10Best Celebrates Florida's 500th Birthday!

  • Historical Reenactment at Castillo de San Marcos

    St. Augustine - Oldest European Settlement in the US

    in 1513, 500 years ago, Ponce de León landed on the East Coast near St. Augustine and claimed the area for the Spanish crown.  In ensuing years, this lovely yet critical location was also controlled by the French, the British and finally America.  The Spanish influence most strongly shaped the aesthetics of historic St. Augustine, where you can visit the coveted Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Mantanzas.  You're also quite likely to see pirates!

    Photo courtesy of D.J. Henson

  • Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

    A Land Called La Florida

    On Ponce de León's  1513 exploration, he named the sunny peninsula on which he landed La Florida, or Flowery Land, since it was the Easter season (Pascua Florida in Spanish).  The name stuck.   The Spanish explorer and his crews had many trials and errors as they discovered locales from northeastern Florida all the way south to Key Biscayne, and through the Florida Straits to southwest Florida's Sanibel Island and Charlotte Harbor areas.

    Photo courtesy of Bobby Ford

  • Seminole Tribe of Florida

    Seminole Indians - The Tribe of Florida

    While many think Ponce de León's arrival marks the beginning of Florida's history, Native Americans had been occupying the land for thousands of years. The Seminole Tribe of Florida are the only tribe in the US to have never signed a peace treaty. Today, the tribe remains one of the most economically successful in the country, thanks in part to the Seminole casinos.

    Photo courtesy of John Kunkel Small

  • Old Capitol Building

    Florida Gains Statehood

    Florida may have been the first settlement in the country, but it took 332 years to become a state, the 27th in the United States. Today, it's the fourth most populated state in the country after California, Texas and New York. You can still visit the old capitol building, now the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, in Tallahassee.

    Photo courtesy of Kristopher Volkman

  • The Swamp

    Florida's Universities Established

    When Florida established its state university system in 1905, a rivalry for the ages was born. Today, the gridiron battle between the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Florida Gators showcases a clash between two of the nation's most competitive teams.

    Photo courtesy of Pedro Alcocer

  • Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot

    Disney Made Florida Synonymous with Family Fun

    Spanish explorers would not have imagined a mouse with big ears being the worldwide symbol of what they called "La Florida." But thanks to a man and his cartoon mouse, the state is nearly synonymous with Mickey Mouse and Disney. Walt Disney World Resort helped establish Orlando as the Theme Park Capital of the World.

    Photo courtesy of chensiyuan

  • Kennedy Space Center

    NASA Grabbed the World's Attention

    Theme parks aren't Florida's only claim to fame. In 1962, NASA entered the scene with the establishment of its launch sites on Cape Canaveral. The John F. Kennedy Space Center has helped capture the imaginations of generations of Americans with each new launch into space.

    Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army

  • Truman Avenue in Key West

    President Truman in Key West

    President Truman's beloved "Little White House" is the Key West compound where he took breaks from chilly Washington.  Today it's open to the public, and tours are both entertaining and educational.  Truman had all eyes on Key West and the Florida Keys during his getaways to this tropical paradise.  

    Photo courtesy of Matthew Hurst

  • South Beach at night

    South Beach and Miami

    From Miami Vice to CSI to Housewives of Miami, South Beach has established itself as an iconic pop culture destination.  It began when New York visionary Tony Goldman transformed South Beach's art deco district with pastel paint.  Next came supermodels, club owners, movie stars, designers, musicians, sports stars, hoteliers and trendsetters. Gianni Versace, Gloria Estefan, Sly Stallone, Madonna, J Lo, Shakira, Lenny Kravitz, Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova have all resided here.

    Photo courtesy of Tom Wolf

  • Daytona International Speedway

    Daytona and the Rum Runners

    During the first few decades of the twentieth century, Daytona Beach was producing new land speed records all the time, and many of the drivers, particularly in the 1920s, were rum runners. With the end of Prohibition, many of these men lost their livelihoods, and to make up for it, sponsored races were born.  In a nod to history, though, Daytona still permits cruising the beach by car.  

    Photo courtesy of pontiacunderground

  • Seven Mile Bridge

    Flagler Expands to the Keys

    Long before Harry Truman vacationed in the Keys, another important man had his sights set on the small island chain: Henry Flagler. Flagler's railway connected the Florida Keys with Mainland Florida in 1912, ending Key West's isolation forever.  Today, the Keys' Seven Mile Bridge (made famous in the Schwarzenegger film 'True Lies') parallels Flagler's now-defunct railroad tracks, which are also a dramatic part of the landscape at beautiful Bahia Honda State Park beach.  

    Photo courtesy of The Florida Keys & Key West

  • Navy Seaplane in 1918

    America's First Airplanes Explore Florida Coast

    When flight was in its infancy in the early 1900s, it was the coastal waters of Florida where primitive seaplanes tested the waters. Residents from Tampa Bay to the Keys were 'eyes to the sky' and met their new heroes on the beach at landing.  The first commercial flights took place in Florida and part-time resident Henry Ford's tri-motor was put to commercial use early on.  Pan-Am's former terminal in Key West is now a popular bar.

    Photo courtesy of Florida Keys--Public Libraries

  • Everglades boat tour

    Everglades National Park is Established

    The Everglades National Park was established in 1947 to protect the country's largest subtropical wilderness area from destruction. Today, it remains the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi and home to 36 threatened or protected species.  Renowned photography Clyde Butcher captures its beauty and mystery in large-format black and white photos, while visitors enjoy activities ranging from airboat tours to kayaking to birding  The Calusa and Seminoles were early residents of the "River of Grass."

    Photo courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Edison Guest House

    Edison, Ford and Firestone set up Winter Estates

    Fort Myers, Florida is home to the lovely riverfront winter estates of longtime pals Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Together with winter resident and friend Harvey Firestone, and frequent visitor Charles Lindbergh, the four visionaries enjoyed a friendship so rare it's celebrated by a book called 'Uncommon Friends.'  Edison's laboratory and Ford's cars are two of the treats on the estate tour, which includes amazing gardens and one incredibly memorable banyan tree. 

    Photo courtesy of Edison & Ford Winter Estates

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