When you think about vacationing in Florida, you might imagine spending all of your time at either the beach or Disney World, but the Sunshine State holds so much more for you to discover. Here’s our list of the best places to visit in Florida. With camping, shopping, swimming, boating, fishing, sight-seeing, and museum touring, there’s something for everyone to love.
While you won’t be able to see everything in one trip, hopefully this list will introduce you to some amazing spots you haven’t heard of and help you find cool things to do and see so that you can plan your vacation for maximum fun.
Start with St. Augustine, the oldest, continuously inhabited town in the US. Settled by Spanish explorers, this town has some beautiful architecture, including the Castillo de San Marcos, a defensive fort built by the Spanish. Today the beaches are set upon by tourists rather than pirates, though.
Local restaurants serve up fresh, locally caught seafood in traditional American, Italian, and Latin-inspired dishes. You can also choose from a number of restaurants that specialize in southern style barbecue.
This city has some of the best tourist attractions in Florida. The hop-on-hop-off trolley will take you on a tour of the city, past the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, and the beautiful streets of historic downtown. And is there really still buried treasure beneath the sands? There’s only one way to find out.
Related Article: 20 Best Museums in Florida
Located in the northeast corner of the state, Amelia Island is one of the best places to visit in Florida for couples, given its luxury resorts, thirteen miles of sandy beachfront, and golf courses.
The island also has a wealth of history. In the historic district, you can see homes and storefronts that have stood since before the Revolutionary War. The community of Fernandina Beach saw the start of the shrimping industry, and there’s a local distillery that produces rum and vodka. At Fort Clinch State park, you can tour the old fort to see reenactments on the first weekend of every month of what living in a fort was like in the 19th century.
Other family activities include self-guided tours, shore fishing, and bike riding the three-mile, paved bike path from the parking lot to the park’s entry gate. Or catch a show at the Amelia Musical Playhouse. And, finally, there are the beaches. While there are many beautiful beaches in Florida, some of the most incredible ones can be found on this delightful island.
Falling Waters State Park
Did you know Florida has enough elevation for a waterfall? The highest one in the state, at 73 feet, is located in the Falling Waters State Park. One of the cool places in Florida that not even all the locals know about, this state park could be your destination for an amazing family camping trip.
You can set up conveniently close to the waterfall on sites with water and electric hookup and access to a full-facility bathhouse and dump station, or you can go full primitive near Turtle Lake in a tent with a nearby bathroom complex (minus showers). Whichever style of camping suits you, be sure to make a reservation in advance.
Tallahassee, the state capital, is one for history buffs, and the city’s museums host a wealth of art and artifacts. The Tallahassee Museum is 52 lakeside acres dedicated to showcasing the natural wonders of Florida, while the indoor, air-conditioned Antique Car Museum celebrates days gone by. You can also get a sense of the state’s unique evolution at the Museum of Florida History.
Walk around Tallahassee’s art district to experience smaller studios, galleries, and shops, then take a break from the pavement and head just beyond city limits to see the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1931 to provide a winter habitat for migratory birds and is one of the best places in north Florida to spot the rare red-cockaded woodpecker.
Fort Walton Beach
A city named for its beach is bound to be beautiful, and Fort Walton Beach does not disappoint. Close to Okaloosa Island and its fishing pier, the town has lots of parks and beachfronts to make your vacation a sunny one. The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park houses dolphins, penguins, and alligators. Take kids of any age to Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone. Indoor, choose from the laser tag arena, movie theater, and arcade. Outside there’s minigolf, a 60-foot ropes course, and a bumper boat pool.
Fort Walton also has a number of museums to explore. In the Air Force Armament Museum you can see artifacts and aircraft from the First World War to the present, while the Indian Temple Mound Museum displays Native American artifacts from local tribes.
The sand on Panama City Beach, so fine and white that it’s like walking on sugar, has to be experienced to be believed. While you’re luxuriating on the beach, enjoy a glass of wine from the Panama City Beach Winery, which is known for producing unique flavors using anything but your traditional grape. Try the blackberry semi-sweet, chocolate raspberry port, or hurricane class five sangria.
If you’re looking for cool places to visit in Florida that will help you beat the heat, Panama City has you covered. You could book a day or two at the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park or at Shipwreck Island Waterpark, both of which offer an oasis of fun.
For families or solo travelers, Panama City is a great Florida destination for your next vacation.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Crystal clear water bubbles up from the springs in this state park and stays a brisk 72° year-round. Here you can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding, and the springs feed the large Ichetucknee River if you’re looking to extend your time on the water.
The northern portion of the park is a National Natural Landmark and remains a wildlife haven to beavers, wild turkey, otters, and wood duck. Three hiking trails of various lengths will give you a good view of Florida at its finest from under the shade of enormous cypress trees. This is one of the few state parks that does not allow camping on-site, but you can book at any of the local private campgrounds.
Devil’s Den Spring
If you’re an adventure-seeker looking to explore something new, Devil’s Den is a must-see in Florida and the perfect combination of fun and exciting. General swimming is not allowed, so if you want to experience this prehistoric spring, you have to be ready to scuba dive or snorkel, which will give you a closer, more in-depth experience of this beautiful and unique swimming hole.
If you’re not certified to dive, it’s not a problem. Devil’s Den Spring is a scuba diving training center. You can even make a reservation for night diving and rent all of your equipment on site.
A camping site and cabins are also available. See the Devil’s Den Spring website for reservations. Alternatively, there are other accommodation options nearby.
A trip to Florida isn’t complete without a visit to Walt Disney World. The happiest place on earth features several parks with different themes. Although the theme parks are some of the top attractions in Florida, the rest of the city also pulls its weight. Established in 1929, Bok Tower Gardens is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Seven-hundred acres of citrus trees, wooded gardens, and nature trails protect endangered plants and help conserve Florida’s natural beauty.
Gatorland is one of Florida’s oldest family attractions and still one of the best. The park offers visitors the chance to see thousands of alligators and crocodiles up close and also has an aviary, petting zoo, and reptile exhibits.
Top off an unforgettable trip by taking a bird’s eye view of the area with Orlando Balloon Rides.
Kennedy Space Center
Spaceships! Need I say more? The Kennedy Space Center is undoubtedly one of the best places to vacation in Florida for families. The Space Center has activities and tours available for every type of space enthusiast, from novices to the astronauts of tomorrow. Check NASA’s official website so that you can plan to be in Florida for a launch.
You can also find out if you have what it takes to travel space by going through the Astronaut Training Experience. Sign up for short training stages, or spend the whole day taking VR space walks and learning how to engineer solar panels.
Buy your skip-the-line ticket to the Kennedy Space Center here!
Part of the larger Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg is a peninsula on a peninsula. The Dali and Fine Arts Museums downtown will offer you something to do if the weather isn’t perfect for an outdoor excursion, but there are a number of city parks and beaches to enjoy in sunny weather. No matter where you stay, it’s a short drive to one of the city’s many beaches. Fort DeSoto, Clearwater, and St. Pete Beach are all great options for the whole family.
Though little, St. Petersburg offers a wide variety of fun things to do in Florida. Shows and concerts at the Mahaffey Theater, home of the Florida Orchestra, are sure to delight. You can also walk the newly remodeled pier or bike along the Pinellas Trail, which is made up of miles of rail lines converted into paved trails for bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades.
Egmont Key state park is a ferry ride away if you’re looking for a day trip. Secluded and less trafficked, the beaches here are less crowded than those on the mainland, and there are six miles of hiking trails through the ruins of Fort Dade.
Across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge lies the small city of Sarasota. You won’t run out of things to see in Sarasota. Here you can go to the Van Wezel for ballet or opera and the Ringling Museum of Art to see old costumes and set pieces from the long-running circus show, in addition to the world’s largest miniature circus. When you’re done there, you can tour the Ringling’s historic family home, Ca’d’Zan Mansion.
To the north, you’ll find Siesta Key Beach, which is beautiful even by Florida standards. On the weekends, a large farmers’ market in downtown Sarasota offers locally grown foods, handmade crafts and decor, and even fresh cut flowers. Anna Maria Island is a gulf-facing barrier island turned resort city that extends west of Sarasota. Its Pine Avenue is perfect for an afternoon of shopping.
If you’ve never heard of Stuart Florida, you’re not alone; but despite being one of the more low-key cities in Florida, it has lots of charm and family-oriented activities. The House of Refuge Museum chronicles the fates of shipwrecked soldiers who were housed here in the early 20th century. At the Oceanographic Coastal Center, you can see sharks, stingrays, and dolphins while learning about Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Because this Florida city is off the beaten path, you’re likely to find the beaches, like Bathtub Reef or Santa Lucea, less crowded and easier to navigate.
When visiting Florida, you may want a city that offers a variety of sights and attractions. Delray Beach has some unexpected parks and museums that will surprise and delight you. Be sure to practice your tongue twisters before touring Wakodahatchee Wetlands, then be transported across the globe by the beauty of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The grounds will also send you on a trip through time with their visual display of the evolution of Japanese gardening design over the centuries.
If you’re into the arts, the streets of the Pineapple Grove Arts District are decorated with murals and sculptures and are home to a string of galleries. The district also offers a variety of indoor and outdoor dining experiences.
Fort Myers is a small, historic city on the gulf coast. Tour the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, see the Red Sox during spring training at JetBlue Park, stop in for a sip at the Fort Myers Brewing Company, then stroll through the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. From the city, you can drive over the causeway to beautiful Sanibel Island for day trips on the water, jet ski rentals, and sailboat tours at sunset. Search for rare seashells and shark’s teeth washed ashore in the sand at Blind Pass Beach and settle in for a beautiful sunset.
There’s a wealth of shopping malls in the world. Instead of spending your time shopping somewhere you could find anywhere, explore the unique Mizner Park in Boca Raton. It’s an open-air mix of office space and residential buildings with restaurants and entertainment venues.
At the Sugar Sand Park, you’ll find lots to do at the splash pad, science playground, and athletic fields. Learn about turtles and see them up close at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. And naturally, there’s tons of beachfront that make visiting Boca Raton an easy choice for your vacation.
Marco Island is for outdoorsmen, fishermen, and boat captains. One of the Ten Thousand Islands of Collier County, Florida, Marco Island and its environs have many great beaches and small islets to explore.
Most popular is Keewaydin Island, which is accessible only by boat. With no buildings or roads, this small island makes a great place to anchor the boat and have a picnic. Make sure you sail by Cape Romano and see the ruins of the dome house. At the end of your day, you can find unbeatable views for the sunset at Tigertail and South Marco beaches, which make Marco Island one of the best vacation spots in Florida.
You can book a 2-hour dolphin, birding, and shelling tour here!
One of the best-known cities in Florida thanks to the record label Mister 305, Miami is the spot if you want a taste of nightlife. Take salsa lessons at South Beach at the beginning of your stay and spend the rest of your nights showing off your new moves.
What you might not know is that Miami also has an exploding art scene. Start in the trendy arts district of Wynwood, with its indoor galleries and outdoor murals. Make sure you stop by the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of art with free admission. Then view the massive estate turned museum of Vizcaya and its gardens.
Taste your way through the incredible restaurants in Little Havana, a thriving multicultural community created by Cuban émigrés over the past fifty years, and top off your trip on a literal high note flying in a private airplane over the city and sipping champagne for two.
Another fun thing to do in Miami is joining a sightseeing cruise around Biscayne Bay, where you have the best views to see the Downtown Miami skyline, the Port of Miami, Fisher Island, Miami Beach and Millionaire’s Row – home to the rich and famous.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades is one of the most popular national parks in the US and is best experienced by airboat tour. These tours are popular and easy to find, and with someone else driving the boat, every member of your vacation group can fully appreciate one of the most beautiful places to visit in Florida. For the devoted fisherman in the family, book a captain to take you out on a charter boat for some offshore fishing.
Nearby Everglades City has a handful of quirky museums with free admission and restaurants serving up local delicacies. On the way into the city there’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” attraction: the country’s smallest post office. During blue crab season in the summer, people drive from as far as Miami for dinner at one of the nearby restaurants like City Seafood. Be extra adventurous and add a side of gator tail to your meal.
You can book an airboat tour of Everglades national park here!
The Florida Keys
All of the best vacation spots in Florida are close to the water. At the southernmost tip of the state lies a long string of islands stretching from Key Largo to Key West, and if you’re looking for a tropical beach vacation in Florida, then the Keys are for you. Explore the country’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, by floating in a glass-bottom boat while on a tour.
Literary enthusiasts will love visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and seeing the six-toed cats that live there – descendants of the ones the author himself owned. Snorkeling, diving, and fishing are all a must, and make sure you visit the Keys during the early weeks of August to catch lobster in season. Get your obligatory tourist photo at the Southernmost Point by the oversized buoy, which marks the lowest spot on the map of the continental United States.
You can book a snorkeling tour in Key West here!
Dry Tortugas National State Park
The Dry Tortugas National State Park is particularly remote. Technically a part of the Keys, it deserves an entry of its own to fully highlight its beauty. Its location off the southernmost tip of Florida means that you need to take a boat or seaplane to reach it, but that’s what keeps Dry Tortugas one of the few beautiful places in Florida that’s pristine and unchanging.
Once you’ve landed, you can explore the island’s historic roots at Fort Jefferson or grab a pair of binoculars and discover the flocks of native and endangered birds roosting in the trees and shrubs. Discover the famous prisoner who was held at Fort Jefferson and how he was connected to a presidential assassination. Then pitch your tent and enjoy watching the stars of the galaxy roll by overhead.
Florida gets most of its attention for its theme parks and white sandy beaches, but the state is full of so many hidden gems that attract smaller crowds. With so much variety to love, it’s impossible to pick one best place to vacation in Florida – it was hard enough to narrow it down to 21.
If you can’t choose just one, embrace the charm of a good old-fashioned road trip and drive your way from St. Augustine to the Everglades National Park. You might discover a town or state park that tops your list of best places to visit in Florida. Did we leave out something amazing from our list? Tell us about it in the comments down below!
TRACY CURRIER says
Sanford is very cute downtown. Also, can pick up the Sunrail there and take it to Winter Park or downtown Orlando easily.