Florida’s not just good for Mickey and Minnie. Here are some of the Sunshine State’s other draws…
Think of Florida, and it’s almost impossible not to picture a couple of human-sized mice dressed in bright red and polka dots. But there’s so much more to the Sunshine State than Walt Disney World. Here’s what you could be getting up to away from the rollercoasters…
Lots of Americans spend their holidays in Florida. Why? The state has got some of the best beaches in the country. Daytona Beach, one of the prettiest, is about an hour’s drive east of Orlando. It became a household name back in the early 20th century, when it was known for its epic car races. You can still drive on 18 of the 23 miles of sand, but there’s a strict 10-miles-per-hour speed limit these days. Our advice? Spend the day snoozing – not steering – on the linen-white sands.
West of Orlando, you’ve got the beaches of Clearwater, which are washed by the warm waters of the Gulf Coast. Around sunset, the crowds draw at Pier 60, when the jugglers and magicians come out to play. And you can’t talk about Florida’s beaches without mentioning Miami’s South Beach – officially the see-and-be-seen stretch of the Sunshine State. Spend half the day topping up your tan by the shore, and the other half roller-skating along the prom. Go way down south, meanwhile, and you’ve got the Florida Keys – a clutch of islands haloed by pin drop-peaceful slithers of sand.
You could easily spend a whole week shopping in Florida. The Mall at Millennia, in the heart of Orlando, has a directory of designer stores that includes Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Jimmy Choo. If you’re sniffing out a bargain, I-Drive’s Orlando Premium Outlet is the place to be. It’s got more than 180 stores, and you’ll find amazingly low-price gear by brands like Timberland, UGG and Juicy Couture. No visit to Florida would be complete without popping into a Ron Jon Surf Shop, either. They’re dotted all over the state, but the flagship store is in Cocoa Beach. It’s huge, and decked out with palm trees and thatched surf huts – yes indoors. Neon body boards and day-to-night beach wear rule the roost in terms of merchandise, but you can also pick up quirky bottle-covers and waterproof cameras.
Florida’s up there with the best of them when it comes to letting your hair down. Miami, in the south, is the nightlife kingpin. South Beach comes with a side-order of 150 bars and clubs, all housed in restored Art Deco buildings. Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, in the west, have a fail-safe night-time philosophy, which involves live music and bonfires on the sand. And, back in Orlando, you’ve got Downtown Disney and Universal’s City Walk to play with. These miniature villages are packed with jazz bars and salsa spots. Don’t miss City Walk’s Rising Star karaoke bar, where you can belt out your favourite hits alongside a live band and back-up singers. And over in Downtown Disney, grab a front-row seat at La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil – the acrobatics are unbelievable.
Whatever you do, make time for the Everglades when you’re in Florida. This all-American wilderness is the natural yin to the man-made yang of Florida’s theme parks, and it spreads out over the state’s southern portion for around one-and-a-half-million acres. The wetlands and mangroves here are home to 36 species of endangered animals. American crocodiles skulk through the water and Florida panthers hold stakeouts in the pinelands. The best way to see it all is from an airboat, but there are overnight camping and fishing trips, too, if you fancy staying longer than a few hours.
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Author: Elle Hammond
Published: September 6, 2013
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