Ever since Ponce de León, Florida has cast a sensual spell over travelers, and its surreal landscape, heavenly beaches and prehistoric beasts still quicken the pulse and inflame the imagination.
Maybe there's no mystery to what makes the Florida peninsula so intoxicating. Beaches as fine and sweet as powdered sugar, warm teal waters, rustling mangroves: all conspire to melt our workaday selves. We come to Florida to be soothed, to let go – of worries and winter, of inhibitions and reality. For many, it's merely the desire for an indulgent beachy getaway of naps, swimming, seafood and rosy sunsets. Others seek the more excitable hedonism of South Beach, Spring Break and Key West. Still more hope to lose themselves within the perfected phantasmagorical realms of Walt Disney World and Orlando's theme parks. As for Ponce, he traipsed the peninsula seeking mermaids and the legendary fountain of youth, and in a thousand and one ways, Florida still nurtures these alluring, ever-hopeful fantasies.
Exaggeration comes naturally to Florida. Within its hot, seductive, semitropical wilderness, alligators prowl beside every waterway, egg-white herons strut through reedy ponds, lovable manatees winter in crystal springs and sea turtles nest in summer. Osprey and eagles, dolphins and mighty tarpon, flocks of roseate spoonbills, coral-reef forests, oceans of sawgrass: despite the best efforts of 21st-century humans, overwhelming portions of Florida remain untamed, sometimes disconcertingly so. We come to Florida to experience this taste of wildness, to paddle so close to our toothsome Jurrasic-era friends that our palms tingle. To meet loggerheads and manatees underwater, eye to eye. To look up and see a single precious jewel-like orchid clinging magically to the trunk of an ancient, moss-draped bald cypress.
Miami is one of America's great immigrant-rich cities, and its mix of Caribbean and Latin American cultures is led by its Cuban community, which long ago carved its own Spanish-speaking city within the city. These Latin flavors spice up everything: the dance floor, the kitchen, the cocktail glass, the dress code. In Miami and throughout South Florida, this indelible influence has given the state a temperament to match its temperature: the semitropical peninsula is also a cultural transition zone straddling the hot southern latitudes and the cooler northern ones. Wealth and celebrity also play a role in South Florida's cultural life: preserving South Beach's art-deco confections and the grandiose palaces of Florida's railroad tycoons, and supporting a flourishing arts scene brimming with the bold and the beautiful.
In the end, Florida promises escape – whether into the Magic Kingdom, into the swamp, into status-drenched excess, or merely into the calm turquoise ocean that surrounds you on nearly every side.
Best places to stay in Florida
The USA's best regional desserts
Apple pie gets a lot of glory for being the embodiment of American desserts – ‘As American as apple pie’ as the saying goes, flatly ignoring the fact that apple pie isn’t an American invention.
Florida destination guides
Little known fact: on the Eighth Day, God shook all the eccentrics of America into the nation’s Southeast corner pocket.
Top alternatives to Halloween
Tired of the same old Halloween parties? Well, Halloween isn't the only festival for fans of costume parties, the occult, fireworks and general merriment. In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals, we provide a guide to six fantastic Halloween alternatives around the world. 1.
Universal Orlando Tickets
With two amazing theme parks – Universal Studios® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®– the non-stop nightlife of Universal CityWalk®, and three uniquely themed on-site hotels, Universal Orlando® Resort is an entire universe of action, thrills and excitement for every member of the family. Universal Orlando Resort is where vacation becomes adventure.
Universal Orlando 2-Park Bonus Ticket
At Universal Orlando® Resort you’ll find two amazing theme parks, non-stop nightlife and more, all in one convenient location. Experience the pulse-pounding thrills of Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™; The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®, now in high-def 3-D; and the Jurassic Park River Adventure®.
Top 11 space travel destinations
Fire up the jet pack, suck in some thin air, get a taste of zero g – it’s time to take one small step for yourself, and a giant leap for humanity. Here are 11 destinations related to space travel, whether you'd rather observe from the ground or head up there yourself. 1.