Florida Guide > Other Florida
The State of Florida has many contrasts, but never more so than in the Central Region. There you can find cane fields, beautiful citrus groves with the smell of the oranges in the warm Florida sunshine, cartoon characters – plenty of them in the varied Theme Parks in this area – cowmen – Shopping Malls, Theatres, Restaurants, Central Florida has it all, and yet most visitors come for one of these things only!
Orlando is the regions first city. Settled as a fortress during the Seminole Wars, it developed into a relatively prosperous citrus and cattle town, surrounded with lakes, and earned the nickname of ‘The City Beautiful’. When Walt Disney selected Florida as the location for his second theme park in the 1960s, Orlando was the perfect site, with excellent transport and communication links close to a huge expanse of undeveloped land.
Today, Walt Disney World is the world’s biggest tourist attraction, attracting millions of visitors every year. Despite the inevitable onslaught of tourist-related industries and tacky spin-offs, Orlando itself retains much of its character. There are several open spaces around the city, and areas such as Winter Park, which have been swallowed by the suburbs, offer a pleasant escape with a couple of excellent small museums, upmarket shopping, restaurants, cafes and boat rides on Lake Osceola.
Orlando is within easy reach of both the east and west Florida Coasts. Kennedy Space Center is an hours drive east, whilst the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa and St. Petersburg are an easy 90 minute drive west.
Citrus County stretches west and south of Orlando.
Lake Wakes is renowned for its annual Passion Play, and there are two wonderful gardens close by: Bok Tower Gardens, and Cypress Gardens, near Winter Haven where you can spend the day browsing through the displays of tropical plants.
Arcadia, 65 miles west of Okeechobee City, is in the heart of the cattle country. Facades straight out of a Western movie line the main drag, and its wall to wall blue jeans and Stetsons during the All Florida Championship Rodeo. Once a vital link in the Everglades ecosystem, beautiful Lake Okeechobee has been dangerously tamed, but it is still a fantastic haven for birdwatchers and fishermen.
Journey north from Orlando, and there is Ocala, surrounded by beautifully turned out thoroughbred stud farms. It boasts a fine art museum on the edge of the town, and the vast expanses of Ocala National Forest. Rolling hills and ranches girdle historic Gainsville, which has hardly been touched by tourism. Sports fans flock here to support University of Florida football supremos, the mighty Gators.
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