Florida, Map of Bars and NightlifeFlorida Bars Nightlife and Entertainment.

Florida (spanish: flowery). The Sunshine State, where 60m plus of us flock every year to soak up the sun, terrify ourselves on roller coasters and enjoy nightlife of every description. It hasn’t always been like that, of course. Go back a few hundered years and ownership of Florida was a constant struggle between the English and the Spanish. In the 17th Century the Spanish

encouraged slaves to make Florida their home, gaining freedom in return for converting to Catholicism. Later, in 1763, the British tried to develop the then West and East Floridas through the importation of immigrants for labour; 20 years later the Spanish (having regained the Floridas in the Treaty of Versailles) offered land grants to anyone who settled in the colonies.Well who would want to live in this swamp and marsh riddled, alligator infested land by choice? Today – a hell of a lot of people!

The 4th highest state population at 18.1m, Florida is also a rapidly growing ‘second home’ destination for couples and families of all ages, lured by the warm sunny climate and attractions – most notably Walt Disney World (the largest vacation resort in the world), Universal, Sea World, Busch Gardens and the John F Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaverel. And that’s not forgetting the Miami Dolphins, the Orange Bowl and the Daytona 500 stock car race for the sporty amongst us.

So quick has been the growth of the economy that Florida’s population nearly tripled between 1960 and 1990 and it still has one of the fastest growing GDP’s in the US. Tourism, not surprisingly, is the most important contributor to the state’s economy, followed by agriculture – nope, you’ll never go short of vitamin C in Florida!

Florida became part of the Union on March 3, 1845, as the 27th state and has 67 counties. Mention Florida to most people and they will come up with Miami, Orlando and The Florida Keys. The majority will probably have no idea where the capital is….Tallahassee, the population of which is significantly smaller than Jacksonville (the biggest city at around 783,000), and the other main cities Miami, Tampa, St Petersburg and Hialeah.

A 1,473mile North-South, East-West interstate highway system makes Florida an easy state to explore and venturing out in any direction from Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or wherever you happen to be staying is a great way to find some cool bars, laid back restaurants and chic clubs that you won’t find in the main guidebooks.Be warned, though, like most US states the drinking age is 21 and state law prohibits the selling of alcohol (on and off premise) between 1am and 7am – unless the county chooses to change the operating hours to later. Some do, particularly the tourist spots, so it’s best to check. Miami-Dade County liquor stores, however, are able to operate 24 hours a day.

Any nightlife guide to Florida has to start with Miami – one of the hottest nightlife scenes in the world for the rich and famous as well as the average vacationer. South Beach is home to the best known clubs in the US, including The Marlin Bar, Jazid, The Loft and Tantra – an exotic Mediterranean style bar and restaurant, but

Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue are equally alive after dark. Try Little Havana for flamenco and salsa clubs and dance off all that great food.

Fort Lauderdale, like Daytona and Panama City Beach, is a favourite Spring Break party scene and offers a fabulous range of entertainment. Las Olas with its cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants is young and lively while Boca Rotan has a more elegant and sophisticated feel.Current hot spots include the Elbo Room, Rush Street (ice cream flavoured martinis), The Martini Bar, Shooters and O’Hara’s for jazz and blues. Riverwalk is a brilliant outdoor entertainment/shopping complex in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Set on the scenic and charming New River (you can sail here if you’ve got a boat), it has a host of bars, restaurants and shops.

On inland to Orlando. Apart from the theme parks, this area is also home to colleges and universities, and consequently offers a unbelievable range of nightlife from the totally tacky to stunningly sophisticated. International Drive is home to hundreds of restaurant, while Point Orlando is a premier entertainment complex. The theme parks are not just about rides either. Pleasure Island (Walt Disney) offers adult fun after dark with attractions including BET SoundStage Club, Rock n Roll BeachClub, Motions etc, while Universal City Walk offers live music, restaraunts, dancing, cinemas and shopping all in one location. Go downtown to check out where the locals go.

If you do manage to venture further, why not head west towards the Gulf Coast. Ybor City in Tampa, a Latin nightlife hotspot, is worth an evening before whiling away some gentle time at John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk at Madeira Beach, a quaint (yes they do have quaint in Florida) fishing village with more than 130 shops, restaurants, bars and a waterfront boardwalk which has great views over the Intercoastal waterway and Gulf of Mexico. Or head down

further south to the glamorous and glitzy bars and bistros on Fifth Avenue in Naples.

Away from the traditional tourist spots, Jacksonville (home to the Universityof North Florida), has a buzzing party scene round the Intracoastal Waterway on the beaches, while heading west to Panama City Beach you’ll find institutions such as Sharky’s Beach Club and Harpoon Harry’s, The Boatyard and Club Le Vela – said to be the US’s largest nightclub with ten theme rooms.

Lastly – the Florida Keys. If you’re heading to Key West (which you definitely should), stop off at Hobo’s Sports Bar and Resaurant on Key Largo for cold beer and excellent yellow snapper. Key West is closer to Cuba than any other US city and has a laid back, hippy lifestyle with fantastic sunsets. One time home to Ernest Hemingway, the Old Town is delightful with its ornate architecture and well preserved buildings. Duval Street and Mallory Square are where you’ll find the best bars and restaurants.

A final word of warning. Florida is not only the sunshine state, it is also a hurricane state and August tends to be when they hit – if they’re going to. So keep an eye on the weather reports!