Nickname: Sunshine State
State bird: Mockingbird
State flower: Orange Blossom
Time: Eastern (GMT – 5), in the greater part of the State.
Florida is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with visitors heading to ‘The Sunshine State’ in search of fun, sun and thrills. Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom Park and Busch Gardens are just a few of the man-made attractions for which the State is famed. But there is more to Florida than Mickey Mouse and white-knuckle rides. Winding waterways, freshwater lakes, hills, forests, exciting cities, 13,560km (8426 miles) of coast, countless bays, inlets and islands, and a legendary climate make this one of the most popular States in the USA.
Florida is divided into eight geographical regions: Northwest; North Central; Northeast; Central West; Central; Central East; Southwest; and Southeast Florida & the Keys.
Situated on the southeastern tip, Miami and Miami Beach have long been a haunt of the rich and famous, and star-spotting is a popular pastime here. The city also has a well-established Cuban sector called Little Havana. Palm Beach scores equally highly in the glamour stakes, thanks largely to Addison Mizner who designed a US$50 million development of mansions and hotels, including one commissioned by the Vanderbilts. Fort Lauderdale is a popular spot for families, offering a wide assortment of sports and recreational activities. To the south, the Florida Keys are made up of the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys and Key West. A tropical climate, beautiful beaches and clear blue waters attract a steady flow of visitors to the Keys all year round.
The capital of Florida, Tallahassee, is geographically closer to Atlanta than Miami and is strictly Southern in tone. It was chosen as the State capital in 1823 as a compromise between Pensacola and St Augustine which had both been vying for the honour. Today, it is often described as ‘The Other Florida’ with its rolling hills, oak forests, cool climate and distinctly Southern feel.
In the northeastern corner of Florida stands Jacksonville, named after General Andrew Jackson. Divided by St John’s River, the city boasts futuristic features like the Jacksonville Automated Skyway, a monorail in the city centre, as well as relics from the past in its historic district, listed on the National Register. Nearby St Augustine is known as ‘America’s Oldest City’ and is home to more than 60 historic sites, including massive forts, missions and living history museums; it is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in continental USA.
Amelia Island, often called the ‘Isle of Eight Flags’, is the only site in the country to have been governed by eight different countries during its history. At its heart lies Fernandina Beach, the nation’s second oldest city. The verdant northeastern coastline is shaped by a series of points and peninsulas flanked by barrier islands. The inland area is also endowed with State parks, springs and lakes.
Daytona is located in the slender Central East region. The beach is the city’s main attraction with a 510m (1700ft) boardwalk brimming with amusements, rides and snack bars. To the north lies the historic community of DeBary which is home to the State headquarters for the Florida Federation of the Arts. Resorts are dotted along the coast and include Vero Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange and Sebastian.
Tampa and St Petersburg are the main cities in the Central West region. Anna Marie Island, Longboat Key, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach lie in the Blue Gulf, adjacent to Bradenton and Palmetto on the mainland. Sarasota is the cultural capital of the region, thanks to John Ringling and his wife who amassed an impressive art collection which is today displayed in their restored mansion. Pinellas forms a stubby peninsula west of Tampa Bay, linked to Tampa by three bridges.
The southwestern region is home to Naples, a popular seaside retreat with seemingly endless golfing, shopping and fishing opportunities. Just off the mainland, Marco Island stands as a model of ecological preservation. Charlotte County is only 27km (17 miles) long, but it boasts an amazing 193km (120 miles) of coastline. Charlotte Harbor is protected by a triangular web of land fringed by barrier islands such as Gasparilla, a one-time pirates’ haven.
Orlando is the face of Florida that most people recognise, with its enormous number of theme parks, movie studios, water parks and entertainment facilities. The northern boundaries of Central Florida are engulfed by a national forest so large that it has to be administered by two separate Ranger districts.
The Ocala National Forest covers 153,049ha (378,178 acres) divided into three recreation areas and linked by a 105km (65-mile) trail. Nearby Silver Springs, a network of 150 springs, is the world’s largest artesian spring; hundreds of thousands of gallons of water bubble through the spongy limestone bedrock each day. There are 1440 lakes in Lake Country which is the setting for the area’s vineyards and wine-growing region. Southwest of Orlando is Polk Country which is famed for its beautiful landscape of citrus groves and pine forests.