It's been 500 years since Juan Ponce de León sailed his ships toward the coast of a beautiful peninsula where he hoped to discover gold, treasures and the fountain of youth. His explorations through the land he called La Florida — place of flowers — left him enchanted by the beauty and ready to claim the land for his king and country.
More than 87 million visitors still make voyages each year to what is now known as Florida. In some ways, the state still reflects the dream of early explorers. Florida's diverse economy is able to generate monetary wealth; there is an abundance of natural treasures; and the quality of life instills a personal fountain of youth.
The statewide festivities planned to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida — Viva Florida 500 — invite residents and visitors alike to launch their own explorations. According to Secretary of State Kent Detzner, “We have always approached Viva Florida 500 as an opportunity to better educate the world about Florida's place in history as the location where the world's cultures began to unite and transform into the great nation we know today as the United States of America. But at the same time, we also hope and expect that it will spur economic development as Floridians and visitors get more excited about Florida's historical and cultural heritage.”
Are you ready to explore? Map out an adventure across Florida this year.
Florida's First Beach
Pensacola Bay Area
Historic, Romantic St. Augustine
St. Augustine · Jacksonville
The Wonders of Tampa Bay
St. Petersburg · Clearwater · Tampa
Real. Authentic. Florida.
Florida's First Beach - Pensacola Bay Area
Start your quest at the part of the state known as the Florida Panhandle, where history, culture and Southern hospitality shine alongside miles of sugar-white beaches. In fact, the Pensacola Bay area is considered to be “Florida's First Beach,” having been discovered by Spanish explorers in 1559, making it the first major settlement attempt in the United States.
Since then, five flags have flown over the area — Spanish, French, British, the Confederacy and the United States. History comes to life here in landmarks such as Historic Pensacola Village, the Museum of Commerce, the Pensacola Lighthouse, Fort Barrancas, Fort Pickens and numerous churches, art galleries and cultural centers along the African-American Heritage Trail.
Linking America's early colonial past to Spain's history of exploration and discovery, Gálvez Day in early May will honor Bernardo de Gálvez and his role in the Battle of Pensacola. A distinguished Spanish delegation will join the celebration of their native son.
Capital Celebrations - Tallahassee
Traveling east from Pensacola, an abundance of historical treasures are on exhibit in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee.
A visit to Mission San Luis transports you back to 1703 and a community where Apalachee Indians and newcomers from Spain lived together. Mission San Luis is the only reconstructed mission site in the Southeast and the only surviving site open to the public of the state's original 100 missions. Mission San Luis includes a reconstructed Franciscan Church, Spanish fort, living quarters and five-story-tall Apalachee council house.
Artifacts from Mission San Luis, gold and silver coins, jewelry, porcelain and other period items uncovered throughout Florida and surrounding waters are on display at the Museum of Florida History's exhibit “Forever Changed: La Florida 1513-1821.” A 16th-century Spanish ship display chronicles the era of Spanish exploration.
The Florida Historic Capitol Museum hosts an exhibit called “Navigating New Worlds: Identity, Perception, and Politics in Florida,” highlighting rare maps (one dates back to 1493 and another is one of only four in existence) from the Michael and Linda Fisher collection.
Bring your beret and celebrate Florida's French influence on May 31 when the Florida Historic Capitol Museum premieres a digitally animated short film based on the historic Jacques LeMoyne and Theodore de Bry engravings of early Florida. The film is narrated by renowned Florida historian Dr. Michael Gannon. Theodore de Bry descendant John de Bry will provide context for the iconic engravings and their influence on Europeans' perceptions of La Florida.
Historic, Romantic St. Augustine - St. Augustine, Jacksonville
St. Augustine's rich heritage makes the city and its surroundings a unique getaway for visitors. Founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés of Spain, St. Augustine is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States — more commonly called the “Nation's Oldest City.” Stroll the narrow lanes, enter the many museums and visit landmarks such as Castillo de San Marcos and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse.
The Romanza Festivale, May 10-19, is a multi-arts celebration centered in historic downtown St. Augustine. More than three-dozen cultural organizations will collaborate to produce 60-plus shows and exhibits. In October, Spanish wine distributors as well as local and regional restaurants will provide a celebration of heritage foods, wine, dance and culture during the city's Spanish Wine and Food Festival.
On Independence Day, the city of Jacksonville welcomes Expedition Florida 500 participants who set out from Pensacola in January on a mission to circumnavigate coastal Florida via paddleboards.
The Wonders of Tampa Bay - St. Petersburg · Clearwater · Tampa
Spanish masterpieces, sea monsters and more
Surrounded by glistening salt water on three sides, St. Pete/Clearwater is an area of big-city attractions mixed with cultural charms and miles of white sand beaches. Visit from Memorial Day through Labor Day and you'll find a calendar packed with cool ideas for things to do during its “100 Days of Summer.”
No visit to the Tampa Bay area is complete without a visit to The Dalí Museum in downtown St. Petersburg. Dalí's great masterpiece “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” is one of the most inspiring pieces for visitors. The title is also a reference to the artist's own discovery of America — the place where he found fame. At the Dalí museum, the convergence of art and science stimulates the senses for a taste of both.
Across the bay in Tampa, children of all ages can quench their thirst for the fun of science and whet their appetite for future adventures at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).
MOSI offers a comprehensive overview of science and technology with more than 450 interpretive science exhibits and visual displays on natural disasters, physics, astronomy and more.
MOSI makes a great daytime excursion for children and adults. Experience what it's like to pedal a bicycle on a 1-inch cable suspended 30 feet above the ground or lie on a bed-of-nails in MOSI's Kids In Charge exhibit! Enjoy an adrenaline rush like no other on MOSI's Sky Trail® Ropes Course and brand new Zip Line. Daring riders will soar more than 700 feet over MOSI and then return to the Ropes Course to conquer 35 elements with high-energy feats ideal for all ages.
Add to your MOSI experience with tickets to the world premiere of “Sea Monsters Revealed,” now open for a limited time. Visitors will descend to the depths to explore the sea floor and see not only the outside but also the inside of more than 200 of the most elusive aquatic lifeforms ever discovered, including a 15-foot-long mako shark, a giant squid, and an 18-foot-long, 3,000-pound whale shark. “Sea Monsters Revealed” takes visitors on a journey of exploration in search of something so massive and magical, you truly have to experience it to grasp its impact and importance.
Historic Ships Set Sail - Miami · Port Canaveral
Tall ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano is making its way from Puerto Rico to Miami, then to Port Canaveral to recreate the famous route taken by Ponce de León.
This training vessel for midshipmen in Spain's Naval Academy has circumnavigated the globe 10 times since its first launch in 1927. Only two other tall ships in the world are larger.
The ship is named after the first commander to sail around the world in the 16th century. (De Elcano's captain, Ferdinand Magellan, was killed in the Philippines and didn't complete the voyage.)
The vessel is scheduled to anchor at the Port of Miami May 1-6, with special events at nearby Bicentennial Park, and will stop at Port Canaveral May 8-10.
Another tall ship event in Port Canaveral will feature the Nao Victoria Galleon, May 7-12. The galleon is a full replica of the 16th-century-era ships that explorers sailed to discover Florida.
The Delights of Central Florida - Orlando
Home to Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios, Central Florida launched the multibillion-dollar theme park industry. Orlando is now one of the nation's top five tourist destinations, noted for its inspired dining and vibrant entertainment options.
Here you can discover the newly designated Dining & Entertainment Districts, six distinct dining and entertainment districts that define the depth and variety of this world-famous destination. Six chefs recognized as James Beard Foundation's 2013 Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists are among the featured dining hotspots in the Districts.
At the heart of Central Florida is the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center where you can experience all the wonder and enchantment of the Sunshine State under one roof.
Drawing from classic Florida architecture, the Kissimmee resort spans 63 acres and celebrates Florida's history, culture and natural beauty. The signature atriums recreate three Florida environments, immersing you in the sights and sounds for which the state is known — from the gently rising mists of the Everglades to the funky and vibrant island revelry of Key West to the Spanish-infused, old-world charm of St Augustine. Business travelers and meeting planners will also enjoy the resort's central location, 400,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 178,500-square-foot Florida Exhibition Hall.
The Natural Heart of Florida - Gainesville
Navigating from Florida's west coast, take an expedition through the heart of Florida to enjoy the beauty of some of the world's largest natural springs nestled among lakes and the Ocala National Forest.
Take in the cultural side of Gainesville and Alachua County at the Thomas Center Galleries, host to a Viva Florida 500 Signature event through June 22. “The Quest for the Fountain of Youth in Florida History, Mythology and Art” showcases more than 30 original works by contemporary Florida artists that document the history of the Fountain story in Florida and explore the significance of the story in the artists' own lives and in the life of the community.
Real. Authentic. Florida. - Manatee County
In Manatee County — home to the beautiful waterside communities of Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key — both old and new attractions offer irresistible entertainment and vacation fare.
Original development on Anna Maria Island was sparked by construction of what is now known as the City Pier, which was built at the foot of Pine Avenue in 1911. One hundred years later, Anna Maria stands out as a unique island destination, unmatched in its dedication to preserving the beauty and charm that define its special character.
Paying tribute to a bygone era is Seagate, the Powel Crosley Estate, built in 1929. This bayfront Mediterranean Revival-style mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, and today the estate offers modern amenities for hosting meetings, weddings and other events.
Manatee County's urban core in downtown Bradenton is going through a renaissance. The just completed, 1.5-mile Riverwalk park along the Manatee River features art, an amphitheater, a skatepark and other amenities to attract visitors from around the world.
A Break from "Busyness" - Palm Beach
Even the ancient explorers took time to relax along the way and enjoy the journey. The Breakers resort in Palm Beach calls visitors to spend some time lounging amongst the beauty of La Florida. Take moonlight strolls and swims under the same moon that guided the captains of the sea to this great location.
The summer vacation of a lifetime is right in your backyard at The Breakers Palm Beach. A luxury resort for all ages, The Breakers is the ultimate beachfront escape for families, couples, friends or groups. Through October 31, 2013, the legendary property is offering Complimentary Benefits EVERY DAY, plus an array of savings throughout the resort. Receive daily complimentary continental breakfast buffet, kids' meals and day camp, unlimited fitness classes, tennis, WiFi and local calls. Also enjoy reduced golf greens fees and savings on dining, spa services, shopping, bungalow rentals and more.
With an unparalleled range of amenities and activities to choose from, guests never have to venture off property. The Breakers' five-acre Mediterranean-style Beach Club features five refreshing pools, four whirlpool spas and exclusive bungalows that are available for daytime rental. Two memorable 18-hole golf courses, including the renowned Breakers Rees Jones® Course, a nationally recognized golf academy and two state-of-the-art learning centers provide a magnificent golf destination for golfers of all skill levels. The resort's award-winning tennis facility offers 10 beautifully groomed Har-Tru courts and one of the finest and most experienced teams of tennis instructors of any resort in the U.S.
Nine distinctive restaurants and five bars, with settings ranging from casual beachfront to stylishly sophisticated, including HMF — the newest and most exciting destination for social drinking and eating — as well as an array of on-site boutiques, are all owned and managed by the resort.
Family time is also important at The Breakers, and its comprehensive Family Entertainment Center is complete with an arcade, craft room, game room, toddler's playroom, movie room, and outdoor sports court and playground.
If a meeting is on your agenda, The Breakers is a multi-faceted destination well-designed for groups of all sizes, from 20 to 1,000 attendees. The resort features 70,000 square feet of flexible, beautifully appointed meeting space. Venues include an oceanfront conference center, majestic ballrooms, executive meeting rooms, and picturesque courtyards and lawns.
Explore Fashion, Style, Nightlife - Miami · South Beach
Florida's modern culture is greatly influenced by the international diversity of fashion designers, musicians and stars that call Miami and South Beach home.
Whether you are planning your vacation, a celebration, quick getaway, business stay or stopover, the Angler's and the Savoy are ideally located.
Listed on the Official Register of Historic Places, The Savoy is an intimate and charming Art Deco retreat. As one of the few hotels along famed Ocean Drive offering its guests private beach access, the landmark Savoy is the perfect destination for travelers who want comfort, location and style.
Just two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and a short walk to great area restaurants, nightlife and shopping, The Angler's is a boutique all-suite resort that takes a fresh approach to luxury reminiscent of old Florida yet embraced by the savvy South Beach traveler.