Welcome to Florida!

Florida was one of the first states to create highway welcome centers, which have now become almost standard across the nation. The establishment of the Dixie Highway routed travelers as far north as Michigan into the state of Florida via a little town called Yulee. Leaders of the growing Florida tourism industry saw this as an excellent opportunity to educate out-of-towners on the many sites and attractions the state had to offer.

Ribbon cutting at opening of hospitality house in Yulee, FL (1949).

Florida’s First Lady, Mrs. Fuller Warren cuts the ribbon at hospitality house opening ceremony – Yulee, Florida (November 4, 1949).

Florida’s first “hospitality house” opened in Yulee in the fall of 1949 on the Georgia-Florida line. Seven more centers followed to greet visitors arriving via US1/301 in Hilliard, US41 near Jennings, US231 near Campbellton, US90 in Pensacola, a marine center in Fernandina Beach, US27 in Havana, and US19 near Monticello.

Tourists at a Florida Welcome Station (October 1955).

Tourists at a Florida Welcome Station (October 1955).

People in front of welcome sign- Havana, Florida (1962).

Unidentified ladies and a man in front of the welcome sign – Havana, Florida (1962).

Although these original facilities have since come and gone, they created a long-standing tradition for offering complimentary orange juice, maps, attraction information, and assistance for tourists with travel inquiries. They also featured picnic and restroom facilities (and anyone who has been on a road trip understands the sanctity and relief of a well placed “restroom” sign).

Tourists receive orange juice at the Welcome Station (1977).

Tourists receive orange juice at the Welcome Station (1977).

Today there are five Official Florida Welcome Centers operated by Visit Florida. They are located on Interstate 10 in Pensacola, US231 near Campbellton, the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Interstate 75 in Live Oak, and Interstate 95 near Jacksonville. Personnel now undergo training to receive a national Information Specialist certification to better serve visitors. Otherwise, not much has changed in the way of good ole’ friendly service you can expect at any one of these stations.

The I-95 welcome station in Yulee, Florida (1977).

Interior of the I-95 welcome station in Yulee, Florida (1977).

Since the first welcome center opened in 1949, the State of Florida has estimated that 90 million visitors have been received, and more than 200 million maps have been distributed. Now that’s a lot of free orange juice!

Florida welcome sign - Tallahassee, Florida (1956).

Florida welcome sign – Tallahassee, Florida (1956).

If you’re traveling through the Sunshine State this summer, be sure to stop at an Official Florida Welcome Center. If you’re stuck at home for the moment, you can still enjoy a bit of Florida by searching for your favorite Sunshine State destinations in the Florida Photographic Collection.


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7 thoughts on “Welcome to Florida!

  1. Great article! I just spent the weekend looking through the Welcome Center pictures and wanted to know more, so this was a nice surprise this morning…thanks!

    • That is wonderful, Donna! We’re glad we were able to provide background history on the subject. We do have quite a number of photographs of the Welcome Centers on Florida Memory and found it difficult not to put them all in the blog! Thank you for reading.

  2. This was fascinating. The year the first welcome station opened, 1949, was also the year that Florida began putting the phrase “Sunshine State” on its license plates. Is there a connection between the two, do you think?

    • That’s a great question, Craig! Our historian is researching this right now as we are sure there is some type of connection between these two.

  3. Great article, just one issue.
    The Florida Welcome Center on I-75 is not located in Live Oak.
    It is located in Jennings. 2 miles south of the state line and 2 miles north of the Jennings exit.
    2 miles Northeast of Jennings in Hamilton County.
    Live Oak is about 25 miles southwest of the welcome center, at least 10 miles from I-75 in Suwannee County.

  4. Too bad that the only “welcome centers” are located along the northern-most borders of FL!! What about those people who arrive by air or sea in Tampa, Sarasota, Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg? Don’t those areas count as welcome center possibilities? Air travel to those areas account for the majority of travel to the State of Florida!!!

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