Welcome to Florida!
A Guide to Visiting The Sunshine State
and seagulls are a daily ritural in many parts of Florida.
Settled as the anchor of the country,
beyond even the Deep South, Florida is a palm tree paradise, an easily-accessible
state that is filled with fun.
Florida is a peninsula but in many ways it's more like
an island, as it is so different from even its closest neighbors. Florida
is about boats and bikinis, inlets and intercoastals, sunshine and sand,
souvenir stores and shopping malls, tourists and tourist traps.
It has 1,100 miles of beaches and with that, beachside
bars and casual restaurants serving fresh shellfish dinners. The beach
towns range from the small fishing village of Destin in the "panhandle"
to the mecca of Miami, Clearwater to the Keys, Daytona to Delray Beach.
But not all of Florida is on the ocean. Orlando is an
hour from the closest beach but is the state's top destination for tourists.
Credit for this goes to the theme parks, Disney World/Epcot Center and
Miles of Beaches; 1,100
Major Airports: Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando,
Tampa, West Palm Beach
Major Amusement Parks: Bush Gardens (Tampa), Disney
World, Universal (Orlando), Seaquarium (Miami)
Major East-West Intestates:1-4, I-10
Major North-South Intestates I-75, I-95, Florida
Turnpike (toll), Overseas Highway (to Key West)
Major Colleges: University of Florida, Florida State,
Unique Attractions: Alligator Farm (St. Augustine),
Daytona International Speedway, Florida Everglades, Gatorland
(Orlando) Kennedy Space Center (Cocoa Beach/Merritt Island), Parrot
Jungle Island (Miami).
Official Florida Visitor's Bureau: Web
Florida City Guides:
One thing about Florida: There is a lot of water here.
We're not just talking the ocean, but intercoastal waterways, inlets
and back bays that are an invitation to explore. Bars and dockside restaurants
perch by a bridge and marinas make a home leading out to sea.
The state's is a skipper's dream and power boats rule
Another thing: While winters are pleasant, especially
for snowbirds escaping the frigid East Coast, it is hot in the summer.
A tropical environment has a price and from June thru August it can
be sweltering in temperature and humidity; in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami,
the sand is so hot it can burn exposed skin (wear sandals and lay completely
on the beach towel). All the locals are inside, anyway; afternoons in
South Florida are so hot they are all chillin' by the A/C. Expect it
to rain at about 3 o'clock every day for about 20 minutes. So when planning
a vacation, be aware, though not necessarily beware.
This article is a complete visitor's and tourist guide
to the Sunshine State. We cover the beach towns, the crowds, the climate,
the culture and transportation. In separate articles, individual city
guides give specific information about a location its top
sights, restaurants and pubs and clubs.
The once-small fishing
village of Destin is now a panhandle hotspot.
Florida does not come by
its nickname, The Sunshine State, by accident. Chances are, the sun
is shining somewhere in the state just about every day of the year.
The climate is suited for its setting and outdoor activities
are abundant. Boating, fishing, golf tanning, even swaying in hammock
are pastimes. There are also putt-putt courses, go-kart tracks and other
beach attractions, the most prevalent of which are souvenir and t-shirt
shops. They are everywhere.
We mentioned the heat earlier, but it can also get cold
in Florida. This is particularly the case from Orlando north in December
and January. For those months in these places, pack a jacket.
The sand in much of Florida is a bright white and some
coastal parking areas are a natural mix of sand and crushed seashells.
These are usually found around seaside bars and restaurants, which really
sets the "Florida frame of mind." In Daytona, the beach so
wide and hard-packed you can drive on it (the ability to do so was the
origin of the Daytona 500, now contested each February in a huge facility
a half-hour inland). In South Florida, by contrast, the sand is dark
Lately, Floridians have been trying to reason with the
hurricane seasons. The panhandle and the southwest part of the state
have been hit hard in recent years, and it's still evident everywhere.
The blue tarp has almost become something of the state symbol. The hurricane
season runs from August-October and blue Hurricane Evacuation Route
signs are a reminder not to mess with Mother Nature.
A Florida landmark:
The T-shirt shop.
The fashion of Florida is generally casual. Shorts and
collared shirts are accepted pretty much anywhere except in the
nicest of restaurants and clubs in the biggest cities. Many fine coastal
dining establishments welcome diners even in sandals and for every South
Beach-style club in the state, there are dozens of wood-framed bars
sitting on the sand or overlooking the water, often with someone strummin''
Margaritaville on a six-string. Order a cold one and enjoy.
Speaking of which, Florida has several bars directly on
the water and at some, locals arrive by boat and tie right up to the
dock. Usually a reggae band plays on Sundays and rum rummers seem to
be the ideal drink to maximize the moment. Almost every bar in Florida
has rum rummers. Here are the
Best Dockside Bars
in South Florida.
Getting There Interstates, The Florida Turnpike,
South Beach is one of the Sunshine State's top places.
How one arrives in Florida
depends largely from where they are arriving. Most people from the South
come by car (driving 12 hours is not considered a big deal) while most
others visit from the air. The interstate and turnpike speed limit is
a forgiving 70mph (55 in cities).
Interstate 75 cuts through the central part of the state,
then veers to Tampa and eventually down to Fort Meyers. I-95 runs the
length of the state's eastern coast. I-10, the nation's longest freeway,
goes through the panhandle, past Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and I-4
goes from Daytona to Tampa. This is the quickest beach-to-beach route
in the state, taking less than three hours (about an hour to Orlando
from each coast).
There are several tolls in the state and the Florida Turnpike
is a toll highway that goes from Orlando to south of Miami (Homestead,
at the start of the Keys).
there is US1, which starts in Maine and ends in Key West. A landmark
marks the spot as the Southernmost point in the U.S. The road hugs the
coast from Jacksonville to Miami but true beach bums prefer its alternate
route, A1A, which goes right along the ocean and through many coastal
towns. It's Florida's version of California's spectacular Pacific Coast
Highway and is THE way to see Florida for those who have the time.
It comes as a surprise to many travelers that the driving
distances in the state can be quite substantial. For example, from Daytona
to Miami is seven hours and Destin to West Palm takes eight. A lot of
the driving is between cities and through remote areas, so have the
tunes cued up. In Florida, Jimmy
Buffett is a natural choice.
For flights, Orlando and Miami are the two main destinations.
Orlando is the most centrally located area in the state and has several
direct flights from nearly every corner of the country. Security lines
can be a bear as a result, so when departing from Orlando, allow at
least 90 minutes to get to the gate.
In South Florida, a good alternate airport is Ft. Lauderdale.
In fact, those taking cruises are best advised to use Lauderdale. Flights
are often cheaper than Miami and since it's on the south side of Broward
County it's only about a half-hour further to most parts of Miami than
Miami International (for those going to UM, Coral Gables and Coconut
Grove, Miami International is the quickest option). A third airport
choice is West Palm Beach, about an hour north of Lauderdale.
Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater are served by Tampa International
and smaller cities have their own airports served by a few of the major
carriers. For those flying in one airport and out of another, check
drop-off charges from rental car companies before booking. Unfortunately
there is precious little public transportation in Florida.
The Culture and Floridians
Floridians love having fun in Florida.
A re there any native Floridians?
Yes, but not only have tourists found fun in Florida,
so have a number of transplants. Retired New Yorkers have always made
South Floida a destination known as "blue hairs" they
get a driver's license for the first time upon moving so patience behind
the wheel is a virtue and the Cubans have overrun many traditional
neighborhoods in Miami.
But beyond what has been occurring for decades,, Floridians
are a developing mix of people from all over the county: The South (naturally),
the North, the Midwest, even a few West Coasters, plus foreigners drawn
to the likes of South Beach.
And while this has caused changes, the undercurrent of
the "original" Florida remains the same. That is to say it
is casual and friendly. All that sunshine puts a smile on people's faces
and they are generally happier than people in other parts of the country.
And while many new buildings are popping up, public boat
docks are being swiped up by developers throughout the state and real
estate is going through the roof, it is still possible to find that
true Sunshine State trademark: The Florida Redneck.
Usually holed up in small beach bars, that salt air sticking
to their skin, they wear tank tops with the name of a bar or some clever
phrase with a sexual connotation and pound down beers on sunny afternoons,
oblivious to the fact that a little daytime exercise might keep the
belly somewhat in check. (By contrast, Californians are out running,
playing beach volleyball or rollerbalding. THEN they go to the bars.).
Some have Harleys parked out front; still others may have been out on
the water in a boat. And we're not just talking men here.
If this is in contrast to many people's image of tanned
super-hulks and blonde bikini models, so be it. PubClub.com's 's articles
are about reality, not fantasy. Of course, there is a bounty of bathing
beauties out there and the natural Florida blonde is one of the state's
great contributions to planet Earth.
Tourists and locals
alike keep the bars busy; here in Key West.
No development could change the fact that, as a top tourist
destination, Florida is touristy. As we've mentioned, souvenir shops
are everywhere, so picking up a set of Destin placemats or a Key West
t-shirt is as easy as walking out the door. The beaches also have all
manner of recreational activates such as arcades, putt-putt courses
Many of the beaches are choked by high-rise condos, but
in the main beach towns they give way to hotels and old motels with
pools and other local businesses.
The Areas The Florida Panhandle, The Emerald
Some people still
fish in Destin, despite its rapidly expanding development.
Florida is comprised of
five main areaas. The "panhandle" refers to the northern part
of the state that resembles the handle of a frying pan.
The main spot is coastal Panama City Beach. It
is a fun, lively place that often refered to as the "Redneck Rivera"
because most of its visitors are from neighboring Alabama, Georgia and
Mississippi. Spring breakers, mainly from Alabama and Mississippi schools,
decend here in March, though with condos replacing cheap motels in many
places, it's long-term future is somewheat in doubt.
An hour to the east is the more upscale town of Destin.
Once a tiny fishing village, it's been transformed into a tidy community
built around condo complexes. Still, it's not completely refined and
has several of those "Florida restaurants," the unrefined
seafood houses where the meals are great and the prices reasonable.
Highway 98 is clogged with cars heading to the many shopping areas,
but thankfully the healthy fishing fleet offers an excellent escape
on the water. Destin also the home to singer/songwriter Eric
Stone. One of his songs involves the "Crab Island Rendezvous"
where in summer locals anchor their boats in the back bay at Crab Island
and float in the water enjoying each other's company with cold beverages.
This area's official name is the Emerald Coast because
of the emerald-colored water. The sand here is the best in Florida -
white as sugar and so soft is squeaks when walking barefoot across it.
Tallahassee, the state capitol, is on the eastern
edge of the panhandle. It is the home to Florida State University, a
national football power. To the west is Pensacola is a
navy town near the Alabama state line. It's small and is not generally
regarded as a tourist destination.
Driving Distances: Destin to Pensacola: 1 hour. Destin
to Panama City: 1 hour. To Tallahassee: 3 hours. To Jacksonville: 6
The Areas The NE Coast, Jacksonville, Daytona,
Beach welcome visitors.
The largest city in the
USA in terms of territory is Jacksonville. While some joke it's really
in South Georgia because the locals are more easily identified with
its neighbor to the north than parts of its own state, it's the gateway
to several small and interesting cities along the eastern coast.
Ponte Vedra is a major golf area and hosts the
TPC at Sawgrass each March. This is where the 17th hole has the famous
"island green." To the north of Jax, upscale Amelia Island
hosts a women's tennis tournament each April.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the USA and
has one of those tacky Floirda-style attracts unique to this state:
An alligator farm.
Beach is famous for a couple of things, which shows that when it
comes to this small, famous town, opposites are attracted. The fisrst
is the Daytona 500, held at Daytona International Speedway. It's such
a huge event, along with a seocnd race on Fourth of July weekend, that
NASCAR makes its home here.
The second occurrence is Spring Break. Always a destinaion
for Southern colleges and East Coast schools, it gained national notioriety
when MTV showed up and began broadcasting reports of college students
doing things college students do on Spring Break.. Sometimes, even,
encouraging them into doing things. This, coupled with traditional destination
Ft. Lauderdale all but shutting down the beach to breakers, made Daytona
a top alternative.
To get there, we like to exit at Flagler Beach and arrive
PubClub-style along the coast on A1A. We drive through the heart of
Daytona and right up to a cheap hotel next to our favorite beachside
bar, The Ocean Deck, where we absorb Red Tides and reggae.
To the south approximately 45 Ron Jon Surf Shop
billboards later, is Cocoa Beach. TV Land fans know it as where
"I Dream of Jeanie" bounced around with Major Nelson. This
old beach town is adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.
Going inland is Orlando, the capitol of Florida's
Driving Distances: Jacksonville to St. Augustine: 1 hour.
To Daytona, 2 hours. To Cocoa Beach: 2 hours, 45 minutes. Daytona to
Orlando: 1 hour.
The Areas Sun Coast (Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater)
The Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater
areas on Florida's Sun Coast on the western (Gulf) side are prime beach-seekers
territory. Clearwater is known for being a haven for the young
and thirsty. Tampa is a cosmopolitan city that's home to the
NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. St. Pete is like a combination of
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area has more than 20 barrier
islands, also known as keys, that protect the Pinellas Peninsula from
the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf and Intracoastal waterways have deep-sea
fishing; backwater salt flats fishing boating, sailing, canoeing and
sea kayaking and SCUBA diving.
Another city is Sarasota, as much a destination
for retirees as is Clearwater for revelers.
Farther south sits Fort Meyers and gorgeous Sanibel
Driving Distances: Tampa to Clearwater, 1 hour. Tampa
to Orlando, 1 hour. Tampa to St. Pete: 45 minutes. Tampa to Fort Meyers:
The Areas South Florida [MAP]
South Beach is the biggest attraction but there are other spots, too.
Led by Miami, the
state's most dynamic area is South Florida. Celebrities and fashion
leaders flock to the art-deco South Beach, Coconut Grove is one
of the city's most vibrant places and there are still old spots to explore
like Biscayne Bay and the causeway.
And that's just the beginning. For two hours to the north,
there are several other South Florida cities, each with its own personality.
An hour to the north, Ft. Lauderdale is a major city in its own
right. West Palm Beach has always been somewhat of a "poor
man's" Ft. Lauderdale but it's thriving, and exclusive Palm
Beach is just to the east. More top locations are Delray Beach,
Deerfield Beach and Jupiter. All offer dining, nightlife
and the beach life.
Driving Distances: West Palm Beach to Ft. Lauderdale:
45 minutes. Ft. Lauderdale to Miami: 1 hour.
The Areas The Florida Keys and Key West
The Conch Republic, as it's
known because of all the conch and conch fritters consumed here, is
almost a cult hangout. People go for a few days, catch "Keys Disease"
and never want to leave. One resident never did, at least until he wrote
Margaritaville and became famous. And now he's back in the winters
at his recording studio and generally makes it an unannounced visit
to play in his own bar at least once. (it's Jimmy
Buffett and he also lives in Palm Beach).
The Keys has its own culture and characters. Even the
drive down through the Upper Keys and the Overseas Highway is an experience
all its own.
Driving Distances: Miami to Key West. Technically about
3 hours (no traffic on a weekday; up to 6 on summer weekends). But don't
hurry. Even with little traffic, it should take a leisurely 6 hours
with all the proper stops along the way.
A slice of life
in Key West: Mallory Square and Margaritaville.
Bars & Clubs of Ft. Lauderdale
Jacksonville & Orlando