A few weeks ago, this magazine was kind enough to offer me an opportunity to share some of the reasons I love Florida. I readily agreed, until I found out they had asked me to discuss “Five Things I Love About Florida.”
Of course, I couldn’t pick just five. Fortunately, I was able to strike a deal with the editor-in-chief, David Sendler. I know it’s not cool these days to admit this, but I still believe in consensus building. He said I could name as many things as this space would allow.
It’s a deal.
First, more than anything, I love our state’s diversity. At the heart of why Florida is so special is our diversity—of people and cultures, of geography and wildlife, of industry, workforce and commerce, and in just about everything else. Diversity is the reason our economy is resilient, even when impacted by unexpected events like hurricanes, and it is the reason our state is often looked to as a microcosm of our strong, diverse nation as a whole.
I love the city of Miami. Columba and I loved raising our children here, and I love being at our home in Coral Gables every day that I’m not working or traveling. I love the culture and the food. I love seeing old friends at Versailles while sharing a cup of Cuban coffee. I love Taqueria El Mexicano on Eighth Street. I love the museums and art galleries and the festive celebrations throughout the year.
I love Florida’s rich, unique history. Great stuff happens here. We’re the home of St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Henry Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway here. Florida’s greatest governor, LeRoy Collins, set a national example of principled leadership here that his successors have strived to follow.
I love that the Sunshine State has played a critical role in America’s leadership in the global Space Race. In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space when he launched from Cape Canaveral aboard Freedom 7. One of my favorite experiences as governor was attending space shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center. I miss those and hope we soon have an active replacement program that ensures our nation continues its legacy of space exploration.
I love wild Florida. Canoeing down the St. Marks River. Catching sight of Florida manatees in our bays. Seeing the beauty of the restored Kissimmee Basin, the headwaters of our beloved Everglades. I love Florida fishing—both saltwater and freshwater—in so many great areas. Sport-fishing in the Gulfstream. Catching redfish in the Indian River Lagoon, and snook in the backwaters of Southwest Florida.
I love that we have 1,800 miles of coastline and the best beaches in the world, from Navarre Beach up in Florida’s gorgeous Panhandle all the way down to Honda State Park in Big Pine Key. In fact, we have the best state—and national—parks in the whole country as well.
I love that our state is home to many current and former members of our nation’s armed forces, including the fine men and women of our Florida National Guard. As a result of our strategic location, Florida is host to more than 20 military installations across the state. I love that when the Blue Angels finish their national tour every year, they come home to Naval Air Station Pensacola. We are just as fortunate that so many of our heroic veterans choose to live in our state. Their contributions as business leaders, parents and grandparents, and engaged citizens rival their military service to our country.
I love that Florida has given people across the nation so many reasons to live, work, succeed and retire here. We have no personal income tax, no estate taxes and no intangibles tax.
I love the Florida entrepreneurs who make our state go. Our state is fueled by a diverse group of thriving industries—agriculture, tourism, construction, technology, health and life sciences, service and more. Many great American companies have chosen Florida for their headquarters because we have a business-friendly climate that allows them to be successful. I love that world-class research organizations like the Scripps Research Institute and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have found a home in Florida and are flourishing.
I love that Florida is a hub for international trade and commerce. Our exports and trading partners grow annually because of our prime location, quality goods, outstanding ports and so many other assets.
I love that we have rising student achievement in our schools. The commitment of great teachers and a culture in state leadership that is never satisfied with the status quo have resulted in real, measurable improvements in our education system during the last two decades. In fact, a recent international literacy test found that Florida’s fourth-grade students recorded the second-highest reading scores in the entire world. I really love that.
I love our colleges and universities. I love that higher education in Florida is now accessible to every Florida student. I love that many of these great universities have become nationally recognized centers of research and innovation.
I love Florida college football. No other state produces teams of the same caliber, quality and excitement as we do, year after year. (Yes, Texas and Alabama, I went there.) Go ’Canes. Go ’Noles. Go Gators. Go Bulls. Go Knights.
From the Miami Heat to the Tampa Bay Rays to the Jacksonville Jaguars, I love our professional sports teams, too, even if I love the South Florida ones just a little bit more. I love that our state is home to so many amazing athletic venues and championship athletes. I love that we have some of the best golf courses in America, as well as the most. I love the 17th hole of The Players Championship.
I love that people love to come to Florida. My wife and I are going to love taking our three gorgeous grandchildren to Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios soon. They are special places that create once-in-a-lifetime memories.
I love the unique, and sometimes quirky, attractions we have, too, like the Shell Factory in Fort Myers and Gator World in Orlando.
I love Florida’s big cities and small towns that afford such a great variety of experiences. I love the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. I love visiting the great oyster houses in the Apalachicola Bay area. I love staying in the historic Boca Grande community on Gasparilla Island. I love our charming small towns, like Winter Park, Dunedin and DeFuniak Springs. I love The Villages. I love the Florida Keys.
More than that, I love the people who live in all of these great places across the state. During the eight years I was privileged to serve as governor of this state, I have seen up close the generous spirit of Floridians. From our hardworking law enforcement and health care workers to our miracle-working charity organizations, volunteers and mentors to the busy moms and dads who go to work each day or stay home to raise the next generation of Floridians, this is a remarkable state with remarkable people.
I love that there are at least a million more people, things and places I could have listed here.
John Ellis “Jeb” Bush was the 43rd governor of Florida, serving from 1999 through 2007, and the only Republican to serve two full four-year terms in that office.