Florida is known as the Sunshine State with good reason. Tourists the world over are drawn by its great beaches, theme parks, and – of course – wonderful weather. Long summers are followed by warm winters. It’s no wonder that so many Canadians escape the cold and take flights to Florida. Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León gave the peninsula the name La Florida, meaning “flowery land.” With more than 1,600 kilometers of shoreline, it’s no surprise that Florida is a top destination for travellers in search of sand and surf. The western side of the peninsula, situated on the Gulf Coast, has warm seas and soft white sands. The Atlantic coast is made for the surfers with bigger, rougher waves and broader beaches. Some of the world's most beautiful beaches can be found in the southern state: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Sanibel Island, and Anna Maria Beach off Bradenton.
The central part of the state has all the do-not-miss attractions for your next Florida holiday. Orlando is amusement park heaven, packed with Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Centre, Cypress Gardens, Bok Tower Gardens, Daytona Speedway and Gatorland. Once the kids have gone to bed, Orlando turns up the heat to party. For a trip with unrivalled nightlife, Miami's South Beach lays claim to being "the coolest place on the planet," but the rest of Florida is no slouch when it comes to partying and is serviced by many international airports. A cheap flight to Fort Lauderdale reveals six seaside communities, stocked with plenty of bars and clubs. Nearly two-thirds of all Major League Baseball teams make Florida their home for spring training. Major league sports are a big part of Florida year-round, with NFL football, NBA basketball and two NHL hockey teams calling the state home.
The southern end of the state is subtropical and the northern is warm and temperate. October through April is mild and humidity is low in Orlando and points south. Summer in central and southern Florida is hot and muggy with rain storms. Winter in northern Florida has generally mild days with temperatures in the teens (Celsius). It can snow and occasionally there is a hard frost, but the cold doesn’t last very long.Summer in the north is hot and sticky, but temperatures rarely go into the 30s.For all of Florida, the hurricane season is June to November, and there’s a high probability that big storms will come through.
When to fly to Florida
The peak tourist season for vacations to Florida (the southern part of the state) is October through April. Orlando’s theme parks are busy year-round, with the highest peaks coinciding with school vacations, including spring and summer breaks. Summer is the busy season in northern Florida. Florida remains a popular destination for spring-break vacations, and those weeks are busy as are long holiday weekends.
Winter is the off season in northern Florida. If you don’t mind the heat in Southern Florida, you can usually find cheap flights and discounted hotel rates in the summer.
Getting around Florida
Although some cities have public transportation, you need to check that it goes where you want to go and at convenient times. Driving is generally the best way to go from town to town and across the state. Depending on the distance, booking cheap domestic Florida flights may be a better option.
Florida is great for bicycling. Although biking in the cities isn’t recommended, there are bike paths along the coasts and long-distance trails in central Florida. Plus, Florida is flat: its highest point is 105 metres above sea level.
Florida insider information
- Miami goes cultural in early December. About 20 art fairs and other independent exhibits and performances lure serious collectors to mingle for a week with the locals in the city's parks, trendy hotels, giant air-conditioned tents and private galleries
- Snorkelling with manatees in Florida's Crystal River, 120km north of Tampa, is like taking a bath with elephants, the closest land relative to these aquatic giants.
- You can swim with the manatees in the Homosassa River and Blue Springs on the Nature Coast of Florida (the inside curve of the western coast of the state). This area, along with the Crystal River, is home to the largest concentration of manatees in the world.
- New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona, is quieter and has a 21km beach front. World-renowned as the “safest bathing beach” due to its offshore rock ledges that counteract dangerous undercurrents, it offers year-round deep sea fishing. South of New Smyrna lies the Canaveral National Seashore, which offers excellent swimming, bird watching and hiking.
- There are several major-league fantasy camps in Florida. Each year fans take trips to Florida to play for their favourite team and mix with their heroes at spring-training facilities. Toronto Blue Jays' spring training home is in Dunedin, 32km outside Tampa-St. Petersburg and about 8km from Clearwater.