Jutting out from the southeast corner of the United States is Florida. The flattest state and also boasting the longest coastline in the lower 48 states, Florida is famous for its Disney World theme park, energetic cities like Miami and Tampa, pristine beaches, and wild wetlands where visitors can soak up the sun or revel in the nightlife.
Florida’s bustling metropolises of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa certainly garner plenty of attention, but in the state’s quieter corners one can find pristine beaches, quiet keys, and the expansive Everglades. Oozing with coastal beauty, this state is a dazzling destination for outdoor adventurers and urban explorers.
Visitors are often drawn to Florida because of the year-round warm weather and plenty of days of sunshine. The humid tropical climate ensures that there are plenty of days where visitors can lounge on the beach, get their thrills at a theme park, walk the city streets, or explore the remote Floridian wilderness.
Offering plenty of activities, Florida is a hotspot for tourism in the United States. With millions flocking to the state each year, whether to enjoy the hot summer months or embrace the mild winters, the state is the perfect destination for an ideal vacation any time of the year.
History of “The Sunshine State”
The first Floridians were Paleo-Indians that lived about 14,000 years ago. Settling on the peninsula, Florida’s land mass at the time was much larger. As the sea levels rose, many of the ancient artifacts uncovered by archeologists have been found underwater in modern-day rivers. The indigenous Floridians were first contacted by Europeans in the early 16th century.
Juan Ponce de León is credited with being the first European explorer to discover Florida. Historians have argued that there may have been predecessors to Ponce de León, but the records remain unclear. Ultimately, the explorer claimed the land for Spain and named it “La Florida” in 1513. Since the 16th century, Florida’s history has been shaped by waves of colonizers and immigrants.
After discovery and claim by Spain in the 16th century, the land would be ruled by Great Britain and ultimately, the United States. Spain ruled for more than a century before the county traded Florida to Great Britain as a part of a peace deal. Great Britain’s claim on the territory lasted from 1763 to 1783. Afterward, Spain reclaimed the land.
Centuries later, Florida would become a US territory in 1821. In March 1845, it became the 27th US state. Growth throughout the early 20th century helped the state become a popular place to live and visit. The nickname of the “Sunshine State” would come in 1970 because of the state’s subtropical climate and numerous sunny days.
With a diverse economy fueled by industries like fishing, mining, farming, trade, real estate, and tourism, Florida has become the third most populated US state, after California and Texas.
Capital City of Tallahassee
Located in northern Florida in the Panhandle, Tallahassee is the state’s capital city. First established in 1824, the city has a hilly terrain and it’s surrounded by thick forests. The Florida state capitol building stands on one of the highest hills in the city, which has an elevation of 203 feet (62m).
Heading down from the hills, the rest of the capital city has a much lower elevation as the terrain descends towards the Gulf of Mexico.
Tallahassee covers an area of 104.74 square miles and it has a population of 196, 169 people. There are 79 neighborhoods in the city including several gated communities. A few of the most well-known neighborhoods and gated communities are Frenchtown, Los Robles, Lafayette Park, Golden Eagle, and the Tallahassee Ranch Club.
The most historic areas in the city include the Miccosukee, Calhoun Street, and Chaires Community Historic Districts. Frenchtown is a historically black neighborhood and one of the oldest neighborhoods in the state of Florida.
History and culture thrive in Tallahassee, but they aren’t the city’s only attractions. Visitors should also consider checking out the local restaurants, shops, nightlife, beaches, and sports. Perfect for a quick getaway or a long vacation, Tallahassee is a fun and lively capital city.
Jacksonville, the largest city
Jacksonville is Florida’s largest city and the one with the highest population (949,611 people). The city is situated in the northeast corner of the state along the Atlantic Coast. Often called the “River City by the Sea”, or simply “Jax”, Jacksonville has a unique terrain that consists of 86.66% land and 13.34% water.
Many tourist attractions are focused around the Intracoastal Waterway Canal and the 20 miles of beaches.
Claiming another title, Jacksonville has the largest urban park system in the United States with 10 state and national parks. Combined, the parks have more than 80,000 acres of space where visitors can hike, bike, kayak, camp, fish, and more. Guided recreation activities and programs are available all year round for residents and visitors of all ages.
Exploring Jacksonville’s urban landscapes and city streets, there are plenty of attractions to keep visitors entertained. Aside from the numerous shops and restaurants, tourists should check out the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, Riverside Arts Market, Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, St. Johns Town Center, Beaches Town Center, and the Museum of Science and History.
Miami, “The Magic City”
Florida’s second most populated city and a world-famous tourist destination, Miami is known as the Magic City. With beaches, nightlife, culture, and year-round warm weather, the city attracts millions of national and international tourists each year. Drawn to Miami’s glitz and glamor, there are dozens of urban and natural attractions spread around the city.
A few must-see destinations in Miami include Miami Beach, South Beach, the Bayside Marketplace, Little Havana, Bayfront Park, and Everglades National Park. After the sun sets, the party just gets started. Miami is perhaps most famous for its nightlife where patrons can lounge on rooftop bars, dance in packed clubs, and sip curated cocktails.
Embracing the warm weather, tourism in the city flows all year round. Popular during the winter months, many visitors head to Miami to escape the cold and snow. Springtime is one of the busiest seasons to visit the city as students flock to the beaches during their school breaks.
Orlando, home of Disney World
Going by many nicknames including “O-Town” and “The City Beautiful”, Orlando is perhaps best known as being the “Theme Park Capital of the World”. The most recognizable theme park of them all is the Walt Disney World Resort. Opened in 1971, Disney World consists of four theme parks called Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
The city’s other theme parks include the Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and the LEGOLAND Florida Resort. All famous in their own rights, these theme parks welcome millions of guests each year. With something for everyone, Orlando’s theme parks are prime tourist destinations for families and couples.
Although the theme parks are the city’s most popular attractions, visitors should check out some of Orlando’s other destinations too. Tourists can shop till they drop at premium outlets, dine at award-winning restaurants, and stay in world-class hotels.
Just outside of the city, a few of the best places to explore are the Blue Spring State Park and Kennedy Space Center.
Tampa, “The Big Guava”
Another touristy spot in Florida that attracts plenty of visitors is Tampa. Situated on the bay it is the state’s third most populated city. Often described as a mix of urban and suburban, tourism is driven by urban and natural delights. With plenty of fine dining establishments, shops, museums, parks, and beaches, tourists will fall in love with the city’s laid-back lifestyle.
Tampa excels at balancing old and new. Many of the city’s historic areas like Ybor City and Old Hyde Park have become popular tourist destinations. Housed in historic buildings, visitors can explore the restaurants, shops, and galleries of places like Seventh Avenue (La Septima) in Ybor City or Bayshore Boulevard in Old Hyde Park.
Additionally, visitors may also find themselves face-to-face with a wildlife encounter. Although an urban area, Tampa has plenty of attractions that include animals too. Visitors won’t want to miss seeing the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, The Florida Aquarium, or the ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
Pristine Floridian Beaches
With more than 1,000 miles of coastline, Florida is rightfully famous for its beaches. Tourist crowds have long been drawn to Floridian beaches, which are known for their pristine conditions, clear water, and great surf. Visitors can find sandy spots that are packed to the brim or head off the beaten path to find more secluded areas.
Some of Florida’s best-known beaches include South Beach, Miami Beach, Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Clearwater Beach. Suited for much more than lounging in the sun, the state’s beaches have plenty of activities to keep you entertained during your vacation.
Discover our picks for the best beach towns in Florida to live and visit.
The Florida Keys
Linked by bridges to the mainland are the Florida Keys. An archipelago and series of 1,700 islands (inhabited and uninhabited), the Keys are formed from coral and limestone. Renowned for its spectacular beaches and breathtaking beauty, this unique part of Florida is well-suited for land and sea adventures.
Of the thousands of islands, only 43 are connected to Miami by a series of bridges. The most popular places to visit in the Florida Keys are Key Largo, Key West, Marquesas Keys, Garden Key, and Dry Tortugas National Park.
Described as magical, the explorer Ponce de León swore that the spring water in Florida had healing powers. He even believed one spring to be the Fountain of Youth. While science is still debating immortality, there are more than 700 real natural springs in Florida that are well-known for their highly mineralized water and jaw-dropping beauty.
Boasting crystal clear water, visitors can explore new worlds and fragile ecosystems that are home to endangered species like manatees and freshwater otters. Boat tours are a particularly popular way to visit many of Florida’s springs because it allows visitors to get up close to the water and wildlife. There are also many springs where swimming is permitted.
Out of the hundreds of natural springs in Florida, a few of the most popular to visit are Wakulla Springs, Silver Springs, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Blue Spring State Park, Ponce de Leon State Park, and Rainbow Springs.
Wetland Nature, Wildlife and the Everglades
Florida certainly has plenty of busy urban areas, but there is also a lot of land that have been left natural. Protected by the US government, the Everglades cover 2 million acres of land in Central and South Florida. Most would describe the Everglades as a wetland or swamp, but it actually consists of forests and prairies too.
The Everglades National Park is the most popular destination for tourists that want to explore more of this unique and fragile wilderness. Activities in the national park include hiking, boating, kayaking, biking, and camping. The best way to see the area is by booking a private tour.
The sheer diversity of attractions in Florida and the year-round temperate climate has made the state a major tourist hub in the United States. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will fall in love with the state’s cities, towns, beaches, and landscapes.
Whether you’re hoping for a memorable family vacation, thrilling adventure or sensational party, Florida is a captivating destination and one you won’t soon forget.
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