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Florida’s Diversity: Miami’s Vibes to Key West’s Charm

Miami skyline

With its tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and vibrant cities, Florida is a popular tourist destination for visitors from across the U.S. and around the world. When planning a trip to the Sunshine State, most travelers focus their time on major destinations like Orlando or Miami, but Florida has so much more to offer beyond just its famous theme parks and South Beach. Spending time exploring some of its diverse cities can provide a unique window into local culture, cuisine, and natural attractions.

Scenic view of the Miami Edgewater skyline in Miami, Florida
Scenic view of the Miami Edgewater skyline in Miami, Florida

Miami: The Magic City

No trip to Florida is complete without a stop in Miami. As the state’s largest metro area, Miami offers a truly international city vibe, with a strong Latin American influence from Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and other immigrant communities. This multiculturalism infuses everything from Miami’s food scene to its nightlife and arts, creating an electric environment unlike anywhere else in Florida. As you wander through neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti, make sure to sample some authentic empanadas, tostones, or feijoada before heading out for a night of salsa dancing and bar-hopping in downtown Miami.

Of course, Miami Beach continues to be one of the main draws for visitors who come to soak up the sun on golden sand beaches and browse the high-end boutiques of South Beach. Be sure to look for hotel deals and the cheapest round trip flights to Florida if you’re planning a longer stay to take advantage of Miami’s sprawling selection of nightclubs, Art Deco architecture, luxurious resort pools and celebrity chef restaurants.

Key West: The Conch Republic

Beautiful beach landscapes of the Dry Tortuga’s national park in Key west FL.
Beautiful beach landscapes of the Dry Tortuga’s national park in Key west FL.

At the southernmost point of the continental U.S., Key West has physically and culturally set itself apart from the rest of the state. With its laidback vibe, tropical climate, pastel-hued Victorian homes and notorious nightlife, Key West evokes feelings of suddenly being in the Caribbean. The history of this remote island outpost is filled with smugglers, shipwreck salvagers and writers like Ernest Hemingway, who found inspiration interacting with the eccentric locals. Today, visitors gather nightly to watch the sunset celebration on Mallory Square pier or roam the streets of Old Town checking out offbeat museums, independent galleries, pan-Latin fusion eateries and watering holes ranging from casual tiki bars to the infamous Sloppy Joe’s.

While Key West can be driven to via the 113-mile Overseas Highway, one unique transportation option is to fly or take a high-speed ferry from Miami or Fort Myers. This allows you to fully appreciate the turquoise waters surrounding the Keys archipelago from an aerial view or from the deck of a boat.

Belle Glade: Heart of Florida’s Agriculture

Those looking to get off the normal tourist track can head inland to rural Belle Glade, which lies on the southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee in central Florida’s Palm Beach County. Situated in fertile marsh and wet prairie land perfect for growing, Belle Glade calls itself “the sweetest town around” for its massive sugar cane production that drives the local economy. One-third of all sugar consumed in the United States is grown in the area’s massive fields surrounding the town.

Begin your visit at the Belle Glade Museum and Library, housed in a restored 1924 boarding school for African American students. Exhibitions tell the story of the region’s agriculture, social history, and natural environment. Time your travel to coincide with the sugarcane harvest between October and March to witness haul trucks stacked high with freshly cut cane and sweet smoke from burning fields filling the belle glade air. Stay at local bed and breakfasts and try soul food at no-frills restaurants run by Belle Glade families for decades.

Apalachicola: Florida’s Forgotten Coast

Aerial view of the Trammell bridge over the Apalachicola River in Florida, the United States
Aerial view of the Trammell bridge over the Apalachicola River in Florida, the United States

Finally, where U.S. 98 meets the Gulf of Mexico lies the small fishing village of Apalachicola, part of an area dubbed Florida’s “Forgotten Coast.” Experience a throwback to Old Florida in this remote and lightly developed region filled with uncrowded clearwater beaches that you will enjoy, protected wildlife refuges, sleepy fishing towns, and a pace of life in no rush at all. Apalachicola sits at the mouth of its namesake river, which has supplied the community and local oyster fisheries with a livelihood for centuries. Today, visitors can take river cruises and kayak tours to observe the vast bay habitat, hike through Apalachicola National Forest looking for gopher tortoises, experience fine dining focused on locally sourced seafood, and stay overnight at quaint waterfront cottages and B&Bs.

With such diversity across Florida’s cities and landscapes, travelers would be remiss to simply visit the same old tourist spots again and again.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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