The Sunshine State became a US Territory in 1921, after falling under colonial rule by France, Spain, and Great Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. Florida became our nation’s 27th state in 1845. Of course, Native Americans were living there for at least 12,000 years prior being named “La Florida” (meaning “land of flowers”) by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Florida is home to the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the country, since St. Augustine was settled by Spaniards in 1565.
Averaging 300 days of sunshine each year, Florida is famous for warm, sunny weather and beautiful landscapes, average temperatures range from 65-70°F in the northern region and 74-77°F in the southern region. With its 825 miles of publicly accessible beaches, Florida also has the longest coastline in the continental US and is the only state bordering the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. When you are in Florida, you are never more than 60 miles from the ocean, and there are more than 7,700 lakes.
Florida has 47,300 commercial farms and ranches, totaling 9.5 million acres. The state ranks #1 for fresh market tomatoes, cucumbers, snap beans, watermelon, grapefruit, sugar cane, and oranges. Producing 75% of the nation’s oranges, Florida also produces 40% of the world’s orange juice supply.
Only Texas and California have larger populations, and approximately 1,218 people move to Florida every day, adding to the 22-million people already living there. Florida is a melting pot with Native American, Hispanic, African, and European influences among those represented in the State’s architecture, cuisine, and culture.
A number of “firsts” can be claimed by Florida. For example, on January 1, 1914, the world’s first scheduled passenger flight occurred, as the plane flew from St. Petersburg to Tampa. NASA also launched its first communications satellite from Florida as Echo 1 launched from Cape Canaveral on August 12, 1960. Benjamin Green, a Miami pharmacist, invented the first suntan lotion.
Key West is the southernmost point in the continental US. Protesting the traffic jams caused by a US Border Patrol checkpoint on the only road to the mainland, the mayor of Key West and a number of businessmen declared the Florida Keys independent in 1982, under the name “The Conch Republic.” (You can still get a Conch Republic passport to the tongue-in-cheek micro-nation, and the Conch Republic flag still flies throughout Key West.)
Thanks to Walt Disney’s early vision, Orlando has become the country’s amusement park capital. No other amusement park destination gets as many visitors. In fact, Disney’s Magic Kingdom is the 8th most popular tourist destination in the world, right behind New York’s Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, and Niagara Falls.
Greater Miami is the nation’s only metropolitan area with two national parks… Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. The Florida Everglades mark the only place on the planet where crocodiles and alligators co-exist.
Funky Florida facts:
- No dinosaur fossils have ever been found in Florida.
- Florida is the 29th most obese state.
- Florida is the flattest state.
- At 345 feet, Florida’s highest point (Britton Hills) is the lowest highest point of any US state, lower than many of Miami’s skyscrapers.
- Florida hosts more golf courses than anywhere else in the US… more than 1300.
- Gatorade was named after the University of Florida’s Gators football team, for which the drink was first developed.
- The Florida driving test no longer requires parallel parking, but you must demonstrate that you can park your car straight and centered in a parking spot… and show that you can use your turn signal 100’ before you turn… and demonstrate the ability to fully stop at a stop sign before safely proceeding into an intersection… and be able to turn your car around in a 30 to 40-foot space.
- Among the peculiar laws you will find that it is illegal to skateboard in Florida without a license, illegal to sing while wearing a swimsuit in public, and illegal for an unmarried woman to skydive on Sundays. Of course, oral sex is also illegal in Florida, and it’s illegal in Miami Beach to bring a pig with them to the beach. You can also face up to 30 days in jail for selling oranges on the sidewalk.
- And last, but not least… The famed honky-tonk Flora-Bama Beach Bar, which sits on the state line between Florida and Alabama, hosts thousands of Floridians once a year for its annual Mullet Toss, during which thousands of Floridians stand at the state line and toss dead fish into Alabama. (Hmmm… I am sure there is no beer drinking involved.)