- For other places with the same name, see Florida (disambiguation).
Florida is the most south-easterly state in the United States of America. (There is a marker at the southernmost tip of Key West indicating that it is the southernmost point in the continental USA.) 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 relevant, with oranges being a chief export. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, located in the eastern portion of the Florida Panhandle.
Florida's beaches are one of the state's most popular attractions, along with some of the world's best known theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. However, some of Florida's best secrets are charming small towns and other places in secluded locations, away from crowded tourist areas and certainly well worth seeing. Regardless of preference, Florida has something to offer any kind of traveler.
Cities include the State Capital of Tallahassee, Destin, Pensacola, and Panama City Beach.
The most culturally "Southern" part of Florida, anchored by the city of Jacksonville. Historic St. Augustine and the college town of Gainesville are other destinations.
Theme park capital of the world, hosting Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios Florida, Busch Gardens, Legoland Florida, Kennedy Space Center, Daytona International Speedway, and Gatorland.
Home to the beaches of Miami, the swamps of the Everglades, and the beauty of the Florida Keys.
Below is a selection of some 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 - "The Bold New City of the South"
- Miami - America's home of Caribbean & Hispanic culture
- Orlando - The theme park capital of the world
- Panama City - One of the greatest Gulf Coast beaches in northern Florida
- Pensacola - One of the most famous Panhandle cities.
- Tampa - Home to one of the nation's largest party districts Ybor City
- West Palm Beach - Northern city of the Miami metropolitan area, a mid-sized city known for its beaches
- Amelia Island
- Biscayne National Park
- Canaveral National Seashore
- Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas
- Everglades National Park
- Florida Keys
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Ocala National Forest
- Walt Disney World
While Florida is considered to be part of the South, the state has a history on its own.
Florida was inhabited by Native Americans for over 13,000 years before the arrival of European explorers, slavers and colonists. It is estimated that there were some 350,000 inhabitants, of many tribes, when the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de León, arrived in 1513. Members of the Calusa tribe fought effectively, so it took a few decades before Europeans were able to establish colonies, the first of which date back to the 1560s, with St. Augustine, established in 1565, holding the distinction of being the oldest continuously-populated community founded as a European colony in what's now the U.S.
Like almost everywhere else in the Americas, the history of European oppression and murder of Native Americans was tragic in Florida, and following the substantial depopulation of its native tribes, the Seminole tribe established themselves in Florida and became a distinct people there in the 18th century. They, too, fought very hard, and continued to guard their independence as well as they could after Spanish Florida was ceded to the United States in 1821. The Southern United States in the antebellum period consisted entirely of slave states, with Florida operating a slave plantation economy as a U.S. territory, and the Seminoles gladly welcomed runaway slaves and accepted them into their tribe. Finally defeated in the 7-year Second Seminole War in 1842, almost the entire tribe except for a few hundred who hid out in the Everglades were deported west of the Mississippi as part of the Trail of Tears.
Florida was admitted to the Union as a slave state in 1845, joined the Confederacy in 1861. While largely untouched by the American Civil War, the state enthusiastically enforced Jim Crow laws against its then very large (approximately 44%) black population for a century after the Confederates' defeat.
However, there were three 20th-century migrations that fundamentally changed the character of Florida, to the extent that many people no longer consider most of the state to be culturally Southern: The move to the Northern U.S. of 1/5 of the African-American population as part of the Great Migration during the first decades of the 20th century; the arrival of an increasing number of white retirees from the North after the spread of air conditioning in the 1950s; and the arrival of several waves of Cuban immigrants, starting immediately following the victory of Fidel Castro in 1959, who established themselves above all in South Florida, particularly Dade County. In more recent decades, Florida has also seen major influxes of Latino immigrants from Puerto Rico, Central and South America and Mexico, and there have also been many Haitian immigrants.
Today, Florida is a very diverse state, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and with no one accent dominating in the speech of its residents.
A source of pride and joy in Florida has been its outsize role in the history of space exploration. Cape Canaveral was the site of missile launches beginning in 1949, and the early space flights, following President John F. Kennedy's vow to put American astronauts on the Moon before the end of the 1960s, took place in rockets that were missiles converted to unmanned and then manned use. The most important launches by NASA, including the Apollo 11 moon launch watched around the world in 1969, have taken place at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Florida is geographically the furthest south of all U.S. states other than Hawaii and is a unique blend of societies. North Florida and the Florida Panhandle are 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 further south you go in the state, the more unlike the South it seems, and 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 predominant. 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 São 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 hosts 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 tastes 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 "Iron mountain" in Polk county is the highest point on the peninsula at 298ft (81m). 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 tropical islands, have their own unique geography, surrounded by beautiful blue waters.
Florida is known around the world for its balmy weather. The state's mild winters have made it a haven for retirees year-round and temporary residents during the winter known as "snowbirds". Summers can be long and hot, with the interior being a few degrees warmer than the immediate coast. Coastal areas also experience gentle breezes during the summer, and the beach is usually the coolest place to be.
While coastal breezes are a welcome relief from the scorching temperatures, they are also the cause of the most notorious Florida weather feature: thunderstorms. While the storms are often brief, they are common, and anyone visiting Florida during the rainy season (mid-June to September) should plan a few activities indoors in the afternoon as a backup plan. Florida's thunderstorms occur everyday during the rainy season and typically form 20-30mi inland and either move toward the center of the state or toward the coast. While most simply cool the air bringing a welcome relief to stifling temperatures, these storms produce considerable amounts of dangerous lightning and sometimes hail, high winds (50mph+), and tornadoes. See the "stay safe" section for thunderstorm safety. Many attractions such as Disney World have multiple attractions available even during downpours. It is common to be in a rain shower yet be in the sun at the same time. It is also an interesting contradiction that rain can be occurring just a few miles inland from the coast, while those at the beach experience a beautiful day.
Average Annual Temperatures:
Summer: 80.5 °F degrees (26.9 °C) (North Florida) 82.7 °F degrees (28.2 °C) (South Florida)
Winter: 53.0 °F degrees (11.7 °C) (North Florida) 68.5 °F degrees (20.3 °C) (South Florida)
The above temperatures are average temperatures throughout the day. During the summer, high temperatures on the peninsula are usually around 90 on the coast and mid 90s inland...with lows ranging from around 80 on the coast to mid 70s inland. During the winter, temperatures are much more variable. Freezing temperatures (below 32°F/0°C) occur at least once a year as far south as central Florida, but even on the coldest days will warm back up into the 50s for a high. It is best to consult the individual city page for temperatures during the winter. The spring is the driest time of the year, which can lead to wildfires nearly every May and early June.
The six-month hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30 and Floridians have learned to be ready when a storm threatens the area. If you plan on visiting during the summer, stay abreast of the news and weather advisories. Information is available from the National Hurricane Center.
English is the official language of the state. However, Spanish is the native language of approximately 20% of Florida residents, and the further south you go, the more Spanish speakers there will be. 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. As anywhere where there is a large presence of another language (in this case Spanish), expect Spanish words or expressions used or calqued into everyday English.
Native-born non-Hispanic Floridians will usually speak in a southern accent. However, after the migration of millions of Americans from other states to Florida, the southern dialect is becoming diluted with other accents.
- 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, and the Cayman Islands. Rated #1 US Airport overall.
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport - the fourth-largest airport in Florida, and another valid option to consider with many domestic low fare carriers.
- Jacksonville International Airport - primary airport for travel in North Florida, serving Amelia Island and historic St. Augustine.
Other large airports can be found in: 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.
Amtrak has two services to Florida:
- 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.
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.
Florida is possibly the largest state for cruise ship embarkation in the United States. Port Canaveral, Tampa, Miami, and Port Everglades 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.
Bus service is provided by Greyhound 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.
Car rental agencies abound in Florida and many are available at every major airport. Orlando, in particular, is 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) lowest rates in the country.
Florida's major highways include:
- Interstate 4 crosses diagonally from Tampa, heads east through Plant City & Lakeland, then heads northeast past Kissimmee, Walt Disney World, Orlando, and ends at Interstate 95 near Daytona Beach. Interstate 4 is the most traversed highway in Florida and due to the large volume of traffic, high speeds (70 outside of urban areas), construction (which is almost complete), and large number of tourists it is the most dangerous highway in the state, in terms of the number of accidents.
- Interstate 95 enters Florida from Georgia north of Jacksonville and travels near the Atlantic coast (never more than 20mi or so), past St.Augustine, Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, Vero Beach, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and ends at US 1 just south of downtown Miami.
- Interstate 10 enters Florida from Alabama near Pensacola and travels across the Panhandle, past Tallahassee,and through north Florida to its terminus in Jacksonville.
- Interstate 75 enters Florida from Georgia and runs south through Gainesville, Ocala, just east of Tampa, then parallels the Gulf coast past Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Meyers, Naples, and then crosses due east across the Everglades swamp (a section known as 'Alligator Alley') to the Miami suburbs.
- Florida's Turnpike is a toll road that runs from Interstate 75 south of Ocala, through Orlando, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and ending south of Miami. It provides the easiest access to Orlando and southeast Florida for persons entering the state via I-75 or I-10.
- Interstate 275 is a secondary interstate that runs from I-75 north of Bradenton, past downtown St. Petersburg & downtown Tampa, before rejoining I-75 north of the Tampa area. Interstate 275 crosses the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, 5.5mi (8.8km) long and with a 193ft(58.8m) clearance, across the mouth of Tampa Bay and later across the Howard Frankland Bridge over Old Tampa Bay. Note: Interstate 75 does not provide access to these areas, it passes through rural/suburban areas 10 miles (at closest) from Tampa. I-4 approaches Tampa from the east, but ends at I-275 just before downtown.
- U.S. Highway 1 is a historic and scenic highway that originates in Key West and continues up the east coast.
- State Road A1A runs parallel to US 1 and Interstate 95, but lies to the east of the Intercoastal Waterway (mainly on the barrier islands) and running mostly along the ocean.
- US 98 enters Florida from Alabama at Pensacola and travels a very scenic route along the Gulf Coast of the Panhandle, it continues diagonally across the peninsula to its terminus in West Palm Beach.
- US 27 is a well-traveled alternative to the Florida's Turnpike and runs from Miami, along Lake Okeechobee, through the mostly-rural heartland of Florida, Ocala, Gainesville, Tallahassee
- US 41 runs from Miami, makes a scenic 2-lane journey through the Everglades, and travels along the Gulf Coast, the east side of Tampa Bay, and north into Georgia.
- Amtrak Silver Star and Silver Meteor (Trains 91-92 and 97-98 respectively) - This is a relatively expensive option but will suffice if other means are not possible. Both routes span from Jacksonville to Miami. While the two routes are slightly different, within the borders of the state of Florida, the routes are exactly the same and stop at the following stations: Jacksonville, Palatka, DeLand, Winter Park, Orlando, Kissimmee, Lakeland (to/from the north only), Tampa, Lakeland (to/from the south only), Winter Haven, Sebring, Okeechobee, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miami.
A high speed ferry service operates from the cities of Fort Myers Beach and Marco Island to Key West. The Key West Express offers daily service and docks in the Historic Seaport district of Key West. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours and the Ft. Myers Beach vessels have a capacity exceeding 300 passengers and amenities aboard include; out-door sundecks, flat-screen TV's, galley service and a full bar.
- Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. America's space port for the manned missions to the moon and the Space Shuttle, in Cape Canaveral. The visitors complex contains spacecraft displays, two IMAX movies, the Astronaut's Hall of Fame, displays/exhibits chronicling the history and future of space exploration/travel, a new Space Shuttle Launch Experience, and more.
- St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565, is the United State's oldest continually settled city. It contains a large fort, a museum concerning the city's history, and plenty of nearby shops.
- Gatorland - Full of Florida's most unique animal, in Orlando.
- Florida Lighthouses are numerous, historic, and beautiful, take some time to visit these iconic images of the coast.
- Spring Training Baseball occurs throughout the state in March and offers the ability to watch your favorite players for discount prices (front row tickets can be purchased as low as $15-20) and in smaller, more intimate venues.
- Salvador Dalí Museum. In downtown St. Petersburg, is the largest collection of Dali artwork outside of Europe.
- Sunshine Skyway Bridge is part of Interstate 275 crossing the mouth of Tampa Bay. It is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world and an engineering masterpiece. Furthermore, two long fishing piers beside the bridge, the approaches of the previous bridge, are renowned among local fishermen and provide a less expensive alternative for saltwater fishing.
- Holocaust museum. Located in downtown St. Petersburg. The Holocaust museum is one of the largest in the US and exhibits a box car used by Nazis to transport prisoners to extermination camps like Auschwitz or Treblinka.
- Daytona International Speedway, located 1.5 miles off the Daytona Beach exit (261) on I-95. Home of the number one event in stock car racing - the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Daytona 500 (February) and other events throughout the year.
- Ybor City. Ybor City is one of the largest party districts in the country. Countless bars, restaurants, clubs, and cigar stores are located within this district near downtown Tampa. Has a very historic feel, with a combination of Latin and Italian influence.
Viva Florida 500: 1513-2013
On April 7, 1513, a Spanish expedition, led by Juan Ponce de León, landed on the east coast of Florida, becoming not just the first Europeans to reach Florida, but the first Europeans to reach the continental United States (Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493). In the Spanish tradition of naming new places after the nearest Roman Catholic holiday; as the landing occurred on Easter, this new land was named for the Spanish Easter feast Pascua Florida. The state is celebrating the 500th anniversary of this event with a multi-year celebration of historical and cultural events, billed as Viva Florida 500.
Many major events, such as the Florida State Fair, will be themed around Viva Florida 500 and the state's history. See the state's tourist website for information about the state's history and listing of the hundreds of historical & cultural events sharing the Viva Florida 500 theme.
- Go to the beach! You have numerous options here: Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Pete Beach, West Palm Beach and Siesta Key are some of the best.
- Visit Florida's world class water parks and theme parks.
- Visit Everglades National Park, a place like no other on earth, and take an airboat ride through the swamps. A drive across the Everglades on US 41 is a great way to get a sense of the size and scenery of the Everglades. Stop at Shark Valley and Everglades City for great attractions and scenery.
- Take a dip in Florida's Largest Lake, Lake Okeechobee! Wade in the shallow waters, and enjoy the beautiful southern Florida landscape and wildlife.
- Visit some of the more than 150 Florida State Parks. The only three-time winner of the National Recreation and Park Association's Gold Medal award for state park systems. Get a Florida State Parks Annual Pass for free admission to most of the state parks, or discounted admission at Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
- Visit the Seminole or Miccosukee Indian reservations throughout the state. Here you can find out about their history and culture, eat their food, and then gamble in the casinos on their land.
- Go diving-Florida coastlines offer many coral reefs, sunken vessels, and a diverse array of sea life.
- Go hiking or backpacking-Florida has many state and national parks/forests that have nature trails suitable for hiking and camping.
- Florida National Scenic Trail is a network of 1400 miles of hiking trails throughout the state. The most popular section of the trail is the 110-mile loop encircling Lake Okeechobee.
- Go fishing - Florida has some of the best fishing action in the world (both salt and freshwater). Several large and tough fighting species such as Sailfish, Tarpon, and Largemouth Bass can be found lurking in Florida water throughout the state.
- Take a Cruise - leave from the Port of Miami,Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, or Port Canaveral. There are short nightly casino cruises in various places, or longer cruises from the likes of Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line or Disney Cruise Line.
- View a rocket launch - With clear skies, rocket launches are visible from virtually anywhere in the Peninsula. But the best viewing is close-up from Cape Canaveral or Titusville. And of course, there's always Kennedy Space Center.
Florida's cuisine has come under many influences and its styles vary across the state from north to south. Early Spanish and African and Southern cuisine has been influenced by Cuban and other Caribbean cultures, as well as "snowbirds" escaping from the Northern US winters. Northern Florida has a more Southern style; the south a more Caribbean one. Being on a peninsula, Florida's chefs have always had access to fresh seafood and the long growing season provides for fresh native vegetables.
- Citrus is a main export, and the tourist is apt to see many roadside stands offering free samples of orange juice and fruits to be shipped or carried home. Florida also grows grapefruit, avocado, mango, papaya, passion fruit, kumquat, coconut and other tropical fruits. These often provide the base for sauces and marinades or are used in marmalades, soups, or desserts. Welcome centers located on I-10, I-75, and I-95 as you enter Florida offer free samples of orange juice to all visitors, a tradition that goes back decades.
- Strawberries are another popular fruit in Florida. Plant City, off I-4 east of Tampa, is the center of Florida strawberry growing, where during the peak season (Feb-Mar) many roadside vendors offer flats(16 pints/12 lbs) and half-flats of strawberries for a small fraction of grocery store prices. Since most are owned by the individual farmers, often the fruit sold was harvested that morning or the day before. Fresh Florida strawberries are a treat no tourist should miss, at least if you visit while in season.
- Grouper is a very popular seafood caught in Florida's coastal waters. Fresh grouper is offered in many coastal cities, where many local restaurants buy it straight from fishermen. In recent years, state inspectors have cracked down to insure that all restaurants offering "grouper" are in fact serving grouper, and not another less expensive white fish. Snapper, Snook, Tarpon, Marlin, & shark are other Florida fish that you can find at coastal restaurants, although they are not nearly as ubiquitous as grouper.
- Southern food is available throughout most of north and central Florida. Barbeque is popular throughout the state, with many small "barbeque shacks" to choose from. Any platter costing over $10 ($15 for ribs) should be avoided as less expensive restaurants are almost always best. Sweet tea is common throughout the state, although unlike most areas in the south you have a choice between sweet and unsweet. Boiled peanuts can be found at roadside vendor in this area also, certainly worth trying. Dishes such as grits, okra, gravy 'n biscuits, and collard greens can also be found in buffets and restaurants throughout the region.
- Cuban food is common in the Miami and Tampa areas. The most common dishes are Cuban sandwiches, desserts, & black beans and rice.
- Local specialties, not readily available in many other locales, include alligator. It is healthy and most say it tastes like chicken. It is often prepared like chicken too. Key lime pie, found elsewhere now, is a Florida Keys invention, made from the local key limes.
Alcoholic beverages abound throughout the state. However, five rural counties in the northern third of the state are "dry counties", and no alcohol is sold in them. Liquor stores are often built into strip malls, supermarkets, and pharmacies, and most grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores sell beer and wine. Bars and clubs are popular throughout the state. Miami Beach is well known for a variety of themed and upscale bars with innovative mixed drinks.
No visit to Florida is complete without a cup of their famous orange juice. In most of the welcome centers, you can have a sample.
Like every other U.S. state, the purchase and possession age for alcohol is 21 and is fairly well enforced. Underage drinking "stings" are frequent in most tourist areas.
Most goods for sale in the state are subject to sales tax. In most of the state the rate is 7%, but varies from 6%-7.5% (6% state sales tax and up to 1.5% local sales tax). This rate is almost never listed on the advertised/displayed prices.
Florida is increasingly becoming a major destination for shopping. The Orlando and Miami areas are home to a plethora of shopping malls, including many "outlet" malls which are home to shops selling brand-name products for discounted prices and retail shops of name brands which typically are sold through retail companies (Nike, Sony, Tommy Hilfiger, North Face, etc.). There are also a large number of stores selling souvenirs, although most are not locally produced. The Orlando/Kissimmee region, especially, has a much larger amount of retail stores than typical of US cities. While traditionally these shops catered largely to American families of vacation, these shopping destinations are now serving foreign shoppers. Europeans and recently Brazilians flock to these shopping centers to buy products significantly cheaper than at home and it's not uncommon at some shopping centers in Orlando to encounter tourists from around the globe (especially on weekdays, when most Americans are working). In the last few years, Brazil has become the largest source of international visitors to the state, with many coming on shopping group tours, sometimes wearing matching shirts. Some major shopping centers in Orlando and Miami areas now offer services in Portuguese.
Nearly all hotels offer wi-fi internet access for guests; some even have Ethernet ports for high-speed wired connections. As with much of the Western world, many businesses have wi-fi wireless internet access, sometimes for free. Such businesses even include some clothing/department stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores in addition to more typical businesses that offer wi-fi like restaurants and shopping malls.
Public internet access is available at public libraries. At public libraries, wi-fi internet access is almost always free for everyone with their own device (laptop, smartphone, tablet). Computers set up for internet access by patrons require a username and password to access; nearly all libraries will issue a "guest pass" for non-cardholders (i.e. non-residents), either for free or for a small charge ($1-2). Use of library computers is subject to time limit which vary widely.
The large majority of "internet cafes" are nominally illegal casinos, set up for online gambling in an attempt to circumvent gambling laws. Such internet cafes did not have typical computers for use, with a mouse and software like Office. Instead, computers at such internet cafes are usually enclosed in a slot-machine-style cover with only buttons to press and set up to view gambling websites. Patrons pay for short periods of time, sometimes using odd methods like buying prepaid phone cards. After a high-profile crackdown on an operator of dozens of such internet cafes, the state banned the opening of all new internet cafes in 2013.
Never leave children or pets in a parked car for any length of time! Due to high temperature for most of the year, the interior of a parked car can easily heat to lethal temperatures in a short amount of time. During the summer, the interior of a parked car can reach 130-170°F (55-75°C) in just 15 minutes, regardless of the color of the exterior or interior, nor whether the windows are open a small amount. You not only risk their lives, but it is illegal and the consequences could be thousands in fines and even imprisonment.
Florida has a high occurrence of hurricanes. You might want to check the Hurricane safety page if you are visiting Florida during Hurricane Season (June 1-November 30).
Watch where and when you swim. While the beaches are great they often harbor rip currents, bacteria, and jellyfish. Always check with the lifeguard stand before heading in if no one is in the water or the waves are rough. Volusia County is known for a high number of shark attacks, so be careful when surfing. Even so, the number of attacks are less than 50, with a fatal attack every 2-3 years, amongst millions of visitors and residents who swim in the ocean. Swimming near dusk and dawn is most hazardous.
Alligators are a threat throughout Florida, and are present in almost all stagnant and slow moving freshwater. Never swim in the lakes or rivers unless signs tell you swimming is safe, and beware when approaching the shore. In June 2016 a young boy was killed whilst wading in a few inches of water.
Florida has varying crime intensity from city to city. In certain parts of large cities it may not be safe to walk alone or even in small groups at night. These are the exceptions however and most of Florida is safe enough for visitors. Touristy areas rarely have violent crimes, but theft is an occasional occurrence. If the area doesn't feel safe then it probably isn't.
Only central Africa experiences more lightning than Florida. The afternoon thunderstorms in Florida produce frequent lightning, which kills many people each year and injures many more. Stay indoors during a thunderstorm and never seek shelter under a tree. Most casualties occur on golf courses, but lightning strikes everywhere. If you must go outdoors, try to stay away from tall objects such as trees. Occasionally, summer thunderstorms will bring hail, high winds, and tornadoes. While historic numbers of tornadoes in Florida are somewhat high, the overwhelming majority occur during hurricanes (Jeanne alone spawned over 200 tornadoes in Florida) and the rest during winter cold fronts and summer thunderstorms; however, 99% of them are weak (F-0/F-1). Thus, while statistics may suggest otherwise, tornadoes are not a big hazard in Florida.
Foreign consulates in Florida
Please note that this list does not include honorary consulates. Always call ahead to determine if the consulate offers the services you require such as passports, visas and other official documents as these services are increasingly being centralized at other locations. Some websites are available only in Spanish. If a country isn't shown here, it will be represented by an Embassy in Washington DC.
- Georgia - Heading out of Florida to the north is Georgia. Here you will find the historic city of Savannah and the resort beach of Jekyll Island.
- Alabama - North of the Panhandle is Alabama, where Mobile is a historic port city and Gulf Shores is a popular resort.
- Mississippi - A short trip west out of the Panhandle and across Alabama brings you to Mississippi, which offers casino gaming in Biloxi and Gulfport.
- Caribbean - The islands of the Caribbean are accessible by boat and plane from Florida and offer a variety of both relaxing and adventure travel amidst a tropical paradise. For those interested in visiting the Bahamas, many owners of small boats will make the day-long trip to the Bahamas and several small airlines offer fares to the Bahamas for under $70 each way.