional Southern cooking. Northern Florida, which is home to cities like Jacksonville and St. Augustine, also tends to lean toward the cultural bearings of the Deep South. With a mostly rural area, the landscape of the region doesn’t match up with typical Florida. Instead of palms trees and beaches, it’s magnolias and sprawling countryside.
Home to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Daytona Speedway, to name a few, Central Florida is known as the theme park capital of the world. From NASCAR races and NASA facilities, to golf courses and natural springs, the diversity of this area’s sights and activities is immense. Popular cities in Central Florida include Orlando, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Clearwater and Cape Canaveral. South Florida boasts beautiful beaches and vibrant cities. With areas like South Beach and Little Havana, Miami is a popular vacation hotspot full of art galleries, salsa clubs, professional sports venues and everything in between. The Florida Keys is a Caribbean getaway without leaving the U.S. In addition to Key West, islands like Key Largo, Marathon Key and Islamorada have a plethora of resorts ready to accommodate vacationers in search of tropical relaxation.
From high-end gastronomic splurges to cheap southern eats, Florida is a hotbed of diverse culinary discoveries. For a contemporary Mediterranean feast featuring dishes like rhubarb grappa duck breast and grilled octopus, check out Pelagia Trattoria in Tampa. For an authentic BBQ joint in Jacksonville, try Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ for southern staples like smoked brisket and fried okra. The best affordable Cuban food in Miami is at La Fama Cafeteria, located in the Wynwood section of the city. Classic meals like pork sandwiches and plates of chicken, beans and yuca are never more than eight bucks. Key West has several seafood restaurants, but for an elegant night out, head over to Pisces. Order the Lobster Tango Mango while scoping out the legit Andy Warhol prints on the walls.
Florida has several major airports that service the most widely traveled areas of the state. Tampa International Airport (TPA) serves the Tampa Bay area as well as large section of the Gulf Coast. Dubbed “America’s Favorite Airport,” Tampa International caters to domestic and foreign travel, as well as having a reputation for accessibility and great costumer service. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) is a large commercial airport located in Dania Beach (three miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale), and is the regional hub for Spirit Airlines. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the top choice for service to Walt Disney World and other Orlando attractions, as well as other central Florida destinations. Miami International Airport (MIA) is the most widely used airport for South Florida travel, and is a gateway into the Caribbean.
Known as the “Sunshine State” for a reason, Florida has a mainly subtropical climate. The landlocked areas tend be a few degrees warmer than the coast, but in general Florida summers are extremely hot and humid. The winter months are mild and pleasant, and make for the perfect retreat from destinations with colder climates. While coastal breezes may bring a welcome relief to rising temperatures, they’re also the main reason for Florida’s notorious hurricane season which takes place from mid-June to mid-September. The state is divided in half when it comes to the best times to visit. North Florida’s peak season is late May to September. For vacation destinations in South Florida, high season is from December to April.