Sure, Florida is declared the Sunshine State, but it has also been cited as a destination the masses flock to when ready to retire, and a place people go to die. I even frequently hear it referred to as a black hole for millennials like myself. As someone with a wanderlust-filled nature, I used to think I couldn't get far enough away from Florida, that is, until I had a change of tune.
Despite having taken a number of trips and adventures in my days, both domestically and abroad, I've technically lived in Florida the entirety of my 27 years on the planet. As a born-and-bred Floridian, I can confidently say I have a pretty solid handle on my home state by now.
During the summer months, I must admit, Florida tests my patience daily, when it is upwards of 90 degrees by mid-morning, and 100 percent humidity. The only way to survive the summer is to gravitate toward the water, which thankfully, in many places throughout the state, is merely a walk or short drive away. Of course, when it's not hot, humid and blazing during the summer months, chances are it's raining. And regardless of whether the sun is out or the rain is beating down, you can bet you will be eaten alive by mosquitos.
And what about the tourists? For some, tourists equal headaches. As far as I'm concerned, tourism simply means an expanded community. I'll take the crowds of folks sporting cameras, fully clothed at the beach with white sunscreen smeared all over their aimless faces, in exchange for stories from around the world, and increased funding to help with local improvements. As far as I'm concerned, tourism makes home feel a little more European, and that much more diverse.
As I prepare for a move from my Pensacola home, located on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle, over to St. Augustine on the East Coast this weekend, I am reminded why I've grown to love Florida and have decided to stick around. With that, here are a few key reasons I am not lacing up my running shoes and fleeing Florida -- at least not yet.
Florida is Outdoor Adventure
No, we don't have the mountains or even the most impressive of hills at our disposal, but I've never had trouble finding endless places to run, jump and play, from the woods to the coast. We may not have painted deserts, but we have painted skies that reflect on the water each night as the sun gradually sinks down lower and lower. Speaking of the water, depending on which way you look, we have the Gulf of Mexico, and we have the Atlantic Ocean. At our southernmost tip, we have the Keys. And up in the central portion of the state, we have a concentration of springs like no other state, pumping out millions of gallons of crystal clear blue water each day. Did I mention people pay a lot of money traveling for a glimpse of scenery like this? And here we are spoiled with it in our backyards. Florida has helped me realize that I never want to live somewhere that is landlocked, no matter how inviting it is. Nothing makes me feel more at ease and weightless than floating on my back in salt water while staring up into the bright blue sky.
Florida is Foodie Friendly
We have artisan coffee. We have craft beer. We have farmers markets. We have food trucks. We have gourmet ice pops. We have locavore movements. We are slowing down our food and we have networks of farmers dedicated to putting fresh food on an increased number of restaurant tables. To top if off, we have a heaping helping of plant-based options. As a vegan foodie, this selling point is one I find to be especially crucial. Between Sluggo's Vegetarian Restaurant and End of the Line in my own Pensacola hometown, Soul Veg in Tallahassee, and The Present Moment in St. Augustine, in the northern half of the state alone, the vegan food being served up rivals what I've tasted in bigger cities.
Florida is Creative Culture
Yes, we have booming locales that are basically countries of their own, such as the Miami metro area, but we also have small towns bursting with creative culture rivaling that of big cities. Sure, we look to those who are a bit ahead of us to see what they've done and are continuing to do successfully (I see you there Nashville, Brooklyn and Austin), but we don't try and pretend to be anything we're not. We have the resources and the heart to have just as much going for us, it just might have taken us longer to get there, we admit. We may not have all the jobs to offer our millennials (now or ever), but maybe we're figuring out that working for the big guns isn't where we want to be after all. Instead, we have close-knit communities of individuals supporting each other to "Go Your Own Way" (in the words of Fleetwood Mac). In short, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.
Florida is Home
They say home is where the heart is, and right now, my heart is anchored in Florida. And while I'm not sure I want to stay here until I die, no matter where I go, I will always be proud to call Florida my home sweet (sunny and salty) home.
Sarah McCartan is a writer, runner and vegan foodie. Follow along with her veg-escapades at veganontherun.org.