By Lynn Maekawa, U.S. Embassy intern

Florida, also known as the “Sunshine State,” is the most southeastern state in America, located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Ranked as the fourth most populated state, Florida’s beautiful Emerald Coast beaches and theme parks draw thousands of tourists every year. There’s plenty to discover in sunny Florida, from thrilling roller-coaster rides to fascinating nature and charming historical sites.

Thrills and Chills

Florida’s world-famous theme parks are a definite must on the itinerary of almost anyone who visits the state. Florida is home to many of the most popular vacation resorts in the world, including Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Orlando, and Busch Gardens. Walt Disney World Resort was the most visited vacation resort in the world in 2018 and comprises four theme parks and two water parks. Another studio-themed park, Universal Orlando, is located about 35 miles from Disney World and offers top-class rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Revenge of the Mummy. Thrill-seeking tourists can also visit Busch Gardens Tampa, which features the most roller coaster rides of Florida’s parks and even has America’s first dive coaster, a straight vertical drop with riders facing down. Florida’s wide range of theme parks will guarantee that everyone in the family has an exciting and memorable trip.

People enjoying amazing Tigris roller coaster in Tampa Bay (VIAVAL / Shutterstock)

People enjoying amazing Tigris roller coaster in Tampa Bay (VIAVAL / Shutterstock)

Where the Wild Things Are

Florida is also known for its zoos and animal sanctuaries. Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in North America, is home to numerous threatened species and legally protected plants. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to preserving and protecting the Everglades ecosystem and a sanctuary for many exotic animals. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is focused on education, conservation, and the welfare of its animals. Its impressive collection of wildlife will surely be an unforgettable memory for the little ones.

Entrance sign in the Everglades National Park (Shutterstock)

Entrance sign in the Everglades National Park (Shutterstock)

Fun in the Sun

Florida gets its nickname, the “Sunshine State,” from its 2170-kilometer coastline and beautiful beaches. Grayton Beach, located on the Florida Gulf, was ranked the best beach in the United States by Florida International University Professor Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach. Grayton Beach’s remarkable fine white sand and warm water offer the true “Sunshine State” experience.

Sunset at Naples Beach (Shutterstock)

Sunset at Naples Beach (Shutterstock)

Diving and snorkeling are popular beach activities in Florida. Explore the exceptional marine life and corals around the collection of small islands in the Dry Tortugas National Park or Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Not only can tourists relax on the beach, they can also discover the largest coral reef ecosystem in the states, the Florida Reef System.

Excitement for the Mind

When most people think of Florida, the first places they think of are the aforementioned beaches and theme parks, but Florida has a lot to offer in the educational department as well. Visit the Kennedy Space Center to witness space launches and learn about the history of human space flight, or discover the extraordinary life of Salvador Dalí at the Dalí Museum, the largest collection of his works outside of Europe. The Ringling Museum of Art features the world’s largest model circus in its Tibbals Learning Center and also celebrates Asian art in its Center of Asian Art exhibit. An underrated spot in the Florida Keys is the Hemingway House & Museum. There are tours available of this 1931 house, and tourists can also have the opportunity to meet the polydactyl descendants of Hemingway’s cats in the garden. If you’re interested in history, you might also want to visit St. Augustine, which is known as “America’s Oldest City” and located in northeastern Florida. Founded in 1865, the city is vibrant with colonial history, delicious food, and interesting culture. Tourists can experience a day in the life of sixteenth and seventeenth century sailors there. It’s a perfect getaway from busy, modern life.

Square and fountain in St. Augustine, Florida (Shutterstock)

Fountain in St. Augustine, Florida (Shutterstock)

As you plan the itinerary for your trip to Florida, be sure to include some of the above locations. Whether you want to soak up the sun or learn more about American culture, you’re guaranteed to have an exciting, fulfilling, and memorable vacation!