For most people, their impression of Florida is a bit dualistic in nature: It's the realm of both the fleeting youth of loud spring-breakers who litter the beach with cans of beer, and a permanent retirement home to thousands of elderly men and women who got sick of shoveling snow every winter up North. Of course, Florida has many more aspects than this, but they are hard to fully understand unless you're willing to step off the beaten track and get to know the real Florida.
First of all, Florida is a very diverse state, with many different kinds of landscapes and habitats. It is very large, and even the culture of the people can vary as you cross down from the pan handle and head South. If you're looking to have a tour of the state-or even if you're just passing through here are some places you're going to want to visit to get a taste of Florida's soul while you're down there:
1) St. Augustine
The oldest, still-extant European settlement in not only Florida, but in the whole United States, the city of St. Augustine was founded by the Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and still attracts people to this day. Some great historical sites to visit here are: the Trinity Parish, which is the oldest protestant church in Florida; the Fountain of Youth; and of course the Castillo de San Marcos.
Home to a rich collection of nature preserves and parks, this barely-developed town gets hardly any attention. If you're looking to camp, canoe with the gators, or go on a long, winding hike, visit Ocala National Forest or any of the other local parks.
The name of Orlando is very well-known in Japan as well. One of the major metropolises of Florida, Orlando became famous for its Theme Parks, but it grew over time thanks to various factors, especially the fact that it is home to the second-largest university by student population in the country University of Central Florida and the many technology and research companies that surround it. Visit Orlando's quirky tourist destinations or stop by one of the many wilderness areas that pepper its quickly-urbanizing landscape.
4) Cocoa Beach
Want to see a rocket launch, or maybe just relax on the sands of one of Florida's more popular beach destinations? If you're passing through Florida, be sure to spend some time in Cocoa Beach, which is on the Eastern seaboard of Florida. Head over to the cape and visit the Kennedy Space Center, or go just a little North to one of Florida's unofficially (partially) nude beaches, Playa Linda.
5) Fort Myers
One of the stereotypical locations for Spring Break, this relatively small city is home to some of the best beaches on the Gulf side of Florida and is certainly worth a visit. It is nestled just South of a hidden gem of a town Punta Gorda which is home to a calm, lightly-populated beach known as Boca Grande.
Another thriving metropolis, Miami is a melting pot of culture, and boasts one of Florida's largest Hispanic populations. Walk down the strip at South Beach and get a feel for that Latin flavor, or visit some of the interesting historic sites like Coral Castle.
7) Key West
If you're already heading down South to Florida, you may as well take it as far as you can. Key West is a great place to kick back and visit the beach, but it also has a lot of interesting history and many guided tours that will take you past historic landmarks. Visit Hemingway's house for a taste of what this famous writer's life once was-just make sure you're not allergic to cats, since there are dozens of them on the grounds.
These are just a few major places to visit on your next trip through Florida or when you have moved in from Japan, but keep in mind that some of what makes Florida great are those small, relatively unknown nooks and crannies that you can discover on your own in this sprawling state.
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