Ah, Florida. What state conjures such a mix of emotions in those who live here and venture here? With more than 1,300 miles of coastline, sandy beaches are a dime a dozen in this sun-splashed land. Miami lives and breathes to a Latin beat and hosts one of the world’s most important art festivals every winter during Art Basel Miami. Tampa’s Cuban culture harkens back to a much earlier era than Miami’s, when immigrants arrived to pursue their cigar fortunes. Moneyed Palm Beach, with its enormous oceanfront mansions and exclusive shopping, is known as the state’s Gold Coast, and the Florida Keys are as close as you can get to Caribbean-style escapism in the Lower 48. And who could forget Orlando: theme park capital of the world, yes, but also with its own surprising urban vibe that’s home to a burgeoning foodie scene set to rival any in the South. It’s impossible to arrive in Florida without some sort of expectations. But dive into the Sunshine State with an open mind, and you’re sure to be surprised.

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When’s the best time to go to Florida?

A year-round destination, Florida has something to offer in every season. Winters here are as good as summer gets in most places, with balmy temperatures and cloudless skies (though expect the ocean to be rather cool for swimming in the state’s northern reaches and the Panhandle). The southern part of the state—from Vero Beach south, and from Sarasota to Naples on the Gulf Coast—is particularly seasonal, drawing large crowds of “snowbirds” (people from more northern states on an annual migration to esape the cold) from about January through April. March and April are busy all over the state with spring break crowds, and spots like Panama City, Miami, Clearwater Beach, Daytona, and St. Pete Beach are particularly packed. Hurricane season runs from late May through late November; that’s also the warmest time of year and when hotels are most likely to offer deals (outside of holiday periods, at least). Major festivals to put on your calendar include Key West’s 200th Anniversary (March 25, 2022) and Art Basel Miami every December. But there are many more festivals and gatherings all over the state, celebrating everything from LGBTQ+ pride to Florida’s seafood bounty.

How to get around Florida

Florida has major airports all over the state that see arrivals from across the country and around the world. The biggest and best-connected include Miami International Airport (the hub for South America and Caribbean flights), Fort Lauderdale International Airport, Orlando International Airport, and Tampa International Airport. While all of the major cities have public transportation, it’s well worth renting a car here to make the most of your time and to reach outlying attractions with ease.

Can’t miss things to do in Florida

The best Florida trip takes in a mix of cultural and city highlights, stunning beaches, and the state’s formidable wilderness, home to many spring-fed rivers supporting an amazing mix of birdlife and reptiles. Everglades National Park, an International Biosphere Reserve and the third-largest national park in the Lower 48, is the famed natural wonder to see. But there are many smaller state parks with equivalent wild beauty on offer, too. Also experience authentic Cuban culture in Miami’s Little Havana and Tampa’s Ybor City, catch an unforgettable sunset with a cast of island characters in Key West, and enjoy thrills like no place on the planet at the many theme parks of Orlando.

Food and drink to try in Florida

Florida dishes up a world of flavors, pulling from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico’s seafood bounty for meals to remember. The flavors of Miami skew largely Latin, and this is where you’ll find some of the best Cuban, Brazilian, Argentinean, and Peruvian restaurants in the country, not to mention authentic New York bagels, sushi, French fare, and more. On the state’s Gulf Coast and in the Panhandle tastes tend toward the simpler, with grouper sandwiches and fried seafood popular staples—along with the ubiquitous key lime pie, made famous in the Florida Keys. Downtown Orlando surprises visitors with its thriving Asian district, with the best selection of Vietnamese restaurants in the state. And in Apalachicola, on the Gulf, don’t miss a heaping platter of Florida’s most famous oyster crop. The state’s favorite seasonal seafood offering by a long shot, however, is stone crab, fresh on menus from mid-October to mid-May. With sweet, tender meat, they’re usually served with a mustard dipping sauce and are as good as seafood gets.

Culture in Florida

The constant sunshine may make for a mellow, tropical mindset, but Florida is far from a cultural desert: World-class museums like the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Pete and the Bass Museum of Art in Miami are merely scratching the surface. Sarasota is home to the famous Ringling Museum, Orlando has the world’s largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and even party-minded Key West oozes culture and history, with its Hemingway House and an important literary festival on the schedule every winter. Make for St. Pete and Miami’s Wynwood Walls for a street art experiences unlike any other on the East Coast.

For Families

Family itineraries are a cinch to cobble together in Florida; the hardest part will be narrowing your focus. For theme-park action, you’ll stay busy for days between Orlando’s many parks and Busch Gardens Tampa, an hour’s drive west on Interstate-4. If it’s a beach vacation you’re after, you need to decide between the calm shores along Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the surf-friendly action on the endless East Coast beaches. During the cooler months, the state’s pretty inland campgrounds along the many crystal-clear springs and rivers are a good option for a budget-minded holiday, too.

Local travel tips for Florida

Floridians live a bit differently than folks elsewhere in the country. Winter is their favorite time of the year, and that’s when you’ll find them packing up tents or loading up RVs to make for the many beautiful state campgrounds, mostly mosquito-free from January to March, both along the beaches and inland, too. Come spring break (March is the bullseye month), those who can will often bolt out of state, heading for the mountains or a city escape—the beaches are too packed at that time and traffic in towns picks up. During the summer, Floridians beat the heat by ditching inland spots like Orlando and Gainesville and making a break for the coasts, where hotels offer discounted rates, particularly from June through August.

Guide Editor

Terry Ward has lived around the world and across the Sunshine State, including stints in Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach, Orlando, and, most recently, Tampa. She’s been a freelance travel writer since 2000, when she quit her advertising job to travel the world, and has written for The Los Angeles Times, Conde Nast Traveler, USA Today, Endless Vacation Magazine, and many other publications. Her hobbies including scuba diving, snorkeling, and sailing. Read more at terry-ward.com.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
With a culturally diverse population, Orlando offers flavors from around the globe. You’ll also find a growing number of chef-driven restaurants, bars, and breweries as well as farmers’ markets and food trucks, that have put Orlando on the culinary map.
The mellow beach towns of St. Pete and Clearwater boast beautiful sands, flamingo-pink sunsets, and hotels for every type of traveler. If you’re staying in St. Pete, you’ll have your pick of lavish, Jazz Age edifices like The Don CeSar; a funky surfer motel; and a boutique spot with a panoramic rooftop bar. In Clearwater, options range from a glamorous beach resort with an outdoor pool, to an ultra-modern stay with an impressive collection of fine art.
Begin your perfect day in Key West exploring this compact town by foot, bike, or hop-on-hop-off trolley. Stop in at the Ernest Hemingway house, enjoy a casual seafood lunch, browse the boutiques and art galleries on Duval Street, take a selfie in front of the Southernmost Point in the U.S., then get down to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration.
If you’re looking to bring a little bit of that Key West vibe home with you, browse the charming boutiques and galleries on Duval Street, or head to Mallory Square for Cuban cigars and sea sponges.
Pull up a stool at a rum bar, enjoy a glass of wine outdoors on a porch, or cool off waterside with a craft beer – there’s no shortage of options when thirst hits in this part of the Florida Keys.
Sure, you’ve heard of the Magic Kingdom and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but Central Florida is known for its world-class amusement parks for more than a just Disney and Universal: this region’s got a wealth of roller coasters, water parks, attractions where you can swim with dolphins, wrestle alligators, and visit landscapes made of LEGOs. For the uninitiated, Walt Disney World is comprised of several parks: the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Blizzard Beach. Visitors can buy endless variations of plans from one-day/one-park tickets to multiday Park Hopper tickets which allow them to move between the parks. At Universal Orlando Resort, you can visit Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between these two, with Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure), as well as the waterpark, Volcano Bay. Again, there are several ticket packages that can buy you as much or as little access to the Universal world of Marvel superheroes and Hogwarts characters.
Theme parks like the Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are still the main draw in Orlando, but the ultimate family vacation destination is growing a reputation for upscale hotels and resorts with luxe spas, lush golf courses, and fine dining. Here is a range of stellar properties from International Drive to the Walt Disney World grounds.

It can be argued that just about any day in Miami is a perfect day – but choices must be made, right? Start the day South Beach, with a stroll along the beach or the Art Deco district before grabbing lunch; spend the afternoon shopping on Lincoln Road or take a relaxing cruise on Biscayne Bay. Head downtown to enjoy dinner with views over the city and bay, followed by some late-night music and fun back in South Beach.

Miami is a cultural melting pot. Each weekend, various ethic groups gather to celebrate their heritage. Festivals vary by neighborhood, but always include ethnic music, native cuisine and cultural traditions. Miami is known for its rich culture, mostly Cubans who have come to Miami over the last 40 years. Little Havana is the primary neighborhood for Cuban Festivals. Be sure to stop at Calle Ocho for Cuban parties that last through the night.
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