On the one hand, there’s ‘The Golden State,’ and on the other, ‘The Sunshine State.’ Easy, right?
The United States may boast a whopping 50 of them, each one bursting with things you want to see, do and eat, but it’s little surprise you’ve settled on either California or Florida as your next holiday destination. As someone who’s been to both, I think you’ve made a good choice.
Now, the hard part is choosing which one you actually want to travel to. Deciding between these two sun-drenched states might seem surface-level simple, but you’ll have to look beyond their respective fantastic weather conditions if you want to book your North American getaway with the confidence of a Hollywood starlet strutting down Sunset Boulevard.
That’s where this comparison blog comes in.
From California’s cities to Florida’s national parks and fast-food restaurants, these two states pack an adventurous punch. But which one comes out on top? Put the kettle on and keep your glasses handy; it’s time for some serious reading (followed by some equally serious deciding).
Cities in California
Concrete jungles are where dreams are made (and also make up part of the criteria determining your next holiday destination).
California’s ‘City of Angels’ is one of those destinations you simply have to go to. Yes, it might be slightly overhyped, but a city this iconic needs to be seen, if only for a couple of days.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Santa Monic Pier and shopping at Rodeo Drive are all must-do’s when visiting this glitzy city but if you want to swap the touristy stuff for something that feels a little more cultural (there are no celebrity house bus tours on this recommendation list), opt for a hike to Runyon Canyon or visits to the Hollywood Bowl, Grand Central Market and Griffith Observatory.
Top trips starting in Los Angeles
San Francisco might also be called the ‘Golden Gate’ city, which immediately makes me think of its iconic and extremely Instagramable bridge of the same name, but the beauty of this urban jungle lies in its spooky island prison, its undulating streets and its coastal scenery. Packed with a history so fascinating that learning about it doesn’t feel like you’re back in high school, San Francisco deserves its hype. Truly.
From the twisting, turning and colourful Lombard Street to Fisherman’s Wharf and the mystical Muir Woods, you can spend weeks in this part of California and still not see everything it has to offer.
Also, anyone keen for a The Princess Diaries filming location tour?
Top trips that visit San Francisco
This might be the second-famous ‘San’ in California but it’s certainly not the least. Often overlooked for its flashier neighbours, San Diego is a ‘24 degrees and always sunny’ kinda place, boasting coastlines, cultural attractions and sporting stadiums perfect for a few days of exploring.
From marvelling at surfy scenery along seaside Coast Boulevard in La Jolla Cove (a 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego) to wandering through the lush Balboa Park where there’s a museum or restaurant around every corner (including its world-famous zoo), you can try but you’ll never get bored in this spectacular city.
Fast Food in California
You can’t go to the United States and not have fast food. Like you literally just can’t. I think the flight attendants can sniff it out when you’re boarding the plane home and will force you to turn around in search of the nearest food court.
In & Out
If your TikTok feed is anything like mine, you watch roughly 268 videos a day of people eating a ‘double double animal style, add chopped chillis and extra spread’ with a side of ‘animal style fries’. It might sound like gibberish but it’s actually a popular order from one of California’s biggest fast-food restaurants, In & Out.
Prone to ridiculously long lines at each of the store’s 272 Californian locations, this iconic smash burger joint has a relatively simple menu featuring burgers, fries, soft drinks and shakes and a ‘secret’ menu that’s not that secret featuring protein-style burgers (burgers wrapped in lettuce), the flying dutchman (burger patties sandwiched between onion) and the previously mentioned ‘animal style’ burgers (a combination of additional spread, cheese and grilled onions).
Here in Australia, we might know it (and love it) as Maccas, but this iconic burger-centric fast foodery was first created in 1940 in San Bernadino, California. While it’s not the most sophisticated of cuisines, a Mcdonald’s Cheeseburger/Quarter Pounder/Big Mac/McChicken will always hit the spot and is still worth trying, even if you eat it once a fortnight back home (but who’s counting?)
Why, you ask? Because there are some items you simply can’t get in Oz. Like biscuits and gravy, a southern-style breakfast that consists of a biscuit (more like a British scone) with thick, sausage-flavoured gravy. And the McRib, filled with a tender pork patty that’s slathered in tangy BBQ sauce and sandwiched between a ‘special’ bun. Need I say more?
National Parks in California
California truly has some of the best national parks in the United States, and Yosemite proudly leads that charge. It might be hard to pronounce, but it’s not hard to explore with giant waterfalls, dramatic mountain ranges, and crystal-clear lakes guaranteed to keep you and your camera occupied for hours.
Whether your feet are itching to get out onto the national park’s many hiking trails (the Mist Trail, Hetchy Hetchy Reservoir Walk and the Tuolomne Hike just to name a few), take in the monolithic sequoia trees littered throughout the park, try your hand at rock climbing up the famous El Capital or even simply watch the sky as it turns a spectacular shade of orangey pink above the park’s Glacier Point, there’s more than enough adventure to be had in Yosemite.
Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park boasts some pretty unbelievable landscapes, from winding rust-coloured canyons to billion-year-old rock formations you can actually climb on. There’s also desert vegetation for as far as the eye can see including the famous Joshua tree the park is named after, several species of cacti and other spiky trees.
There’s also plenty of hikes to keep your feet entertained such as the Willow Hole Trail, the Maze and the Hall of Horrors (I know they sound like they’re straight out of the pages of a dystopian young adult novel but that’s genuinely what they’re called), the latter which loops huge boulders and forces you to scramble through a thrilling slot canyon.
Explore Joshua Tree
But what about Florida?
California may be dreamy but Florida is just as cool (not literally, the average high temperature there is 28°C). Don’t take my word for it though; read it yourself.
Cities in Florida
When you think of Miami, your brain might instantly go to its nightlife, its beaches or maybe even its sporting teams, but there’s plenty of other things to occupy your time in the Magic City.
Like little Havana. Promising a small slice of Cuba in the United States, Little Havana is a neighbourhood in the city’s west where you can enjoy a classic Cuban lunch (a sandwich and a traditional Cuban coffee). Or take a stroll down the city’s star-studded street, an homage to several famous Cuban celebrities. Or bop your head to the beats of a traditional Cuban band at Viernes Culturales, a free street party that occurs every third Friday of the month.
There’s also the ‘Wynwood Walls’, an outdoor graffiti gallery that’s quickly become the go-to place if you want an ‘artsy’ picture for the ‘gram. Or Espanola Way, a pedestrian-only street lined with historic buildings boasting Mediterranean charm (think pink stucco and Spanish tiles) and a whole bunch of vibey restaurants.
Tampa might not be at that top of your bucket list (or anyone’s), but it promises a ‘pick your own animal adventure’ type experience thanks to several of its attractions – the Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Manatee Viewing Centre and ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
If animals aren’t your thing, especially the ones you have to be on the lookout for (read: there are plenty of alligators in Tampa), you can always catch a show at the Tampa Theatre, wander along the scenic Tampa Riverwalk and embark on a boat tour of the harbour.
Fast food in Florida
Mcdonald’s biggest burger rival in the United States is Burger King (for all the Australians in the room, that’s Hungry Jacks), but unlike its Californian counterpart, Burger King was first founded in Florida’s Jacksonville in 1953, and heralds only one burger as its claim to fame: the Whopper.
Made up of flame-grilled beef, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onion, tomato sauce and mayo on a sesame seed bun, the Whopper also promises no preservatives and no artificial colours or flavours (so, it’s healthy right?). Eat it with a side of thickly cut chips, onion rings or some chicken nuggets and wash it all down with a HI-C fruit punch or iced tea for a tasty meal you *technically* can’t get in Australia.
Okay, so you’re not in Italy but Olive Garden is the closest thing to the land of pizza and pasta when you’re in Florida (…and other states that also boast Olive Garden locations). First opened in 1982 in Orlando, Olive Garden has quickly risen through the chain restaurant ranks to claim cult hero status thanks in large part to its bottomless breadsticks and mouthwatering pasta dishes such as shrimp alfredo and lasagne fritta.
National Parks in Florida
Okay, enough of the processed landscapes (cities) and processed foods, it’s time to come back down to earth, Mother Earth, that is…
California can’t have all the national park fun, and it doesn’t, thanks to the magical Everglades. Proudly wearing the ‘Florida’s most iconic national park’ badge, the Everglades, a subtropical wilderness of roughly 1.5million acres, is a swamp region full of twisting waterways and mangrove tunnels.
Some of the best things to do while you’re exploring the park include canoeing over the calm water (beware of the scaly animals that live underneath the surface), saltwater fishing in the hopes of catching a tarpon tarpon or a snook snook (no, I didn’t just make them up), and hiking one of the park’s many trails.
While this one might be a little out of the way (it’s located one hundred and thirteen kilometres off the coast of Key West), Dry Tortguas National Park is also a little out of the ordinary. Worth the journey purely for being the only bit of land this far in the state’s south, this national park boasts a bunch of smaller islands (or Keys) for you to explore. Snorkel the colourful coral trails in search of nurse sharks and tropical fish off the biggest island, Garden Key, and wander Fort Jefferson, an 1800s fortress built to defend the coast after the war of 1812.
Have you finished your cup of coffee or tea yet? Because this comparison’s a tricky one. But then again, if you think about the fact that California has Los Angeles, San Francisco, In & Out, Mcdonald’s, Yosemite and Joshua Tree Death Valley, it’s kind of a no-brainer. I love Florida too, but California wins.