Ask many people what they picture when they think of Florida and they’ll tell you the same thing. Florida is, of course, synonymous with a certain Mickey Mouse. Ever since Walt planted the Disney flag firmly in the Orlando soil, the iconic theme park has become a Floridian icon. For good reason, the Magical Kingdom alone welcomed more than 18.5 million visitors through its gates in 2013. But what if you don’t want to go to Disney? Is Florida worth visiting in its own right? The answer to this question is a resounding yes, and these Florida destinations show exactly why. Also check out visa options with Esta.
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys represent one of the most beautiful destinations in the whole of the US, never mind just Florida. Warm hospitality, superb wildlife and a collection of charming island towns make The Keys a destination many fall in love with. Being so close to the Gulf Stream the Keys remain a pleasant temperature all year round; indeed, Keys residents proudly claim that it is the only area of mainland USA to have never experienced frost.
The Keys are absolutely the best way to discover Florida’s dazzling nature. Key Largo is home to what was America’s first undersea preservation area. Thanks to forty years of hard protective work, the waters off Key Largo are now a diver’s paradise with kaleidoscopic reefs and vibrant fish all easily visible. Under the waves of Key Largo is also where the Christ of the Abyss statue can be found. This hauntingly striking bronze sculpture is just 25 feet below the surface meaning that snorkellers as well as divers can easily see the piece.
A trip to the city of Key West is also a must. This enigmatic city, which once declared war on the USA, is a slice of true Floridian hospitality. The local delicacy is, the fittingly named, Key Lime Pie and every restaurant has their own unique (and they all claim best) take on the classic dessert. Of course the only way to find out which one truly is best is to try them all, it’s a hard life! You can also take some time out here to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home where he is though to have written ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ .
The West Coast of Florida
The West Coast of Florida is a great way to discover a true taste of the Sunshine State. The shores that line the Gulf Coast are as fun as they are beautiful. The sands that grace the beaches here are so white they almost defy belief and the pleasing temperature of the water lends itself perfectly to refreshing dips. The water temperature stays pleasant all year round with visitors able to enjoy swims even during November and December.
The towns and cities found on the Gulf Coast are perfect for shopping and exploring. St. Petersburg is home to the delightful St. Pete Beach where you’ll find plenty of opportunities for water sports and other fun activities. St. Petersburg itself has become something of a creative hub in Florida. The city has a thriving art scene as well as a superlative Salvador Dalí museum that houses a huge collection of some of the artist’s most famous pieces.
For a city with a slightly faster pace of life, try Tampa. There are so many things to do in Tampa that it is impossible to list them all here. Certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in this city however is the Ybor City area. This historic part of town boasts charming buildings whose character is enhanced by the tall palm trees that preside over the long streets. At night Ybor really comes alive as Tampa’s trendy young things hit the many bars and clubs.
Anna Maria Island
Not far from the hustle and bustle of Tampa lies the stunning Anna Maria Island. This seven mile long strip is lined with some of Florida’s most picturesque beaches where one can truly let the troubles of life slip serenely away. The whole island is dedicated to the preservation of bird-life and as such you will be granted a front row seat to some of Florida’s most unique creatures. Wild parrots, pelicans, herons and a host of other birds have found home on the island and make for a perfect final touch for many a beachfront view.
In many ways Anna Maria Island is something of a hidden gem. This is one of the few locations left in the Sunshine State that permeates with a sense of old Florida. Wooden homes held aloft by wooden stilts as well as a host of traditional eateries serving some of Florida’s most loved dishes hark back to a more innocent, bygone era. There are also plenty of opportunities to indulge in some retail therapy with Anna Maria Island boasting an array of shops selling local trinkets. If you’re lucky you may even be treated to one of Florida’s most incredible spectacles, whimsical pods of bottlenose dolphins joyfully zipping along the coast.
As the above locations prove, there is a whole lot more to Florida than just Disney. Any one of these three destinations will make for an ideal holiday, and even if they don’t sound perfect for you there is even more; Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota and of course Miami are all just as keen to leave an impression on travellers.
Who knows? Florida may just surprise you.
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