Florida: Monroe County

Monroe County (pop.73,090) is one of 17 Monroe counties, all named for James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth president of the U.S.

Although 87% of the county’s land is on the mainland (in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve), more than 99% of the population lives on the Florida Keys.

The two parts don’t touch.

The county seat of Monroe County is the city of Key West (pop. 24,649), located at the southern end of U.S. Highway 1 (which begins in Maine) andĀ  near the western end of the 1,700-island archipelago known as the Florida Keys.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was the author’s home from 1931-39. It is known for its six- and seven-toed cats, descendants of Hemingway’s cats.

The house stayed in the family for many years.

The Harry S. Truman Little White House is also in Key West. President Truman made 11 visits as president, between 1946 and 1953.

East of Key West, Sugarloaf Key has a historic bat tower, built in 1929 to control mosquitoes. The bats flew away soon after they were installed, and the mosquitoes apparently remained.

One of three still standing in the U.S.

Farther east, at Big Pine Key, is the Bahia Honda Bridge. It was replaced in 1980, and part of it is now open to pedestrians.

Old bridge on left, new bridge on right

The city of Marathon (pop. 8,310), on seven different islands, has the grave of Flipper – bottlenose dolphin star of the 1960s TV of the same name.

Her real name was Mitzi.

The island of Key Largo, 33 miles long, is near the eastern end of the keys. Humphrey Bogart starred in the 1948 film “Key Largo” and in the 1951 film “African Queen,” which had nothing to do with Key Largo.

But the actual boat is docked in Key Largo.

NEXT STATE: INDIANA

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Florida: Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County (pop. 2,496,435) is Florida’s largest county by population, and the seventh-largest county in the U.S. It’s the most southeasterly county on the U.S. mainland.

Dade County was created in 1836 and named for Major Francis L. Dade, a soldier who died in the Second Seminole War in 1835. Voters changed the name to Miami-Dade in 1997.

The courthouse was built in 1926.

The county seat of Miami-Dade County is the city of Miami (pop. 400,769), second-largest city in Florida (after Jacksonville).

Downtown Miami skyline

The MLB Miami Marlins and NBA Miami Heat play in Miami; the NFL Miami Dolphins play in nearby Miami Gardens.

Marlins Park was built on the site of the former Orange Bowl.

Metrorail (1984) is a rapid-transit system with two lines, covering 24 miles and connecting downtown with the airport and suburban areas.

Downtown also has a free, 4-mile people mover.

Actor-comedian Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) lived and worked in the Miami area for many years. He is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami, with the inscription “And away we go” on the tomb.

“The Honeymooners”

The separate city of Miami Beach (pop. 87,779) is on barrier islands, across Biscayne Bay from Miami.

Miami Beach is known for having the most extensive collection of 1920s and ’30s Art Deco architecture in the world.

There’s an annual Art Deco Weekend.

The nearby community of Opa-Locka, established in 1926, has the world’s largest collection of Moorish Revival architecture.

City Hall (1926)

The city of Coral Gables (pop. 46,994), home of the University of Miami, is known for its Mediterranean Revival architecture.

City Hall (1928)

The headquarters of Burger King is located in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County.

Founded in 1954 in Miami

Everglades National Park is in the western part of Miami-Dade County. The Ernest Coe Visitor Center is west of the city of Homestead (“Gateway to the Everglades”).

NEXT: MONROE COUNTY

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Florida: Broward County

Broward County (pop. 1,748,066), south of Palm Beach County, is Florida’s second-largest county in population, and the 17th-largest county in the U.S.

Almost all of the population lives in the eastern part of the county; the western part is in the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, which serves as a protective buffer to Everglades National Park, to the south.

Hunting is allowed.

The county was named for Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, governor of Florida from 1905 to 1909. As governor, he worked to drain the Everglades for agricultural use.

The county seat of Broward County is the city of Fort Lauderdale (pop. 165,521), home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Port Everglades is the home of more cruise ships than any other port and is the busiest container port in Florida.

It once hosted 15 cruise ships on the same day.

The former Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale – built in 1956 to resemble a cruise ship – is now part of the B Ocean Resort.

The Wreck Bar inside the B Ocean Resort is known for its windows into the hotel pool and its weekend mermaid shows.

Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

North of Fort Lauderdale, the city of Pompano Beach (pop. 99,845) is the home of the Festival Flea Market Mall, known as the largest indoor flea market in the U.S.

More than 500 stores

Pompano Park is a harness racing track and casino.

South of Fort Lauderdale, in Hallondale Beach (pop. 37,113), Gulfstream Park is a horse racing track that dates from 1944. Nearby is a new, 110-foot bronze statue of Pegasus killing a dragon – second-largest statue in the U.S.

#1 is the Statue of Liberty.

The NHL Florida Panthers play at the BB&T Center (previously the National Car Rental Center, 1998) in the city of Sunrise (pop. 84,439), west of Fort Lauderdale.

Also previously the Office Depot Center

Nearby, the city of Coconut Creek (pop. 53,072) is the home of Butterfly World, the largest butterfly park in the world.

It opened in 1988.

NEXT: MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

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Florida: Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County has Florida’s third-largest population, 1,320,134 in 2010, up from 348,753 in 1970. It stretches from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of the population is along the ocean.

One of Florida’s wealthiest counties, it has communities named Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, South Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Palm Springs.

The Breakers hotel (1925), Palm Beach

The county seat, and largest city, is West Palm Beach (pop. 99,919). It’s the oldest municipality in the South Florida metropolitan area – incorporated in 1894, two years before Miami.

The old courthouse (1916) is now a history museum.

West Palm Beach is on the 71-mile Tri-Rail commuter rail system, which runs south to Miami. It opened in 1989.

Tri-Rail and Amtrak station (1925)

On Peanut Island in West Palm Beach, tours are now available of President John F. Kennedy’s once-secret bomb shelter – located near the Kennedy family’s “Winter White House” in Palm Beach.

It could have sheltered 30 people for a month.

The town of Palm Beach (pop. 8,426) is on a barrier island, across the Intracoastal Waterway from West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach at right, West Palm Beach at left

The Flagler Museum is a 55-room mansion in Palm Beach, built by Henry Flagler in 1901 and now open to the public.

Flagler was the “Father of Palm Beach.”

The city of Boca Raton (pop. 85,196) – which does not allow billboards along its roads – is the home of Florida Atlantic University, a public university founded in 1961.

About 30,000 students

The Palm Beach Gardens branch of Nova Southeastern University has an 18-foot Mako shark statue bursting out of the plaza.

The school’s teams are known as the Sharks.

The town of Jupiter (pop. 55,434) is the spring training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams play at Roger Dean Stadium (1998).

Four minor league teams also play there.

NEXT: BROWARD COUNTY

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Florida: Hendry County

Hendry County (pop. 39,140) is north of Collier County. Its northeastern corner touches Lake Okeechobee.

Hendry County’s economy is based on agriculture – mainly sugar cane and oranges. The only cities are Clewiston, in the northeastern corner, and LaBelle, in the northwestern corner.

Florida’s #1 producer of oranges

The county seat is LaBelle (pop. 4,655), on the Caloosahatchee River.

Hendry County Courthouse (1926)

La Belle has an annual Swamp Cabbage Festival, now in its 50th year. The swamp cabbage, also known as the cabbage palm or palmetto, is Florida’s state tree.

Clewiston (pop 7,151) is the county’s largest city. The headquarters of US Sugar Company, the largest producer of sugar cane in the U.S., is in Clewiston.

The Clewiston Sugar Festival takes place in April.

The Billie Swamp Safari is an attraction on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.

Swamp rides

Harlem, a census-designated place adjacent to Clewiston, was established by itinerant black workers in the sugar-cane fields. Its 2010 population of 2,658 was 96% African-American.

NEXT: PALM BEACH COUNTY

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Florida: Collier County

Collier County (pop. 321,520) is south of Lee County. It was named for Barron Collier (1873-1939), an entrepreneur who became the largest landowner in Florida.

Florida’s largest county in land area

The entire southeastern part of the county is in Big Cypress National Preserve, established in 1974.

Burmese pythons are not native to the area.

The county seat of Collier County is the unincorporated community of East Naples. The county seat was moved from the city of Everglades in 1962, after it was badly damaged by Hurricane Dora in 1960.

Collier County Courthouse

The name of Everglades was changed to Everglades City in 1965. Its population is now 400. In 1950, before Hurricane Dora, it was 625.

The restored courthouse is now City Hall.

The community of Ochopee, east of Everglades City, is the home of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, which investigates local sightings of the Skunk Ape – a Florida relative of Bigfoot.

Skunk-ape-related merchandise is available.

The Ochopee Post Office is the smallest post office in the U.S., at about 7 feet by 8 feet.

Former storage area for irrigation pipes

The largest city in Collier County is Naples (pop. 19,598), one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.

Many condominiums

The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which opened in 1969, was formerly the gardens for Dr. Henry Nehrling’s collection of plants.

It can get hot outside.

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, east of Naples, was established in 1989 to protect the endangered Florida panther.

NEXT: HENDRY COUNTY

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Florida: Lee County

Lee County (pop. 618,754) is south of Charlotte County, on the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of 12 Lee counties, and one of the many named for Gen. Robert E. Lee (1807-1870).

The county seat of Lee County is the city of Fort Myers (pop. 62,431). Fort Myers was the winter home of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford in the early 1900s.

Edison statue and banyan trees he planted

The adjacent Edison and Ford Winter Estates are now open to the public, with home tours, museum, and botanical gardens.

The Ford home

The Shell Factory (“the largest collection in North America of taxidermy animals”) has been an attraction in Fort Myers since 1938.

Also “The World’s Largest Shell Factory”

The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins have their spring training homes in Fort Myers – about six miles apart.

JetBlue Park at Fenway South (2012)

Florida Gulf Coast University opened in Fort Myers in 1997. It now has about 14,000 students

It has its own lakeside beach.

Deion Sanders, former NFL and MLB player, was born in Fort Myers and played baseball, football, and basketball at North Fort Myers High School. He was all-state in all three sports.

In Pro Football Hall of Fame

A giant head of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) can be found outside the Pyramid Village in Fort Myers.

A resort built by Austrians

The largest city in Lee County is Cape Coral (pop. 154,305). Founded in 1957, Cape Coral claims to have the most canals (about 400 miles) of any city in the world.

About 120 square miles

The nearby city of Bonita Springs is the home of the Everglades Wonder Gardens, which date from 1936.

The town of Estero (pop. 18,176) was established by the followers of Cyrus Teed, who believed that humans live on the inside of a hollow earth, and that the stars and planets are all inside it.

He claimed to be immortal, but he died.

NEXT: COLLIER COUNTY

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Florida: Charlotte County

Charlotte County (pop. 159,978) is south of DeSoto County. Its population in 1970 was 27,559.

The only other Charlotte County is in Virginia.

The county is centered on Charlotte Harbor, a natural estuary on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fishermen’s Village, Punta Gorda

The county seat of Charlotte County is the city of Punta Gorda (pop. 16,641).

Charlotte County Courthouse (1928)

Charlotte High School was among the many buildings in Punta Gorda that were severely damaged by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

The entire interior was rebuilt.

Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda has a marker commemorating the “first white man to die in America.”

Many of the homes in Punta Gorda are in a neighborhood of man-made canals, 100 feet wide and 17 feet deep.

55 miles of canals

Punta Gorda has a 2.4-mile Harborwalk along Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River.

Established in 2010

The unincorporated community of Port Charlotte is the home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, single-A Florida State League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Charlotte Sports Park (1987)

In the nearby community of Englewood, the cemetery has a grave shaped like a boat.

H.H. “Bill” Anger (1915-1990)

NEXT: LEE COUNTY

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Florida: DeSoto County

DeSoto County (pop. 34,862) is east of Sarasota County. It was named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto – as was Hernando County, farther north in Florida.

The only other DeSoto County is in Mississippi. Its county seat is the city of Hernando.

In the Memphis metropolitan area

The county seat of DeSoto County, Florida, is the city of Arcadia (pop. 7,636).

DeSoto County Courthouse (1913)

The Arcadia Opera House (1906) is now one of downtown DeSoto’s many antique stores.

The theater was on the second floor.

The Opera House was built after a fire destroyed most of Arcadia’s business district in 1905.

Only two downtown buildings survived

Hurricane Charley in 2004 did extensive damage to Arcadia and DeSoto County. About 95% of downtown buildings were damaged.

Much damage all over southwestern Florida

Carlstrom Field was a military airfield, southwest of Arcadia, that trained pilots from 1917 to 1945.

It became a hospital after WWII.

DeSoto County has the second-most acres in citrus trees (after Polk County) of any county in Florida.

NEXT: CHARLOTTE COUNTY

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Florida: Sarasota County

Sarasota County (pop. 379,448) is south of Manatee County, along the Gulf of Mexico. The origin of the name “Sarasota” is unknown.

The county seat of Sarasota County is the city of Sarasota (pop. 52,166), in the county’s northwestern corner.

The courthouse (1927) is in Mediterranean Revival style.

Starting in 1927, Sarasota was the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Today, it is the home of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

The Ringling Mansion (Ca’d’Zan) is open for tours.

The Ringling Circus Museum features a 44,000-piece miniature circus.

The world’s largest

The 25-foot “Unconditional Surrender” statue is a landmark in Sarasota. It is based on a famous photograph taken in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945.

First installed in 2005

Sarasota Jungle Gardens, open since 1936, has bird and animal shows, in addition to its gardens.

Bike-riding parrots

The Sarasota Opera House (originally the Edwards Theatre, 1926) is the home of the Sarasota Opera.

Elvis Presley played there in 1956.

The former Sarasota High School is being renovated. When completed, it will become the Sarasota Museum of Art.

Built in 1926

The Sarasota Chalk Festival, which began in 2007, features a wide variety of Italian street painting in downtown Sarasota.

The world’s most important chalk festival

The Baltimore Orioles have had their spring training home at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota since 2010.

The White Sox played there previously.

The largest city in Sarasota County is North Port (pop. 57,357). Located inland, North Port has grown from a population of 178 in 1960.

Warm Mineral Springs, North Port

NEXT: DESOTO COUNTY

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Florida: Manatee County

Manatee County (pop. 322,833) is west of Hardee County, on the Gulf of Mexico and partly on Tampa Bay. Almost all of the population is in the coastal areas.

The manatee (also known as the sea cow) is Florida’s official state marine mammal.

They reach 8-14 feet in length.

The county seat of Manatee County is the city of Bradenton (pop. 49,486).

Manatee County Courthouse (1913)

The Linger Lodge restaurant in Bradenton is known for the stuffed animals on the walls, as well as for its menu, which includes “fresh alligator bites” and fried green tomatoes.

Tropicana, Inc., was founded in Bradenton in 1947. Its headquarters are now in Chicago, but it still has its huge plant for processing fruit juice in Bradenton.

Tropicana juice plant

The aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton is the home of Snooty (age 67) the world’s oldest known manatee.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have their spring training home at McKechnie Field (1923) in Bradenton. The Pirates have been there since 1969.

Renovated in 1993

The De Soto National Memorial, five miles west of Bradenton, commemorates the landing of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539 – the first extended exploration of the area by Europeans.

Lake Manatee State Park is in the central part of the county.

Wildlife includes armadillos

NEXT: SARASOTA COUNTY

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Florida: Hardee County

Hardee County (pop. 27,731) is west of Highlands County. It’s the only Hardee County in the U.S.

The county was named for Cary A. Hardee (1876-1957), governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925.

Florida’s 23rd governor

The county seat of Hardee County is the city of Wauchula (pop. 4,952).

Hardee County Courthouse (1927)

Wauchula has long been known as the “Cucumber Capital of the World,” although today the area produces more citrus than cucumber.

The 106-mile Peace River, popular for canoeing, flows through Wauchula. The river flows into the Gulf of Mexico in Charlotte County.

Also a popular area for fossil hunters

Paynes Creek Historic State Park is located on the site of Fort Chokonikla – built in 1849 to protect white settlers from Seminole Indians. The fort was abandoned within a year, because so many people were dying of malaria.

It was in a swampy breeding ground for mosquitos.

In 2004, Hurricane Charley did $750 million damage in Hardee County, destroying 1,400 homes.

Power was out all over the county.

NEXT: MANATEE COUNTY

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Florida: Highlands County

Highlands County (pop. 98,786), north of Glades County, has more than 100 lakes. It is Florida’s third-largest producer of citrus.

The county’s largest lake is Lake Istokpoga, the fifth-largest lake in Florida. It has an average depth of only four feet.

Popular for fishing, dangerous for boating

Just west of Lake Istokpoga is Lake June in Winter. It was renamed (from Lake Stearns) by an early developer of the area who had a summer home on a Lake June in New York state.

The county seat of Highlands County is the city of Sebring (pop. 10,491).

Highlands County Courthouse (1927)

Sebring is best known as the home of the Sebring International Raceway, the site of the annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race for sports cars.

The track opened in 1950.

Sebring is also known as the “City on the Circle,” because the center of its downtown is on two concentric circle roads.

The Kenilworth Lodge is a resort hotel in Sebring that’s been in operation since 1916.

Mediterranean Revival style

Harder Hall, a resort hotel named for developers Lewis Harder and Vincent Hall, opened in 1927. It has been unoccupied since 1982.

On Little Lake Jackson

The Amtrak station in Sebring, built in 1924 by the Seabord Air Line Railway, serves Amtrak’s “Silver Star” and “Silver Meteor” trains.

Between New York City and Miami

The town of Lake Placid, named after Lake Placid, New York, has 46 murals on the sides of buildings.

Tour brochures are available.

Lake Placid is known as the “Caladium Capital of the World,” because 98 percent of the world’s caladium bulbs come from there.

Highlands Hammock State Park, which opened in 1931, was one of Florida’s original state parks.

Boardwalk through the cypress swamp

NEXT: HARDEE COUNTY

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Florida: Glades County

Glades County, southwest of Okeechobee County, is Florida’s fourth-smallest county, with a population of 12,884. It was named for the Florida Everglades, which historically reached into the area but are now farther south.

The county seat of Glades County is the city of Moore Haven (pop. 1,680), fourth-smallest county seat in Florida.

Courthouse (1928)

The Chalo Nitka Festival and Rodeo dates from 1948. “Chalo Nitka” means “Day of the Big Bass” in the Miccosukee language.

There’s a parade.

The unincorporated community of Palmdale is the home of Gatorama, which has twice-daily Big Gator Feed Shows.

It opened in 1957.

The 52-mile Fisheating Creek flows into Lake Okeechobee near Palmdale. It is the second-largest natural source of the lake, after the Kissimmee River.

Paddling on Fisheating Creek

The 67-mile Caloosahatchee River flows west from Glades County to the Gulf of Mexico. It is part of the Okeechobee Waterway, which crosses the state from east to west.

The Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, in the northeastern part of the county, is the home of the Seminole Brighton Casino. The tribe also has a 36,000-acre cattle operation in the area.

NEXT: HIGHLANDS COUNTY

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Florida: Okeechobee County

Okeechobee County (pop. 39,996) is west of Martin County and north of Lake Okeechobee. The lake got its name from the Hitchiti Indian words “oka” (water) and “chobi” (big).

It is one of the six inland counties known as Florida Heartland – a mostly rural and agricultural area, with much less tourism than other parts of Florida.

The county seat of Okeechobee County is the city of Okeechobee (pop. 5,621).

Courthouse (1926)

The 54,000-acre Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, northwest of Okeechobee, is the state’s largest remaining area of dry prairie.

Popular for birding.

The Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 was one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history. The lake overflowed and flooded hundreds of square miles, with water reaching depths of up to 20 feet.

Okeechobee Battlefield State Historic Park commemorates the Battle of Okeechobee, during the Second Seminole War on Christmas Day, 1837.

Annual reenactments in February

NEXT: GLADES COUNTY

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Florida: Martin County

Martin County (pop. 146,318), south of St. Lucie County, is one of six Martin counties in the U.S.

It was named for John W. Martin (1884-1958), governor of Florida from 1925 to 1929.

Martin (left) with John D. Rockefeller

Martin County is one of the five counties that meet in the middle of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida.

Average depth of only 9 feet

The county seat of Martin County is the city of Stuart, the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

Lyric Theatre (1926)

The former Martin County Courthouse (1937) is now the Courthouse Cultural Center.

Art Deco style

Downtown Stuart has an intersection known as Confusion Corner. It has eight different roads entering it, plus a railroad track.

At lower left

The Stuart Welcome Arch (1926) is actually in the nearby community of Jensen Beach. The city limits were changed after it was constructed.

Jensen Beach has an annual Pineapple Festival, featuring an authentic Bahamian Market.

Since 1988

The wealthy town of Jupiter Island (pop. 817) has been the home of sports and entertainment celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Celine Dion, and Alan Jackson.

Ocean Breeze (pop. 354) is a town made up entirely of the residents of the Ocean Breeze mobile home park.

Established in 1938

The House of Refuge, built on Hutchinson Island in 1876, is the last remaining shipwreck life-saving station on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It is now a museum.

A haven for shipwrecked sailors

The unincorporated community of Indiantown is the home of Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center. Davy Jones (1945-2012) of the Monkees had 14 horses there.

He died there of a heart attack.

NEXT: OKEECHOBEE COUNTY

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Florida: St. Lucie County

St. Lucie County (pop. 277,789) is south of Indian River County. Its population in 1970 was 50,836.

St. Lucie County in 1917

The county seat of St. Lucie County is the city of Fort Pierce (pop. 41,590).

Old Fort Pierce City Hall (1925)

The Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce has the largest public collection of tropical bonsai trees in the U.S.

100 bonsai trees

During World War Two, Fort Pierce was the site of the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Base.

Navy SEAL Museum

The Moores Creek Bridge (1925) in Port Pierce is known as the “Tickle Tummy Bridge” because of its high arch relative to its short length.

Made of reinforced concrete

The Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce (1923) closed for movies in 1983 and reopened as a performing arts center in 2006.

Author Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) spent her final years in Fort Pierce and is buried there.

She was born in Alabama.

The largest city in St. Lucie County is the city of Port St. Lucie (pop. 164,603), which was not founded until the 1960s.

The spring training home of the New York Mets is in Port St. Lucie.

Tradition Field (1988)

The master-planned community of Tradition, established in 2002, is within the city limits of Port St. Lucie.

Avalon State Park is on North Hutchinson Island, north of Fort Pierce.

NEXT: MARTIN COUNTY

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Florida: Indian River County

Indian River County (pop. 138,028) is south of Brevard County. It was formed in 1925 from the northern part of St. Lucie County.

In recent years, the coastline of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties has been known as the Treasure Coast, commemorating the Spanish “treasure fleet” that sank in a hurricane in the area in 1715.

11 ships carrying silver

The county seat of Indian River County is the city of Vero Beach (pop. 15,220).

Driftwood Inn, Vero Beach

The McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach dates from 1929.

Along the Indian River

Vero Beach was the spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 until they moved to Arizona in 2009.

The city of Sebastian (pop. 21,929) is the home of Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, with items from the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet.

It opened in 1992.

The city of Fellsmere (pop. 3,813) is the home of the annual Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival – the largest frog leg festival in the world.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, north of Vero Beach, was the first national wildlife refuge in the U.S., created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 to protect egrets and other birds.

Reachable only by boat

NEXT: ST. LUCIE COUNTY

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Florida: Brevard County

Brevard County (pop. 543,376) is east of Orange County, along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the only Brevard County in the U.S.

The “Space Coast”

The Kennedy Space Center, on Merritt Island, has been the site of the Apollo moon landing program, Space Shuttle launches, and much more.

Vehicle Assembly Building

Brevard County was given the 321 area code in 1999 (formerly belonging to a Chicago suburb) to commemorate the countdown sequence for spacecraft at Cape Canaveral.

Space-related tourist attractions in the area include the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Shuttle Launch Experience, and Space Walk of Fame Museum.

 

Also the Police Hall of Fame is in Titusville

The county seat of Brevard County is the city of Titusville (pop. 43,761).

Old Courthouse (1912)

The city of Melbourne (pop. 76,068) was the birthplace (in 1943) of Jim Morrison of The Doors. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy graduated from Melbourne High School.

Not Bruce Bochy

Melbourne is the home of the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum, which has a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell and other patriotic memorabilia.

Established in 1985

The real city of Cocoa Beach (pop. 11,231) was the fictional home of astronaut Larry Hagman and genie Barbara Eden in the 1960s TV series “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Actually filmed in California

The First United Methodist Church of Cocoa has a weekly drive-in service.

The Aladdin Theater in the city of Cocoa (pop. 17,149) dates from 1924. It’s now the Cocoa Village Playhouse.

The 25-mile-long Canaveral National Seashore is the longest expanse of undeveloped land on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

North of Kennedy Space Center

NEXT: INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

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Florida: Orange County

Orange County (pop. 1,145,956) is north of Osceola County. Its population in 1970 was 344,311; Walt Disney World opened in 1971. It now has the fifth-largest population in Florida.

One of eight Orange counties in the U.S., it was a major producer of citrus fruit before the Great Freeze of 1985.

Most of the tourist attractions are southwest of Orlando.

Orlando (pop. 238,300), the county seat, is the fifth-largest city (and largest inland city) in Florida.

Orange County Courthouse (1997)

Orlando has been called the “Theme Park Capital of the World.” The largest theme parks are Walt Disney World (not actually in Orlando), Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando.

Another Orlando attraction

The 23-acre Lake Eola is in downtown Orlando.

In Lake Eola Park

The Orlando Amtrak station serves the “Silver Meteor” and “Silver Star” trains (between New York City and Miami), as well as the SunRail commuter train, which runs 31 miles north to Volusia County.

Built in 1926

The Orange County Convention Center, 11 miles southwest of downtown Orlando, is the second-largest convention center in the U.S. – after McCormick Place in Chicago.

Opened in 1983

The University of Central Florida, in Orlando, opened in 1968 as Florida Technological University. It has the largest undergraduate enrollment of any U.S. university, with more than 60,000 students.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke was born in Orlando in 1983 and played high school baseball at nearby Apopka High School.

The community of Christmas, east of Orlando, has the “World’s Largest Alligator” at the entrance to Jungle Adventures animal park.

“Swampy”

NEXT: BREVARD COUNTY

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Florida: Osceola County

Osceola County (pop. 268,685) is east of Polk County. Most of the population is in the northwestern corner, just south of Walt Disney World. The other Osceola counties are in Iowa and Michigan.

The county was named for Seminole Indian leader Osceola (1804-1838), whose original name was Billy Powell and who was of mixed Creek, Scots-Irish, and English parentage.

A leader in the Second Seminole War

Today, about 25% of the population of Osceola County is of Puerto-Rican ancestry.

The county seat of Osceola County is the city of Kissimmee (pop. 59,682).

New Osceola County Courthouse (2001)

Osceola County Stadium (1984) in Kissimmee is the spring training home of the Houston Astros; the Astros are scheduled to move away in 2017.

The Kissimmee Astros

Fun Spot America is a family-owned amusement park in Kissimmee.

The Tupperware World Headquarters Museum is in Kissimmee. Tupperware was founded by Earl Tupper in 1948.

The #1 market is now Indonesia.

Kissimmee has an attraction called Machine Gun America, where patrons can shoot real machine guns. “Live shooting experiences” start at $99.

Visitors may not bring their own weapons.

In downtown Kissimmee, the 50-foot Monument of States dates from 1943. It features rocks from 50 states and 21 countries.

Renovated in 2001

The master-planned community of Celebration (pop. 7,427) was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company, beginning in 1996.

Yeehaw Junction is in the southeastern corner of the county – a remote area that’s full of cattle ranches.

The community was formerly known as Jackass Junction.

The Florida Turnpike has an exit in Yeehaw Junction. The other nearest exits are 48.9 miles north and 40.5 miles south – among the longest exitless distances on limited-access highways in the U.S.

NEXT: ORANGE COUNTY

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Florida: Polk County

Polk County (pop. 602,095), east of Hillsborough County, is Florida’s fourth-largest county in land square miles. It’s one of 12 Polk counties, and one of the 10 named for President James K. Polk.

The county has more than 300 lakes.

The county seat of Polk County is the city of Bartow (pop. 17,329). The former courthouse is now the Polk County Historical Museum.

Built in 1909

FormerĀ  NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was born in Bartow in 1975. He played 17 years with the Baltimore Ravens.

College at University of Miami

The largest city in Polk County is Lakeland (pop. 97,894), known for its lakes and swans. The swans were reintroduced to Lakeland in 1957 after all the older ones had been eaten by alligators.

The Detroit Tigers have had their Spring Training home in Lakeland since 1934.

Joker Marchant Stadium

Lakeland is the headquarters of the Publix chain of supermarkets, with more than 1,000 stores in the Southeast.

Birthday cake water tower

Florida Southern College in Lakeland, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has the world’s largest collection of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on one site.

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel (1941)

East of Lakeland is the city of Winter Haven (pop. 33,874), long known as the home of Cypress Gardens (1936-2009) – Florida’s first theme park for tourists.

The site is now Legoland Florida.

Many of the lakes in Central Florida’s “Chain of Lakes” are in Winter Haven. The Chain of Lakes has about 27 lakes, most of them connected by canals.

Musician Gram Parsons (1946-1973) was born in Winter Haven. His birth name was Ingram Cecil Connor III. Parsons’ father was a World War II flying ace, and his mother was from a wealthy citrus industry family.

The Orange Dome, in Winter Haven, was the longtime site of the now-defunct Florida Citrus Showcase. The dome was demolished in 2012.

Built in 1964

Polk County has a city named Frostproof (pop. 2,994). Frostproof got its name in an effort to convince the public that it would never have a citrus-killing frost – but a frost killed many trees a couple years later.

Polk County has long been a center of phosphate mining, and Mulberry (pop. 3,817) is the “Phosphate Center of World.”

Nalcrest is a retirement community for postal workers. The name is an acronym for National Association of Letter Carriers Retirement, Education, Security, and Training.

It opened in 1963.

NEXT: OSCEOLA COUNTY

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Florida: Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County (pop. 1,229,226) is Florida’s fourth-largest county in population. It has gained about a million residents since 1950.

The only other Hillsborough County is in New Hampshire.

The largest city in Hillsborough County is Tampa (pop. 336,846), third-largest city in Florida.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, the Ybor City area of Tampa was a worldwide center of cigar manufacturing. Immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Italy filled the neighborhood.

“The Cigar Capital of the World”

Since 2002, the 2.7-mile TECO Line Streetcar has connected Ybor City with downtown Tampa.

11 stations

The NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Raymond James Stadium (1998), located northwest of downtown.

“Ray Jay” for short

New York Mets pitching great Dwight Gooden was born and raised in Tampa.

1985 Cy Young Award winner

The former Federal Courthouse (1905) in downtown Tampa is now Le Meridien Hotel.

Opened in 2014

Union Station in Tampa (1912) serves Amtrak’s “Silver Star” trains, which operate between New York City and Miami.

Restored and reopened in 1998

Tampa has “The World’s Largest Bowling Pin,” near the waterfront.

Erected in 2003

The former Tampa Bay Hotel (1891) is now Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus. It contains the Henry B. Plant Museum.

It had Florida’s first elevator.

Plant City (pop. 34,721) was not named for agricultural products – it was named for railroad developer Henry B. Plant. Plant City is known as “The Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.”

Home of the Florida Strawberry Festival

Plant City is also home of Dinosaur World, with more than 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures. Other Dinosaur Worlds are in Texas and Kentucky.

It opened in 1998.

The unincorporated community of Gibsonton, south of Tampa, was known for many years as a winter and retirement home of circus and sideshow performers.

NEXT: POLK COUNTY

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