What You Need to Know About Florida
This was my second trip to Florida. The first trip, as with this trip, we rented a car and explored. When both trips are combined, this leads to over 30 days in the Sunshine State. Having done the theme parks in Orlando and Tampa areas, if this is the goal, your travels are limited. Orlando is the home of theme parks with Disney and Universal having newer and better ones than in California. All are incredibly expensive. Tampa has Busch Gardens, which is a great alternative plus you can visit the beautiful beach at Clearwater.
Having gone all over the state, I can say that nearly all the beaches have similar characteristics that surpass beaches in Southern Cal. They are all beautiful. Most have light or white color sand. Wherever you go, you are insured that the weather will be warm or hot, the ocean will be 70F or more, even if it is cloudy, you can enjoy the coast. This is not the case in California where there are much colder ocean temps, fog, wind, all can ruin your day at the beach. In Florida, it comes down to which beach is nicest and closest to where you live because most are good.
Florida has WAY more wildlife to keep your attention at the beach or inlets. It was amazing to watch pelicans and other birds nosedive into the water and catch fish just 50 yards from the beach. Dolphins swam close to shore off the Venice beach and Manatees were spotted near the North Jetty Venice pier. A couple of dolphins swam up the channel in pursuit of fish. Off in the sand dunes, I spotted sea turtles and even a raccoon. Try finding any of this on any California beach. And, gators are all over.
The Gulf side of Florida is FAR better than the Atlantic coast because it is much less populated and the water is less salty. The Gulf is calmer, sunsets are amazing. The best spots on the Gulf coast are: Tampa-St.Pete (over a million people), Sarasota, and Venice. Ft. Myers and Naples are much further south but do not offer anything better except a hotter climate. I found the Miami area hectic and over built up. Even though Key Biscayne was just 30 miles from us, it took well over an hour to get there due to traffic. I will say driving to Key West is a must and a wonder, especially as you cross the seven mile bridge over the ocean at Marathon. It is a good three hours from the start of the Keys to Key West, as traffic is slow along the two-lane road. The Keys offer three great beaches: Key West, Bahia Honda State Park, and Marathon Beach.
I was impressed with the roads and highways. All very nice with few potholes and because of the limestone, are light colored not a black tar. As for the cost of living, I will say food is generally the same in cost as in California, but there is no state income tax there. Gas was only $2.40, far cheaper. Real estate was a little cheaper but the best buys are manufactured homes in parks. You can find a furnished 1200 s.f. for just $10-20K. There are many retired people all over, many are working and bagging your groceries. Florida has many mobile home parks for families and age restricted to 40 yrs. and more. While many parks indicate 55 yrs. old and more, Florida state law allows the park a percentage of 30-40 yr. old also, but each park is different so you need to ask.
Comparing California to Florida is nonsense. There is no comparison as Florida does offer a better lifestyle year around. But, that is really just personal preference. I have talked with Floridians who just love the wine country and Lake Tahoe in northern California, where I live. The rolling hills of vineyards and the cool nights and warm days. It comes down to whether you want a tropical climate or not because life radiates from that in Florida.