Florida fanatics don't need an excuse to make their way to The Sunshine State for a little R&R, no matter what time of the year it may be. But those who don't know this beautiful southern state as well as those Florida aficionados may not be aware of all the wonderful things waiting for them in the U.S.'s 4th most populous state. There are myriad reasons to vacation in Florida, but here are the top 10... Drum roll, please!
10. Key Lime Pie - Okay, you can get this pie in some other parts of the South too but this delightful confection had its start in the Keys. In fact, nearly every restaurant in the Keys, especially in Key West, serves this dessert. The key lime tree arrived in here in the 1500s and recipes for the pie began appearing as early as the late 1800s, though it became really popular in the 1930s. Some restaurants make it with graham cracker crust, others with pastry crust. Either way, it's a must-have several times over.
9. Shopping – Every good vacation has a little shopping time built in. The shopping options are many and varied, ranging from upscale shops in ritzy South Beach, Miami and beautiful St. Armand's Circle near Sarasota to popular outlets in Ellenton (near Tampa), St. Augustine, Naples, Florida City, and Orlando. You'll also find everything in between at the many malls that dot the landscape.
8. Nightlife – Nightlife sizzles in many areas. On the east coast, the most popular nightlife spots are Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale (especially during Spring Break), West Palm Beach, and the other towns in that vicinity. In central region, the Walt Disney World complex has its Pleasure Island area, where adults can party like it's New Year's Eve each and every night. Universal's CityWalk appeals to nighttime revelers as well, with its many restaurants and bars. On the west coast, Tampa's lively Ybor City area is a favorite with the under-30 crowd, but the remainder of Gulf Coast beach towns also offer a good collection of nightclubs and other popular party spots geared towards various age groups.
7. History – While most people tend to visit here for the recreation, the region's interesting history is one of those side perks guests experience while exploring the region. From the Spanish-style architecture of St. Augustine - the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the U.S., to Tampa and its ties to the cigar industry, to the rich military history of the Panhandle, Florida excites and educates visitors who enjoy gaining a little knowledge while on vacation.
6. Sports – Major league sports are an important part of life in Florida. With teams like the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays calling Florida home, it's no wonder some guests come here annually just to enjoy the sports that take place their year round, from NFL football to NHL hockey to pre-season and regular season baseball. Add to that all the wonderful college teams and it's easy to understand why this is a sportsman's mecca.
5. Arts and Culture – Florida is lined with museums and entertainment venues up and down both coasts and everywhere in between. Visitors can grab tickets for rock concerts, Broadway-style shows, dinner theater, and much more, in major cities like Tampa, Sarasota, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and others. Other cultural sites include incredible art museums (check out the Ringling Museum in Sarasota), history museums (found in nearly every county), aviation museums (like the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola), and science museums (including Tampa's excellent Museum of Science and Industry).
4. National Parks/Natural Sites – Florida is home to about a dozen national parks, monuments, and seashores, all of which are a joy for the visitor to explore. A must-see is expansive Everglades National Park, which occupies much of the southwest portion of the state. The largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., the Everglades is home to many rare species of animals, birds, and plants, and an airboat ride to view them is a must. State Parks are excellent as well, like Sarasota's Myakka River Park where guests can experience a diverse natural area of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands; or the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, where visitors can take a prairie buggy ride.
3. Watersports – Visit a state surrounded by water and you'll no doubt want to take advantage of the myriad watersports available there. Take your pick – from calm water-related pursuits like fishing or sailing to more exciting adventures, such as jet skiing, SCUBA diving, kite or wind surfing, wake boarding, parasailing, and more. With 8,500 miles of shoreline, 7,800 lakes, 320 springs and 35 rivers, the possibilities are endless! Many beach hotels offer free use of non-motorized watercraft and outfitters throughout the state peddle charter fishing cruises, dive lessons, and other opportunities to enjoy our warm waters.
2. Theme Parks – Many individuals would dub this their number one reason for vacationing in here. Theme park fanatics, most especially Disney fans, often head to The Sunshine State every year to get their dose of magic. Orlando, of course, is at the center of the theme park kingdom, with the four parks of the Walt Disney World complex, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and SeaWorld Orlando. But don't forget about Tampa's Busch Gardens Africa, which is also an excellent amusement park, almost always landing on annual top-10 lists for theme park enthusiasts.
1. Beaches, Beaches, Beaches! – By far, the number one reason for scheduling a Florida vacation is to sit on The Sunshine State's incredible beaches and enjoy the soft sand, warm water, and beautiful sunsets you'll find there. With thousands of miles of coastline, the beaches in Florida are many and quite varied. Choose your favorite – from tony South Beach in Miami, the place to see and be seen; to the white-sanded family-oriented beaches of Siesta Key, near Sarasota. There are also the Panhandle beaches like popular Destin or the beaches of the northeast, including Fernandina and Ponte Vedra, as well as the beaches of the Keys and those in the southwest, like Sanibel and Marco Islands. Wherever you go, you'll find a Florida beach where you can sun, swim, and enjoy the view.