Florida

For other places with the same name, see Florida (disambiguation).
Fort Lauderdale

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.

Regions

Florida Panhandle
Cities include the State Capital of Tallahassee, Destin, Pensacola, and Panama City Beach.
North Florida
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.
Central Florida
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.
South Florida
Home to the beaches of Miami, the swamps of the Everglades, and the beauty of the Florida Keys.

Cities

Below is a selection of some of Florida's most notable cities. Other cities can be found under their specific regions.

Other destinations

American white ibis at the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area-Water Conservation Area 3B in Everglades National Park

Understand

History

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, and 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.

Space exploration

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.

Culture

A view south on Collins Avenue in the Miami Beach Architectural District

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.

Landscape

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.

Climate

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 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.

Talk

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.

Get in

Full sized Hotel, with all amenities and services, directly within Orlando International Airport itself.

By plane

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.

By train

Amtrak has two services to Florida:

By car

Three Interstate highways connect Florida with adjacent states

Additional major highways entering Florida include,

By boat

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.

Ferry service is also available to and from The Bahamas with service between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport, and between Miami and Bimini.

Get around

The skyline of Brickell, Miami

By bus

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.

By car

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:

By train

By ferry

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.

See

Gatorland
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in Ponce Inlet

Do

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.

The world-famous Spaceship Earth at EPCOT Center

Eat

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.

Drink

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.

Buy

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.

Connect

The gentle white sands of Siesta Key

Internet

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.

Stay safe

Extreme Temperatures

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. 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. 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.

Cope

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.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, February 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.