Florida attracts the liveliest among us, most notably thrill seekers, nature lovers and sun chasers alike. Yet beyond the obvious tourist hot spots that gravitate around Orlando, Florida has a lesser-known side. A side some might say better reflects local culture, showcasing everything from heart-stopping cowboy rodeos to pirate parties that recall the state's swashbuckling past. With this in mind, let's take a deep dive into authentic Florida, so your holiday to the Sunshine State can have that extra sparkle...
Click your spurs, don your stetson, and saddle up for pure entertainment. And with a stampede of rodeos throughout Florida, you can easily say howdy to one near you. Those living out their Disney dreams in Orlando can ring in their Wild Wild West fantasy at the Silver Spurs Rodeo in Kissimmee. Get roped into the nonstop fun and action from barrel racing, steer wrestling, and saddle bronc riding, that’ll leave you hollering ‘yeehaw’!
If there's a Florida State Fair tradition that knows how to hog the spotlight, it's pig racing. Just head to your closest fete, and you’ll be sure to witness the little porkers race for first place. Set on a circular track, pig racing is not just the standard run-of-the-mill race but can also involve an obstacle course and swimming events. And once they have finished racing, stick around and snap some pictures of the lovable personalities with names like Spamela Anderson and Harry Porker.
From bulls and boars to brazen buccaneers, Florida is awash with pirate culture. And as the USA’s second-longest coastline of 1,350 miles, it’s no surprise that the Jolly Roger fleet sailed Florida’s high seas. During the 17th and 18th centuries, treasure-hungry pirates pillaged Spanish vessels docked in Tampa Bay, St. Augustine, Key West, and other coastal areas. One fabled bootlegging bandit is Jose Gaspar, a Mexican marauder who terrorised fleets from his Gulf of Mexico territory. And so this power-hungry ruffian inspired one of Florida’s most celebrated events - the Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
Gather your deck hands and join in the bountiful fun as the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship sails down Hillsborough Bay, docking at Tampa Convention Center. Hordes of boats tail the fully-decked skull and crossbones, assembled with dressed-up rum-drinking, eye-patched shipmates, ready to blast their cannons and burst into an out-of-tune sea shanty. And if you’ve missed out on this seafaring party, turn your compass to Florida’s oldest inhabited city, host to St. Augustine’s Pirate Gathering, where its piracy past is celebrated with barrels of overflowing rum, high spirits, and good times.
Floridians are not only beach lovers and sun-worshippers; they are diehard sporting fans too. With major league football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey teams, you can pull up a chair and immerse yourself in Florida's best sporting action. From the Jacksonville Jaguars in the north to Orlando Magic and Tampa Bay Buccaneers representing Central Florida and Miami Heat in the south, you'll never be too far from a world-class sporting performance. While you're there, get the full Florida experience, eating Cuban sandwiches or corndogs and slurping slush puppies while watching the action.
And let's not forget one of Florida's other sporting attractions - the Daytona 500. Held annually at Daytona Beach, this NASCAR stock car race is one of the USA's most popular events, attracting crowds from all over the country. What's more, being America's PGA Golf Course capital, it's safe to assume that Florida's sporting prowess is top-notch.
From taking a swing at Florida's sports league, why not dance to the beat of a steel drum at Miami Carnival, one of the largest Caribbean festivals in the USA? And if you miss Miami's stellar soiree, Tampa Bay and Orlando also host their own Caribbean extravaganzas. As Florida holds the largest Caribbean population in the USA - from Cubans to Puerto Ricans and Haitians - join this vibrant and joyful parade celebrating the rich culture of these tropical island nations.
Whether you're busting moves at this street parade or simply admiring a rainbow of rhinestone-studded costumes and lively singing and dancing of the procession, you'll sure to enjoy this taste of Caribbean culture. And tasting you'll do, from sampling Jamaican jerk chicken, Trinidadian corn soup, or Bahamian ceviche. Indulge in the flavours of the sun-drenched island so all your senses are invigorated at this dazzling celebration of culture.
After soaking up the Caribbean vibes at Carnival, head south to America’s Caribbean in the Florida Keys. Located only 90 miles north of Cuba, you’ll feel the intoxicating relaxed island lifestyle the moment you arrive at the southernmost point in the continental USA. And while the sugar-white sandy beaches are a dreamy escape and vibrant Duval Street offers some of the island’s best bars, it's the Florida Keys’ underwater world that is most alluring.
Located 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park boasts a magnificent coral reef, the third largest on the planet, under its protection. Immerse yourself in the warm and welcoming waters to discover a fascinating new world of vibrant coral formations and tropical fish. With depths ranging from 5 to 15 feet, snorkelling is an ideal activity for all, and you might even have the chance to swim alongside sea turtles. Following a day of oceanic exploration, there are numerous sparkling turquoise shores in Key West for everyone to savour and soak in the sunshine.
Gay Days Orlando
Returning to central Florida, the theme parks in Orlando offer a magical and enjoyable experience for everyone. And while this list mentions Florida beyond the theme parks, we can’t help but mention one of the most joyful events of the year. In the first week of June, Orlando's Gay Days anniversary occurs, where love and life are celebrated on the liveliest rollercoasters. This event attracts members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone is welcome to join in the festivities and experience its exuberant vibes.
Ready to explore the other side of Florida? Browse our Florida Holiday deals to inspire your next getaway.