Today, Coastal Florida is more than sun, sand, and sea. Within the last several decades, some of Florida's larger coastal cities — Miami, Sarasota, Tampa, and Jacksonville — have developed into cultural centers with a full schedule of events. Besides sophisticated museums and galleries, you'll also find state-of-the-art performing-arts centers where you can experience the best in opera, dance, and theater.
Miami boasts seven theatrical companies, offering everything from Shakespeare to Broadway, with contemporary and African American in between. And even though the city seems to move to the beat of salsa these days, you'll find five dance companies, from the world-class Miami City Ballet and Ballet Theater of Miami to the contemporary Momentum Dance Company to the Ballet Flamenco La Rosa. Plus, the city has a symphony and a philharmonic orchestra and the Greater Miami Opera. Six museums also offer you the chance to view a world of art, from old master paintings to traditional to contemporary to Cuban.
With the wide assortment of ethnic groups living in Florida comes a choice of cultural festivals. The Epiphany Festival, held in Tarpon Springs each January, draws over a quarter of a million people. A half million attend the Festival of the States in Saint Petersburg, and thousands attend the Highland Games each April in Dunedin.
For its size, Sarasota offers a variety of cultural experiences. Five theatrical companies keep the curtain up in season at a number of theaters, including the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, offering pop and jazz concerts as well as children's programs and dance performances. Sarasota also has its own ballet company, an opera company, symphony orchestra, and symphonic band. But John Ringling made sure the best of Sarasota exists at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art complex, the city's top attraction.
The ever-growing City of Tampa doesn't take a back seat to any one. With a first-class opera and orchestra, it also has two theatrical companies and three performing-arts venues, including the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall, and the Mahaffey Theater.
Jacksonville, Florida's largest city, offers a cultural calendar to match. Drawing some of the top names in the arts, it boasts three theatrical companies, including the Alhambra Dinner Theater, which join the Jacksonville Symphony with its impressive docket of fifty concerts per year. Two top art museums — the Cummer Gallery of Art and the Jacksonville Art Museum — boast collections of traditional, pre-Columbian, Asian, and contemporary art, while the Museum of Science and History will keep your kids happy with its hands-on exhibits.
City Tours and Sightseeing
While you'll probably rent a car and sightsee on your own, you can also take Grayline Bus Tours in Tampa, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. Tours run one-and-a-half to five hours and cost $15 to $25 per person. For instance, in the Tampa area, you can take the longer city tours of Tampa or Saint Petersburg/Clearwater or the shorter Ghost Tour of Saint Petersburg.
In Saint Augustine, you have a choice of three ways to see the Old Town: sightseeing trains, open-air trolley tours, or carriage tours. The first two offer stop-off privileges at major attractions, as well as a narrated lecture en route. The third is a little more personal, taking your family on a horse-and-buggy ride through Old Town.
Key West likewise has its own version of these tours — the Old Town Trolley and Conch Trains. Each wends its way through Key West's neighborhoods as guides point out interesting historical sights. Miami also offers you “the Magic City Tour” by Old Town Trolley, a great way to get to know its neighborhoods.
Other cities, like Jacksonville, offer river cruises. These are a great way to enjoy the city from a different angle. As you glide under Jacksonville's bridges, mirrored office buildings gleam in the sun. A variation on this is the water taxi tour of Fort Lauderdale. Water taxis go anywhere within the Intracoastal Waterway, enabling you to see incredible mansions and other sights. You can hop off and on as you go, enjoying the watery view as you travel.
Coastal Florida isn't all T-shirt and beach souvenir shops. You'll find sophisticated shopping in the larger cities like Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville. Farther south and along the central west coast, you'll discover a myriad of shops selling every kind of shell imaginable, as well as items made from them.
The diversity of goods for sale will astound you. While a $10 T-shirt from Daytona Beach may satisfy some, others will want to spend several thousand dollars on fine jewelry in shops along Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. And though you may not feel the need to be so extravagant, you'll want to pick up something that reminds you of Coastal Florida — a poster, a collectible, a painting or sculpture.