Ah, Florida, the Sunshine State. Orange groves, palm trees, stretches of sand as far as the eye can see, along two enviable coastlines.
From Jacksonville on the Atlantic Ocean to the Keys in the south to the Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a seafarer’s paradise. Speaking of the sea, it’s a proven fact that our well-being greatly benefits from a proximity to water. Our brains just work better when we can be close to the waves, we’re happier breathing in the bracing sea air, and it’s better for Mother Nature when we’re learning about the precious wildlife that make Florida’s oceans and rivers its home. Alligators! Manatee! Marlin! It’s a menagerie of fauna unlike anywhere on earth.
But that’s not all; land lovers can revel in its culinary experiences, wellness offerings and cultural diversity. This is a place of history, of winter havens and creative thinkers. Flagler, Edison, Pulitzer, Disney – boldface names that helped establish Florida as the place to see and be seen for winter vacationers, innovators and beyond. And did we mention odes to Ernest Hemingway, who wrote many of his novels at his home in Key West, Salvador Dalì and his art housed in an architectural marvel in downtown St. Petersburg, and The Ringling Estate, of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus family, which features the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the official state museum of art of Florida, along with other cultural and garden experiences in Sarasota?
Michelin, the foodie’s guide to all things delicious, has come to Florida, rewarding dining establishments in Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Equestrians, polo fans and horse lovers in general can connect with equine pursuits, and culture vultures can discover a wealth of diverse diasporas, from Cuban and Latin American to African American and Caribbean and beyond – the state is one of the country’s most diverse.
In the Sunshine State, there are no limits. Here, five fantastic reasons Florida should be on your travel bucket list for 2024
1. Elevated Eats
Michelin made its way to the Sunshine in 2022 and its guide inspectors liked what they tasted. As of 2023, Michelin had recognized 52 restaurants in Tampa, Miami and Orlando. You can’t think of Miami if you don’t think of the food. The city was named Bon Appétit’s Food City of the Year for 2023 and with 11 Michelin-starred restos, including the only two-star spot in Florida plus 15 Bib Gourmand-rated foodie experiences, how can one go wrong? Whether it’s two-star, full-on French at L’Atelier by Joël Robuchon , who before his passing was named the chef of the century, or the Bib Gourmand-recommended Versailles, a family-owned local favourite, for affordable Cuban food in Little Havana, there’s plenty to nosh on. Bib Gourmand, by the way, recognizes friendly spots serving good food at inexpensive prices. Of course, you don’t have to go to Michelin. The Miami area has thousands of dining spots, from street food to stellar picks.
In Tampa, you’ll never go hungry for choice. Michelin has also put this city on its list, with the Japanese cuisine of Koya, the Mediterranean fare at Lilac and the Italian at Rocca all garnering a star. Tampa is known for its diverse culinary scene, where you’ll find Greek, Chinese, Nepali, among other international cuisines with a seat at the table alongside steak and Southern cooking.
New this year are two of note: chef Cameron Mitchell’s The Pearl, with its unique oyster room that only hints at the menu’s seafood delights, and Predalina, a Water Street outpost by the city’s original docks, which features the best of the Mediterranean and a shop that offers hand-crafted items and home decor to take home.
Oh, Orlando, how we love you – for your thrills and theme parks, a mouse, a few minions and magic. The city, in Central Florida, holds so many things to do and places to see – and to taste. More than 40 establishments have been recognized by Michelin, including four with one-star designations, and 11 Bib Gourmand. From the Japanese and Fusion cuisine of Kadence and Soseki, to the American steakhouse classics Capa and Knife & Spoon, along with everything from Thai to Indian to Vietnamese, there’s a spot to suit every taste. Sports fans will like The Office Bar, the newest place on Orange Avenue to take in a University of Central Florida event, and burger lovers will enjoy Papi Smash for burgers and shakes in downtown Orlando.
2. To Your Health
When we call it the Sunshine State, we really mean it. That mood- and immune-boosting vitamin D comes naturally here and, with an average of 230 days of sunshine a year, it’s no wonder. So important to our well-being, from soothing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder to synthesising your body’s natural cell-builders, those rays make us feel good.
The science of wellbeing is central to the healing practices at Pritikin Luxury Wellness Retreat. For nearly 50 years, this centre located in Miami has focused on longevity, weight loss and lifestyle diseases. The Florida Burnout Recovery Mental Health & Wellness Retreat in Clearwater addresses a hot-button topic – the burnout is real – with its integrative program that focuses on the mental, physical and spiritual elements of wellbeing. A holistic rejuvenation indeed. And look for Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences, a brand new wellness resort in The Palm Beaches where the goal is to enhance one’s mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, relaxation and sleep, opening this fall.
The innovative thinkers in Fort Lauderdale are working smarter when it comes to inclusion and accessibility. The area’s “Everyone Under the Sun” program considers all travellers, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, with a vetted list of hotels, restaurants, entertainment and more that provide inclusive services and experiences. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has launched its Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program to help those that need a little extra care when navigating the airport.
3. Human Nature
A sense of renewal doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be intense. We’re less stressed when taking in the light of the sun and being surrounded by nature – which is easy to do in Florida, a four-time gold-medal winner for excellence in managing its parks system. There are more than 170 state parks where you can swim, hike, ride (bikes and horses!), camp and sit back, relax, and just breathe.
Channel your inner mermaid (or merman) at John Pennekamp State Park in the Florida Keys. It’s the only underwater state park in the United States. Swim, snorkel and dive at this undersea playground, home to a myriad of fish and other marine life flitting and flying among the rainbow of stunning coral reefs where they make their home.
4. Hat’s Off
Did you know that the Stetson, the big, white cowboy hat we see on many a head in Texas and in Alberta – especially during Calgary Stampede season – was designed by a founder of the Florida we know today? Here’s a fun fact: hat maker and philanthropist John B. Stetson could be called Florida’s original snowbird. He chose to build his winter home for his family in 1886 in DeLand, about 63 kilometres north of Orlando, and about a 45-minute drive west of Daytona Beach.
The home is an incredible example of Gilded Age architecture and design, and the only mansion of its kind in the state. Fellow winter vacationer Thomas Edison installed the electricity, while Henry Flagler, the industrialist who was instrumental in building Florida’s east coast as a vacation destination – his company brought north and south together with his railway – laid tracks to the estate. You can tour the mansion and the Christmas season is particularly spectacular, when the home is decorated to its Gilded Age nines.
5. Get Your Game On
We’d be remiss if we didn’t give a nod to the choices for sports fans – perfect for a boys’ (or girls’!) getaway. Hit the links on one of the more than 1,200 golf courses (Palm Beach is golf-central, where more pros make their home than any other spot in the state), take in a hockey, basketball or football game, or check out your favourite baseball team during spring training (the Blue Jays play in Dunedin!) and beyond. And now that Golden Shoe winner Lionel Messi has come to Miami, there will be no doubt that The Magic City will score a few goals with soccer fans, as well.