Latin dance, Broadway musicals, reggae fests, edgy art galleries, kaleidoscopic tropical architecture, film festivals, urbane museums, artist colonies and ethnic carnivals: For the hip connoisseur of the arts, Florida hits the jackpot.
With its global cultural influences and tropical climes, Florida flaunts an art scene as wide-flung as its shorelines, as hot as its sizzling beaches, as colorful as its floral landscape. Here are some suggestions for sampling Florida’s different cultural arenas.
Where would you like to visit today? Havana? Cuba? Bahamas? Greece? No need to panic about a passport, the flavor of faraway lands comes to you hassle-free, compliments of Florida.
Little Havana in Miami represents the state’s ultimate Cuban adventure, where café con leche and fat cigars scent the air, salsa music sets the pace, Cuban art galleries brighten Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), and the clack of dominoes and chattering of Latin tongues whisk you island-side.
In Tampa, Ybor City also traces its heritage to Cuba and cigar-making, which moved here from Key West in the 1880s. Key West retains its Cuban roots, mixed with the color and zest of its Bahamian “Conch” population. St. Augustine, too, moves to a Latin beat, having been settled by the Spanish long before the British anchored at Jamestown.
Other cultures pocket the state, such as in Miami’s vibrant Little Haiti and Orlando’s Caribbean- and African-American neighborhoods. In Tarpon Springs, Greek restaurants and an onion-domed cathedral uphold the strong culture imported by sponge divers more than 100 years ago. In Delray Beach, Japanese, Asian, Hispanic, Bahamian, Haitian and African-American cultures intersect for a rich complexion that has resulted in its Cultural Loop and lively festivals.
Villes des Artes
Florida, with its impossibly intense sea and landscapes, inspires art without even trying. In towns large to snapshot, art collects in colonies, gallery rows, theater districts, and grand halls.
Miami Beach, with its legacy of South Beach Art Deco treasures and trendy tempo, skates along the state’s cutting-edge of creativity, centered on its museums, theaters, and Lincoln Road galleries. Its Art Basel festival ranks as the top in the nation for arts-world A-listers.
Fort Lauderdale's hot and historic arts and entertainment district, Las Olas Boulevard, hosts a historical museum, performing arts hall, interactive science museum, and sophisticated museum of art. And although most equate Orlando with a different brand of entertainment, its art museums, ballet and theater play flipside to its more frivolous reputation.
In smaller communities, one finds equal sophistication with an approachable, accessible quality. Take the Sarasota-Bradenton area, for instance. Towles Court and Village of the Arts have turned historic neighborhoods into working artist colonies. Sarasota’s reputation for art stems from the influence of John Ringling, who bequeathed the town his Gilded Age art and estate’s architectural treasures. Today, theaters and galleries line downtown streets, sculptures decorate parks, and art college students inject their energy into the social scene.
In the small, offbeat village of Matlacha, monthly Art Night celebrations are the work of an eclectic group of gallery owners occupying brightly painted old fish houses along the waterfront. Pensacola’s galleries and theaters extend a warm, Southern y’all-come welcome. Naples, small though it may be, boasts galleries and performance art that ranks at the high-brow end of the scale.
If happening nightlife, jazz festivals, and big-name concerts are your idea of art on the town, head to Florida’s hottest hot spots. In Tallahassee and Gainesville, universities form the heart of the community, creating an arts scene that's on the cusp of what’s bold and emerging.
By dint of its spring break reputation, Panama City Beach is a vibrant coastal community where there is always something going on – whether a beachfront festival, music concert or other exciting event. Nearby Seaside and Grayton Beach are artistic outposts well known for their galleries, experimental theater and architecture.
St. Petersburg too offers the best of both worlds with beaches that go on and on and downtown music and theater that does too. Across the bay in Tampa, nightlife scintillates in downtown clubs, funky bars, name-brand concerts, and Ybor City streets.
On the east coast, metropolitan sophistication means it-list entertainment from city-smart West Palm Beach and hip Fort Lauderdale to sexy Miami Beach and ever-outrageous Key West, where anything from live rock to drag shows entertain.
Take your culture quest to a new temporal dimension when you step into the past at some of Florida’s most artistically historic towns. From the quiet antebellum architecture and New Age galleries of Apalachicola to the way-wild buzz in Key West, with its history of social rebellion, Florida history not only breathes, it gasps with pleasure. Ply the brick-paved streets of St. Augustine with street performers, admire Fernandina Beach’s Victorian airs, or visit the museums and gracious historic districts of Pensacola. You’ll be sure to return to the present-day enriched by culture that began colonial and persists to contemporary and far beyond.