Orlando & Walt Disney World
Play quidditch with Harry Potter, disappear into the Twilight Zone in a haunted elevator, whip through the air on a sea monster. In Orlando, the Theme Park Capital of the World, it's all about adrenaline-fueled fun wrapped up in the mystique of storytelling and fantasy.
Tampa Bay & Southwest Florida
To drive southwest Florida's Gulf Coast is to enter an impressionistic watercolor painting: first, there is the dazzling white quartz sand of its barrier-island beaches, whose turquoise waters darken to silver-mantled indigo as the fiery sun lowers to the horizon. Later, seen from the causeways, those same islands become a phosphorescent smear beneath the inky black night sky.
Though the 70-or-so miles of sparkling Atlantic shoreline from Hollywood to Jupiter earned its nickname from the gold salvaged from area shipwrecks, it could easily have come from the mix of sapphire skies, cinnamony sands and bejeweled, wealthy residents. Here, the coastline has a split personality.
Few regions highlight the diversity of Florida's geography and character as dramatically as the Northeast. Near the Florida–Georgia border, Amelia Island is a gorgeous Southern belle, resplendent in nature's finest ornamentation. An hour to the south, Jacksonville, Florida's most populous city, is an urban sprawl of high-rises, highways and steel-girded bridges.
South of Tampa
People who prefer Florida's Gulf side over its Atlantic one generally fall in love with this stretch of sun-kissed coastline from Sarasota to Naples. These two affluent, cultured towns set the tone for the whole region, where visits sway between soporific beach days and art-museum meanders, fine dining and designer cocktails.
Take the best bits of the Deep South – friendly ('howdy y'all!') people, a molasses-slow pace, oak-lined roads and fried green tomatoes – then add sugar-white beaches, clear natural springs and bountiful seafood and you're beginning to conjure up the magnificent, diverse and highly underrated Florida Panhandle: so overlooked in the bigger Florida picture that we almost want t.
Florida Keys & Key West
If Florida is a state apart from the USA, the Keys are islands apart from Florida – in other words, it's different down here. They march to the beat of their own drum, or Alabama country band, or Jimmy Buffett single, or Bahamanian steel calypso set... This is a place where those who reject everyday life on the mainland escape.
Tampa Bay Area
Surrounding the gorgeous deep-water Tampa Bay are two major cities and a seemingly endless expanse of urban-suburban sprawl – forming the state's second-largest metropolitan area – which along the Gulf Coast is edged by some 35 miles of barrier-island beaches. Not many places in the country offer as much big-city sophistication mere minutes from so much dazzling sand.
Most people think of the state's south when conjuring images of Florida's famed beaches, which may be why the eastern half of the Gulf Coast has been dubbed the Forgotten Coast. The name is apt for the entire shoreline here, unless you're local and already familiar with the region's magical beauty.
After years of building a reputation as the destination for beer-swilling college students on raucous spring breaks, Fort Lauderdale now angles for a slightly more mature and sophisticated crowd. Think martinis rather than tequila shots, jazz concerts instead of wet T-shirt contests.
The Keys, like any frontier, have always been defined by two ‘E’s’: edge and eccentric. And when it came to the far frontier, the very edge, the last outpost of America – out here, only the most eccentric would dare venture. And thus, Key West: the most beautifully strange (or is it strangely beautiful?) island in the US. This place is seriously screwy, in a (mostly) good way.