Beautiful beaches, pampering resorts, great shopping and dining, fishing and golf. Now you know what each region of the Florida peninsula has in common. But what sets each area apart probably makes the greater, and more memorable, impact on visitors.
“Florida’s regional variety adds a special flavor to each geographic area,” says Cheryl Hatcher, director of marketing and events for Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation. “Going from north to south and into the Florida Keys is like discovering a new world each time. It’s part of what makes Florida such a popular destination for travelers from across the globe.”
It might also help you decide where to site your next meeting, or even convince you to give each region a try.
It started out Spanish, then the British were coming, and finally North Florida became a U.S. territory and state. You’ll find vestiges of each time period in the region stretching from the Atlantic to the Alabama border. In fact, the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing is being celebrated year-round all over North Florida, from Pensacola to Tallahassee and the place that holds the title of “America’s Oldest City,” St. Augustine.
However, it’s North Florida’s Southern flavor that is perhaps its most striking characteristic, whether you’re visiting an antebellum plantation home, driving down a magnificent canopy road or exploring a Civil War-era fort.
“There’s a saying that the farther north in Florida you get, the farther South you get,” says Gary Stogner, senior marketing director for Visit Tallahassee. “Few things scream ‘Southern’ more than oak trees draped in moss, and we certainly have that, along with the hills, which a lot of people don’t expect.”
Indeed, it was the just-like-home landscape that drew early settlers from Georgia and the Carolinas to North Florida in the early to mid-1800s. They set about creating the grand plantations that still exist today in the rolling countryside surrounding Tallahassee and including the towns of Monticello—a typical Southern locale complete with a courthouse square and opera house—and Havana, a former hub of the cigar industry and now known for its many antique shops.
While the genteel South lives on in North Florida’s plantation homes and historic districts that include Fernandina Beach, filled with Victorian homes, many now operating as B&Bs;, remnants of the region’s rough-and-tumble frontier days are everywhere. One example is the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site in Milton, an industrial park of the 1830s and ’40s, according to Lynne Robertson, chief curator of West Florida Historic Preservation and Historic Pensacola Village.
“It was the first major textile mill in Florida and they produced an incredible amount of material in a short time,” she says.
The site offers a visitor center and museum, as well as an elevated boardwalk through the archaeological remains of the mills.
Other remnants of frontier Florida can be found at the Forest Capital Museum State Park in Perry, home to a museum dedicated to the state’s early forest industry, and the Tallahassee Museum, where a re-created 1880s farmstead includes a real garden planted with corn, sweet potatoes and cotton.