1. Calle Ocho shows other festivals how it’s done.

Every March, Cuba meets Miami in a massive party covering 23 blocks and attracting a crowd of a million. The crowning event of the ten-day annual Carnaval Miami, this blowout began in 1978 to celebrate Miami’s growing Cuban culture, and Samba music, mojitos and ceviche make this the party to end all parties.

2. It’s home to the original underwater hotel.

Before Dubai and Fiji got in on the action, there was Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo.

3. The seafood is baller.

Apalachicola oysters and big Gulf of Mexico shrimp…know what I’m saying?

4. And hush puppies = pure joy.

Photo: Kyle Steed

No seafood joint’s menu is complete without this Gulf Coast delicacy.

5. There’s a kind of deer that only exists in the Florida Keys.

Photos clockwise from bottom left: Visit Florida, Clipp2nd, Karen Hoffmann, Visit Florida

The key deer are an endangered subspecies, but they can be spotted in the wild on No Name Key due to the lack of heavy human presence. And, get this, they can swim between islands.

6. Northeast Florida is home to the oldest city in the US.

Or more accurately, “the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States” is in northeast Florida (thanks, Wikipedia!). Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine has its very own Fountain of Youth, a tribute to what Spanish explorers were looking for when they came here.

7. Sweet tea just makes life better.

Seriously, what do other states drink? WATER?

8. Cuban sandwiches are the best.

Havana’s famed Cuban sandwiches, tostones, and papas rellenas are always a welcome sight, but especially at 3am after a big night out.

9. “Beach time warp” is a thing.

Photo: Janine

“Have I been here for ten minutes or ten days? I could check my skin, but it started burning as soon as I stepped out the door.”

10. And “the beach” isn’t the only source of water-themed fun.

The springs, rivers, and lakes also make Florida awesome.

11. Orlando actually has a really lively food scene.

Evidenced by multiple hip, upscale restaurants with rotating menus and locally sourced ingredients. Ravenous Pig is probably the best known, along with Rusty Spoon (allegedly started by a disgruntled ex-Ravenous Pig chef). There’s also Cask & Larder, Ravenous Pig’s soul-food experiment.

And then you’ve got Little Vietnam’s unpronounceable restaurants, Sweet Cupcakes, 4Rivers BBQ, Lazy Moon’s 30-inch pizzas, and Prato’s seasonal Italian menu. You’re doing good here.

12. And the farmers’ markets are awesome.

Before Disney, the Orlando area was practically nothing but mid-Florida rural boringness. There’s still not much development to speak of around the the city, so every Saturday of the entire year you can find local produce, plants, wares, goods, and foods riddled throughout the town. Winter Park’s is probably the best though.

13. Outdoor adventure is almost too easy here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

All of Florida is basically a swampland, so swimming, canoeing, camping, and hiking spots (and mosquitoes) are abundant. And after the wet season ends in November, winter months are the ideal time for exploring Everglades National Park.

14. While Wet ’n Wild is alright, Mother Nature offers a few of her own water parks.

(via)

Like Wekiwa, Blue Springs, and late-night kayaking with bioluminescent aquatic life.

15. Miami has some seriously swanky hotels.

Right near the beach, in particular hosts the truly bold and beautiful of the area.

16. Publix is superior to any other supermarket on Earth.

As are the subs. I’ll have an Ultimate. Boar’s Head please. (Why did you even ask me?) And everyone knows you have to order the chicken tender sub at least once. You’ll say “toss it in buffalo sauce please” if you’re smart.

17. The Tampa Theatre is on the National Historic Register for a reason.

Built in 1926, the Tampa Theatre retains its classic Mediterranean revival style and elegance. The Wurlitzer organ is played before each show. The ceiling is painted to look like the starry night sky, and you can sip on a glass of wine during the performances. This is how movies were meant to be watched.

18. Kelly Slater learned to surf here.

There’s Sebastian Inlet and the beach’s popular First Peak, where a back flow from the Indian River Lagoon creates a fast-breaking wedge, deservedly helping it land on the international competition circuit.

And New Smyrna’s inlet also has some of the most consistent waves in Florida (it’s also known for its shark attacks, but let’s forget that for a second) — the sandbar between its jetties allow for well-shaped peaks, long rides and reformed barrels, making the waves perfect for performance tricks. No wonder this spot ranks at the top of any East Coast list.

19. Miami’s Club 50 Viceroy pool looks like this:

50 stories up, this club doesn’t encourage swimming in the roof pool, though after a few cocktails it will seem pretty tempting. If you feel desperate for a swim, check out the 50-person hot tub in the Viceroy Hotel spa.

20. And the Miami skyline looks like this:

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21. It’s home to one of the biggest underwater bronze Christ statues in the world.

Christ of the Abyss has been hanging out in 25 feet of water off the coast of Key Largo since 1962.

22. Haulover Beach is one of the country’s finest destinations for hanging out in the buff.

Smack in metropolitan Miami, Haulover Beach has been featured as one of the Travel Channel’s “Top Beaches” — and 1,000,000 visitors a year give it its reputations as one of the most popular clothing optional beaches in the country.

To make sure it stays family-friendly, the city of Miami maintains the amenities, including patrolling lifeguards, barbecue grills, refreshment stands and showers. If you get bored just soaking up rays, there are volleyball games and even occasional surfing contests.

23. Even the dive bars are good enough for the rich and famous.

Famous since “Miami Vice,” Anthony Bourdain frequents Mac’s Club Deuce when he’s in Miami, and locals of all sorts will be here until 4 am. So come around, sit down, listen to the jukebox or play pool, and keep an eye out for Keith Richards.

25. Floridians are just pleasant.

They hold open doors. They wave. They’re friendly folks. What’s not to love?

This article references the following sources from Matador:

9 things you’ll miss your first time in the Florida Keys, by Joe Batruny
10 things you should know about people from Orlando, by Bryce Emley
10 dive bars in Miami, Florida, by Hiroki Watarai
A US festival for every month of the year, by Sabina Lohr
20 overlooked national landmarks in the US that are overlooked, by Hal Amen
19 signs you were born and raised in the Florida Panhandle, by Savannah Steiger
7 east coast surf spots for the ASP world tour, by Benita Hussain
The world’s largest religious statues, by Hal Amen
Best nude beaches in the world, by Buzzy Gordon