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Travel Guide to Florida

SPORTS

Game On, Florida Style

With its wide variety of sporting options, Florida has something to offer all sports enthusiasts. There is a hotbed of talent with high-profile football teams. Lovers of baseball think of the state’s storied history of spring training. In addition, there is competitive basketball and successful NHL hockey teams. For those who want to participate in the action, the opportunities are equally impressive with a variety of biking and hiking trails in urban and wilderness areas, numerous marinas with deep-sea fishing and yacht charters, dozens of top-notch scuba diving sites just offshore and a spectacular inventory of golf courses and tennis courts. Whatever the passion, Florida offers no shortage of athletic endeavors for participants and fans.

Fields Of Dreams

Baseball fans flock to Florida during the month of March when 15 teams train and play exhibition games prior to the season. It’s a great way to see your favorite players when they’re more accessible for autographs and you can be closer to the action. The engaging venues include George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, where the Yankees train and which has a massive Yankees memorabilia store, and JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, a Boston Red Sox training venue featuring a replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

From April to early October, enjoy regular season Major League Baseball in Miami with the Miami Marlins, a National League team, and with the Tampa Bay Rays, an American League team that competes at St. Petersburg’s domed Tropicana Field.

Teeing Up

You’ll have little difficulty teeing it up in Florida, which boasts over 1,100 golf courses and  loads of resorts where golf is the main amenity. Many of Florida’s golf resorts are world-renowned and home to iconic courses like THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral in Miami and Copperhead at Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort near Tampa. In addition, there are superb daily fee courses to play with designer tags like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Robert Trent Jones.

The PGA Tour utilizes Florida every year as sites for some of its most prestigious tournaments. You can stroll among the lush fairways and palm trees and watch some of golf’s greatest stars. The tournament lineup includes The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens in late February; Valspar Championship at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course in Palm Harbor in mid-March; Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando in early March; and THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach in mid-March.

Hoops Heaven

You can follow the bouncing ball in Florida from mid-October to mid-April with the NBA’s Orlando Magic and Miami Heat. Both teams play in the hotly contested Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, which also includes the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards. Check schedules because it’s a great chance to see the NBA’s brightest stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant play against the Florida teams. The Magic play their games at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando and the Heat play at the FTX Arena.

For major college basketball, the impressive menu is led by the Florida Gators, from Gainesville’s University of Florida. The University of Miami Hurricanes and Tallahassee’s Florida State University Seminoles annually field strong teams.

Football Frenzy    

Gridiron icons like Dan Marino and Tim Tebow are synonymous with football in the Sunshine State. Pro and college football dominate the sports scene in Florida in fall and early winter.

Home to the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida gives fans the chance to watch NFL football games in warm, sunny weather even in October and November. In 2021 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the coveted Super Bowl, which made it former MVP Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl win.

College football passions run deep in Florida with highly successful programs like Gainesville’s University of Florida Gators, Tallahassee’s Florida State Seminoles and Miami University’s Hurricanes. The Gators have won three national championships, the Seminoles have won three and the Hurricanes have captured five. Other colleges with top-flight Division 1 programs where you can experience the game with all of the colorful pageantry are the University of Central Florida in Orlando, University of South Florida in Tampa and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

At the end of each season in December and early January, Florida hosts several major college football bowl games, including the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl and ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa; RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton; Capital One Orange Bowl at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens; Cheez-it Citrus Bowl, and The Duluth Trading Cure Bowl are played  at Camping World Stadium and Exploria Stadium in Orlando; and, TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

Soccer In The Sun

Florida has quietly become a haven for great professional soccer. Orlando City SC of the MLS plays to record-breaking crowds at Exploria Stadium in downtown Orlando. The team has a loyal fan base as well as fun tailgating parties before the games. Another MLS team, the Inter Miami CF, is a team co-owned by David Beckham. They play at the DRV PNK Stadium.

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to see the sport in Florida. The National Women’s Soccer League is represented by the Orlando Pride and there are several Florida-based teams in the National Premier Soccer League.

Own The Ice

With two NHL teams in the state, Florida offers fans superb opportunities to see first-rate hockey on their visit. Playing their games at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, the Tampa Bay Lightning have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs 13 times in 28 seasons and won the cherished trophy three times— once in 2004 and with back-to-back wins in 2020 and 2021. Farther south, in the Miami metropolitan area, the Florida Panthers skate at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise. The Panthers are the southernmost team in the NHL and have qualified for playoffs a total of 8 times in their 29 season since their debut in 1994.

Terrific Tennis

The fuzzy ball set loves to play and watch tennis in Florida. Resorts like Boca Raton Beach Club, Saddlebrook Resort near Tampa and Omni Amelia Island Resort north of Jacksonville have expansive, world-class tennis complexes. Spectators enjoy the Miami Open presented by Itaú, which dates back to 1985 and has featured major stars such as Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. It is staged in late March at the Hard Rock Stadium in the city of Miami Gardens.

Racing To Win

It doesn’t get any bigger and better than the DAYTONA 500 in Daytona Beach, occurring in February. It’s NASCAR’s speedy answer to the NFL’s Super Bowl. 

Sebring, in Central Florida, hosts the popular MOBIL 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.

Just south of Miami in Homestead, the Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts the Dixie Vodka 400, a NASCAR Cup Series race held in October. 

Fab Fishing

You’ll be reeled in by all of Florida’s phenomenal fishing possibilities. Amazingly, Florida has over 8,000 miles of shoreline if you include inlets, bays and capes. Better still, the weather is warm year-round so you can fish any day of the year.

Marinas for deep-sea charters are located in all parts of the state. Two of the most noted are Islamorada in the Keys, which is known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” and Destin in the Panhandle that’s been dubbed “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” There are also numerous piers, docks and bridges where you can drop a line and make a big saltwater catch as well as reefs and wrecks offshore where fish congregate.

For freshwater enthusiasts, Lake Okeechobee and rivers in the Everglades are great spots to fish for largemouth bass, bluegills and sunfish. Throughout the state, a network of lakes, canals and channels provides excellent places to fish for largemouth bass, catfish and crappie.

Explore The Sea

One of the appealing aspects of snorkeling in Florida is the wide variety of “shore dives” possible. You don’t have to swim far to see amazing marine life.

The Florida Keys has dozens of intriguing spots such as Cannon Beach at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where you can see placed remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet off the beach, and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park off Key West, where you can view tropical fish and coral. Other prime snorkeling havens around the state include Red Reef Park in Boca Raton, Phil Foster Snorkel Trail in Riviera Beach and Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter.

For those who scuba and want to dive deeper, Florida’s thousands of miles of coastline and numerous lakes offer a lot of opportunities. Many divers flock to the natural reefs near Fort Lauderdale and Miami. There are also several artificial reefs in different parts of the state created by sunken steel ships and structures. Freshwater divers can explore caves and caverns in various springs and lakes.

Cycling Trails

Florida has some exceptional paved bike trails. Recreational riders absolutely revel in the temperate year-round biking weather and the flat terrain that makes cycling easier.

Some of the more popular trails include the West Orange Trail in Orlando, which stretches 22 miles and passes through quaint towns like Winter Garden and Oakland; Amelia Island Trail, a 6.2-mile trail in the picturesque coastal village of Fernandina Beach; and the 25-mile Sanibel Island Bike Trail, a stunning ride that takes cyclists through the pristine J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and past a lighthouse, beaches and Periwinkle Way, where restaurants and shops are easily accessible.

Workout Wonderland

Keeping in shape is easy in Florida. The Sunshine State has an excellent menu of nature, hiking and running trails in both urban and wilderness settings.

Runners have a lengthy lineup of top-notch races, marathons and triathlons scheduled throughout the year. Some of the biggest are the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January; Life Time Miami Marathon and Half Marathon in February; AdventHealth Florida Challenge Triathlon in Clermont in March; and runDisney’s Springtime Surprise Weekend in mid April—which includes the Disney Pixar Cars 5K, Disney Pixar Monsters 10K, and Disney Pixar Toy Story 10 Miler.

A popular spot for serious fitness training is the National Training Center in Clermont, 20 miles west of Orlando, which has a 400-meter outdoor track, cross-country course, sports fields and 70-meter-long swimming pool.

Swimming enthusiasts can enjoy ocean swimming and just about every hotel and resort has a swimming pool. To learn about the history of swimming, visit the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Museum in Fort Lauderdale.

For those who prefer canoeing and kayaking, Florida is a paddling paradise with more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks formed by 700 freshwater springs. The area around Naples and Marco Island is an increasingly popular spot for paddlers. The Everglades Wilderness Waterway is a 99-mile water trail from Everglades City to Flamingo, with no development along the course, and the Paradise Coast Blueway is a system of paddling trails with GPS-marked routes from Everglades City to Marco Island.

Featured Links

Amway Center, Orlando amwaycenter.com

Boca Raton Football Club bocaratonfc.com

Daytona International Speedway daytonainternationalspeedway.com

Disney Marathons and Running Events rundisney.com

Florida Panthers nhl.com/panthers

Florida State Seminoles seminoles.com

Homestead-Miami Speedway homesteadmiamispeedway.com

Inter Miami CF intermiamicf.com

Jacksonville Armada Football Club jacksonvillearmada.com

Jacksonville Jaguars jaguars.com

Miami Dolphins miamidolphins.com

Miami Heat nba.com/heat

Miami Marathon themiamimarathon.com

Miami Marlins mlb.com/marlins

Miami Open miamiopen.com

Miami University Hurricanes hurricanesports.com

Orlando Magic nba.com/magic

Orlando Pride orlandocitysc.com/pride

Paradise Coast Blueway paradisecoastblueway.com

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra tpc.com/sawgrass

Sebring International Raceway sebringraceway.com

Tampa Bay Buccaneers buccaneers.com

Tampa Bay Lightning nhl.com/lightning

Tampa Bay Rays mlb.com/rays

Tampa Bay Rowdies rowdiessoccer.com

University of Florida Gators floridagators.com

Wellington Insider Tours wellingtoninsidertours.com

McKee Botanical Garden
Sunny Isles

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