Florida Travel Guide: Unraveling the Sunshine State’s Best-Kept Secrets

Table of Contents

Super useful & totally free travel guides, written by locals who love the state of Florida

Why We Love Florida?

People may love Florida for various reasons, as it offers a diverse range of attractions and features. Here are some reasons why people might love Florida:

  1. Weather: Florida is known for its warm and sunny climate. Many people appreciate the abundance of sunshine and mild temperatures, especially during the winter months.
  2. Beaches: Florida boasts beautiful beaches along its extensive coastline. Whether it’s the white sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast or the vibrant atmosphere of Miami Beach on the Atlantic Coast, there are plenty of options for beach lovers.
  3. Theme Parks: Orlando, located in central Florida, is a major hub for theme parks. Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, and other attractions make it a popular destination for families and thrill-seekers alike.
  4. Natural Beauty: The state is home to diverse ecosystems, including the Everglades, which is a unique wetland ecosystem. Nature enthusiasts can explore state parks, wildlife reserves, and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and bird watching.
  5. Cultural Diversity: Florida’s population is culturally diverse, influenced by various communities and ethnicities. This diversity is reflected in the state’s food, festivals, and overall cultural scene.
  6. Sports and Recreation: Florida is home to several professional sports teams and hosts major sporting events. Additionally, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy activities such as fishing, boating, golfing, and more.
  7. Retirement Destination: Florida is a popular retirement destination, attracting retirees from across the United States. The state’s favorable tax climate, along with its amenities and activities, make it an appealing place for those in their golden years.
  8. Art and Entertainment: Cities like Miami offer vibrant art scenes and cultural events. From art galleries and museums to music festivals and performing arts, there’s something for those who appreciate cultural experiences.
  9. Diverse Cities: Florida has a mix of cities, each with its own character. From the laid-back atmosphere of Key West to the bustling urban life in Miami, there’s a city for everyone’s taste.
  10. Water Activities: With its numerous lakes, rivers, and the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, Florida provides ample opportunities for water-based activities such as boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing.

It’s important to note that people’s preferences vary, and not everyone may love Florida for the same reasons. Some might appreciate its natural beauty, while others enjoy the urban lifestyle or cultural diversity.

Best of Florida

Florida Destinations

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Florida offers a diverse range of destinations, each with its unique charm and attractions. Here are some of the best destinations in Florida:

  1. Orlando: Known as the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is home to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other major attractions. It’s a top destination for families and those seeking entertainment.
  2. Miami: This vibrant city is famous for its cultural diversity, art scene, nightlife, and beautiful beaches. South Beach, Little Havana, and the Wynwood Walls are just a few highlights in Miami.
  3. Tampa Bay: Located on the Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay offers a mix of historic architecture, cultural attractions, and outdoor activities. The Tampa Riverwalk, Busch Gardens, and the historic Ybor City are popular spots.
  4. Key West: The southernmost point of the continental U.S., Key West is known for its laid-back atmosphere, historic architecture, and vibrant nightlife on Duval Street. It’s a great destination for water activities and exploring the colorful streets.
  5. Fort Lauderdale: Famous for its boating canals and stunning beaches, Fort Lauderdale is a sophisticated city with a vibrant arts and cultural scene. Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale Beach, and the Riverwalk are must-visit spots.
  6. Naples: Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Naples is known for its upscale shopping, dining, and pristine white sand beaches. The Naples Pier and the Naples Botanical Garden are popular attractions.
  7. St. Augustine: As the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine is rich in history and charm. Visitors can explore the historic district, Castillo de San Marcos, and enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture.
  8. Sarasota: Known for its cultural amenities, Sarasota offers art galleries, theaters, and beautiful beaches. The Ringling Museum of Art, St. Armands Circle, and Siesta Key Beach are notable attractions.
  9. Everglades National Park: For nature lovers, the Everglades offer a unique ecosystem with opportunities for wildlife viewing, bird watching, and airboat tours. It’s a designated International Biosphere Reserve.
  10. Palm Beach: An affluent destination, Palm Beach is famous for its luxurious resorts, upscale shopping on Worth Avenue, and pristine beaches. The Norton Museum of Art and the Flagler Museum are cultural highlights.

These destinations showcase the diverse offerings of Florida, from the excitement of theme parks to the tranquility of natural parks and the cultural richness of its cities. The best destination for you depends on your interests, whether it’s adventure, relaxation, cultural experiences, or a mix of everything.

Things to Do in Florida

Florida offers a wide array of activities for visitors, catering to diverse interests. Here are some popular things to do in Florida:

  1. Visit Walt Disney World Resort: Located in Orlando, Walt Disney World is one of the most iconic and visited theme parks in the world. It includes Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
  2. Explore Miami’s South Beach: Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, white sandy beaches, and iconic art deco architecture in South Beach. Take a stroll along Ocean Drive, relax on the beach, and experience the lively nightlife.
  3. Tour the Everglades: Take an airboat tour to explore the unique ecosystem of the Everglades. Spot alligators, manatees, and a variety of bird species while learning about this subtropical wilderness.
  4. Relax on Clearwater Beach: Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast is renowned for its soft white sand and clear waters. Enjoy sunbathing, water sports, and stunning sunsets.
  5. Visit Key West: Experience the laid-back atmosphere of Key West, the southernmost point of the continental U.S. Explore Duval Street, visit the Hemingway House, and take in the vibrant colors of this historic town.
  6. Discover St. Augustine’s Historic District: St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S. Visit the historic district, walk along St. George Street, explore Castillo de San Marcos, and enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture.
  7. Go Snorkeling in the Florida Keys: The Florida Keys offer excellent snorkeling opportunities. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a popular spot for exploring vibrant coral reefs and marine life.
  8. Visit Kennedy Space Center: Located on Florida’s Space Coast, the Kennedy Space Center is a fascinating destination for space enthusiasts. Explore space exhibits, experience shuttle launches, and learn about NASA’s history.
  9. Enjoy the Arts in Sarasota: Sarasota is known for its cultural scene. Visit the Ringling Museum of Art, catch a performance at the Sarasota Opera House, and stroll through the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
  10. Relax in Naples: Experience the upscale ambiance of Naples with its high-end shopping on Fifth Avenue South, explore the Naples Pier, and unwind on the pristine beaches.
  11. Explore the Tampa Riverwalk: Tampa’s Riverwalk offers a scenic waterfront area with parks, museums, and dining. Visit the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Aquarium, and enjoy outdoor activities along the river.
  12. Go Wildlife Watching in Ocala National Forest: Ocala National Forest is known for its diverse wildlife and outdoor activities. Hike, camp, or go birdwatching in this natural oasis.
  13. Visit the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg: Art enthusiasts can explore the surreal works of Salvador Dalí at the museum in St. Petersburg, which houses the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside Europe.

These activities represent just a glimpse of what Florida has to offer. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, cultural experiences, or natural beauty, Florida has something for everyone.

Where to Stay

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Florida offers a wide range of accommodations to suit various preferences and budgets. The choice of where to stay depends on the purpose of your visit, your preferred activities, and your budget. Here are some recommendations for different types of stays:

  • Orlando (Theme Parks):
    • Recommended Area: Lake Buena Vista or Kissimmee (close to Walt Disney World)
    • Options: Disney Resort Hotels, nearby hotels and resorts
  • Miami (Beach and Culture):
    • Recommended Area: South Beach for beach access and vibrant nightlife, Downtown Miami for cultural experiences
    • Options: Luxury hotels in South Beach, boutique hotels in Wynwood, downtown hotels
  • Tampa Bay (Urban and Waterfront):
    • Recommended Area: Downtown Tampa for urban experiences, Bayshore Boulevard for waterfront views
    • Options: Hotels in downtown Tampa, waterfront resorts
  • Key West (Historic and Laid-Back):
    • Recommended Area: Old Town Key West for historic charm
    • Options: Boutique inns, historic bed and breakfasts, waterfront resorts
  • Fort Lauderdale (Beaches and Shopping):
    • Recommended Area: Fort Lauderdale Beach for beach access, Las Olas Boulevard for shopping and dining
    • Options: Beachfront resorts, hotels along Las Olas Boulevard
  • Naples (Upscale and Relaxing):
    • Recommended Area: Old Naples for upscale shopping and dining, Naples Beach for relaxation
    • Options: Luxury resorts, beachfront hotels
  • St. Augustine (Historic and Quaint):
    • Recommended Area: Historic District for proximity to attractions
    • Options: Bed and breakfasts, historic inns, boutique hotels
  • Sarasota (Cultural and Artistic):
    • Recommended Area: Downtown Sarasota for cultural experiences
    • Options: Art-focused boutique hotels, resorts with cultural amenities
  • Tallahassee (Capital City):
    • Recommended Area: Downtown Tallahassee for proximity to government buildings and cultural sites
    • Options: Hotels in downtown Tallahassee
  • Clearwater Beach (Relaxation and Water Activities):
    • Recommended Area: Clearwater Beach for beach access
    • Options: Beachfront resorts, hotels along the beach

When choosing accommodation, consider factors such as proximity to attractions, the purpose of your visit, and your preferred amenities. It’s advisable to book well in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure the best rates and availability. Additionally, consider checking reviews and ratings on travel websites to ensure a positive stay experience.

🛎️ Best Hotels

Determining the “best” hotels can depend on individual preferences, budget constraints, and specific needs. However, here are some highly acclaimed and luxurious hotels in various regions of Florida that consistently receive positive reviews:

Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando:

  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa: Known for its Victorian elegance and proximity to Magic Kingdom.
  • Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort: A luxury resort with golf, spa, and rooftop steakhouse.

Miami:

  • The Setai, Miami Beach: An elegant oceanfront hotel with Asian-inspired decor and renowned dining.
  • Faena Hotel Miami Beach: A lavish hotel featuring art deco design, multiple restaurants, and a theater.


Key West:

  • The Marquesa Hotel: A charming boutique hotel in Old Town Key West with historic architecture.
  • Sunset Key Cottages: Private cottages on a secluded island, accessible by a short boat ride from Key West.


Naples:

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Naples: A luxury beachfront resort with upscale dining, spa, and golf courses.
  • LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort: A beautiful beachfront resort with a tropical feel and high-end amenities.


Orlando (Outside Theme Parks):

  • Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort: A luxury resort offering a tranquil escape from the theme park hustle.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes: Set amid lush landscapes, featuring a spa and championship golf.


Palm Beach:

  • The Breakers Palm Beach: An iconic luxury resort with a historic feel, oceanfront location, and top-notch amenities.
  • Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa: A refined resort with a stunning oceanfront setting and a focus on wellness.


Fort Lauderdale:

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale: A sophisticated beachfront hotel with upscale dining and a spa.
  • Pelican Grand Beach Resort: A charming resort with a classic Floridian feel, located right on the beach.


Tampa:

  • Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection: A boutique hotel in the SoHo district known for its culinary focus.
  • Tampa Marriott Water Street: Located along the waterfront, offering modern accommodations in the heart of downtown.


Sarasota:

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota: A luxury resort with a waterfront location, golf courses, and a spa.
  • The Resort at Longboat Key Club: A beachfront resort with golf, tennis, and a serene atmosphere.


St. Augustine:

  • Casa Monica Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection: A historic hotel in the heart of St. Augustine with Spanish-inspired architecture.
  • Bayfront Marin House Historic Inn: A charming bed and breakfast overlooking the Matanzas Bay.

Remember to check recent reviews, amenities, and current offerings before making reservations, as these factors can change over time. Additionally, these are just a few examples, and there are many more fantastic hotels throughout Florida catering to different tastes and preferences.

Best Road Trips

Florida offers a variety of scenic road trips that showcase its diverse landscapes, from pristine beaches and tropical forests to charming small towns and vibrant cities. Here are some of the best road trips in Florida:

  1. Florida Keys Scenic Highway (US-1): Starting in Key Largo and ending in Key West, this iconic drive takes you across a series of coral cays and bridges surrounded by turquoise waters. Explore charming towns, stop at seafood shacks, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
  2. A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway: This route runs along the Atlantic Ocean, offering stunning ocean views, beautiful beaches, and access to attractions like the Kennedy Space Center. It stretches from Amelia Island in the north to Key West in the south.
  3. Tamiami Trail (US-41): Connecting Tampa on the west coast to Miami on the east coast, the Tamiami Trail passes through the Everglades. You’ll experience the unique ecosystem of the Everglades, with opportunities for wildlife viewing and airboat tours.
  4. The Overseas Highway (US-1): Running from Miami to Key West, the Overseas Highway takes you across numerous bridges and islands. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean as you drive through the Florida Keys.
  5. Gulf Coast Scenic Drive (Scenic Highway 30A): This scenic route travels along the Emerald Coast, passing through charming beach towns like Seaside, Rosemary Beach, and Grayton Beach. The route offers beautiful coastal dune lakes and white-sand beaches.
  6. St. Johns River Scenic Byway: Meandering along the St. Johns River, this byway takes you through historic towns, citrus groves, and natural springs. Enjoy the picturesque landscapes and explore places like Blue Spring State Park.
  7. Old Florida Heritage Highway (SR-20): Connecting the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast, this highway takes you through the heart of Florida. Experience small towns, farmlands, and natural beauty as you drive from the Apalachicola National Forest to the Atlantic Ocean.
  8. Big Bend Scenic Byway: Explore the “Big Bend” region of Florida, known for its quiet coastal communities and pristine nature. The byway takes you through the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and along the scenic coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.

Before embarking on any road trip, make sure to check for any travel restrictions, road conditions, and weather updates. Enjoy your journey through the diverse landscapes of Florida!

Best Beaches

Florida boasts numerous beautiful beaches along its extensive coastline. Here are some of the best beaches in the state, each offering its own unique charm:

  1. Clearwater Beach: Located on the Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach is known for its powdery white sand and clear blue waters. It’s a popular destination for sunbathing, water sports, and beachside activities. The iconic Pier 60 offers nightly sunset celebrations.
  2. South Beach (Miami Beach): Famous for its vibrant atmosphere, art deco architecture, and lively nightlife, South Beach is a world-renowned destination. Enjoy the white sand, clear waters, and the iconic Ocean Drive with its trendy restaurants and bars.
  3. Siesta Key Beach: Situated near Sarasota on the Gulf Coast, Siesta Key Beach is known for its soft, quartz sand that stays cool even in hot weather. It’s a great spot for swimming, beach volleyball, and relaxing under the sun.
  4. Naples Beach: This southwest Florida beach offers a sophisticated and upscale atmosphere. Enjoy the pristine white sand, upscale dining, and shopping along nearby Fifth Avenue South.
  5. Panama City Beach: With its sugary white sand and emerald green waters, Panama City Beach is a popular destination for families and spring breakers alike. The area offers a mix of outdoor activities, water parks, and entertainment.
  6. St. Pete Beach: This beach on the Gulf Coast is known for its wide, sandy shores and a variety of water activities. The nearby historic Corey Avenue district provides shopping and dining options.
  7. Amelia Island: Located in northeast Florida, Amelia Island offers a more tranquil and laid-back beach experience. Enjoy a mix of historic charm in Fernandina Beach, nature trails, and 13 miles of pristine beaches.
  8. Grayton Beach State Park: As part of the Florida Panhandle’s Emerald Coast, Grayton Beach State Park is known for its natural beauty and crystal-clear waters. The park offers hiking trails, fishing, and camping facilities.
  9. Cocoa Beach: Known as the “Space Coast,” Cocoa Beach is a popular destination for surfing and beach activities. It’s also close to the Kennedy Space Center, making it a great combination of beach and space exploration.
  10. Fort Lauderdale Beach: This beach combines a vibrant city atmosphere with a beautiful coastline. Fort Lauderdale Beach features upscale dining, shopping along Las Olas Boulevard, and water activities.

Remember that conditions at beaches can change, and it’s essential to check for any local regulations, weather updates, and safety guidelines before planning your visit. Each beach has its own character, so choose the one that aligns with your preferences for a relaxing or adventurous seaside experience.

Best Natural Springs

Florida is known for its numerous natural springs, each offering unique landscapes and crystal-clear waters. Here are some of the best natural springs in the state:

  1. Wekiwa Springs State Park: Located near Orlando, Wekiwa Springs features a beautiful spring with a constant temperature of around 72°F (22°C). Visitors can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and canoeing in the spring’s clear waters. The park also offers hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities.
  2. Ichetucknee Springs State Park: This park, situated in north-central Florida, is known for its stunning Ichetucknee River. Tubing down the river is a popular activity, allowing visitors to float through the beautiful natural surroundings. The park is also home to multiple springs, including the headspring, Blue Hole Spring.
  3. Ginnie Springs: Ginnie Springs is a private park near High Springs, known for its seven crystal-clear springs. It’s a popular destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, tubing, and camping. The springs are surrounded by lush vegetation and are teeming with underwater life.
  4. Blue Spring State Park: Located near Orange City, Blue Spring is a designated manatee refuge. During the winter months, you can see a large number of West Indian manatees in the spring’s warm waters. The park offers swimming, snorkeling, and a scenic boardwalk.
  5. Juniper Springs Recreation Area: Part of the Ocala National Forest, Juniper Springs is known for its artesian spring that feeds into a beautiful swimming area. Canoeing and kayaking on the Juniper Run are popular activities, allowing visitors to explore the lush wilderness.
  6. Rainbow Springs State Park: Situated near Dunnellon, Rainbow Springs State Park is home to crystal-clear springs and a beautiful river. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and tube in the spring’s waters. The park also features walking trails, gardens, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
  7. Alexander Springs Recreation Area: Located in Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs is known for its clear blue waters and sandy bottom. The spring is a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, and camping. The surrounding forest provides opportunities for hiking and birdwatching.
  8. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: Famous for its mermaid shows, Weeki Wachee Springs is also a natural spring that feeds into the Weeki Wachee River. Visitors can enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, and wildlife watching along the scenic river.
  9. De Leon Springs State Park: This park, located in central Florida, is known for its spring with a constant temperature of 72°F (22°C). Visitors can swim in the spring, explore the gardens, and enjoy a meal at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant, where you can make your own pancakes at the table.
  10. Madison Blue Spring State Park: Nestled in the Florida panhandle, Madison Blue Spring is a first-magnitude spring with stunning blue waters. The park offers swimming, snorkeling, and picnicking in a serene natural setting.

Remember to check park regulations, fees, and any seasonal variations in accessibility before planning your visit to these natural springs. Additionally, be mindful of conservation efforts and the importance of preserving these natural treasures.

Best Theme Parks

Florida is renowned for its world-class theme parks, offering a diverse range of attractions and entertainment for visitors of all ages. Here are some of the best theme parks in the state:

  • Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando): This iconic resort is home to four major theme parks:
    • Magic Kingdom: The classic Disney park with Cinderella’s Castle, beloved characters, and iconic attractions.
    • Epcot: Known for its futuristic World Showcase and Future World areas, showcasing technology, innovation, and global cultures.
    • Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Focuses on the magic of filmmaking, featuring attractions like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land.
    • Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Blends a theme park experience with a zoological park, featuring Pandora – The World of Avatar and Expedition Everest.
  • Universal Orlando Resort (Orlando): Comprising two major theme parks:
    • Universal Studios Florida: Offers movie-themed attractions, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Transformers, and Despicable Me.
    • Universal’s Islands of Adventure: Known for thrilling rides, such as The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
  • SeaWorld Orlando: Combines marine life education with thrilling rides and shows. Highlights include Mako, Kraken, and the iconic Shamu show.
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: A combination of a theme park and zoo, Busch Gardens features thrilling roller coasters like SheiKra and Montu, as well as animal exhibits and live shows.
  • LEGOLAND Florida Resort (Winter Haven): Geared towards families with younger children, LEGOLAND offers interactive rides, shows, and attractions, all centered around the iconic LEGO bricks.
  • Gatorland (Orlando): Known as the “Alligator Capital of the World,” Gatorland features thousands of alligators and crocodiles. Visitors can experience live shows, a zip line over the alligator breeding marsh, and interactive exhibits.
  • Fun Spot America (Orlando and Kissimmee): A family-owned theme park with a focus on classic rides and attractions, offering a more intimate and budget-friendly experience.
  • Adventure Island (Tampa): A water park featuring a variety of water slides, lazy rivers, and wave pools, providing a refreshing escape from the Florida heat.
  • Discovery Cove (Orlando): A unique park where guests can swim with dolphins, snorkel in a tropical reef, and relax in a serene, all-inclusive environment.
  • Holy Land Experience (Orlando): A biblical-themed park offering a combination of live performances, exhibits, and recreations of ancient Jerusalem.

When planning a visit to these theme parks, it’s essential to check current operating hours, ticket prices, and any COVID-19-related guidelines or restrictions that may be in place. Each park offers a distinctive experience, catering to various interests and age groups.

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