The Sunshine State and primary Weirdness Magnet
for the United States, Florida is mainly known for a few things: weird stuff that happens Only in Florida
, lots of beaches, undocumented immigrants (primarily Caribbean rather than Mexican), and lots and lots of elderly northerners.
The "Sunshine State" moniker is a half lie as most Floridians can tell you - the state's climate has a pronounced cycle of wet and dry seasons, with summer featuring near-daily thundershowers and winter, such as it is, being very dry. Convenient for northerners looking to escape the snow (now if only more of them would go back once they've forked over their money...), not so much for those looking for a semi-tropical vacation spent mainly on the beach. Get used to the water, because Florida is a very wet state: surrounded on three sides by water and filled with swamps, wetlands, and retention ponds. Tourists, take note: if you're here during the summer, keep an umbrella on hand. Brief but intense thundershowers with little warning are common. Florida is also ridiculously flat. The highest point of elevation, Britton Hill at 345 feet (105 m), is just that, a hill, and a rather unimpressive one; the lowest points
of many states have higher elevations than Britton Hill.
Historically, Florida has always been a little distinct from the rest of the United States. The region was colonized by the Spaniards long before the French and English arrived in the northern parts of the continentnote
, and they gave Florida its name: Land of Flowers. For all practical purposes today, Florida's lengthy and Spanish-tinged history are irrelevant and largely unknown outside of the state's natives, and even then your typical Floridian won't know much beyond a) being taught about Spanish explorers of the state like Hernando de Soto and Ponce de León
back in elementary school, and b) the fact that St. Augustine, on Florida's northeast coast, is the oldest continually inhabited city in North America. Great Britain acquired Florida from Spain in 1763, including an extra length from the northern state that was later chopped off and absorbed into Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Up until the advent of air conditioning (originally invented by a Floridian doctor treating malaria patients in Tallahassee during the 1830s), Florida was part of the Deep South
with all that that implies. The state was, and to a degree still is, a primarily agricultural state based on its famous citrus (especially oranges), livestock, and fishing. Florida was sparsely populated and generally had little significance and less impact on history, with the only notable exception being Key West, which was for a few decades the Richest City in the US, and one of the richest on the planet. The state did join the Confederacy in The American Civil War
, but again not much of interest happened — quite a few Confederate blockade runners were based out of the state, Judah P. Benjamin escaped to England through the state, and the only battle of any size that occurred in the state was a Confederate victory that made Congress question why people were dying for the worthless backwater to begin with (but gave a moment of distinction to a certain famous all-Black Union regiment
Really, "worthless backwater" aptly sums up most of Florida until just before the start of the 20th century, when the construction of the railroads led to increased trade (mostly citrus products, winter vegetables and cattle) with the North, and the cigar industry developed in Tampa. Following the Spanish-American War
, tourism really picked up, and thanks to the efforts of railroad builders and the mild nature of winter in the state, the first real estate boom led to the development of much of South Florida in the 1920's. Unfortunately, this initial housing boom turned out to be a bubble and its bursting by the end of the decade was on of the major factors leading to The Great Depression
, which set the state back once again. Following the end of World War II
, however, the development of air conditioning, highways (in case you haven't realized it, Florida is a big
state for folks traveling north or south), and a second real estate boom lead to Florida's transformation into the conglomeration of suburbs, beaches, and retirement homes it is today.
As has been noted, Florida natives tend to be relatively few in number compared to northern immigrants in the populated coastal regions. Some of these northerners are migratory and known to natives as "snowbirds" for their habit of fleeing to Florida from snow in the north and returning home once the snow melts. Lots of them stay, however, and Florida has a disproportionate number of elderly northerners in the state, second only to the American southwest. Most Floridians like the money the Tourists bring in, but wish they would go home after spending their money (Especially Yankees.) Note that it actually does
snow in Florida on occasion. It's rare, usually coming once every couple of decades, normally restricted to the northern edges of the state, and very light when it does happen, but between Florida's very mild winters and generally dry winter and spring, Florida snowfall remains little more than a curiosity.
On that note, here's a quick way to distinguish natives from immigrants en masse: when a cold front hits and drops temperatures below 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit or so, natives will be the ones bundling up and talking about how it's freezing. Yes, this does
qualify as cold in Florida. The flip side, of course, is that temperatures in the low-mid 90s with extremely high humidity are considered perfectly normal conditions by natives, and opening the front door anytime between May and September has been compared to walking into a sauna.
Today, there are three distinct Floridas within the state's borders. Old Florida, a proud part of the Deep South
, is in fact alive and well — it just occupies inland and northern Florida as well as the panhandle, i.e. the parts of the state tourists don't see (outside of a few resort towns such as Panama City Beach). South Florida exchanged its man card and Southern credibility for lots of money, lots of sprawling suburbia, and lots of northerners (particularly East Coasters from states like New York and New Jersey). This region, especially around Miami
, also hosts large communities of Caribbean immigrants and has a distinctly Latin tinge and a working knowledge of Spanish can be a big help (some 70%
of Miamians are Hispanic and over 70% of Miamians count a language other than English as their mother tongue: mostly Spanish, but a substantial number report Haitian Creole. It's the highest proportion in the country.). Central Florida, anchored by the Tampa Bay and Orlando metropolitan areas a.k.a the "I-4 Corridor"note
, serves as a bit of a middle ground between the two other regions and has more of a Midwestern atmosphere (owing in part to a large number of transplants from that region of the country). You Should Know This Already
, but tourism is Florida's biggest industry these days (but only just ahead of agriculture) and is, along with California
, one of the classic spring break and summer vacation destinations in the United States. Agriculture and phosphate mining are also common, but again are parts of the state that tourists usually don't see.
The Yanks with Tanks
are also quite active within the state, and Florida is home to three of the ten Unified Combatant Commands, more than any other state or region in the world — the grand theater-level strategic commands. Central Command (USCENTCOM) which oversees operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) which oversees Central and South America plus the Caribbean, and Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) which oversees America's special forces, all call Florida their home. NASA also has a major facility within the state: Kennedy Space Center, better known as Cape Canaveral, is the site of NASA's space launches.note
One unusual feature is the presence of pools in almost every house that can afford one. This is partly because it's nigh-impossible to have a basement in Florida — once you dig fifteen feet, you hit groundwater. Instead, patios with small pools are almost a necessity if you want to re-sell your home, and these help attract out-of-state buyers thanks to the novelty factor.
Geographically, there are a number of different regions in Florida, only a few of which are relevant to visitors:
- The Panhandle: So called for reasons obvious to anyone looking at a map of the state, the Panhandle is home to Tallahassee, Florida's largely forgettable capital city, with little else of note besides being the home of Florida State University and the historically-black Florida A&M University. Some nice Gulf beaches up herenote , a major naval base at Pensacola, and... not much else. Peculiarly, much of the Panhandle is in a different time zone (Central) than the rest of the state, due to the time line being a continuation of the Alabama/Georgia bordernote . It's sometimes grouped with Southern Alabama/Georgia — indeed, there have been multiple proposals throughout history, going back to before Florida was even part of the United States, to have the Panhandle area split off from the rest of the state and join Alabama.
- North Florida: The oldest and most historic part of Florida. Pretty much still the Deep South, but with a couple of 16th and 17th century Spanish forts.
- Jacksonville: Located in the northeast corner of the state about twenty miles from the Georgia border, this is the most populous city in the state and the largest city in the contiguous United States... by land area, that is.note Its metropolitan area, however, is only the fourth most populated (behind South Florida, Tampa Bay, and Orlando); the reason the city proper's population is so high is because it covers almost the entire county around it. It's home to two major naval bases, a seaport, and the Jaguars NFL team, though the last one may not be long for the world (it's typically the one most frequently mentioned as a potential London expansion team).
- Saint Augustine: Located about a hour's drive south of Jacksonville, this is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the country, founded in 1865 by the Spanish. The old fort and the preponderance of colonial-era architecture have made it a major tourist attraction.
- Gainesville: Home of the University of Florida. Scratch that; it pretty much is the University of Florida.
- Daytona Beach: A famous spring break destination, it's also the home of NASCAR's Daytona 500. Historically, the hard-packed sand on the beach made it conductive to running races, turning it into an auto racing mecca; while the stock cars have moved to a specially-built track, you're still allowed to drive on the beach in restricted areas.
- Central Florida: Now we're getting somewhere.
- Orlando: Home of theme parks like Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld, as well as a handful of other smaller theme parks of rather questionable quality, some of which are little more than tourist traps. It is also home to one of the state's major professional sports teams, the Orlando Magic of the NBA; and its only Major League Soccer team, Orlando City SC.note If you're driving south through Florida, Orlando roughly marks where Old Florida deteriorates into pockets dotting the inland corridor through the state. Go a bit further southwest on Interstate 4, and you'll find yourself in the other major city in the nearby region...
- The Tampa Bay area is normally spun off into its own region. The Northerners in this area are more likely to be from the Midwest than the Northeast, due to Interstate 75 connecting it with Michigan and Ohio. Historically, this was a major citrus growing area, though much of that has moved outward and inland. Although Orlando is generally regarded as the "theme park city" of Florida, Tampa manages to hold its own with Busch Gardens, which is famous for its many roller coasters, though the area as a whole is generally more renowned for its large number of world-class museums. On the other end of the spectrum, it's also known for its strip clubs (it was the setting of Magic Mike) and a number of on-and-off sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays of MLB (which actually play in nearby St. Petersburg), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, and a surprisingly solid (given the area) NHL team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On the western side of the bay on the Pinellas Peninsula is the city of St. Petersburg. Together with Southwest Florida, this is the part with the really nice, "world's best" competition winning beaches, not that anyone outside of St. Petersburg remembers it. The most famous landmark is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which you've probably seen in a hundred car commercials. North of St. Petersburg is the city of Clearwater, best known for being the headquarters of the Church of Happyology at the Fort Harrison Hotel, now known as Flag Land Base. They tried to take over the town in the '70s, which the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times, which operates the fact-checking website PolitiFact) exposed in a series of Pulitzer-winning articles, and their economic influence in the town is still controversial.
- Space Coast: A collection of towns on the eastern shore about an hour east of Orlando, this area is famous for one thing and one thing only: Cape Canaveral, the site of Kennedy Space Center, America's main space launch facility. As a result, it's home to a startlingly high number of high-tech industrial firms and defense contractors supporting the space industry, and many streets, parks, and schools are named after astronauts, space shuttles, and NASA missions. Getting away from rockets, the town of Cocoa Beach is also famous for surfing (Kelly Slater is from there, and Ron Jon's Surf Shop is a major tourist attraction) and as the town where I Dream of Jeannie took place. The town of Cape Canaveral is also a major cruise ship port.
- Southwest Florida: A long stretch of towns and small cities running from the southern end of Tampa Bay down to the Everglades. Can be roughly grouped into four areas, from north to south: the Sarasota-Bradenton area, the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte area, the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area, and the Naples-Bonita Springs area. The whole region is generally viewed as the place where the snowbirds flock and where elderly Northerners come to die, and there is definitely some truth to this; for example, Venice, a small city roughly 20 minutes from Sarasota, has a median population age of 69, and the story is much the same in the surrounding towns and cities.
- South Florida: The "tri-county" area,note which is by far the most heavily populated region of the state. Once you get south of Tampa, the climate turns steadily more tropical and the terrain steadily more swampy. The Everglades once covered most of South Florida, but now... not so much. Still nice beaches on the coast, but not much to see inland unless you really want to see a giant, shallow lake with a name that hardly anyone can spell correctly for some odd reasonnote , or miles and miles of swampland and/or sugar cane fields. Miami is of course in this region and, due to the large Latin American (primarily Cuban) community, knowing some Spanish helps. There's also pretty much continuous urban/suburban sprawl from Miami north for about 100 miles — but never more than 20 miles to the west, making it the longest and narrowest metropolitan area in the United States. Other major cities include Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.note
- Being the biggest metropolitan area of Florida, it is home to most of the state's pro-sports teams, including the NBA's Miami Heat (currently the two-time defending champions), the NFL's Miami Dolphins, the MLB's Miami Marlins, and the NHL's Florida Panthers.note College football is also very popular in the area, with the University of Miami's Hurricanes being one of the state's three major historic powerhouses (along with the aforementioned University of Florida and Florida State University).
- In some parts of Miami, knowing Spanish is mandatory, and many of the signs are written in both English and Spanish. Occasionally by law. South Florida also has a growing Haitian and East Indian population, and there has been some friction between the Hispanic and Haitian groups, especially since the latter is growing following the massive Haitian earthquake.
- South Florida also had the third-largest Jewish population in the world, coming right after the Big Applesauce and Israel. Not all of them are Alter Kockers, but some are - especially around South Beach and Boca Raton.
- The Keys: An archipelago of islands off the coast of South Florida, with the two most famous being Key Largo (the closest to the mainland) and Key West (the farthest and westernmost island). Technically part of Florida, but really, the Keys are the northern edge of the Caribbean and Old Florida does not acknowledge the Keys as part of the state proper. The government does, though, and it's a good thing - the Keys are one of the big summer tourist destinations in the United States despite their tendency to get obliterated by hurricanes every couple of years. This is not an exaggeration: most of the Keys are for the most part sandbars with delusions of grandeur and can be wiped off the map by a hurricane.note
- The Federal Government has often disregarded the Keys. In 1982, they tried to install a drug checkpoint on US 1, the only road out, leading Key West's mayor to "declare independence", calling the Keys the "Conch Republic". The Keys have used the "Conch Republic" whenever they felt slighted by the Federal Government, even "winning a war" in 1995 when an Army Reserve exercise tried to use the Keys to simulate an invasion, directing personnel to treat locals as foreigners.
- Aside from some points like Marathon and Key West, US-1 is pretty much the only road in the Keys. When getting directions in the Keys, expect it to be in reference to the Mile Marker.
And speaking of hurricanes, despite the recent tragedy of Hurricane Katrina fixing public awareness of hurricanes on New Orleans, Florida is the United States' main punching bag for Mother Nature's fall mood swings. Until Katrina, Hurricane Andrew was the costliest hurricane in American history, and take a wild guess what state it struck. In 2004, the year before Katrina (which did give Florida a glancing blow), Florida was hammered by not one, but four
major hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne), with three of them directly hitting Orlando. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seven of the ten costliest hurricanes in American history gave Florida at least a glancing blow. As a result, Floridians tend to be well-prepared to batten down the hatches and go without electrical power for a while when hurricane season starts up. The big negative: it's nigh-impossible to get homeowner's insurance in the state. It's usually not a concern for tourists, though, falling after the usual summer tourism season and before the fall snowbird migration.
As if that weren't enough, Florida has more tornadoes per square mile than any other state, though most of those are pretty weak.note
And despite what you may have heard
, Florida really isn't all that weird, so don't be afraid to visit. Just make sure you actually leave once you've spent your money, y'hear
Not to be confused with the hip-hop artist Flo Rida
("Low", "Club Can't Handle Me"), although the state's name is the origin of his stage name. (He's from Miami, BTW.)
Tropes Commonly Associated With Florida:
- American Accents: The southern option appears at the northern edge of the state and in interior pockets, while anything can be heard on the coast. Sadly, the actual Floridian accent is almost extinct.
- Arcadia: Northern and central Florida can be like this, away from the coast.
- Big Fancy House: Usually of the retirement and summer home varieties, but there are a few old Southern plantation houses, too. Ernest Hemingway's former home in Key West (now a museum) is a particularly famous example.
- Bikini Bar: Plenty. Tampa especially is notorious for them.
- Bubblegloop Swamp: The Everglades are a real-life version.
- City of Adventure: Miami.
- Cuisines In America: Includes influences from all over, as you might expect, but Florida is unique in the prevalence of heavy Cuban influence, particularly around Tampa and Miami.
- Cut-and-Paste Suburb: Large swathes of the Florida sprawl thanks to the real estate booms.
- Death Metal: It's debatable whether the Tampa Bay area truly is the birthplace of the genre, but it has one of the best claims to it; while Mantas (later Death) was the first, the region also spawned Morbid Angel (Tampa), Obituary (Seffner), Deicide (Tampa), Atheist (Sarasota), Hate Eternal (St. Petersburg), Monstrosity (Fort Lauderdale), Nocturnus (Tampa), Hellwitch (Fort Lauderdale), and Resurrection (Tampa), while Miami spawned Cynic and Solstice. Additionally, Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation relocated from Buffalo, NY to Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, respectively, and Tampa is also home to Morrisound Studios, which was the death metal studio from the late 80s-mid 90s.
- Deep South: Parts of Florida still adhere to it, specifically the Panhandle and North Florida.
- Drives Like Crazy: Not so much the native Floridians, actually. The problem is all the crazy drivers imported from the rest of the country and elderly drivers who really shouldn't be on the road. The two groups overlap a lot, especially in the winter.
- Fandom Rivalry: Beware putting a Florida State and a University of Florida fan in the same room.
- It's also pretty bad between Florida State and "The U" of Miami, due to being in the same athletic conference and due to the 1990s when FSU, UF and UM vied for the national title on a yearly basis.
- There is somewhat less animosity between the UF and Miami fanbases since the two schools discontinued their annual rivalry game in the late '80s. On the rare occasion when the teams do face each other however, expect a ton of bragging and trash talking from both sides.
- Oddly enough, there's not much of a rivalry between the professional teams, although passions do run high between Orlando Magic and Miami Heat fans. A lot of it has to do with most of the pro teams playing in different conferences or divisions with little at stake: there had been only one playoff game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, for example. Most pro team rivalries (Dolphins vs. AFC East, Bucs vs. NFC South in football; Marlins vs. Braves, Rays vs. Yankees and Red Sox in baseball) are with out-of-state opponents.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In recent years, many Floridian cities (especially Miami) have seen a large influx of Brazilian tourists who come to the state's many malls as seasonal shoppers. This is largely stemmed from the fact that imported goods in Brazil are subject to extremely high tariffs (so high that for most consumers, purchasing a plane ticket to fly to a different country to shop is still cheaper than buying the items in Brazil). Florida, with its relatively close location and similar climate to Brazil, has been a natural destination for these tourists.
- Brazilians may love Florida, but Floridians hate Brazilian tourists. Seriously. And their hatred is pretty well founded: rude behavior, shoplifting en masse, and generally treating all service-industry workers like they were mobile pieces of garbage is only the beginning.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Plenty. Some are benign, like the budgerigar (parakeet) statewide, the wild monkeys in Central Florida (who are the descendants of monkeys that escaped back when Johnny Weismuller was making Tarzan movies here) and peacock populations in several coastal areas. Others are less so, like the pythons in the Everglades. Oh, did we neglect to mention the giant pythons?
- Motor Mouth: Pretty much anyone you'll encounter in Miami.
- NASCAR: Daytona Beach is home of the Daytona 500. Additionally, Homestead hosts the final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, having done so since the format's inception in 2004.
- Native American Casino: They're operated by the Seminole tribe.
- Never Live It Down: The last few presidential elections, especially 2000's. Short version: although the Republican Party has the state government on lockdown, when the time comes for actual popular voting, Florida is increasingly the big purple state, very evenly divided between the parties.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: Florida has some, mainly in the Keys.
- Only in Florida: Of course.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Has had problems with this, notably Florida State University and its Seminoles. Who FYI have permission from the Seminole tribe these days.
- Port Town: Lots. Tampa and Miami are the biggest.
- Professional Wrestling: While the top two companies in the US both have their corporate headquarters elsewhere (WWE in Stamford, Connecticut and TNA in Nashville, Tennessee,) both have strong ties to the state. TNA previous held all of their weekly shows at the "Impact Zone," a soundstage at Universal Studios in Orlando before taking the show on the road. WWE's developmental program, NXT, recently opened a new performance center in Orlando, after having it previously under the title of Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa (this is especially interesting as the two companies categorically do NOT get along.) Also, because of this, a large number of wrestlers: current, former, and upcoming, now call Florida home (though, for the sake of variety, most are billed from their childhood home, such as current Tampa native John Cena still being billed from his childhood home in West Newbury, Massachusetts.)
- From the 1950s to 1987, there was a major National Wrestling Alliance territory in Florida. The list of people who wrestled and/or managed here is too long to include here. Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, Ron Simmons, Kevin Sullivan and Terry Funk are just the BEGINNING.
- The Malenko family (Boris, Joe and Dean) broke away from Championship Wrestling from Florida to form their own outlaw (runs in the same geographical area as an established promotion in competition) promotion, Sun Belt Wrestling, which did not last very long.
- Pensacola had Gulf Coast Wrestling, which crossed over into the Alabama area.
- The Promised Land: A couple of religious sects have thought so. One believed that the world we live on is actually the inside surface of a sphere.
- Quirky Town: With a population this diverse, the entire state can feel like this.
- The Rival: To California. A lot of tropes that reference California could just as easily reference Florida.
- The one rivalry involving California and Florida that Floridians scoff at is in their respective citrus fruits. Floridians maintain that there's no comparison, and thus no rivalry. The joke goes like this: You can run over a California orange with a bulldozer and the juice won't even wet the road. But you'll need napkins just trying to peel a Florida orange. And while that's not quite the truth, it is true thast Florida oranges are slightly larger and juicier than California oranges, on average.
- Suburbia: All three versions exist in Florida. Sometimes on the same street.
- Swamps Are Evil: They're not, but you're forgiven for thinking that they are. Although we do have to wonder about the Everglades these days...
- Trailer Park Tornado Magnet: Oh, yes.
- Weirdness Magnet: Duh.