The beautiful southeasternmost U.S. State
Following American independence, when Florida was returned to Spain, the US began to think in terms of controlling the state. In 1814 a US general, Andrew Jackson, marched south, killing hundreds of Indians and triggering the First Seminole War - on the pretext of subduing the Seminole but with the actual intention of taking the region. Spain formally ceded Florida to the US in 1819, with Jackson sworn in as Florida's first American governor and Tallahassee selected as the new administrative center.
What saved Florida was World War II. Thousands of troops arrived to guard the coastline, empty tourist hotels provided ready-made barracks, and - most importantly - the soldiers got a taste of Florida that would entice many of them to return. In the mid-Sixties, the state government bent over backward to help the Disney Corporation turn a sizable slice of central Florida into Walt Disney World, the biggest theme park ever known. Its enormous commercial success helped solidify Florida's place in the international tourist market: directly or indirectly, tourism makes up 20 percent of the total state economy.
The 2000 presidential election fiasco brought unwelcome attention to the state. Both Gov. George Bush of Texas (Republican) and Vice President Al Gore (Democrat) needed Florida's 25 electoral votes to win. Bush led by a few hundred votes on the morning after the election in unofficial returns. For five weeks top lawyers on both slides slugged it out in the courts. Disputes raged over such issues as whether ballots with "hanging chads" (partially punched out holes) should be counted. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively halted the recounts, and Bush won the state by 537 votes out of some six million cast.
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.
Although inadvisable in the cities, cycling is a great way to see large parts of Florida - miles of cycle paths follow the coast, and long-distance bike trails cross the state's interior. Forget hitching: always dangerous (especially for women), it's illegal in Miami (where you'd be lucky to live to regret it) and on the outskirts of many other cities.
Further south you’ll come to world-famous Daytona Beach, as well as the site of the American space agency, NASA, in Brevard County--well worth seeing. Central Florida is dominated by Orlando and its well know coterie of theme parks, including Disney World, EPCOT Center, MGM Studios, Universal Studios, Sea World, and more tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at. But don’t miss the charming small citrus towns south of Orlando or the lake towns to the north. Tampa boasts a Busch Gardens theme park, but the real attraction here is the Gulf of Mexico, who’s calm green waters and white sandy beaches are suitable for sunning year-round.