National Parks
Tropical hotel in Miami
© Mike Leco / USATourist.com

Tropical resort setting overlooking the water along the coast of Miami.

Florida Travel Guide

Florida, the "Sunshine State", is the most southern state on the east coast of the United States. It is just over 1000 miles (1.650 km) south of New York City. Surrounded by water on three sides, this flat sandy spit of land is approximately 100 miles (165 km) wide by 400 miles (660 km) long. It is blessed with a very hospitable semi-tropical climate that offers hot summers (with quick and frequent rain showers), mild winters, and near ideal spring and fall temperatures. It is, however, subject to the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes during the late summer and fall.  Here is information to help you plan your next Florida vacation.

The regions of Florida

The states of Alabama and Georgia border Florida, which can be divided into several distinct geographical regions with differing features. These are the Eastern Coast, the Western Coast, Central Florida, the Panhandle and the Southern Tip with the Keys. Each region offers some unique features to attract visitors for their Florida vacation.

Florida’s East Coast is on the Atlantic Ocean

The Florida East Coast beaches have moderately good surf.  Those near MiamiFort LauderdaleDaytona and Jacksonville, tend to be commercialized for tourism. They offer plenty of high rise hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and entertainment venues that cater to the seashore loving tourists.  Saint Augustine and Melborne are a bit less commercial and tend to attract more family vacationers and local tourists.  A great place to visit is Palm Beach and Boca Raton which caters to upscale tourists and offers high-end designer shops, trendy celebrity chef-owned restaurants, world-class golf courses, and luxurious accommodations.

Florida’s West Coast is on the Gulf of Mexico

The Western Coast of Florida is very different than the Atlantic Coast. The beaches on the Gulf of Mexico tend to be shallower, with less surf and with warmer waters. They are great for families with small children. The soft sand extends far out into the sea, and one can wade hundreds of meters from shore without the water becoming very deep. While Clearwater caters to tourism, most of the other areas along the Gulf coast are far less commercialized. During the summer months, the coastline is notorious for its daily thunderstorm activity with intense lightning. The storms cause large shells to roll in from the surf, and early morning walkers will find the best sea shells in Florida, including large conch shells and sand dollars, along the shoreline. The Florida west coast is also famous for its beautiful sunsets.

Central Florida draws the most tourists

Central Florida, where you’ll find Orlando, is the most popular destination for tourists from all over the USA and from many other parts of the world. This is the home of Disney World, the largest amusement park on earth. Located just south of Orlando is Kissimmee, which offers hundreds of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. Together, Orlando and Kissimmee make up the largest family amusement area on our planet.

Florida Everglades © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
The best way to experience the Florida Everglades is to take a swamp buggy ride or boat excursion offered by local tour companies.

South Florida is known as the Gold Coast

The southern tip of Florida mostly consists of tropical jungle and swamplands. It is called the Gold Coast because of gold and silver that had occasionally washed ashore from ships sunk off by mother nature’s storms. Everglades National Park covers nearly the entire tip of the peninsula southward from Miami and Naples. It contains a vast ocean of wet grasslands punctuated by islands of tropical forest and stretches of open waters.

Visitors to Miami, Coral Springs, and Naples will enjoy year-round activities like dolphin cruises, scuba diving, parasailing, deep-sea fishing, dinner cruises, or renting a catamaran or speedboat. The Miami beaches and nightlife are not to be missed, in addition to the great shopping opportunities.

The Florida Keys Are Paradise for Scuba Diving and Fishing

A one hundred mile long (160 km) archipelago of islands known as the Florida Keys stretches southwestward from the tip of the peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico. Make sure to read our Key West travel guide about the 90 mile (150 km) long series of bridges and causeways that connects these islands down to the town of Key West on its southern most tip. The only North American tropical reef lies just a few miles off shore.

The Florida Panhandle is the least touristy region

The Florida Panhandle is the narrow strip of land that extends westward from the top of the state.  It is bounded on the north by Gulf Shores, Alabama and on the south by the Florida Gulf Coast.  The shallow white sand beaches are the least commercialized and tourist oriented part of Florida.  Panama City is the lone tourist oriented city on the panhandle, and is famous for its "Spring Break" festivities every March.  Hundreds of thousands of university students on break from their studies descend on these two cities for several weeks of round-the-clock, non-stop parties on the beaches.

Sunrise along Florida's east coast © Ronnie Allen / USATourist.com
A boat races across the horizon as the sun rises along Florida's east coast.

Florida is a favorite Winter Vacation spot

Florida is the favorite winter vacation retreat for millions of Americans from the frigid northern states and Canadian provinces. It is also a popular vacation destination for foreign visitors. In the summer months, many families with children on school holidays brave the tropical heat of Florida. If you can, early spring is a good time to visit as the temperatures are usually warm but not oppressively hot, and kids are still in school. Experienced visitors tend to avoid Florida during the late summer and fall when the possibility of tropical storms and hurricanes are more likely to dampen any vacation.

Top Florida Attractions

The most popular attraction in Florida is the huge variety of family entertainment activities centered around Disney World near Orlando. With over 200 attractions in the area, this is the number one vacation destination in the USA for families.  Some of the most popular Orlando attractions include Universal Studios Orlando, home of the wildly popular “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, Discovery Cove where you can swim with dolphins, and SeaWorld, home of Shamu, the world-famous orca whale. Gatorland, indoor skydiving, water parks, and lively and entertaining dinner theaters are also fun things to do when you’re ready for a break from the theme parks.  Visitors to Orlando will also find numerous shopping malls, countless dining options, and a wide assortment of accommodations. Our Hotel Guides will help you find the perfect place for your Orlando family vacation.

Disney World © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Theme parks are major attractions in Florida. Many families travel to the Orlando area to vacation at Disney World and Univeral Studios Orlando.

Busch Gardens Theme Park is located in Tampa and has dozens of attractions featuring exotic animals, thrilling rides, and shows for kids of all ages. Across the street from Busch Gardens is Adventure Island, a fantastic water park situated on 30 acres.

The Daytona International Speedway, known as the World Center of Racing, is located in Daytona Beach. Visitors can go behind the scenes with the All Access Tour or take the Speedway Tour and learn how Nascar’s drivers navigate this exhilarating race track.

Miami Florida is one of the most popular cities for international tourists to visit.  It’s a vibrant city along the southern Atlantic Coast with a distinctly Latin American flavor.  The "Little Havana" neighborhood and its many Hispanic residents create an enclave of South American and Caribbean culture in the USA, and you’ll find many wonderful ethnic restaurants.  South Beach Miami is known as America’s Riviera and is famous for its Art Deco buildings, celebrity-studded nightclubs, and highly-rated beaches. Our Miami Travel Guide has more information on things to do and where to stay.

The Kennedy Space Center visitor complex and the Cape Canaveral Space Launch facility are located along the East Coast about an hour’s drive from Orlando. Visitors can enjoy a variety of tours, exhibits and, with the right timing, even a rocket launch.

When people think of Florida, Disney World is what first comes to mind, but Florida is so much more than theme parks.  It’s a beautiful, warm and sunny state with something for everyone.  From the fun, party atmosphere in South Beach, to the quiet coastal towns of the Gulf Coast, Florida visitors are guaranteed a memorable vacation any time of the year.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Fort Lauderdale Beach