When most people think of Florida, they thinkof sunshine, theme parks, orange juice and alligators.
But this former Spanish colony, which becamethe 27th state to enter the Union, is much more than that.
Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one sideand the Gulf of Mexico on the other, it has mile upon mile of white sand beaches.
Its moderate climate makes it a popular touristdestination all year round.
Here’s a look at the best places to visitin Florida.
Panama City Beach.
Panama City Beach on the Florida panhandleoffers 27 miles of white sand beaches on the Emerald Coast.
The beach is a popular destination for residentsof the southern United States as well as tens of thousands of high school and college studentson spring break.
Besides having fun in the sun in the emeraldgreen waters, this town of just over 12, 000 permanent residents offers sports fishingon the gulf, plenty of golfing, marine parks including one for alligators, amusement andwater parks …in short, something for everyone in the family.
Naples may have had rustic beginnings, buttoday this Gulf of Mexico city is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, withhouses selling for more than $40 million.
As on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, developmentalong the shoreline has been kept residential.
It got its name because the bay it’s locatedon was said to be prettier than the Bay of Naples in Italy.
Besides its beautiful city beach, the nearbywildlife refuges make it a popular tourist destination.
The city also has vibrant arts and shoppingdistricts.
Sanibel Island is located just off Fort Myersin the Gulf of Mexico.
It is connected to the mainland by a causeway.
It is known as a quiet, natural travel destination, well-suited for families.
Wildlife refuges take up more than half ofthis long narrow island, whose beaches are also popular as places to hunt for shells.
This island of less than 7, 000 permanent residentsmay have harbored pirates in the days of yore, if local legends are to be believed.
Aside from beachcombing and looking for wildlife, attractions include a highly-rated historical museum, a lighthouse and an arts center.
No longer the Spring Break destination ofpopular imagination, Fort Lauderdale is today a sophisticated cultural center with an increasinglyupmarket social scene.
Located on the Atlantic Ocean about 23 milesnorth of Miami Beach it is also known as the “Venice of America” due to its expansivecanal system.
The city has an impressive tourist infrastructurewith plenty of hotels, golf courses, marinas and museums.
The city’s Port Everglades is one of thebusiest cruise-ship ports in the world, with megaships departing daily for the Caribbean, Mexico and beyond.
The most popular section of the city beachis called “The Strip” with eating and drinking establishments that run along theland side of the beach road.
Boasting miles of white sandy beaches, ClearwaterBeach is separated by the city of Clearwater by the Intracoastal Waterway.
USA Today readers in 2013 named it Florida’sBest Beach Town.
Besides laying in the white sand and swimmingin the clear water there are also many activities offered such as fishing, sailing, kayaking, and dolphin tours.
Clearwater Beach is also a happening place, with a variety of events taking place throughout the year.
The Philadelphia Phillies hold their springtraining camp here while the Clearwater Jazz Festival, takes place in October.
Or visitors can take in the weekly sunsettingfestival at Pier 60, a sports fishing pier.
One of Florida’s best natural treasures, the Everglades feature a unique combination of ecosystems that include swamps, sub-tropicaljungles, saw-grass prairies and the largest mangrove complex in the Western Hemisphere.
Much of the Everglades are protected withinthe Everglades National Park and provide shelter to a wide variety of birds, fish and reptiles, including endangered species like the American crocodile and the Florida panther.
From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, visitorscan arrange boat tours to the Ten Thousand Islands, a labyrinth of mangrove islands.
Other visitor centers offer ranger-led toursand programs.
An air boat tour is one of the most excitingways to experience the Everglades.
Tampa Bay Area.
The Tampa Bay area, on the Gulf of Mexico, includes Tampa Bay, a large natural harbor and the cities of Tampa and St.
Tampa is home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Family-oriented activities include Busch Gardens, a theme park said to have Florida’s best roller coaster rides as well as a zoo dedicatedto animals from Africa’s Serengeti Plain.
As for beachcombing, St.
Pete Beach can’tbe beat.
It was named the best beach in the UnitedStates and fifth in the world by TripAdvisor readers in 2012 because of its white sandbeaches and clear water.
Orlando is theme-park city, having more themeparks than any place else in the world.
There’s Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Gator Park, to name a few, all of which bring 51 millionvisitors a year to this central Florida city of 2 million people.
This Sunbelt city doesn’t get hit by hurricanesas much as other parts of the state, which makes it a great place to visit in Florida.
One of American’s most visited cities, Orlandois also home to the University of Central Florida, which has the second largest collegeenrollment in the United States.
One of the most vibrant cities in the USA, Miami is best known for its Latin culture and sizzling nightlife.
Located in southeastern Florida off the coastof the Atlantic Ocean, Miami is also a major port city managing the world’s largest numberof passenger cruise ships.
Attracting tourists from all over the planet, Miami is a melting pot of ethnic cultures with a wide array of exciting attractionsand activities.
One of Miami’s main draws is its sunny beachesthat range from family friendly to party scenes.
Across the bay from Miami on a barrier islandis Miami Beach, known for its Art Deco architecture and glamorous South Beach.
The Florida Keys are a 120 mile long chainof tropical islands curving around the base of the Florida peninsula, connected to themainland by a series of bridges.
The most spectacular bridge, the Seven MileBridge in the Lower Keys, has been frequently used as a location for films including TrueLies and Fast 2 Furious.
US Highway 1, the “Overseas Highway” runsfrom Key Largo, Islamadora, Marathon, Lower Keys and finally to Key West, the most distantand most famous of the Florida Keys.