When most people think of Florida, they think
of sunshine, theme parks, orange juice and alligators. But this former Spanish colony, which became
the 27th state to enter the Union, is much more than that. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side
and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, it has mile upon mile of white sand beaches. Its moderate climate makes it a popular tourist
destination all year round. Here’s a look at the best places to visit
in Florida. Number 10. Panama City Beach. Panama City Beach on the Florida panhandle
offers 27 miles of white sand beaches on the Emerald Coast. The beach is a popular destination for residents
of the southern United States as well as tens of thousands of high school and college students
on spring break. Besides having fun in the sun in the emerald
green waters, this town of just over 12,000 permanent residents offers sports fishing
on the gulf, plenty of golfing, marine parks including one for alligators, amusement and
water parks …in short, something for everyone in the family. Number 9. Naples. Naples may have had rustic beginnings, but
today this Gulf of Mexico city is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, with
houses selling for more than $40 million. As on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, development
along the shoreline has been kept residential. It got its name because the bay it’s located
on was said to be prettier than the Bay of Naples in Italy. Besides its beautiful city beach, the nearby
wildlife refuges make it a popular tourist destination. The city also has vibrant arts and shopping
districts. Number 8. Sanibel Island. Sanibel Island is located just off Fort Myers
in 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 of
this long narrow island, whose beaches are also popular as places to hunt for shells. This island of less than 7,000 permanent residents
may 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. Number 7. Fort Lauderdale. No longer the Spring Break destination of
popular imagination, Fort Lauderdale is today a sophisticated cultural center with an increasingly
upmarket social scene. Located on the Atlantic Ocean about 23 miles
north of Miami Beach it is also known as the “Venice of America” due to its expansive
canal system. The city has an impressive tourist infrastructure
with plenty of hotels, golf courses, marinas and museums. The city’s Port Everglades is one of the
busiest cruise-ship ports in the world, with megaships departing daily for the Caribbean,
Mexico and beyond. The most popular section of the city beach
is called “The Strip” with eating and drinking establishments that run along the
land side of the beach road. Number 6. Clearwater Beach. Boasting miles of white sandy beaches, Clearwater
Beach is separated by the city of Clearwater by the Intracoastal Waterway. USA Today readers in 2013 named it Florida’s
Best Beach Town. Besides laying in the white sand and swimming
in 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 spring
training camp here while the Clearwater Jazz Festival, takes place in October. Or visitors can take in the weekly sunsetting
festival at Pier 60, a sports fishing pier. Number 5. Everglades. One of Florida’s best natural treasures,
the Everglades feature a unique combination of ecosystems that include swamps, sub-tropical
jungles, saw-grass prairies and the largest mangrove complex in the Western Hemisphere. Much of the Everglades are protected within
the 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, visitors
can arrange boat tours to the Ten Thousand Islands, a labyrinth of mangrove islands. Other visitor centers offer ranger-led tours
and programs. An air boat tour is one of the most exciting
ways to experience the Everglades. Number 4. 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. Petersburg. 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 dedicated
to animals from Africa’s Serengeti Plain. As for beachcombing, St. Pete Beach can’t
be beat. It was named the best beach in the United
States and fifth in the world by TripAdvisor readers in 2012 because of its white sand
beaches and clear water. Number 3. Orlando. Orlando is theme-park city, having more theme
parks 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 million
visitors a year to this central Florida city of 2 million people. This Sunbelt city doesn’t get hit by hurricanes
as much as other parts of the state, which makes it a great place to visit in Florida. One of American’s most visited cities, Orlando
is also home to the University of Central Florida, which has the second largest college
enrollment in the United States. Number 2. Miami. 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 coast
of the Atlantic Ocean, Miami is also a major port city managing the world’s largest number
of passenger cruise ships. Attracting tourists from all over the planet,
Miami is a melting pot of ethnic cultures with a wide array of exciting attractions
and activities. One of Miami’s main draws is its sunny beaches
that range from family friendly to party scenes. Across the bay from Miami on a barrier island
is Miami Beach, known for its Art Deco architecture and glamorous South Beach. Number 1. Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are a 120 mile long chain
of tropical islands curving around the base of the Florida peninsula, connected to the
mainland by a series of bridges. The most spectacular bridge, the Seven Mile
Bridge in the Lower Keys, has been frequently used as a location for films including True
Lies and Fast 2 Furious. US Highway 1, the “Overseas Highway” runs
from Key Largo, Islamadora, Marathon, Lower Keys and finally to Key West, the most distant
and most famous of the Florida Keys.