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State FLORIDA

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ALACHUA
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS
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DAVENPORT
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DEERFIELD BEACH
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS
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EVERGLADES CITY
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FERNANDINA BEACH
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HALLANDALE BEACH
HERNANDO
HIALEAH
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INDIALANTIC
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KEY BISCAYNE
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LAUDERDALE BY THE SEA
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LONGWOOD
MacCLENNY
MADEIRA BEACH
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MARIANA
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NAPLES
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OCALA
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ORMOND BEACH
PALATKA
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PORT CHARLOTTE
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QUINCY
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TAMPA
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VENICE
VERO BEACH
WEEKI WACHEE
WESLEY CHAPEL
WESTON
WEST PALM BEACH
WILDWOOD
WINTER GARDEN
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WINTER PARK
YULEE

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Brochure images of tanning flesh and Mickey Mouse give an inaccurate and incomplete picture of FLORIDA . Although the aptly nicknamed "Sunshine State" is indeed devoted to the tourist trade, it's also among the least-understood parts of the US. Away from its overexposed resorts lie forests and rivers, deserted strands filled with wildlife, vibrant cities and primeval swamps.

In many respects Florida is still evolving. Seven hundred people a day move to the state, now the fourth most populous in the nation. Changing demographics are eroding the traditional Deep South conservatism: the new Floridians tend to be a younger, more energetic breed, while Spanish-speaking enclaves provide close ties to Latin America and the Caribbean - links as influential in creating wealth as the recent arrival of the movie industry in central Florida, fresh from Hollywood.

The essential stop is cosmopolitan, half-Latin Miami , from where a simple journey south brings you to the Florida Keys , a hundred-mile string of islands known for sports fishing, coral-reef diving, and the sultry town of Key West , legendary for its sunsets and anything-goes attitude. North from Miami, much of the east coast is disappointingly urbanized, albeit with miles of unbroken beaches flowing alongside. The residential stranglehold is lessened further north, where communities such as Daytona Beach have become subservient to the local sands. Farther along, historical St Augustine stands as the longest continuous settlement in the US.

In central Florida the terrain turns green, though it's no rural idyll: this is where you'll find Orlando and Walt Disney World , one of the world's leading tourist destinations. From here it's just a skip north to the forests of the Panhandle , Florida's link with the Deep South, or to the towns and beaches of the west coast . To the south, and also easily accessible from Miami, stretches the Everglades , a swampy sawgrass plain filled with camera-friendly (but otherwise unfriendly) alligators.

In at least one way it makes little difference when you visit : warm sunshine and blue skies are almost always a fact of life. Florida does, however, split into two climatic zones : subtropical in the south and warm temperate in the north. Orlando and points south have very mild winters (October to April), with warm temperatures and low humidity. This is the peak tourist season, when prices are at their highest. The southern summer (May to September), on the other hand, brings high humidity and afternoon storms - the rewards for braving the mugginess are lower prices and fewer tourists. Winter is the off-peak period north of Orlando; while snow has been known to fall in the Panhandle, daytime temperatures are generally comfortably warm. During the northern Florida summer, the crowds arrive, and the days - and the nights - get hot and sticky. Also, there is a potentially ominous time of the year - the " hurricane season " - June to November.

Finally, although Florida has struggled with its reputation for crimes against (and even murders of) tourists, the state's been very successful in reducing such attacks. It's definitely no longer the den of "Miami Vice" it once was, but, as when visiting all big cities, it pays to be wary.


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