Fantastic Don’t-Miss Hidden Gems in Florida

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So you’ve played at Walt Disney World, swam in warm beaches and set sail from Miami and Orlando. What else is there to do in Florida? A lot! Now it’s time to explore Florida’s hidden gems. There are many adventures to discover off the beaten path in Florida’s hidden gems and secret spots.

From beautiful beaches and state parks to nature trails and caves, you’ll find all sorts of hidden gems in Florida to add to your bucket list.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Florida has a range of lodging options to fit any budget.

two people in speed boat exploring Cedar Key, one of Florida's hidden gems
Experience Old Florida in Cedar Key. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Step Back in Time in Cedar Key

Cedar Key is Florida’s second oldest city and is a charming, historic town in the Gulf of Mexico. Situated about an hour’s drive southwest of Gainesville, this small seaside town is one of the best hidden gems in Florida. It’s been compared to early Key West. Explore Old Florida’s history at the Cedar Key Historical Museum. Exhibits include Civil War items, documents and photos.

In addition to enjoying laid-back beaches, hike the nature trails at Cedar Key Museum State Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re in the Gainesville area, swing by the butterfly rainforest exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

aerial view of Caladesi Island, an off the beaten path destination in Florida
Caladesi Island is an undeveloped area. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Escape to Caladesi Island State Park

Only accessible by boat, Caladesi Island is a true getaway. Situated off the coast of Clearwater Beach, it’s among Florida’s few undeveloped islands. This means you can experience an authentic oasis with pristine beaches. Enjoy the natural beauty, stroll along the beach and kayak through the bayside mangrove forest. To reach the island, catch a ferry from Honeymoon Island. The journey is half the fun!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Disney World is a little over two hours from Clearwater, making this a great day trip. And a relaxing outing away from the bustling parks.

Entrance sign to Moccasin Lake Nature Park, a hidden gem in Florida
Hike nature trails and see wildlife. Photo credit: Breeze Leonard

Hike in Moccasin Lake Nature Park

While in Clearwater Beach, be sure to visit the Moccasin Lake Nature Park. The 51-acre nature preserve has trails and boardwalks under a canopy of oaks and across ponds and creeks. Walk along nature trails and see gopher turtles, raccoons and birds.

If you have more time, look into the classes, programs and camps available at this nature park, one of the best hidden gems in Florida for kids.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you don’t mind driving about an hour, Bradenton is a fun day trip. It’s home to the oldest working fishing village in Florida, Cortez Historic Fishing Village. 

Boy with backpack in cavern in Florida
Explore the nooks and crannies in Florida Caverns State Park. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Explore Florida Caverns State Park 

Caves in Florida? Surprise! Another hidden gem and a surprising one at that. Located in the Florida Panhandle, it’s the only Florida state park with air-filled caves accessible to the public. The temperature is a constant 68-70 degrees.

On guided tours through the caverns, you’ll see formations created from limestone stalactites and stalagmites. At times, you’ll need to duck through narrow passageways and step around water holes.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

SheBuysTravel Tip: More time to spare in the Florida Panhandle? Check out the Pensacola Beach Pirate Ship. 

baby alligators at Shark Valley
Baby alligators at Shark Valley. Photo credit: NPSPhoto, R. Cammauf

See Wildlife in Everglades National Park, South Florida

The Everglades aren’t hidden but they’re a gem and home to wildlife lurking in the waters and plants. On narrated tram rides and airboat tours, you’ll see alligators.

Native Floridian and SheBuysTravel contributor Elizabeth Heath recommends visiting the Shark Valley Visitor Center in the Everglades. She and her family took a tram tour that brought them to a canal packed with fish, turtles and many alligators.

Welcome sign at Navarre Beach, one of Florida's hidden gems
Relax on quiet, white beaches near Pensacola. Photo credit: Breeze Leonard

Relax on Navarre Beach 

According to SheBuysTravel contributor Breeze Leonard, Navarre Beach is Florida’s best kept secret. Why? There are fewer tourists in Navarre than in most other beach towns. Plus, the vibe is more laid-back at these beautiful beaches off the Gulf of Mexico.

Things to do include kayaking and paddleboarding.

limestone rock formation at Blowing Rocks Preserve, an off the beaten path destination in Florida
The limestone rock formations at Blowing Rocks Preserve are the largest of their type on the Atlantic coast. Photo courtesy of Danielle Rienas/dkrmediamarketing.com

Be Amazed at Blowing Rocks Preserve

A visit to this barrier island sanctuary on Jupiter Island is a unique getaway. In fact, it makes you feel like you aren’t even in Florida. The diverse habitats include beaches, mangroves, dunes and wildlife. Look for sea turtles and manatees.

Blowing Rocks Preserve earned its name for the plumes of saltwater shooting up to 50 feet high during high tide. It’s an impressive sight that offers awesome photo opportunities.

Black parents with kids on boardwalk viewing area in Matlacha Florida
Enjoy laid-back family time in Matlacha. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Chill in Matlacha

If you’re looking for a funky and off-the-beaten-path place to add to your bucket list, this is it. One road splits this artsy fishing village in two. The residents (fewer than 1,000) painted everything in their tiny town in bright colors so the entire town looks like one big canvas. Whimsical gardens complete the picture.

Things to do? Kayak, peruse boutique shops and simply enjoy a slice of Old Florida. Matlacha is one of the best day trips from Naples, Fort Myers, Punta Gorda or Marco Island.

Landscape view of Morikami in Florida
Morikami’s six gardens are an extension of the museum. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Find Peace in Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are a pleasant discovery in Delray Beach. Learn about Japanese history and stroll along the beautiful 16-acre gardens.

The gardens feature a world-class bonsai collection and lakes filled with koi and other wildlife. The wider 200-acre park features nature trails, pine forests and picnic areas.

Landscape view at Weeki Wachee in Florida
Weeki Wachee is a natural spring with a cave system. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

See Mermaids in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Who says mermaids aren’t real? Watch underwater performances by “mermaids” – women wearing fishtails and other fancy outfits. But there’s more to do in this natural area that also features family-friendly attractions.

Learn about Florida wildlife, swim in Buccaneer Bay and take a river boat cruise. It’s also fun to paddle along the river. Weeki Wachee is located about 45 minutes north of downtown Tampa.

Singing Tower in Box Tower Gardens, a hidden gem in Florida
The Singing Tower is the main attraction in Bok Tower Gardens. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Hear Bells at Bok Tower Gardens

Do you hear what I hear? Every day bells ring from the Singing Tower in this pretty hidden gem. Discover the 250-acre gardens and bird sanctuary situated in Lake Whales in central Florida.

The Singing Tower sits next to the reflection pool. Hear the bells ring during the Singing Tower carillon concerts presented daily at 1 and 3 p.m. Many families find Bok Towers a relaxing outing after a hectic Disney World trip.

Read More: Things to Do in Kissimmee Florida that Aren’t Theme Parks!

Two kids snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas, an off the beaten path destination in Florida
Lucien Firth 11 and his 8-year-old sister Iris Firth of Great Barrington, Mass. snorkeling in the water at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Explore Dry Tortugas National Park

Composed of a group of seven islands, the state park is named after the sea turtles that make their home in this habitat — tortuga means turtle in Spanish. The 100-square-mile park is located nearly 70 miles west of Key West.

SheBuysTravel contributor Gwen Kleist and her teen son had a blast exploring this park. They especially enjoyed snorkeling in the shallow reefs and clear blue Gulf waters. More things to do in Dry Tortugas National Park include snorkeling, bird watching and camping. Fort Jefferson, one of the largest American Civil War forts in the USA, is also located in the park.

Girl on horseback in Ocala Florida
Explore Ocala on horseback riding tours. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Horsing Around in Ocala

Road trips offer opportunities to discover destinations. That’s how SheBuysTravel contributor Taylor and her family stumbled upon Ocala, a hidden gem outside of Orlando. Dubbed the horse capital of the world, Ocala offers horseback riding and farm tours.

But even if you’re not an equestrian, there are other activities that may be of interest. Go on a zipline tour and swim in natural springs in the Ocala National Forest. It’s one of the top hidden gems in Florida.

Snorkel in Devil’s Den

Adventurous travelers who enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving will love exploring this privately-owned natural spring in Wilston, Florida. The natural opening above allows sunlight to filter into this underground river with cool, clear water. While swimming, you’ll be surrounded by fish and turtles that live in the natural spring.

Snorkeler with manatee in Crystal Springs Florida, one of the hidden gems in Florida
See manatees in Crystal Springs. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Swim with Manatees in Crystal River

Manatees migrate to Crystal River when water temperatures drop in the Gulf of Mexico. So winter is a good time to see manatees from a boardwalk. Or in the water! You can swim with them on guided eco-friendy tours. Crystal Springs is the only place in North America where it’s legal to swim with manatees. It’s one of the top hidden gems in Florida.

TravelingMom Tip: The Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach is another place to see manatees. 

Young boy on sponge dock in Tarpon Springs one of the hidden gems in Florida
Sponges were an important export at one time. Photo courtesy of Visit Florida

Pick up a Sponge at Tarpon Springs 

For an offbeat cultural getaway, visit Tarpon Springs – the sponge capital of the world! Situated in the Tampa Bay region, Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek immigrants in 1875. They built the village’s signature sponge industry, which was a major export for a while.

So, what is there to do? Walk along the waterfront and explore downtown’s art galleries, antiques stores and specialty shops. They are housed in buildings dating from the late 1800s.

Take a Stroll at Maurice A. Ferre Park 

Maurice A. Ferre Park is a pleasant green space in downtown Miami. Formerly known as Museum Park, this bay area spot is a prime spot for seeing cruise ships. The park fronts the water and affords great views of the cruise ships entering and leaving the port.

Tips for Visiting Palm Beach County

Like most of South Florida, The Palm Beaches are slower in the summer. If you are looking for deals, you may want to consider visiting during this period. Just remember that this is a less popular time of the year to visit because of the rain and heat. On the upside, you’ll also enjoy fewer crowds and more deals.

Situated in Palm Beach County, Peanut Island is a go-to snorkeling spot. Enjoy clear waters, underwater wildlife encounters and beautiful reef ecosystems.

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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