Florida is a vacationer’s paradise. Where else can you find so many beaches,
great weather and theme parks packed into one place. In at least one way it makes little difference when you visit: warm
sunshine and blue skies are almost always a fact of life. Florida does, however,
split into two climatic zones: subtropical in the south and warm
temperate in the north. Orlando and points south have very mild winters (October
to April), with warm temperatures and low humidity.
Florida is surprisingly compact, and easy to get around by car: crossing
between the east and west coasts takes a couple of hours, and one of the longest
trips - between the western extremity of the Panhandle and Miami - can be done
in a day.
CENTRAL FLORIDA Encompassing a broad and fertile
expanse between the east and west coasts, most of central Florida was farming country when vacation-mania
first struck the beachside strips. From the 1970s on, this picture of
tranquility was shattered: no section of the state has been affected more
dramatically by modern tourism, and the most visited part of Florida can also be
one of the ugliest. A clutter of freeway interchanges, motels and billboards
arches around the small city of Orlando , where a
tourist-dollar chase of Gold Rush magnitude was sparked by Walt Disney World , the biggest and cleverest
theme-park complex ever created. The rest of central Florida is quiet by
comparison, and, north of Orlando particularly, rural towns like Ocala typify the state before the arrival of the
highways and of vacations spun around "attractions."
Orlando ORLANDO , a quiet farming town in 1970, now has more
visitors than any other place in the state. The reason, of course, is Walt Disney World , which, along with Universal Studios Escape, Sea World and a host of
themed attractions, pulls more than 25 million people a year to a previously
featureless plot of scrubland. Few people head to Orlando proper, choosing
instead one of the countless motels along Hwy-192 ,
fifteen miles south, or International Drive , five
miles southwest. Despite enormous expansion over the last decade, the town
itself remains free of the commercialism that surrounds it.
Getting There The international airport is nine miles
south of downtown Orlando; collect brochures and discount coupons at the
official information booth (daily 7am-11pm). Shuttle buses (24hr; best prices
offered by Mears or Transtar) run to any hotel in the Orlando area for around
$15, while a taxi to downtown, International Drive or the motels on Hwy-192
costs around $30. Buses and trains arrive downtown at the Greyhound terminal,
555 N John Young Parkway, and the Amtrak station, 1400 Sligh Blvd.
Pick up discount coupons and promotional offers at the
efficient Visitor Information Center , 8723 International Drive (daily 8am-7pm;
tel 407/363-5872 or 1-800/643-9492, ).
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You have to be very
determined to get to the theme parks without a car, but it can be done. Local
Lynx buses (tel 407/841-8240, ) converge on the
downtown Orlando terminal between Central and Pine streets; route #50 heads to
Walt Disney World, but it's a somewhat patchy service and takes about an hour.
The pricier Mears Transportation Service runs private shuttle buses (tel 407/423-5566) between the main
accommodation areas, the airport and Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal
Studios ($10-12 round-trip) - phone at least a day ahead to be picked up, or
check at your hotel or hostel. Taxis are the best
way to get around at night - try Yellow Cab Co. (tel 407/699-9999). Along
International Drive, between Sea World Orlando and Universal Studios, the I-Ride trolley service (tel 407/354-5656) operates
every few minutes daily from 7am to midnight, costing 75? one way. The immense
convention center , several blocks in length,
stretches along International Drive amid the attractions.
Food and Drink EATING IN THE ORLANDO AREA Downtown and its
environs hold the pick of the locals' eating haunts;
most visitors, however, head for International Drive's inexpensive all-day
buffets and gourmet restaurants. There's a strict embargo on taking food into
any of the theme parks, where the best restaurants are in Epcot's World Showcase - head for Japan, Morocco or
Bahama Breeze 8849 International Drive tel
407/248-2499. Decent Caribbean food in an upbeat atmosphere.
The Globe 25 Wall St Plaza
tel 407/422-1669. This is a perfect place for inexpensive Nouveau American
snacks and light meals, such as pan-seared salmon salad and veggie burgers. Open
Le Coq au Vin 4800 S Orange
Ave tel 407/851-6980. French restaurant with surprisingly low prices for
Magic Mining Company 7763 W Hwy-192 tel 407/396-1950. Colorful steak and seafood mountain-themed joint.
Ming Court 9188 International Drive tel 407/351-9988. An exceptional Chinese restaurant, serving
delicious potstickers, dim sum and fragrant noodles, is not as costly as you
Numero Uno 2499 S Orange Ave tel 407/841-3840. Inexpensive, downtown Cuban restaurant.
Race Rock Supercharged Restaurant 8986 International Drive tel 407 248-9876. A race-car-themed
restaurant with auto memorabilia on walls serves such eclectic American choices
as burgers, milkshakes and malts at super-reasonable prices.
TuTu Tango 8625 International Drive tel 407/248-2222. This lively restaurant is done out like an
artist's studio. Painters and sculptors work as you eat superb pan-Asian, New
World and Mediterranean food, including seared tuna sashimi or black bean soup.
White Wolf Cafe 1829 N Orange Ave tel 407/895-5590. The down-to-earth cafe/antique store is known for
creative sandwiches and generous salads.
Though you'll probably be so
exhausted from a long day at the parks that boozing and boogying with thousands
of others will be the last thing on your mind, the Orlando area is just bursting
with themed nightspots of every persuasion, from
medieval banquets to piano bars and country and western clubs. It's all
relentless good, clean fun, sanitized to the hilt.
From around 9pm, each Walt
Disney World park holds some kind of closing-time bash, usually involving
fireworks and fountains. There's also Pleasure
Island , exit 26B off I-4 (in the Disney Village Marketplace), a remake of
an abandoned island, whose pseudo-warehouses are the setting for shops, themed
bars and nightclubs (daily 10am-7pm; after 7pm $21 gains access to all bars and
clubs). The most enjoyable are the Comedy Warehouse
and the Adventurers' Club , loosely based on a 1930s
gentlemen's club. Take ID and a fat wallet.
In a similar vein, in downtown Orlando at 129 W Church
St, the restored Victorian buildings of Church Street
Station enclose a mall-like cluster of restaurants, bars, clubs and shows
with a vaguely Old South theme (daily 11am-2am; after 6pm $19 gains access to
all bars and clubs).
ExploringOrlando Discovery Cove , the second of Sea World's
theme parks, is a much more exclusive venture, limiting visitors to those with
reservations (and who can afford the high admission prices that start at $109;
tel 1-877/4DISCOVERY, ). This will entitle you to swim and play with dolphins,
snorkel up to sharks and barracudas behind a clear partition and feed tropical
birds in a resort-like setting.
Of the three Disney-owned waterparks, Blizzard Beach , on World
Drive north of the All-Star Resorts , is the most
creative, based on the fantasy that a hapless entrepreneur has opened a ski
resort in Florida and the entire thing has started to melt. Star of the show is
Summit Plummet , which shoots you down a 120ft
vertical drop at more than fifty miles per hour. Gentler rides include
toboggan-style slalom courses and covered raft rides. As well as the slides, Typhoon Lagoon , at Lake Buena Vista (one-day pass,
one-park $28.57/$22.79), features geysers and a rainforest, a huge surfing pool
and a shark reef, where you can snorkel among tropical fish. River Country is older, smaller and quieter (one-day
Wet 'n' Wild , 6200 International Drive (hours vary, tel 1-800/992-9453, ; $29.95/$23.95, parking
$4), defends itself admirably in the face of the Disney competition, with a
range of excellent slides including the challenging seven-story Bomb Bay and the
almost vertical Der Stuka. Lines are shorter, too.
Sea World , at Sea Harbor Drive, near the intersection of I-4 and the Bee Line
Expressway, the cream of Florida's sizable crop of marine parks, should not be
missed; allocate a day to see it all (daily 9am-7pm or later; longer hours in
summer; $50.83, ages 3-9 $41.29; tel 1-800/327-2424, ). The big event is the Shamu Adventure show - beginning with a pre-show film
attempting to justify the twenty minutes of tricks then performed by killer
whales. The Wild Arctic complex, complete with
artificial snow and ice, shows off beluga whales, walruses and a couple of
claustrophobic-looking polar bears; the experience is topped off by a thrilling
simulated helicopter flight through an Arctic blizzard. The park's first thrill
ride, Journey to Atlantis , is part fantasy, part
waterslide, part roller coaster, and has a sixty-foot drop. You will get
drenched - by the ride and by other tourists who pay for the privilege of
spraying you. With substantially less razzmatazz, plenty of smaller tanks and
displays explain more than you need to know about the undersea world. Among the
highlights, the Penguin Encounter attempts to
re-create Antarctica with scores of waddling birds scampering over an iceberg;
the occupants of the Dolphin Pool assert their
advanced intellect by flapping their fins and soaking passersby; and Terrors of the Deep includes a walk through a
glass-sided tunnel, offering the closest eye-contact you're ever likely to have
with a shark and live to tell the tale.
For some years, it
seemed that US TV and film production would move away from California to
Florida, which, with its lower taxes and cheaper labor, was more amenable, and
the opening of Universal Studios Escape in 1990 appeared to confirm that trend.
So far, for various reasons, Florida has not proved to be a fully realistic
alternative, but that hasn't stopped the Universal enclave here, now known as Universal Studios (park opens daily at 9am, closing
times vary; one-day pass $48.76, children 3-9 $39.22, under-3s free; two-day
pass $84.75/$68.85; parking $7; tel 1-800/837-2273, ) from becoming a major
player in the Orlando theme park arena. While Disney still holds court,
Universal has drawn much attention, adding the hi-tech, special effects-laden Islands of Adventure and CityWalk , an earthier lure for nightlife dollars than
Downtown Disney. Universal is also aspiring to full-fledged resort status with
the Portofino Bay Hotel and plans for other
accommodation. For access to all areas, park in the garage half a mile north of
exits 29 and 30B off I-94.
As significant as air conditioning
in making the state what it is today, WALT DISNEY WORLD turned a wedge of Florida cow fields into one of the world's most
lucrative vacation venues. The immense and astutely planned empire also pushed
the state's media profile through the roof: from being a down-at-the-heel
mixture of cheap motels, retirement homes and tacky alligator zoos, Florida
suddenly became a showcase of modern international tourism.
Walt Disney World is the pacesetter among theme parks: it goes way beyond Disneyland,
which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955 - delivering escapism at its most
technologically advanced and psychologically brilliant across an area twice the
size of Manhattan. Its four main theme parks are quite separate entities and,
ideally, you should allow a full day for each. The Magic
Kingdom is the Disney park of popular imagination, where Mickey mingles with
the crowds - very much the park for kids, though at its high-tech best capable
of thrilling even the most jaded of adults. Known for its giant, golfball-like
geosphere, EPCOT Center is Disney's celebration of
science and technology; this sprawling area involves a lot of walking, and may
bore young children. Disney-MGM Studios suits almost
everyone: its special effects are enjoyable even if you've never seen the movies
they're based on. The newest of the four, Disney's Animal Kingdom , brings all manner of African and Asian
wildlife to the theme park setting, perhaps the lone entry that can be explored
EAST COAST Florida's east coast , facing the Atlantic Ocean, runs for more
than three hundred miles north from the northern fringe of Miami. The
palm-dotted beaches and warm ocean waves bring to reality the sun-soaked
playground of popular imagination. However, the first fifty or so miles lie deep
within the sway of Miami, with one city offering little to distinguish it from
the next. Despite its outdated party-town reputation, Fort Lauderdale these days is a sophisticated yachting
center. Boca Raton and Palm
Beach to the north are even more exclusive, their Mediterranean-Revival
mansions inhabited almost exclusively by multimillionaires. North of here, the
coast is still substantially unspoiled, although the Space Coast , centering on the Kennedy Space Center , and Daytona Beach both go all out to draw the crowds. The
one genuinely characterful town in the entire stretch is St Augustine , still recognizable as the spot where
Spanish settlers established North America's earliest foreign colony.
By car, the scenic route along the coast is Hwy-A1A , which sticks to the ocean side of the Intracoastal Waterway , formed when the rivers dividing
the mainland from the barrier islands were joined and deepened during World War II.
FLORIDA KEYS Fiction, films and folklore have given the FLORIDA KEYS - a
hundred-mile chain of islands that runs to within ninety miles of Cuba - an
image of glamorous intrigue they don't really deserve. Instead, this is an
outdoor-lover's paradise, where fishing, snorkeling and diving dominate.
Terrific untainted natural areas include the Florida
Reef , a great band of living coral just a few miles off the coast. But for
many, the various keys are only stops on the way to fascinating Key West . Once the richest town in the US, and the
final dot of North America before a thousand miles of ocean, Key West has lush,
Caribbean-style streets with plenty of congenial bars in which to waste away the
hours, watching the famous spectacular sunsets .
Wherever you are on the Keys, you'll experience
distinctive cuisine , served for the most part in
funky little shacks where the food is fresh and the atmosphere laid-back. Conch,
a rich meaty mollusc, is a specialty, served in chowders and fritters. And as
for the Key Lime Pie, the delicate, creamy concoction of limes and condensed
milk bears little resemblance here to the lurid green imposters served in the
rest of the country.
Traveling through the Keys could hardly be easier.
There's just one route all the way through to Key West: the Overseas Highway (US-1 ). The road is punctuated by mile markers (MM) - starting with MM127 just south of
Miami and finishing with MM0 in Key West.
Far and away the most exciting
city in Florida, MIAMI is a stunning and often
intoxicatingly beautiful place. Awash with sunlight-intensified natural colors,
there are moments - when the neon-flashed South Beach skyline glows in the warm
night and the palm trees sway in the breeze - when a better-looking city is hard
to imagine. Even so, people, not climate or landscape, are what make Miami
unique. Half of the two million population is Hispanic, the vast majority
Cubans. Spanish is the predominant language almost everywhere - in many places
it's the only language you'll hear, and you'll be expected to speak at least a
few words - and news from Havana, Caracas or Managua frequently gets more
attention than the latest word from Washington, DC.
Just a century ago Miami was a swampy outpost of
mosquito-tormented settlers. The arrival of the railroad in 1896 gave the city
its first fixed land-link with the rest of the continent, and cleared the way
for the Twenties property boom. In the Fifties, Miami Beach became a
celebrity-filled resort area, just as thousands of Cubans fleeing the regime of
Fidel Castro began arriving in mainland Miami. The Sixties and Seventies brought
decline, and Miami's reputation in the Eighties as the vice capital of the USA
was at least partly deserved. As the cop show Miami
Vice so glamorously underlined, drug smuggling was endemic; as well, in 1980
the city had the highest murder rate in America. Since then, though, much has
changed for two very different reasons. First, the gentrification of South Beach
helped make tourism the lifeblood of the local economy again in the early
Nineties. Second, the city's determined wooing of Latin America brought rapid
investment, both domestic and international: many US corporations run their
South American operations from Miami and certain neighborhoods, such as Key
Biscayne, are now home to thriving communities of expat Peruvians, Colombians
Find Top Florida hotels by destination:
Many of Miami's districts are officially cities in their own right, and
each has a background and character very much its own. Most people head straight
to Miami Beach , specifically the South Beach strip, where many of the city's famed Art
Deco buildings have been restored to their former stunning splendor, all
pastels, neon and wavy lines. Though touted as the chic gathering place for the
city's fashionable faces, it's not as exclusive as you might expect, especially
on weekend afternoons when families and out-of-towners join the washboard
stomachs and bulging pecs. Make time, too, for Key Biscayne , a smart,
secluded island community with some beautiful beaches,
five miles off the mainland but easily reached by a causeway.
On the mainland, downtown
has a few good museums but little else of interest to visitors. Little Havana , to the west, is the best spot to head
for a Cuban lunch, while immediately south the spacious boulevards of Coral Gables are as impressive now as they were in the
1920s, when the district set new standards in town planning. Independently
minded but equally wealthy Coconut Grove is also
worth a look, thanks to its walkable center and a couple of Miami's most popular
Miami International Airport (tel
305/876-7000) is six miles west of the city. A cab from the airport should cost
around $24, or you can take one of the 24-hour SuperShuttle minivans, which will
deliver you to any address in Miami for $9-15 (tel 305/871-2000, ). From the
airport, take the #7 Metrobus to downtown, a trip of 30 minutes or so ($1.25,
exact fare required; every 40min Mon-Fri 5.30am-8.30pm, Sat & Sun 7am-7pm),
or the 'J' Metrobus ($1.25 plus a 25? surcharge to South Beach; every 30min
daily 5.30am-11.30pm) to Miami Beach farther on. If you arrive late at night,
the Airport Owl shuttle runs in a loop through South Beach, downtown and back to
the airport ($1.25; once hourly, 11.50pm-5.50am). Greyhound's Miami West station is a short cab ride from
the airport, while the other major terminal is downtown at 100 W 6th St (tel
305/374-6180 or 1-800/231-2222, ). The Amtrak
station, 8303 NW 37th Ave, is seven miles northwest. To get downtown or to
Coconut Grove or Coral Gables from here, take Metrobus #L to the Metrorail,
eight blocks away.
A good place for information and
maps is the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor
Bureau , 1920 Meridian Ave (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat & Sun 10am-4pm; tel
305/672-1270, ). In South Beach, at the Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean
Drive (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm; tel 305/672-2014, ), the Miami
Beach Art Deco Preservation League has details on walking tours and events,
and a great line in retro gifts.
Driving is the most practical way to get around Miami.
Though the safety warnings handed to visitors as they pick up their rental cars
can make unnerving reading, the much publicized tourist-targeted car-jackings of
the early 1990s are now no more of an issue here than in any major city. Watch
out for road signs marked with an orange sun on a blue background; they identify
the most useful routes to the main attractions. Tourist police patrol in cars
with the same logo.
With a lot of time and patience, it is possible to make
your way around Miami on public transportation run
by Metro-Dade Transit (tel 305/770-3131 or for route information). Metrorail trains (5am-midnight) run, slowly, along a
single line between the northern suburbs and South Miami; useful stops are
Government Center (for downtown), Coconut Grove, and Douglas Road or University
(for Coral Gables). Single-journey fares are $1.25. Downtown Miami is also
ringed by the Metromover (5.30am-midnight; flat fare
25?), a monorail that doesn't cover much ground but gives a great bird's-eye
view. Metrobuses cover the entire city, but services
dwindle at night; the flat-rate single-journey fare is $1.25, with a 25?
surcharge for transfers. Route maps and timetables for all Metro-Dade Transit services can be
had at Government Center Station, and at the Metrorail station at NW First
Avenue & First Street.
Taxis, cycling and tours Taxis are abundant; try Central Cab (tel 305/532-5555) or Metro Taxi (tel
305/888-8888). Otherwise, get the free Miami on Two Wheels leaflet from the CVB
and rent a bike from one of the many outlets, such
as the Miami Beach Cycle Center, 601 5th St (Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sat & Sun
10am-5pm; tel 305/531-4161). For an informed stroll, take one of Dr Paul George's Walking Tours from the Historical Museum of South Florida (no tours July &
Aug; $37; tel 305/375-1621, ). Or, try the various excellent Art Deco walking tours of South Beach (Thurs at 6.30pm
& Sat at 10.30am; $10), which begin at the Miami Design Preservation League
Welcome Center on Ocean Drive. The latter also offers a self-guided audio
walking tour of the district (daily 10am-4pm; 1hr-1hr 15min; $5).
EATING Cuban food is what
Miami does best, and it's not limited to the traditional haunts in Little Havana - the hearty, comfort food, notably rice
and beans, fried plantains and shredded pork sandwiches, is found in every
neighborhood. It is, however, complemented by sushi bars, American home-style
diners, Haitian restaurants, Italian eateries and Indian venues, among a handful
of other ethnic cuisines. Coral Gables stakes its
claim in upmarket cafes and ethnic Italian and Greek restaurants, while Coconut Grove features American, Spanish, New Floridian
- a mix of Caribbean spiciness and fruity Florida sauces - and even British. Seafood is equally abundant; succulent grouper,
yellowfin tuna and wahoo, a local delicacy, are among five hundred species of
fish thriving offshore. Stone crab claws , served
from October to May, are another regional specialty. A tropical climate provides
Florida with a juicy assortment of standard orange and grapefruit citrus, as
well as the exotic flavors of the lychee, mango, papaya,
tamarind and star fruits - many of which are
used in sauces and batidos (light milkshakes).
You'll also want to drink Cuban coffee: choose between cafe cubano , strong, sweet and frothy, drunk like a
shot with a glass of water; cafe con leche , with
steamed milk, and particularly good at breakfast with pan cubano (thin, buttered toast); or cafe cortadito , a smaller version of the con leche.
Ayestaran 706 SW 27th Ave, Little Havana tel
305/649-4982. The sprawling Cuban restaurant offers hearty daily specials and
superb cafe con leche that you can mix to your
Bambu 1661 Meridian Ave, Miami Beach tel 305/531-4800.
Celebrity eateries are big business in Miami, and this one is co-owned by the
actress Cameron Diaz. But the draw at this place is the food - great Asian
fusion sushi and the occasional celebrity sighting make it a good place to
Big Fish Mayaimi 55 SW Miami Ave, downtown tel
305/373-1770. A lively spot on the Miami River, it has great fish dishes and a
splendid view. The menu includes home-cooked fish sandwiches and fresh seafood
Big Pink 157 Collins Ave, South Beach tel 305/531-0888.
Big portions of comfort food - mashed potatoes, ribs, macaroni and cheese, and
classic "TV dinners" at 1950s prices - are served up.
David's Cafe 1058 Collins Ave, South Beach tel
305/534-8736. Cuban restaurant with two locations on the beach (the other is at
16th & Meridian Ave), where suited Cuban businessmen doing deals sit
alongside cholo teenagers. The food is authentic and
there's eat-in and take-out at both restaurants.
Fishbone Grille 650 S Miami Ave, downtown tel
305/530-1915. The busy, friendly restaurant serves excellent seafood with
creative starters like shrimp potato fritters and smoked fish mousse.
Gino's 731 Washington Ave, Miami Beach tel
305/673-2837. Open 24 hours a day, it serves true New York-style pizza to shift
workers and clubbers alike. It's famous, too, for a dedication to staying open,
even in the face of hurricanes.
Greenstreet Cafe 3468 Main Highway, Coconut Grove tel
305/444-0244. Its terrific breakfasts make this cafe a real scene at weekends.
It has a large number of outdoor tables for watching the world go by.
Joe's Stone Crabs 227 Biscayne St, South Beach tel
305/673-0365. A legendary restaurant, it is always packed for its superb stone
crabs - if you're impatient, do as the locals do and head to the takeout window.
Crabcakes, fresh fish and crispy fried chicken are also good. Open mid-Oct to
Larios on the Beach 820 Ocean Drive, South Beach tel
305/532-9577. It is better known for being owned by singer Gloria Estefan rather
than for its sophisticated - and surprisingly affordable - "Nuevo Cubano" food
served in a Latin nightclub atmosphere.
Monty's 2560 S Bayshore Drive, Coconut Grove tel
305/854-7997. Skip the pricey indoor restaurant and head for Monty's Raw Bar on the waterfront. Sit in the tiki huts
eating fresh fish and sipping well-priced drinks.
News Cafe 800 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach tel
305/538-6397. The established, fashionable sidewalk cafe has front-row seating
for the South Beach promenade - although the food's unremarkable. Open 24hr at
Puerto Sagua 700 Collins Ave, South Beach tel
305/673-1115. The Cuban diner serves great, rich black bean soup and other
La Sandwicherie 229 W 14th St, South Beach tel
305/532-8934. Don't be put off by the silly name. This place serves serious
sandwiches starting at around $6 from its open-air lunch counter; each giant
French loaf doorstop could make two meals, and it's open until 5am.
Tap Tap 819 5th St, South Beach tel 305/672-2898.
Haitian food is at its tastiest and most attractive in one of the best-looking
restaurants in Miami Beach, hung with local art.
Versailles 3555 SW 8th St, Little Havana tel
305/444-0240. At this legend in Little Havana, very little English is spoken.
Local families, Cuban businessmen and backpackers congregate here for the
wonderfully inexpensive Cuban dishes, served by one of the friendliest staffs in
Yambo 1643 SW 1st St, Little Havana tel 305/642-6616.
Try the good, inexpensive Nicaraguan food at an undiscovered gem. Step out of
the USA and into Central America without leaving Miami.
Yuca 501 Lincoln Rd, South Beach tel 305/532-9822.
Discover Nuevo Cubano cooking at its best - and most expensive. Expect to pay at
least $50 a head. Latin music at weekends.
PANHANDLE Rubbing hard against Alabama in the west and Georgia in the north, the long, narrow Panhandle has much more in common with the states of
the Deep South than with the rest of Florida, and city sophisticates have
countless jokes lampooning the folksy lifestyles of the people here. Hard to
credit, then, that just a century ago, the Panhandle was Florida. At the western
edge, Pensacola was a busy port when Miami was still
a swamp. Fertile soils lured wealthy plantation owners south and helped
establish Tallahassee as a high-society gathering
place and administrative center - a role which, as the state capital, it
retains. But the decline of cotton, the chopping down of too many trees, and the
coming of the East Coast railroad eventually left the Panhandle high and dry.
Much of the inland region still seems neglected, and the Apalachicola Forest is perhaps the best place in
Florida to disappear into the wilderness. The coastal
Panhandle , on the other hand, is enjoying better times and, despite rows of
hotels, much is still untainted, with miles of blindingly white sands.
WEST COAST In three hundred
miles from the state's southern tip to the border of the Panhandle, Florida's west coast embraces all the extremes. Buzzing, youthful
towns rise behind placid fishing hamlets; mobbed holiday strips are just minutes
from desolate swamplands. Surprises are plentiful, though the coast's one
constant is proximity to the Gulf of Mexico - and sunset views rivaled only by
those of the Florida Keys.
The largest city, Tampa ,
has more to offer than its corporate towers initially suggest - not least the
exemplary nightlife scene at Cuban Ybor City and the
Busch Gardens theme park. For the mass of visitors, though, the Tampa Bay area
begins and ends with the St Petersburg beaches ,
whose miles of sea and sand are undiluted vacation territory. South of Tampa, a
string of barrier-island beaches runs the length of the Gulf, and the mainland
towns that provide access to them - such as Sarasota and Fort Myers - have
enough to warrant a stop. Inland, the wilderness of the
Everglades National Park is explorable on simple walking trails, by
canoeing, or by spending the night at backcountry campgrounds with only the
gators for company
If you are in desperate need of a great vacation, then
come and visit Florida. Florida has it all, great weather, beautiful beaches and
super fun family and
honeymoon resorts. It is our favourite place in the world, there is so much to see and do and it is for all ages.
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