Walt Disney was right: Florida is a place that captures the imagination. The landscape is exaggerated and invites exaggeration. Spanish explorers saw manatees and imagined they were mermaids; Ponce de León saw a crystal-clear spring and imagined it was a fountain of youth. Developers saw swamps and sold them as paradise, but if they are, there's plenty of the devil in them. In its history, Florida has inspired as much madness and murder as it has fantasies of a magical kingdom where dreams really do come true.
And that's OK. The vision of a seaside paradise can falter sometimes as growing numbers of high-rise Miami condos block the view, but the land – the watery, swampy, humid, shimmering, creature-filled peninsula – remains. In the end, it's this unstable, ever-shifting landscape that never fails to overwhelm, working its way under your skin, never to be forgotten. And it does so both in that grand, uplifting, aching-beauty-of-nature kind of way, and in that fetid, surreal, alligators-in-the-swamp-snakes-in-the-trees-get-me-outta-here kind of way.
Florida, more civilized than it once was, is still seductively and unnervingly fluid. Miami continues to be washed with wave after wave of Latin immigrants, and the city vibrates with energy and culture and change. The Deep South of northern Florida lovingly tends its memories, even as old ways fade or are simply paved over. The phantasmagorical theme parks continue to weave their mechanical magic. And just off the coast, another hurricane is always brewing.
So come for the beaches and Mickey Mouse, come for the people and the Everglades, come for the nightlife and the kayaking and the manatees and the gators. But make sure to come. Because Florida is always stranger than you imagine, and it never holds still.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
- Experience the unique environment of the Everglades on a swamp walking tour
- Visit NASA's Kennedy Space Center
- Discover Florida's marine life on a snorkel safari from Key West
Lonely Planet has teamed up with Lee County Tourism to produce an in-depth guide to the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.
Best places to stay in Florida
Florida travel guide
Ever since the arrival of Ponce de León, Florida has cast a sensual spell over travelers
Hemingway Days Festival: a guide to Florida's Hemingway look-alike contest
'Key West' by Stig Nygaard. Creative Commons Attribution Location: 201 Duval St, Key West, Florida, USA Dates: 16–21 July 2013...
Discover Florida travel guide
Walt Disney World, Everglades National Park, Miami Art Deco District – we’ve selected the most iconic sights and incredible places so you can enjoy the real Florida with the minimum fuss.
Miami & the Keys
Fantasy Fest: a guide to Florida's costume party
Untitled by Mcklein73. Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 2...
Florida - Planning (Chapter)
Your journey to Florida starts here. You'll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus indepth info on family travel.
Swim with Manatees at Crystal River plus Everglades Airboat Adventure
On this tour from Orlando, take a narrated boat cruise on the Crystal River to snorkel and swim with manatees -- the gentle giants of the Florida Everglades. Then, take an exhilarating airboat tour on the Homosassa River and visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to watch a manatee-feeding session and see other animals including bears, panthers and alligators.
Jungle Queen Riverboat Dinner Cruise
Take an old fashioned riverboat cruise on the New River in Fort Lauderdale, where you'll be treated to an all-you-can-eat shrimp and barbecue dinner followed by a hilarious variety review stage show.
Who's your papa? The Hemingway Days Festival
Got a love of literature? Think you can simulate a stocky, white-bearded man? Then pull up a bar stool and get into Key West's annual celebration of Ernest Hemingway...
Florida & the South's Best Trips - Plan your trip (Chapter)
Start your planning here. We reveal the ultimate road-trip list for Florida & the South PLUS the highlights you’ll discover on the way and practical advice to kick-start your trip.
Sights in Florida
Activities in Florida
Tours in Florida
Restaurants in Florida
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Little known fact: on the Eighth Day, God shook all the eccentrics of America into the nation’s Southeast corner pocket.