10 reasons Florida is Britain’s favorite US state
reach the beach
Clearwater Beach not only promises miles of white sand with shaded cabanas (stay at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach, balanced between the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the scenic Intracoastal Waterway), but also a lively sunset over the Pier 60, with street performers, artisans – and pelicans. The Little Toot Sunset Dolphin Cruise is a low boat that brings you and the kids closer to the dolphin action. (If that’s not enough, check out the all-new rescued dolphin habitat at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium).
Drive to nearby Honeymoon State Park and take the ferry to the nature lover’s island paradise of Caladesi, where beach walks and paddleboarding await among the mangroves. A short drive further along the coast, St Pete Pier is Southeast Florida’s newest and largest playground, an extension of bustling and thriving downtown St Peterburg. Expect a green lawn area, observation decks, interactive exhibits, artwork and installations by local artists, a craft market and a fishing bridge.
How to do: Seven nights at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa cost from £1,385 pp, including flights from Heathrow and car hire. Price based on two sharing, room only, leaving September 21, via Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9646; virginholidays.co.uk).
Florida for Adventurers
Florida is not, it is well known, a place of mountainous altitude. Its highest point, Britton Hill, rises 345 feet – and even then it’s so northwest that it nearly straddles the border with Alabama. But while it’s not a state that offers adrenal elevation, it does adventure in low places – in the swamps of Everglades National Park (nps.gov/ever), and on long road trips. car along these long coasts. Plus, while little of Florida could be called “undiscovered,” there are unsung wonders at the end of the map, like the peaceful sandbars of Gulf Islands National Seashore (nps.gov/guis) and the outpost of the Dry Tortugas National Park ( nps.gov/drto), a 70-mile boat trip from Key West.
There are few greater examples of wilderness on the doorstep of “civilization” than the Everglades ecosystem, which begins just 20 miles west of Miami (and only a little further from the Gulf Coast). . Here is a densely vegetated area where alligators doze by the roadsides and cicadas maintain an almost constant chorus. It can be explored leisurely, along the National Park’s hiking trails – or at massive volume, via an airboat tour led by the likes of Coopertown Airboats (coopertownairboats.com; £19). All of the Gulf resorts south of Tampa Bay are within reasonable driving distance of it all, but Naples is the closest. From here, you can spy other glorious parts of this natural wonderland, such as the mossy tree-lined landscape of Big Cypress National Preserve (nps.gov/bicy) and the big cat oasis that is Florida Panther National. Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/refuge).
How to do: A five-night stay at the five-star LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort near Naples costs from £1,449 pp, with flights, via American Sky (01342 395 370; americansky.co.uk).