Fun-loving Florida is bursting with creativity, from mural-painted urban districts to artsy beach towns and air-conditioned galleries.
If you think about Florida it's more likely that a cartoonish pair of Mickey Mouse ears pop into your mind than a Salvador Dalí painting, but those that like a little culture mixed in with their roller coaster thrills don’t have to venture far from the theme parks to find everything from gritty street art to fine art galleries.
Research from Visit Florida shows that its UK visitors tend not to spend their entire holiday in the parks and instead search out alternative attractions to keep stimulated.
Some of Florida’s big art destinations include the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, which houses the largest collection of Dalí's works outside Europe; colour-drenched streets with larger-than-life murals in Mural Town, Punta Gorda; art deco and Spanish-style architecture in Miami and St. Augustine; Jacksonville’s 18 museums and galleries; and Sarasota, known as 'Florida’s Cultural Coast'.
Walk on the arty side
One of the best ways to enjoy Florida’s art scene is with an art walk. Many of the state’s small towns and cities open up galleries and studios to the public on a monthly basis as part of a combined effort to make art more accessible and fun.
One such town is Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach. On the first Saturday of every month seven galleries showcase work from different local talents, from handcrafted woodworks to fine art and thought-provoking photography - each piece giving an insight into the local surroundings.
Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply looking for an evening out filled with interesting conversation and good food and wine, an art walk is the perfect introduction to Florida’s creative side.
Similar art walks include St. Augustine's First Friday (of the month) Artwalk, which includes 15 member galleries downtown; Tallahassee's First Friday Gallery Hop, which offers live music, open galleries and a food truck fare; Jacksonville's First Wednesday Art Walk, which has over 40 venues; Bradenton Village of the Arts First Weekend Artwalk and Miami's Second Saturday Wynwood Art Walk.
A blank wall is merely an empty canvas in Florida. Across the state artists have taken to the streets to convey life-sized visual messages on buildings and blank public spaces. The Florida Mural Trail can be picked up state-wide and sees murals used as historical memoirs or dream-like fantasies.
Wynwood Walls in Miami has transformed into a new tourist attraction thanks to an influx of murals. The arts district houses some of the world’s most famous mural artists, with dozens of eye-catching canvases to gaze at.
Mural Town in Punta Gorda, between Fort Myers and Sarasota, showcases its history through nearly 30 murals in the downtown historic district.
Beachside bliss is reflected in surf towns like New Smyrna Beach and St. Petersburg and the latter's Shine Festival brings international muralists to town to work alongside local artists every year.
There are no stuffy museums or dusty galleries in Florida. Jacksonville is one of Florida’s big city art centres - its Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens houses more than 5,000 works of art against the natural backdrop of the St. Johns River.
The Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art in Daytona Beach houses the largest collection of Florida art in the world. A walk through the six smaller galleries offers a glimpse into Floridian life, from paintings reflecting the weather to an exhibition entitled ‘Gone Fishin’ - a favourite pastime in the state.
The Hub on New Smyrna’s Canal Street houses a collection of working artists with easels and paintbrushes in hand. Displaying a range of mediums and styles, visitors can capture artists in full swing with a walk around the light and bright studios where the artists are also warm and welcoming.
Tallahassee's LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts hosts three annual events
(a Holiday Show, Chain of Parks Spring Festival, and Art and Soul Fall Art Auction), all showcasing contemporary visual arts.
Catch-up on culture
Florida’s Latin roots run deep, with Spanish, Cuban and Italian influences found across the state.
Visitors can explore the region’s Spanish colonial past in Pensacola – one of Florida’s oldest cities – at historical sites like Fort Barrancas. They can also watch cigar rollers working at the Tampa Sweethearts Cigar Company, or explore Miami’s characterful Little Havana district.
African American art is showcased at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg, with regular concerts performed by its resident choir.
And to give some context to some of this art, visit Jacksonville's Kingsley Plantation. Built in 1798, it's one of the oldest and one of the last remaining in Florida. Visitors can tour the grounds with its slave quarters, and learn about the controversial life of the landowner and his free African wife. •
Book it with...America As You Like It
A seven-night trip including return flights to Orlando, three nights at the Hampton Inn New Smyrna Beach and four nights at the El Caribe Resort Daytona Beach, starts from £995pp. Car hire in Florida with Hertz.co.uk starts from £25 a day. hertz.co.uk/american-collection; americaasyoulikeit.com