NOTE: The CDC has identified parts of Miami in South Florida as an affected area of the Zika outbreak. Pregnant women are advised to be cautious as the virus can lead to birth defects. Adults affected by the virus experience fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) typically lasting a week. You can learn more by visiting the official CDC website.
For other places with the same name, see Florida (disambiguation).
Florida is the most south-eastern state in the United States of America. Known as “The Sunshine State”, it became a popular winter destination for the well-to-do from colder climates over a century ago, and has gained ever greater popularity since. Its roots in agriculture are still present, with tropical fruits being a chief export. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, located in the eastern portion of the Florida Panhandle.
The beaches are among the most popular attractions, along with some of the world’s best known theme parks, including Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. However some of Florida’s best-kept secrets are in secluded locations away from tourist areas, but well worth seeing. Florida has something to offer for any kind of traveller.
Below is a selection of nine of Florida’s most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.
- Tallahassee – The state capital
- Fort Lauderdale – The “Venice of America”
- Jacksonville- Florida’s largest city in area and population
- Miami – Known for its Hispanic culture, beautiful beaches, and nightlife
- Orlando – The theme park capital of the world
- Panama City – A popular spring break destination
- Pensacola – Surrounded by water on three sides
- Tampa- Home to one of the nation’s largest party districts Ybor City
- West Palm Beach – A midsize beach city
- Amelia Island – Upscale beach resort island just north of Jacksonville.
- Biscayne National Park – The largest marine park in the country.
- Canaveral National Seashore – 24 miles of public, undeveloped beach.
- Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas – The nation’s oldest settlement, full of history, a short drive from Jacksonville.
- Everglades National Park – Thousands of acres of swampland, full of endangered animals, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Florida Keys – Countless beautiful islands and beaches two hours south of Miami.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore – Numerous barrier islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
- Kennedy Space Center – The site of all manned space launches in the country, and home to a huge visitor center.
- Walt Disney World – The world’s most famous theme park, and a 30-minute drive from Orlando.
Florida is the most southern of all U.S. states other than Hawaii and is a unique blend of societies. The northern part of the state is part of the cultural region of The South, where you will find traditional southern cooking, entertainment, dialect, and lifestyles, much as you would expect to find just north in Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. Generally, the more south you go in the state, the more unlike the South it seems; you should not expect to experience ‘southern’ culture everywhere, although southern culture can be found in every region of the state, it is not always the most prominent. Cities such as Tampa and Orlando offer the feel of many different cultures. There are a lot of southerners in these areas, as well as people who are not from the state (midwest, northeast), whereas Miami is unique in seeming like a cross between an American metropolis and a major Latin American city (like Caracas, Rio, or Sao Paulo). There are some Seminole Indian reserves and villages throughout southern Florida (namely in the Everglades) and their indigenous culture can be experienced by visiting a gift shop and browsing arts and crafts. The southernmost Florida Keys offer yet another flavor, full of the slow paced and casual atmosphere of true beach life. All in all, Florida is its own region of the United States in its own right.
The Florida State Fair held every February near Tampa is the best event to attend to sense the varying cultures. The fairgrounds are host to a “cracker” village similar to the villages that were found in rural Florida in the 19th century. It hosts an exposition of counties, where each Florida county has a display and a representative to answer questions. In addition, the fair has animal displays and shows, an exhibition dedicated to citrus, various dance & cheerleading competitions, and a large selection of rides and games. A few weeks later, nearby Plant City host the Strawberry Festival, usually the last few days of February and first week of March. Plant City is the “Strawberry Capital of the US” and almost every food vendor at the festival offers several dishes featuring strawberries.
Driving near Plant City in February and March, one can find many roadside vendors offering flats(
$10-12) and half-flats(
$5-8) of strawberries. Another common dish found at roadside vendors in north and central Florida is boiled peanuts-a southern dish usually found in “regular” and “cajun” flavors, which taste nothing like roasted peanut. Florida’s Natural, a company that sells fruit juice, has a great roadside “welcome center” along US 27 in Lake Wales that includes a display and video on the history of citrus growing in Florida and offers samples of several flavors of juice.
Florida’s coastline is world class, with several gorgeous beaches, bays, and estuaries lying on the coast. The Floridian landscape is flat, with many lakes and wetlands throughout most parts of the state. The only exception is parts of the center in Highlands, Polk, Lake, and a few other counties where rolling hills are common. The highest point in the state is 345ft (105m) and Sugarloaf Mountain in Lake County is the highest point on the peninsula at 312ft (95m). Florida’s cities tend to be big, sprawling, and well developed. For such a highly populated area there are fortunately still several areas of wilderness left (although they are often found sitting right next to a large city). Many rural parts of the state grow citrus and sugar cane, but farmland tends to be far out from the usual tourist areas. The Florida Panhandle and North Florida is mostly farmland and pine trees, but as you travel south, you’ll see more wetlands and urbanization. The Florida Keys, a small chain of subtropical islands, have their own unique geography, surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
English is the official language of the state. However, Spanish is the native language of approximately 20% of Florida residents. In some parts of South Florida, Spanish is the preferred language in everyday activities. Miami is most notable, where nearly 80% of residents do not speak English as a native language and 30% do not speak any English. Tampa also has a sizable Spanish speaking population, and areas where it is almost exclusively spoken.
By plane Edit
- Orlando International Airport – your choice airport for Disney World or the other attractions in Central Florida. Located south of Downtown Orlando, this airport offers car rentals and free shuttles to Disney World for visitors.
- Miami International Airport – the biggest airport for travel in South Florida, and the best option for trips to the Everglades or Miami’s beaches.
- Tampa International Airport-serves the Gulf Coast, namely the Tampa Bay area. Has a direct flight operated by British Airways to/from London Gatwick. Also international flights to Canada, Mexico, Panama, and the Cayman Islands. Rated #1 US Airport overall.
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – the fourth largest airport in Florida and another valid option with many domestic low fare carriers.
Other large airports can be found in: Jacksonville, Pensacola,Fort Myers, Tallahassee, St.Petersburg/Clearwater, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, Key West, Gainesville, Melbourne, and Sanford. Be aware that there are many more airports throughout Florida that may get you closer to your ultimate destination; watch out for these smaller airports while researching your destination.
By train Edit
- Amtrak Auto Train carries passengers and automobiles between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida, effectively serving as a car-rail link to Florida from the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.
- Amtrak Silver Star and Silver Meteor(Trains 91-92 and 97-98 respectively) – both routes begin in New York City and end in Miami. While the two routes are slightly different, within the borders of the state of Florida, the routes are exactly the same. This option can get you from most East Coast cities to Miami, or many Florida cities in between.
By car Edit
Three Interstate highways connect Florida with adjacent states
- Interstate 95 enters Florida from Georgia just north of Jacksonville and parallels the Atlantic coast (never more than 25 miles) until its southern terminus south of the Miami CBD. Interstate 95 provides the most convenient route for persons from the Atlantic Coast, New England, and the Canadian maritime provinces. Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and the Miami-Ft.Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area are all serviced by I-95, with access to Orlando provided via I-4
- Interstate 75 also enters Florida from Georgia and passes through the center of the state until the Tampa Bay area, after which it follows 10-20mi inland from the Gulf of Mexico until Naples, after which it heads due east to Ft.Lauderdale. Interstate 75 is most convenient for travelers arriving from Atlanta and the Midwest.
- Interstate 10 enters Florida from Alabama near Pensacola and passes through the center of the Panhandle and through northern Florida until its terminus in Jacksonville. Interstate 10 is most convenient for travelers from Louisiana, Texas, and areas further west.
Additional major highways entering Florida include,
- US 1 enters Florida north of Jacksonville and snakes along the east coast between Interstate 95 and the Intercoastal Waterway/Atlantic Ocean. Unlike I-95, US 1 continues past Miami and is routed over a series of bridges connecting the Florida Keys to its terminus at Key West.
- US 231 enters Florida from Alabama (where it connects with Interstate 65 in Montgomery) and crosses the Panhandle north-south to its southern terminus at Panama City. US 231 provides convenient access to the Panhandle from the Midwest (via I-65).
- US 98 enters Florida near Pensacola and remains close to the Gulf of Mexico coast until the base of the Florida peninsula(“Big Bend” area). Unlike I-10 to the north ,which runs through the interior of the peninsula and away from the coast, US 98 provides convenient access to the coast and this section is very scenic. After the Panhandle, US 98 runs diagonally across the peninsula to West Palm Beach, running through primarily rural areas.
- US 27 enters Florida from western Georgia, provides access to the state capital, Tallahassee, before routing through mostly rural areas of the peninsula. Between the Florida Turnpike and Miami, US 27 is a primary trucking route through the center of the state and, while two or three lane and having high speed limits, this route can be a hassle dealing with trucks and large volumes of traffic through this section.
- US 301 enters Florida just north of Jacksonville and was once the main route from the Northeast to Florida. It is a very scenic alternative to I-95 with a lot less traffic. Exiting at Santee, SC motorists can follow US 301 through SC and Georgia (past the first welcome center opened in 1962) and connect to I-95 in Jacksonville for East Coast destinations or join I-75 at Ocala for Tampa and Gulf Coast destinations.
By boat Edit
Florida is possibly the largest state for cruise ship embarkation in the United States. Port Canaveral, Tampa, and Miami are all popular ports for embarkation, with cruises heading throughout the Caribbean. There are also many casino cruises that depart from Pinellas County and South Florida.
By bus Edit
Bus service is provided by Greyhound , Megabus , Falcon Charter Bus , GOGO Charters , SHOFUR  and RedCoach  that connect the major cities in Florida. There are a number of local and regional Public Transportation organizations that offer inter-city bus services throughout the state.
By car Edit
The legal driving age is 15 if you have a learners permit. 16 on a restricted license, and 18 on a unrestricted license. Anyone 16 and under cannot drive between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. for one year, unless with a driver who is 21 or older. Anyone aged 17 cannot drive between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for one year, unless with a driver who is 21 or older.
Car rental agencies abound in Florida and many are available at every major airport. Orlando, in particular, known as the “Car Rental Capital of the World”. With Florida being the most visited state in the US, car rental rates here are among (if not the) highest rates in the country.
Like many Southern and Eastern states, Florida chose to use tolls to fund the construction of most of its expressway system rather than raising property, sales, income, or gas taxes. As a result, visitors can look forward to paying a lot of tolls, especially on Florida’s Turnpike or in Orlando, where the city’s entire expressway system (except Interstate 4) was built as tollways. More and more toll roads are switching over to cashless tolling, which means you should consider getting a rental car with a SunPass transponder, for which the car rental agency will likely charge you a daily fee on top of the tolls. If you don’t have a transponder and drive onto such toll roads anyway, then the car rental agency will likely charge you exorbitant “convenience fees” to straighten out the resulting mess.
Florida’s major highways include:
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