The Insider's Guide to Florida

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It’s true that the Sunshine State has lots of sunshine, but it’s incredibly rich in history, culture and diversity, too. Love history and architecture? St. Augustine, the oldest country in the United States, boasts a fascinating history and some seriously breathtaking, Spanish-style architecture. Want to spend the day getting back to nature? Head to Central Florida for a day of swimming, tubing, and relaxing in some of the region’s most beautiful natural springs (that hover around a refreshing 70 degrees year-round!). With so much diversity from city-to-city and coast-to-coast, there are thousands of things to do and see in Florida.
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    Photo courtesy of La Camaronera Restaurant and Fish Market
    You can’t go wrong with this Little Havana location founded by the Garcia brothers, 11 fishermen from Cuba. It’s a fish market so you know you’re getting the fresh-off-the-boat experience with any menu item you choose. The $4 Shrimp Empanadas or the $5 Snapper Sandwich will surprise your wallets and your taste buds. The chef specials blend the cultural dishes with your favorite seafood making it a meal like no other. Green plantain, fried shrimp and sweet mojito sauce make up the infamous La Cubanera; it’s a burst of flavor crafted with just the right amount of spice.
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    Photo courtesy of Shark Tales Waterfront Restaurant
    A replacement for the Sloppy Pelican (which is a tale in itself), this seafood eatery features jumbo shrimp the size of a pork chop, live music, a full bar, and killer sunsets to wind up a perfect evening on St. Pete Beach in Tampa. Featuring happy hour specials including a 24-ounce "chum runner" drink, seafood, and American favorites like chicken wings and fries, Shark Tales is more of a dive bar and restaurant than a place for romance.
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    Columbia Restaurant
    Tampa's historic Columbia Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in the state of Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. Opened in 1905, the landmark restaurant takes up an entire city block in the historic Ybor City district of Tampa. Its award-winning Spanish/Cuban cuisine features all the classics and a phenomenal wine list with more than 850 wines and an inventory of 50,000 bottles. The 1,700-seat restaurant features 17 dining rooms. Entertainment includes Spanish Flamenco dance performances nightly, Monday through Saturday.
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    La Pentola Restaurant 

    Tucked away in St. Augustine's ​historic district, this intimate Italian restaurant is not to be missed. For date night, make a reservation and request a seat on the romantic patio (perfect on warm Florida evenings). Then, dine à deux on lobster ravioli, with spinach, roasted peppers, artichokes, shrimp, and a sherry cream sauce.
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     Elspeth Velten

    No list of Miami coffee houses is complete without including Versailles, the U.S. home of café cubano. This popular Cuban drink consists of high octane espresso loaded with more sugar than you could imagine.
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    cars parked on ocean drive Miami Beach
    Getty 
    Ocean Drive is Miami’s most iconic street, likely because of all the movies it's been featured in, and it's also usually the first place people think of when they hear Miami Beach. The pastel-hued, art deco buildings, colorful night lights, fancy cars, and of course, rows and rows of palm trees are exactly what make Ocean Drive quintessential Miami. Stretching from 1st street all the way up till 15th street, Ocean Drive is filled with colorful shops, all types of dinning and, of course, the best people-watching around.
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    ampueroleonardo/Getty Images
    Miami's famed Wynwood neighborhood is a formerly industrial neighborhood that rose to fame very quickly as a hot spot for graffiti and street art. Today, it's home to trendy boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and bars. Tony Goldman is the mastermind behind the neighborhood's redevelopment, which includes Wynwood Walls, 40 murals from some of the world's best street artists, and renowned art institutions like the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse.
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    CampPhoto/Getty Images
    Blue Spring State Park in Orange City is a popular destination for locals. The spring is especially popular with scuba divers, as the opening goes straight down 60 feet before angling off into a tunnel that leads to a giant cave. The spring is also a favorite spot for watching manatees in the winter.
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    Richard Cummins / Getty Images
    The Museum of Contemporary Art—known as MOCA—is one of the largest contemporary art galleries in the Southeast United States. It's across the street from the historic Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville, the city's first park. MOCA is adjacent to the downtown Jacksonville library in the former Western Telegraph Co. building.
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    Old City St. Augustine
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    You can’t visit St. Augustine without spending time in the historic Old City district. The main drag, St. George Street, is available for pedestrians to stroll without worry—there are no cars or bikes allowed through the area. Explore eateries, boutiques, and galleries that are all housed in original Spanish colonial architecture of the time. Weave in and out of the Old City’s streets, making sure to stop at the Oldest House Museum on St. Francis Street. Built in 1723, it is believed to be the oldest surviving house in St. Augustine. Learn about blacksmithing, and watch a live musket shooting demonstration on one of the many tours available in the area.
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    Salavador Dali Museum St. Petersburg Florida

    Anne Rippy/Getty Images

    The permanent home of the world's largest collection of works by Dalí, the museum houses some 95 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings and 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and objects d'art. It is situated on the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg.
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    Photo courtesy of Gramps
    There’s always something fun on the roster at Gramps, from live music and comedy to the hippest weekly Bingo Night in town. The drinks are delicious and remarkably cheap, but the biggest draw is the creative and wide-ranging event list. Drop in at random and you might find yourself in the midst of an epic Trivia Thunderdome battle, a burlesque show, or a live screening of your favorite TV show. At Gramps, the endless surprises are half the fun.
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    Michael Dunn / EyeEm/Getty Images 

    Wall Street Plaza in downtown Orlando sprawls over 10,000 feet and has a bevy of bars, nightclubs, and outdoor party space. It is a space designed for dancing, drinking, and socializing. With an eclectic mix of establishments, there is a hot spot for everyone. Every Friday and Saturday night, Wall Street transforms into a lively Block Party, both in the bars and on the street.
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    Photo Courtesy of Skipper's Smokehouse
    Skipper’s Smokehouse Restaurant has been open more than 30 years. It began as a restaurant and later had a stage built in the "backyard" for musicians to entertain patrons. ​This outdoor venue hosts shows that are played rain or shine. Unless otherwise noted, all shows at Skipper's are 21 and up. The live music venue sits under huge hundred-year-old oaks. Accordingly, locals have fondly dubbed the backyard concert area the Skipperdome. Seating is provided via a collection of benches, chairs, and picnic tables while a large covered tiki deck offers shelter from the summer and winter extremes.
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    Ball and Chain, Little Havana, Miami, Florida

    Rauluminate/Getty Images

    Miami’s eclectic Ball and Chain bar offers a true melting pot of flavors. Originally opened in the 1930s this downtown Miami bar has been played by so of the most famous jazz artists. Today you’ll find the sounds serve up a mixture of jazz, live DJs, and the chance to take salsa lessons. The food menu is as diverse as the city itself. Try fish tacos, Dominican style fried cheese, and even Cuban Spring Rolls. Don’t leave without trying the authentic mojitos.
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    Image Courtesy of Visit Florida
    Accessible by private boat or by the Caladesi Connection ferry service from Honeymoon Island State Park, Caladesi is one of the few unspoiled natural islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In addition to swimming, sunbathing, and shelling, visitors can enjoy a three-mile nature trail or a glide through mangroves along the three-mile kayak trail.
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    Christopher Lumbert/EyeEm/Getty Images
    Lying on Florida's Atlantic Coast, this is a great beach for those looking to get away from the large and overdeveloped beach towns that can be found in many parts of the state. The waves coming in from the ocean have made this a great beach for surfing, and although the waves do make it a little rough for swimming, it is still fun jumping the waves, and relaxing in the sun during the summer. It is also worth noting that the entrance to the beach is from the town of the same name, which has a pleasant range of bars and restaurants, with the town also being acclaimed for its cool nightlife.
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    Sunrise at Fort Desoto Park

     

    Riddhish Chakraborty/Getty Images 

    Florida's Pinellas County Park System has some of the best parks in the nation and they offer a treasure trove of recreational opportunities. Fort De Soto Park is its largest, made up of five interconnected islands consisting of 1,136 acres. While it was a diamond in the rough when it was dedicated in perpetuity as a public park in 1963, today it is certainly Pinellas County's sparkling centerpiece in a crown of jewels that also includes award-winning beaches—Caladesi Island and Sand Key. Each year, more than 2.7 million people enjoy this spacious park.
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    Cocoa Beach Florida. Gina Pricope / Contributor/ Getty
    Drive an hour east of Orlando and you’ll have arrived on Florida’s Space Coast. Cocoa Beach, the city that lies right on the edge of the Kennedy Space Center, is an out-of-this-world type of locale. Known for its world class surfing — it’s home to the country’s largest surf shop, Ron Jon’s — Cocoa Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the state. After all, it’s not every day you see a spaceship lift off while you’re building a sand castle. Cocoa Beach is also a great place for exploring the wild. Eco- tours are also popular in the area with kayak rentals, wind surfing tours, and airboat rides available daily.
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    Image Courtesy of Visit Florida
    There’s no denying that Florida is known for its sandy beaches, gently swaying palm trees and relaxed lifestyle – and nothing encapsulates the beauty of southern Florida like Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Named after the infamous editor of the Miami News, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is a world-famous treasure that’s renowned for its natural beauty.
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    Juan Monin/E+/Getty Images
    Joe's Stone Crab is a Miami institution. Serving up stone crab and key lime pie since 1913, Joe's has solidified its place in the hearts (and bellies) of South Floridians for more than 100 years. Joe's is an awesome spot for dinner on South Beach, but we recommend stopping by for lunch instead. The menu is just as delicious, and less crowded.

The Insider's Guide to Florida

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