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Home to upside-down buildings, undersea parks and what claims to be the “Nation’s Oldest City”, the Sunshine State is so much more than just sandy beaches and theme parks. Florida also has tons of history, drool-worthy eats and marine and wildlife galore. Headed to this sunny southern state soon? Get ready to take notes, because we’re sharing 18 of the best places to visit in Florida during your next getaway.
Growing up, Florida was always a “dream destination” for me. Between the hundreds of sunny and sandy beaches and the fact it is home to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, it was inevitably the mecca of all places to go for a family vacation. And as a child who once wanted to be an astronaut, the fact that the Kennedy Space Center could be found there was the icing on the cake.
As I grew into a teen and adult, I had the opportunity to check off several Florida cities off of my list, finally giving me a taste of all I had conjured up in my mind over the years. And let me just say, I wasn’t disappointed.
Florida just about has it all. The excellent weather, countless beach towns with Caribbean vibes, history and heritage, delicious Cuban food, nature parks, amusement parks and water activities galore.
But if there’s one thing I’ve taken into account from my multiple visits to multiple Florida towns, it’s this: Whether you choose to spend your getaway at an oceanfront resort or inland with all of the best amusement parks at your fingertips, you’re going to want to be prepared because there is SO much to do and see.
Have no fear, SheBuysTravel has you covered on that front. Here’s our roundup of the best places to visit in Florida to make sure your time in the Sunshine State is well spent.
Perhaps one of the most popular vacation spots in Florida, Orlando is a theme park mecca and one of the best places to visit in Florida for families. It is home to Walt Disney World and Epcot, Seaworld, Universal Studios and Discovery Cove to name a few. One can easily spend a few days alone at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Located in central Florida, Orlando isn’t just about the theme parks – there are also plenty of zoos, parks, museums and nature trails to enjoy. LEGO lovers will feel like they’re in a dream at the LEGOLAND Florida Resort. An hour road trip will take you to the Brevard Zoo, the only zoo in the country to offer kayaking tours to view its wildlife.
The 205-foot Bok Tower is a must-see with 60 carillon bells that play every half-hour. And as if the WonderWorks’ remarkable upside-down building on International Drive isn’t a sight to see on its own, inside of the museum you’ll find more than 100 interactive exhibits on weather, space, light and sound.
2. Florida Keys
If you’re looking for the feel of a tropical island getaway without leaving your car, the Florida Keys may be exactly what you’re looking for. Stretching roughly 120 miles off of Florida’s southern tip, the Florida Keys is one of the best places to visit in Florida for water activities such as fishing, boating, scuba diving and snorkeling.
As you travel along the scenic Overseas Highway, you’ll pass through Key Largo, the first and longest island as well as home to America’s first undersea park; Islamorada, a collection of islands and excellent place for an adult getaway; Marathon, the midpoint of the keys and home to the iconic Seven Mile Bridge; Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, known for its abundant nature and wildlife; and the popular Key West, the southernmost US city located closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.
Places to visit in Florida Keys:
Just an hour’s flight and 3.5 hour drive from Miami, Key West is Florida’s southernmost point and one of the best places to visit in Florida for a day trip, weekend trip or long vacation. Unlike other Florida cities known mostly for its beaches, Key West is known more for its coral reefs.
The Florida Keys packs plenty of activities to do on both the water and land. Imagine deep-sea fishing with a world-renowned fishing expert, or diving the nation’s only living barrier reef. The Key West Aquarium and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory are also popular destinations among those visiting. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum can be found right across from the Key West Lighthouse.
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Situated at the end of Duval Street (also known as the island’s “main drag”), you’ll several popular attractions, nightlife, restaurants and bars. There you can also snap a family photo at America’s Southernmost Point buoy, or join the classic Sunset Celebration from Mallory Square.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Composed of a group of seven islands, Dry Tortugas National Park is named “one of the most beautiful places in Florida” by Condé Nast Traveler and is one of the top national parks on the east coast. Located roughly 70 miles from Key West, it is a remote 100-square-mile national park that you can only reach by boat or seaplane. It is named after the sea turtles that make their home in the habitat.
Gwen Kleist and her teen son visited the park and had a blast snorkeling in the shallow reefs and clear blue Gulf waters. In addition to snorkeling, bird watching and camping are popular activities to enjoy at the park. Fort Jefferson, one of the largest American Civil War forts in the USA, is also located in the park.
Located along the Gulf coast of Florida, Tampa is located on Tampa Bay and attracts people of all ages, tastes and budgets. Whether you love amusement parks, quiet walks through the city, nature and wildlife, nightlife or good eats, Tampa has plenty to offer.
If you’re hoping to spot some manatees in the winter months, visit the free Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (the 335-acre African-themed animal theme park) and the Florida Aquarium are the two must-visit places, especially if traveling with family.
Located on a barrier island in the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater is one of the best places to visit in Florida for pristine beaches and sunshine. With white sugar sand beaches that stretch for miles, the beach never feels crowded. In fact, it is safe to say that Clearwater has some of the best beaches in Florida.
To be more comfortable in the shining sun, chairs and umbrella rentals are available from vendors along the beach. There are also plenty of great eats just steps away. When you need a break from the sand and water, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a great place to visit to learn about injured and rescued marine animals.
SheBuysTravel contributor Breeze Leonard recommends taking a day trip to Honeymoon Island State Park when visiting Clearwater. In her words, “It’s well worth the 25-minute drive to see one of the best-loved Florida state parks. Plan to spend an afternoon swimming and soaking in the stunning views.”
5. St. Augustine
Claiming the title as the “Nation’s Oldest City,” St. Augustine showcases centuries-old Spanish architecture and cultural sites that make it one of the best places to visit in Florida for history lovers. Its four miles of protected beaches and year-round mild weather also make this city an ideal Florida getaway.
St. Augustine is packed with cultural and historic sites worth a visit. The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fortification and the only currently surviving example of 17th century military construction in the continental U.S. SheBuysTravel contributor Keri Baugh and her kids loved visiting the Colonial Quarter, where they visited the Fountain of Youth, saw the world’s oldest schoolhouse and took a pirate walking tour. The Pirate & Treasure Museum is a must-see for any kids who love Pirates of the Caribbean.
St. Augustine also offers 42 beaches to explore, marking the sites where Spanish explorers first set foot hundreds of years ago. However, there are many things to do in St. Augustine that heading to the beach may be the last thing on your mind. On the beach, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and other equipment there. Just a head’s up that the walk along the boardwalk to the beach is a bit long, so if you’re hauling a lot of stuff, you may want to bring along a beach wagon to make the trip easier!
Other sites worth a visit include the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the Anastasia State Park with 1,600 acres of unspoiled beaches, tidal marshes, ancient sand dunes and nature trails.
6. St. Petersburg
Holding the title for the city with the “most consecutive days with sunshine” (currently standing at a whopping 768 days!), St. Petersburg is known for its award-winning beaches and its Caribbean look and feel.
Often called “St. Pete” for short, the city sits about 45 minutes from Orlando. Its downtown area, although small, is very urban and offers great restaurants, high rises, upscale boutiques, retail shops and familiar chains such as Starbucks. Art fanatics may be surprised to find that St. Petersburg is also home to the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s artwork outside of Spain!
If you like kayaking, biking or running, head to Fort de Soto State Park, about 10 minutes away where you’ll find a picturesque emerald green water lagoon and white sand beach Fishing is a must in St. Petersburg but if you plan to take a fishing excursion, you’ll want to book early before they sell out! The Great Exploration Museum and Sunken Gardens is budget-friendly and fun for families.
While typically a popular destination for spring break and for its trendy nightlife scene, Miami has so much more to offer from its beaches and celebrity-chef eateries to its art-deco culture, art galleries and historical memorials.
Explore the colorful murals of the Wynwood neighborhood, dance to the music in Little Havana, explore the Freedom Tower or make a visit to the Holocaust Museum. Art lovers will want to make time for a trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art or the Miami Design District. Want to see the Miami homes of famous celebs such as Shaquille O’Neal, Gloria Estefan, P.Diddy or Thalia? Make sure to book a boat tour of Millionaire’s Row and Biscayne Bay.
And of course, a trip to Miami won’t be complete without a trip to Miami Beach, one of the most popular beaches in all of South Florida. The South Beach area is well-known for its beaches, glitz and glamor from shopping at high-end shops along Lincoln Road to people watching from outdoor cafes on bustling Ocean Drive.
Once the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, today Sarasota is known as the home to a number of cultural institutes including the Ringling Museum of Art. It is also the gateway to miles of beautiful fine-sand beaches with shallow waters, an excellent choice for those wanting a beach day with the littlest travelers.
With a mainland and a string of eight islands right on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota has numerous beautiful beaches, world class culture and arts, amazing food and family-friendly eco-activities. For those who love to shop, some of the best shopping can be found in Lido Key, St. Armands and the elite resorts on LongBoat Key.
Sarasota’s Siesta Key beach was recognized for having the whitest and finest sand in the world at the Great International White Sand Beach Challenge. And unlike most beaches, Siesta Key’s sand is made of 99% quartz, keeping it cooler than your typical sand, even under the intense Florida sun. Sadly, Siesta Key was damaged by 2022’s Hurricane Ian. Check the Visit Sarasota website for up to date travel information.
Sarasota is also known to draw Amish snowbirds escaping the cold winters of the Midwest and Northeast USA. For that reason, it is also one of the best places in Florida to get incredible fried chicken and pie. Breeze Leonard recommends filling up at Yoder’s Restaurant & Amish Village, a place that still has her mouth watering just thinking about the lunch she had!
9. Fort Lauderdale
Also known as the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale is known for its beaches and its 300 miles of inland waterways. Lined with upscale restaurants, bars, boutiques and hotels, Fort Lauderdale is one of the best places to visit in Florida for an all-encompassing sunny getaway.
Popular attractions include the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, featuring trails and a lagoon. Breeze Leonard and her family had a great time on the Jungle Queen riverboat ride and strolling the Riverwalk that lines both sides of the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The 2.5 mile-long Hollywood Beach Boardwalk is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening.
If traveling with kids, the Museum of Discovery and Science, one of the largest in Florida, is a must-visit. And of course since it’s the Venice of America, you can’t leave Fort Lauderdale without a fun gondola ride along the canals.
Pensacola is the westernmost city on the Florida Panhandle known for its wildlife, beaches, historic charm and rich heritage. Also referred to as “the City of Five Flags,” it has changed ownership several times and flies the Spanish, British, French, Confederate and American flags all over the city. SheBuysTravel contributor Maria Smith says, “Pensacola also offers some great values on many things to do. This year-round beach destination can really give your budget a break.”
Pensacola has beautiful beaches and emerald-green coastlines that are often lined with families enjoying its beautiful shoreline. Pensacola Beach has both fun and lively beach areas as well as quiet sections for beachgoers who prefer not to be around the crowds. The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier and Observation Post is a must-visit attraction with a 1,471 foot-long pier over the Gulf of Mexico.
The Pensacola historic district offers self-guided tours, trolley tours and haunted house tours, while the Big Lagoon State Park offers kayaking, hiking trails and picnic areas. Art lovers will want to stop at the Pensacola Museum, a Spanish Revival building that once housed the city jail. Also, as home to the Blue Angels Naval aerobatics team and the place where all naval pilots train, you may just catch an unexpected airshow up in the sky!
Known for its golf courses, high-end shopping and dining options, Naples is one of the best places to visit in Florida if you want luxury and don’t mind splurging on it. With miles of white sugar sand beaches and calm waters, it is also one of the best places to visit in Florida for a quiet and relaxing getaway mixed with world-class culture.
All of Naples’ beaches are public with easy access and parking. What sets its beaches apart from more developed Florida beaches is that many also have long boardwalks through protected wildlife areas. If you’re looking for a peaceful place where you can do some fishing or spot some dolphins or manatees, Naples is where you’ll find it.
Places to visit in Naples:
Everglades National Park
Located on the southern tip of Florida, Everglades National Park is a popular tourist destination made up of coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes, pine flatwoods and hundreds of animal and wildlife species. With narrated airboat rides and tram tours to take you around the wetlands, the Everglades is the best place to visit in Florida if you’re a nature lover and really want to get up close with alligators. Although rare, you may even spot a Florida panther!
If visiting with kids, the park’s Junior Ranger programs will keep the kids engaged. They’ll see and learn plenty about the park’s wildlife and “river of grass” via its hiking trails, biking trails, canoe trips, airport rides and tram tours. If you’re up for camping in the swap, front country camping sites Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground accommodate tents and RVs.
SheBuysTravel contributor Elizabeth Heath recommends also paying a visit to the Shark Valley Visitor Center while in the Everglades. There, she and her family took a tram tour that brought them to a canal packed with fish, turtles and many alligators.
Naples Botanical Gardens
A visit to this 170-acre garden is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and view plants from around the world. It is for sure one of the most beautiful places to visit while in Naples and offers a variety of programs that contribute to the quality of life in southwest Florida.
The Naples Botanical Garden consists of numerous gardens in one, such as the Asian Garden, Caribbean Garden, and the Smith’s Children’s Garden with a butterfly house. The Garden almost always has a special exhibit going on with unique structures on display.
12. Fort Myers
Note: Fort Myers and Sanibel Island were significantly damaged during 2022’s Hurricane Ian. The Visit Fort Myers website will have the most recent information about the status of repairs and re-openings.
Known for its rich history, beautiful natural scenery and beaches full of seashells, Fort Myers is a safe city and one of the best places to visit in Florida for visitors with families. Whether you spend time on or off the beach, there’s plenty to explore.
Bowditch Point Park at the northernmost end of Estero Island and has 17 acres of white sand beaches to stick your toes in and splash around. When you need a break from the beach, take a shaded walk on one of the nearby wooded trails. If you’re visiting with older kids and science lovers, a visit to the Ford and Edison Winter Estate along the Caloosahatchee River will be right up your alley. The biggest draw of the estate is Thomas Edison’s workshop, which looks like he just left and will return soon to finish his latest experiment.
Fort Myers is also one of the best places to visit in Florida if you want to see manatees. Between November and March, the Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers is the place to be. That’s when the manatees come to visit. The park has a protected sanctuary with an observation platform as well as guided tours and educational activities.
Places to visit in Fort Myers:
If lighthouses and seashells bring a smile to your face, then Sanibel Island needs to be on your Florida vacation destination list! Just a short day trip from Sanibel Island is one of the best places to visit in Florida for being immersed in sunshine and nature.
You can easily spend most of the day exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Take a tram for a 90-minute guided tour of the refuge where you’ll witness the more than 245 species of birds, alligators and other reptiles enjoying their natural habitat. If you love dolphins, a dolphin-watching cruise will be right up your alley. And if you time it right, you can even witness one of Sanibel’s breathtaking sunsets over the water!
13. Panama City Beach
Located in the Panhandle of Florida, Panama City Beach (also known as PCB) isn’t to be confused with the nearby Panama City. Panama City Beach has 27 miles of white-sand beaches on the clear and calm Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the best places to visit in Florida for those who love sun, sand and water activities.
Breeze Leonard prefers Panama City Beach when in search of a fun-filled beach destination. In her words, “We choose Panama City Beach because we never run out of fun things to do and restaurants to try. It’s a destination I’d highly recommend when taking a multi-generational vacation because of the variety of activities available to families on and off the beach.”
Some of the must-visit attractions to visit in Panama City Beach include Shipwreck Island Waterpark, one of the top water parks in Florida. Shell Island, a 700-acre white-sand nature preserve, is a family-favorite as well. Pier Park, PCB’s entertainment, shopping and dining complex, has more than 100 stores, several dining options and a movie theater. Panama City Beach also has one of the highest concentrations of wild bottlenose dolphins in the world so scheduling a dolphin tour should definitely be on your list!
14. Palm Beach
Located in South Florida, Palm Beach is generally seen as a retirement city known for its glamorous estates, golf courses and sandy beaches. However, Palm Beach is one of the best places to visit in Florida for a laid back and family-friendly getaway under the Florida sun.
When you’re not spending the day on the golf course, boating or splurging on a luxury hotel or spa, Palm Beach has a number of attractions for you to explore such as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum for art and antique furnishings and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center to view sea turtles. The Manatee Lagoon is a cool place to view Manatees. With more than 50 restaurants and stores, the Downtown at the Gardens shopping center is the place to be entertained and to refuel on good eats.
Known for having some of the most amazing beaches in the USA, Jacksonville Florida (a/k/a JAX) boasts 22 miles of coastline and 80,000 acres of parks including the largest urban park system in the country, an Arboretum and a 46,000-acre Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve.
It might be the largest city in Florida (and the largest city in area in the USA), but Jacksonville retains a small town feel. When not at the beach, catch a touring Broadway musical at the Florida Theater or fill up at one of the popular foodie spots such as the Salt Life Food Shack for seafood or the Sweet Pete’s Candy store to satisfy your sweet tooth. Breeze Leonard recommends Candy Apple Cafe + Cocktails for delicious sandwiches, salads and creamy Mac ‘n Cheese with candied bacon.
Art lovers may be impressed by Jacksonville’s street art and statues, which make excellent photo ops for your Instagram feed. Or, hop over to the Cummer Museum of Art and Garden’s to explore with its amazing bridge photo ops.
16. Amelia Island
Part of the Sea Islands chain of barrier islands, Amelia Island sits close to the Georgia border and is packed with Spanish, French and American history. Today, it is one of the best places to visit in Florida for luxury resorts, golf courses and beautiful sandy beaches.
With 13-miles of beach, Amelia Island is great for searching for shark’s teeth and seashells while admiring the sunrise or sunset. Downtown Fernandina Beach is a Victorian seaport village with historic buildings, antique stores and boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Main Beach Park is a great place to spend the day strolling the boardwalk, viewing sand dunes or taking advantage of its sports and recreation facilities.
Keri Baugh recommends getting up early to walk the beach and eating your fill of local shrimp for lunch before taking the ferry over St. Johns River.
17. Daytona Beach
If you’re into NASCAR and racing, put Daytona Beach on your list of places to visit while vacationing in Florida. Daytona Beach is known for the Daytona International Speedway and the annual Daytona 500 NASCAR race. But that’s not all! Daytona Beach is also one of the best places to visit in Florida for those who want to surf thanks to the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Daytona’s boardwalk area is a popular place for all ages to take a stroll, play arcades or hop on an adrenaline-pumping amusement park ride. The Daytona Lagoon water park offers even more fun in the sun with waterslides, laser tag and go-karts. Favorite family-friendly activities include a day trip to Ponce Inlet to explore the lighthouse and science center or a stroll around the Riverfront Shops. You can even catch a Friday night concert at the Daytona Beach Bandshell.
Located on the Florida Panhandle, Destin is known for its white sand beaches, golf courses and beautiful boardwalk. It is also known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village,” making it one of the best places to visit in Florida (and all over the world) for anglers!
In addition to fishing and strolling the sandy shores, Destin has beautiful wildlife, nature trails and beautiful white sand dunes at the Henderson Beach State Park. The Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park is a big draw for all ages with waterfalls, pools and slides. And for a real taste of the Emerald Coast, adventurers can try kayaking or snorkeling.
Breeze Leonard considers Destin to be her favorite spot for family Florida vacations. In her words, “The white sand beaches are just one of the many reasons why Destin has become my happy place and one of the few places I visit over and over again. It’s very family-friendly and you’ll never run out of things to do or places to eat and shop.”