Florida Area InformationFlorida 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 oranges being a chief export. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee, located in the eastern portion of the Florida Panhandle.
The beaches are one of the most popular attractions, along with some of the world's best known theme parks, including Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. However some of Florida's best secrets are in secluded locations away for tourist areas and well worth seeing. Regardless of preference Florida has something to offer for any kind of traveler.
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, and you should not expect to experience 'southern' culture everywhere. Cities such as Tampa and Orlando offer the feel of a midwestern or northeastern city whereas Miami is unique in seeming like a cross between an American metropolis and a major Latin American city (lake 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 village which where 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 com[petitions, 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 which sells fruit juice, has a great roadside "welcome center" along US 27 in Lake Wales which 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 the beautiful waters of the Caribbean.
Hurricane Frances makes landfall on the morning of September 5, 2004 near Stuart. Its impact, however, was felt throughout central Florida and most of Florida's east coast.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 degree 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 amouts 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.
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 32ºF/0ºC) 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 if a hurricane is forecast to hit Florida...LEAVE! More Information: National Hurricane Center .
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.
Native-born 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.
Full sized Hotel, with all anemnities and services, directly within Orlando International Airport itself.
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.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport - the forth largest airport in Florida and another valid option.
Other large airports can be found in: Jacksonville, Fort Meyers, Tallahassee, St.Petersburg/Clearwater, Sarasota, Key West, Gainesville, Melbourne, & Sanford. Be aware that there are many more airports throughout Florida which may get you closer to your ultimate destination; watch for these smaller airports while researching your destination.
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 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 acess 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 & 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 laned and having high speed limits, this route can be a hassle dealing with trucks and large volumes of traffic through this section.
Bus service is provided by Greyhound which 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.
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 which 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 which 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 which 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 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.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Ponce InletKennedy 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.
Space Shuttle Launch-Florida is the only place in the world where one can watch the launch of a manned space vehicle launch, as Russia & China launch their space craft in remote, restricted areas. On clear days, a launch can be seen well from over 150mi(250km) away. However, seeing a launch from TItusville is worth attending, especially for international tourists. Furthermore, rockets (carrying satellite)s are launched almost every month.
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 Dali 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 Polish box car used to transport prisoners to concentration camps.
Parade on Main Street in DisneyworldGo to the beach! You have numerous options here, Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, and West Palm Beach are some of the best.
Visit Florida's world class water parks and theme parks.
Disney World - The biggest and most renowned theme park in the world.
Sea World, Wet and Wild,Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Discovery Cove in Orlando.
Busch Gardens in Tampa.
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.
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 which have nature trails suitable for hiking and camping.
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. Info about charters and fishing locations can be found here
Take a Cruise - leave from the Port of Miami,Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, or Canaveral.
Florida 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 which 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 the most popular of all of Florida's seafood. 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 which 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 healthier than chicken, which most say it tastes like, and it is often prepared similarly. 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.
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.
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 130-170ºF (55-75ºC) 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 death, but it is illegal and the consequences are taken VERY seriously...including 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. Never swim in the lakes or rivers unless signs tell you swimming is safe. In Florida, stagnant and slow moving freshwater often has alligators (as well as poisonous snakes). While they rarely attack humans, it's best not to take your chances.
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.
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. Try to remain 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 FL) and the rest during winter cold fronts and summer thunderstorms; however, 99% of them are F-0 or F-1. Thus, while statistics may suggest otherwise, tornadoes are not a big hazard in Florida.
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