The Sunshine State has it all – luminous golden beaches, the Walt Disney World hustle and bustle, alligators sunbathing in the Everglades, roadside orange groves and everything in between. 

With such diversity in geography and experiences, it’s easy to plan a multifaceted journey that you can’t get in any other US state. Having called Fort Lauderdale home for eight years – and taken many road trips to Florida from Virginia to visit my grandpa when I was a tot – I’ve witnessed, firsthand, too many journeys gone sour. They often look like families covered in sunburn, a lack of consideration for the quick-changing elements (thunderstorms and hurricanes, oh my!) and a misconception of just how diverse Florida truly is.

To help you plan your time in Florida, here are the top things to know about health, safety and local etiquette.

Kayakers paddle down a river
If you travel to Florida between November and March, you'll need to book your activities in advance © Michael Warren / Getty Images

1. Consider a spring or fall adventure to avoid the crowds and heat

November to March is considered peak “snowbird season,” when those not wanting to endure frigid temperatures in northern confines flock to their Florida homes for the winter. Count on hotels, restaurants and attractions statewide being busiest during this time frame and book any experience ahead of time as much as possible. On the contrary, the summer months (June through August) are among the hottest, with temperatures peaking in the mid- to upper-90°Fs. To avoid the crowds and heat, consider a spring (April–May) or fall (September–October) trip.

2. Plan on spending at least a week in Florida

One of the biggest mistakes on any Florida visit? Only experiencing one geographical facet of it, most often either Orlando’s theme parks or a single beach. Rent a car or take the Brightline – a high-speed train that opened new routes in September 2023 between Orlando and Miami – to dabble in it all. In between and well beyond, there are historic towns worthy of pit stops or multiday stays, too, from America’s oldest city (St Augustine) to the craft brewery-loaded Tampa.

3. Stay safe around the Atlantic hurricane season

The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 through November 30. With warm ocean waters surrounding the state and an expanse of open water east to Africa as well as the Gulf of Mexico for systems to develop, Florida is often ground zero for hurricane activity. Keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center’s latest forecasts before and during your trip to see what may be coming your way.

A child snorkles in shallow seas near an old fortress building
If you can't get to remote Dry Tortugas National Park, head for one of Florida's state parks © Lindsey Martin Webb / Shutterstock

4. Weave in a state park to complement national park visits

Florida has three national parksBiscayne, Dry Tortugas and Everglades. All primarily in South/Central Florida, they are each buzzworthy and often packed thanks to their aquamarine waters and white-sand bliss. Often overlooked and for a bit of a quieter venture, Florida’s state parks have equally dazzling attractions, be it snorkeling with starfish in the Florida Keys at Bahia Honda State Park or navigating caves at Florida Caverns State Park outside of Tallahassee.

5. Pack sun-protective gear to avoid the burn

It’s the Sunshine State. Sure, carefully soaking up some rays is expected, but a sunburn always ruins the fun. In preparing for all things Florida, ensure you pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a sun hat and sun-protective attire. Additionally, an umbrella or rain jacket can’t hurt as the entire state is prone to quick-moving thunderstorms.

6. If you rent a car, prepare for driver- and traffic-induced mayhem (especially in South Florida)

South Florida – comprising Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach – is one of the busiest stretches of land in the continental US. And you don't have too many north–south options for getting from city to city, with Interstate 95, Florida's turnpike and, on a slower occasion, US Route 1 as options. Call it an overdose of sun or just a lot of people on the road, but tempers can notoriously flare with motorcycles weaving through traffic, heavy horn usage and road rage being norms. Stay vigilant and avoid engaging with an angry driver.

7. Embrace the cafecito

Regardless of how you like your coffee – latte, cappuccino or black – you have to try Florida's cultural-must cafecito, particularly in the southern part of the state. The cafecito stems from Cuba, just 90 miles offshore, and is a beloved staple for the significant Cuban-American community and well beyond. Often served in a plastic cup the size of a super-sized thimble, it’s an instant kick with dark roast espresso and pure sugar. It’s sweet, ultra-caffeinated and you should totally opt for it instead of a regular coffee. It should be enjoyed in its purest form too, to avoid getting a weird look.

A person forms a heart symbol with their fingers in front of a rainbow flag that's flying high over a palm-lined beach
Several places in Florida have very strong LGBTIQ+ communities, including Miami and Key West © swissmediavision / Getty Images

8. Book a trip to one of the Sunshine State’s LGBTIQ-friendly destinations

Florida has been at the center of political controversies and legislation aplenty spanning race, education and LGBTIQ+ rights in recent times. Amid the headlines, the Sunshine State is home to some of the strongest and most inclusive communities you’ll find. Among them is Wilton Manors, “Florida’s gayborhood,” lined with welcoming bars, LGBTIQ-inspired art, galleries and more. Key West, Miami Beach, Gulfport, Orlando and Sarasota are long-standing LGBTIQ+ destinations as well.

9. Yes, you can drink alcohol legally on select Florida beaches

Contrary to the raucous spring break images you’ve seen through the years, the bulk of Florida beaches prohibit alcohol. If unclear, check out the government website of the city you are staying in for applicable laws. Otherwise, popular spots that allow alcohol (typically in cans, not bottles) include Perdido Key on the Florida Panhandle, Panama City Beach, Madeira Beach in the St Petersburg area and Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota.

10. Hire a captain for a stress-free boating adventure

If looking at renting a boat in Florida – from navigating the St John’s River in Jacksonville to fishing for flounder off the coast of New Smyrna Beach near Daytona Beach – hire a captain. Hiring a licensed captain means you’re respecting pertinent no wake zones (or speed limits) on Florida rivers and canals; the boat will be properly equipped with navigation lights, floatation devices and fire extinguishers; and you can be confident that right-of-way passing norms are followed. This is a very wise choice if you have zero boating experience and/or want to consume booze aboard.

11. Know what the flags at the lifeguard stands mean

There are five colored flags you may see flying at a lifeguard stand on Florida beaches. Similar to a stoplight, green equates to calm conditions, yellow means that the currents and surf are moderate, red means high surf and strong currents and, if you see an additional red flag with a no-swimming emblem, the water is closed to the public. The final color – purple – signifies stinging marine life (eg jellyfish) have been spotted nearby, so take caution.

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