Commonly known as the “Sunshine State”, Florida is exactly that – sunshine and happy vacation vibes 365 days a year.
And although the weather can be tumultuous at times, it never lasts long and you can visit any time of year and get that island feel that your body craves, even in the harshest of winters.
I grew up going to the Emerald Coast for our family vacations in the Gulf of Mexico. Sugar sand beaches and sparkling emerald shores were what we played on all day. Some of my best childhood memories were made in Florida and I have many.
However, Florida is so much more than just the beach. There are springs, and keys and historic places everywhere. The Spanish knew that Florida was special when Juan Ponce De Leon set foot on its shores in 1513, claiming it for their own.
The same rings true today as Florida is one of the top vacation destinations in world. So, let’s explore what make this state so holiday worthy by finding the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in the wonderful state of Florida.
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Walt Disney World
We kick off our visit around Florida with the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World. If their patronage and annual revenue is any clue, this is a popular pick indeed.
In fact, Mickey and friends bring an average of $20 million everyday. For the four parks that operate in Orlando, Florida, that’s $26 billion a year. So yes, people do really love that mouse!
To know him is to love him and you can’t go to Florida without gracing the gates of one or ALL of the four theme parks that have been putting smiles on young and old alike since 1971.
Walt Disney knew what he was doing when he opened the first theme park in Anaheim, California in 1955. With its success, he decided to open one in Orlando and since then the park has grown to four theme parks with themes ranging from animals to countries around the world.
There’s something for everyone at this fun destination in Florida, so be sure to book in a visit if you’re a fan of the mouse as well.
Traveling south from Miami, you will traverse over 800 keys or “small islands” to Key West at the end of the chain of keys. Key West is the ultimate destination for a relaxing island time feel and is one of the best places to visit in Florida.
Key West is only about 4 miles long but it packs in some beautiful scenery in that short span. Enjoy the architecture and ambiance of Duval Street as you walk the fourteen blocks that make up this charming part of the city. You’ll see shops, restaurants, museums and gardens as you explore the downtown area.
Take a cruise out into the crystal clear Atlantic or Gulf to snorkel or scuba to see some exotic fish. The last time I went scuba diving in Key West, we were lucky to have three nurse sharks appear, as well as some eels.
Of course, your Key West visit wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through the Ernest Hemingway House on Whitehead Street. The French Colonial Style that Hemingway loved is still present today, as well as the descendants of his polydactyl cats, who have thumbs on their paws. What?
Madison Blue Spring State Park
There are over 700 springs in Florida. So, when I was looking to choose one to write about, I took USA Today’s advice and chose the spot voted “best spring in the country”. Madison Blue Spring is a relaxing spot and an adventure rolled into one and one of the best places to go in Florida.
Its beauty is astounding as you gaze into the crystal clear 72 degree water. You can test it out with a dip as well as a snorkel to see the life lurking underneath. Don’t mind the signs that warn of alligators that can attack humans, as it has only happened 22 times in the state of Florida since 1948.
However, the huge draw besides the gorgeous spring in this tropical forest oasis, is the the river that the spring flows into. After exploring the 85 foot wide pool and its inhabitants, bring a tube, a canoe or kayak and go down the Withlacoochee River.
Brave and experienced visitors can also seek the cave system deep underneath the spring. There are 26,000 feet of mapped passages for the divers to navigate, and it is considered one of the top diving areas in Florida. You need to have a buddy though as single diving is not permitted.
Miami is home to Cuban cuisine, palm trees and crystal clear beaches. It is my favorite city in Florida and although hot and humid in summer, it is definitely one of the coolest places that the state has to offer. We were recently there and had an amazing time at the dazzling beaches and after five street scene walking down Collins Drive.
That being said, you have to start your visit in South Beach, Miami’s Beverly Hills. It’s beautiful and has all the good eats and luxurious shopping that you could ever want. The Cuban culture runs deep here and you can see it in the cuisine that lines the avenues and the music that fills the air.
Pay close attention to the art scene here in Miami too, as it has some of the most world renowned galleries and museums in the world.
For example, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art for an impressive collection of all kinds of art. Likewise, the Wynwood Walls has the most fantastic display of street art around. Who knew that graffiti could be so astoundingly beautiful?
Have you ever wanted to swim in an underwater cave? Devil’s Den is one of the most amazing places in Florida to explore, offering a truly magical experience.
Enter the inverted mushroom shaped cave and enjoy either snorkeling or scuba diving to depths up to 54 feet in the year-round 72 degrees water. Explore rock formations that occurred 34 million years ago and hunt for fossils that are over 2 million years old.
You can stay on sight and wake up bright and early at Devil’s Den by staying at their campground, either in a tent or an RV. They also have cabins to rent at the springs if you aren’t prepared to rough it. Whatever you do, you can immerse yourself in the awe of this stunningly beautiful and magnificently curious place.
I grew up going to the “Panhandle” of Florida and visiting the Emerald Coast during the summer. Destin was one of the places we would visit and enjoy fun family vacations that created lasting memories for me and my family.
Starting with the alluring azure that is the Gulf of Mexico, you won’t be able to pull yourself away from the sugar sand beaches that have made this area of the world so famous. The sand is actually crushed quartz and it is so fine, it is almost powder.
After sitting on the beach for a while or frolicking in the waves, you’ll want to dine at many of the amazing restuarants on “30A”, the famous region for all things retail and gastro.
The charm of this area is tough to beat.
Streetside parks and pop up games can be found while walking around town, or you can stop in for a cafe latte or relaxing glass of wine at one of the many cafe’s strewn along the avenues. Destin is surely a “destin”ation that will be tough to beat.
For all you history buffs, there is no better place in Florida to visit than St. Augustine. As the first city in America, it has a story that is long and intriguing and it is excellent at telling it.
Walk along any street in St. Augustine and you feel as though you have been transported back in time. For instance, you can visit Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th century Spanish fortress that overlooks St. Augustine Inlet.
Or, like in many other Florida destinations, you can hit the beach. The beaches are also beautiful here.
Feeling like a day in the sun? Head to Crescent Beach where you can soak in some rays and play in the surf, then when the sun sets, spend your time perusing the shops of St. George Street where you’ll find all sort of wares from handmade jewelry to ice cream.
Whether you go for history or beaches, St. Augustine is a fun and interesting part of Florida that everyone will enjoy.
Looking for a tropical escape in Florida that’s different from the rest?
Amelia Island offers the beach seeking vacationer the tropical vacation of yesteryear. Free of the commercialism and touristy crowds that you get with so many destinations, you can have a quieter experience that incorporates nature and the slow life that you’re craving to get away from it all.
Take a romantic horseback ride on the beach, kayak the blackwater creek to see alligators and turtles or simply have a blanketed picnic under the Spanish moss laden oaks all over the island. No doubt, Amelia Island put the romance in vacationing.
Everglades National Park
This is one national park that is like no other. Here, you are not at the top of the food chain. As beautiful as it is, you’ll find monsters lurking in broad daylight… and I’m of course talking about ALLIGATORS!
Everglades National Park is 1.5 million acres of wetlands that include marshes, mangroves and pine forests. This habitat supports hundreds of species of wildlife that symbiotically live in an environment that has remained unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years.
Come to the park and take the 0.8 mile Anhinga Trail where you are guaranteed to spot many alligators, or there’s the popular West Lake trail that is a raised boardwalk taking you through the gorgeous groves of mangroves that are ever present in the park. Either way, this park is truly one of the best places to visit in Florida.
Walt Disney may have put this city on the map, but there’s so much more to Orlando than amusement parks. There are also nature centers, gardens, museums and lakes to explore… with options for every kind of traveller.
For instance, you can start with a swan boat ride on Eola Lake in downtown, Orlando. Then grab a bite on Church Street which has the best eats in town. If you want to go natural, choose to tour the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge and see who they’ve recently taken in as a new tenant.
Around Orlando you’ll also find more than 100 lakes to waterski, tube and just putt around on a jet ski or boat. With pristine water from surrounding springs and warm temperatures year round, you can enjoy these lakes in any season.
Lastly, let’s round up this list of Florida’s top destinations with a must-visit for animal lovers.
There are only a few places in the world where you can find the majestic and curious manatee. So huge, yet so gentle, these giants congregate in the warm waters of springs in the winter to calf and raise their young in the warmer waters.
At Crystal River, you can have the experience of a lifetime by swimming with the manatees. Suit up with all the SCUBA gear complete with a wet suit and see these creatures up close. Watch as they nurse their young and interact with each other. They are so friendly, they may even come up to you and kiss you hello!
Did we miss anything you would like to see in Florida? We’d love to hear from you!
Leave what you’d like to see in the comments!