25 Best Places to Visit in Florida
Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a world of magnificent beaches, spectacular fishing, great diving, and diverse wildlife both above and below water. The cities range from huge, modern Miami to quaint, colorful Key West, and endless fun for the kids of all ages at Orlando’s Walt Disney World. Florida's parks are spectacular, from the world-significant Everglades to the underwater paradise of the Biscayne National Park, Florida. Photo: PixieMe/Fotolia
Located on Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa, Florida is a modern business hub with an interesting history and diverse cultural offerings. Visit the quirky Henry B. Plant Museum built in 1891 as a luxury hotel. Take the kids to the African-themed Busch Gardens, with many thrill rides and wild animals. Stroll through the historic Ybor City neighborhood built in the early 20th century by cigar-factory workers from Cuba. It is also a great place to get a meal in one of many small restaurants. Paddle a kayak or canoe through the lush, wild Little Manatee River or learn more about the city’s history at the interactive Tampa Bay History Center, located on Tampa's lively downtown Riverwalk.
Located between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, northwest of St. Petersburg, Clearwater is a famous family holiday destination known for its 3-mile-long spectacular beach, wonderful weather, and long, narrow barrier reef. The beach is lined with fancy hotels, resorts, bars, and restaurants. Take the kids to see the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where injured dolphins and sea turtles are brought to recover and get rehabilitated. Check the game at the Bright House Field, where the Phillies baseball team comes for spring training. Stroll down Pier 60 to see the sunset and the street artists entertaining the crowds. Enjoy the shady boardwalk trails through Moccasin Lake Nature Park, or take a tour of the bay to see the playful dolphins in their own environment.
» Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach is located about 51 miles from Orlando on the Atlantic coast. It is world renowned for the Daytona 500 NASCAR race held at the Daytona International Speedway. Even Daytona’s beautiful sandy beach allows driving. However, there is more to Daytona than just the races: There are also popular summer concerts at the Daytona Beach Bandshell stages. Near the beach is the Daytona Lagoon water park, with waterslides, go-karts, and laser tag. Visit the Sunglow Fishing Pier to see dolphins or try your hand at fishing, see the tranquil Basilica of Saint Paul, or take the kids to the fascinating Museum of Arts and Sciences .
Destin is a city in northwest Florida on the Florida Panhandle, on a peninsula that separates the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay. Destin is famous for its beautiful beaches with powder-fine white sand, a number of great golf courses, and excellent fishing. Get the feel of the city by strolling along the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. Visit Henderson Beach State Park to see the giant dunes and to enjoy a hike along the coast surrounded by oak and pine trees. Kids will love the variety of slides, pools, and waterfalls in the huge Big Kahuna’s water park. Visit the Destin History & Fishing Museum to learn about the importance of fishing for Destin. Don’t miss the Fort Walton Mound archaeological site, built by the Pensacola tribe in 850 A.D.
Delray Beach is a small coastal city in Florida known for its lovely sandy beaches but also for the lively art community in its eclectic downtown. The Pineapple Grove Arts District is full of amazing public art and art galleries. The Cornell Art Museum, established in 1913, is famous for its collection of contemporary artworks. There is also the Creative Arts School and the Fieldhouse, established in 1925, and much more. A range of art festivals run all year round. The First Friday Art Walks are a great way to explore the city’s art scene, see a show, or catch a concert. And there are, of course, great restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy fresh food and enjoy some people watching.
Pensacola is a charming, old coastal Florida city, the westernmost city on the Florida panhandle, with lovely Santa Rosa Island separating it from the Gulf of Mexico and creating quiet, safe sandy beaches, perfect for the kids. One of the oldest European settlements in America, Pensacola is full of historic charm. Start your exploration at the Historic Pensacola Village, where 19 well-preserved 19th-century buildings create a living museum. Just around the corner are the beaches, and not far away is the 1839 Fort Barrancas and the National Naval Aviation Museum. Take the steep spiral staircase to climb to the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse, built in 1859; the view is worth the climb.
Photo: Cheryl Casey/Fotolia
» Florida Keys
Stretching almost 120 miles from the southern tip of Florida between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean is a string of tropical islands called the Florida Keys. This coral archipelago starts about 15 miles from Miami and ends in Dry Tortugas National Park, which is uninhabited. The last inhabited key is Key West, a famous tourist destination that is called Key Weird by the locals, with its popular bars and shops on Duval Street and daily Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square. Anywhere on the Keys you can charter a boat and go fishing, snorkeling or diving, rent a kayak and explore the mysterious mangroves, sample unique local cuisine, stroll along quaint, colorful streets, and sit in one of many rustic beach bars to soak up the spirit of the Keys.
» Fort Lauderdale
Located 28 miles north of Miami on the southeastern coast of Florida, Fort Lauderdale is a popular tourist destination famous for its beaches and picturesque boating canals. The best place to start your exploration is at the Strip, a long, wide promenade that runs along the ocean and is lined with posh outdoor restaurants, lively bars, fancy boutiques, and luxury hotels. Visit 1901 Stranahan House, the oldest structure in Fort Lauderdale still standing. Check out the International Swimming Hall of Fame, take a hike or a boat ride through Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, and visit the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale to see what the local artists are doing.
Fort Myers was a fort built on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River to protect the settlers from the Seminole Indians. Today’s Fort Myers is a modern commercial center, a gateway to sunny southwest Florida and a place that attracts thousands of tourists to its lovely beaches. There is a lot to do in Fort Myers besides swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and relaxing on the sand. Visit the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Museum in the busy Fort Myers downtown. Take the kids to the Lakes Regional Park to ride a miniature train, or let them unleash their imagination at the Imaginarium Science Center, an aquarium and hands-on science museum. Take a guided tour of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, where Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford spent their winters on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.
Photo: Jo¨rg Hackemann/Fotolia
Gainesville is the lively college town with the huge campus of the University of Florida. It is the largest city in north-central Florida, about a 90-minute drive from Jacksonville and Orlando. The city is lushly forested and surrounded by rural lands and the 21,000-acre Paynes Prairie Wilderness on the city’s southern edge. There are more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails where you can spot birds, wild horses, bison, or alligators. Floating down the cool, spring-fed river at the lush Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a city tradition. Visit the Florida Quilt Museum, Quilt Trail, and Quilt Festival. Stroll through the spectacular Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens, with its waterfalls, bridges, and small lakes.
Photo: Bill Ragan/Fotolia
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» Best Places to Visit in Florida: Jacksonville
A major seaport city in northeastern Florida, at the point where St. John’s River joins the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville is a large, modern city and a regional business hub. The nearby barrier island and its wonderful beaches are a perfect place for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing, with the most popular being Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach. One of the most famous championship golf courses is Ponte Vedra Beach’s TPC Sawgrass, which is also a headquarters of the PGA Tour. Visit the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island to see how the slaves, and slave owners, lived. Take the kids to the lush, tropical Jacksonville Zoo to see elephants close up. Visit the 16th-century Forth Caroline National Memorial to learn about the times when the French ruled this part of Florida.
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» Key West
Key West is the westernmost American inhabited island, a part of the Florida Keys coral archipelago, closer to Cuba than to Miami, colorful, lively, and unforgettable. Stroll down Duval street with its bars, shops, and restaurants, explore narrow streets and pastel-colored conch houses, visit Hemingway’s house and museum, dive or snorkel spectacular reefs and enjoy, with everyone else, the daily spectacle of watching the sunset on Mallory Square, surrounded by street performers of all kinds. Visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, where colorful butterflies fly freely from flower to flower. Check out the 65-foot Key West lighthouse and enjoy the views of the ocean all around you.
Photo: katy 89/Fotolia
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» Places to Go in Florida: Miami
Miami is a major American city and seaport at the southeastern end of Florida, on the Atlantic coast. A city of colorful, unique neighborhoods, visitors will love the pastel-hued art deco architecture of the Art Deco district, the Latin energy and music at Little Havana, the fancy luxury hotels and fabulous beaches at Miami Beach, a sense of history at Coral Gables, and unique shopping at Coconut Grove. Some of the best country golf courses are in Miami, as are some of the best baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams. And all around is the sea, with opportunities for fantastic deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, boating, sailing, and diving as well as watching dolphins and other marine life.
Photo: katy 89/Fotolia
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Located in southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, Naples is a popular tourist destination for people who are attracted by its fantastic white sandy beaches. They stretch on both sides of the popular city icon, the 1888 Naples Pier, a lively spot for fishing or watching passing dolphins. When you get tired of lying on the beach, take the kids to the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, located on small islands in the artificial lake. It is fun watching the animals from a boat. To see a really beautiful beach, visit the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area located on a barrier island. Enjoy a walk through the Historic District and visit historic Palm Cottage, managed by the Naples Historical Society, to learn about the Old Naples. Catch a performance of the Naples Philharmonic and see diverse art at the Baker Museum at the Artis—Naples center for the arts.
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If you are looking for the old scenic, relaxed Florida, Wakulla County, part of the Tallahassee area, is the right place to visit. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, the county consists of several charming small towns where the visitors can enjoy swimming in the warm Gulf waters as well as boating, fishing, hiking, and bird watching. The most visited is the town of St. Marks, with only 300 permanent residents. It also has San Marcos de Apalache Historic Park, one of the oldest lighthouses in Florida, lush salt marshes protected within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, and Wakulla Springs, which, at 185 feet, are one of the world’s deepest freshwater springs.
Photo: Ruth P. Peterkin/Fotolia
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Orlando is a city in central Florida, a giant playground for kids big and small, known as the World Theme Park Capital with over a dozen theme parks. There is Walt Disney World, featuring the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Universal Orlando with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove, and others. If you want to see a different side to Orlando, hop on a boat and visit the vast Everglades or see Kennedy Space Center. Orlando has a number of great museums, such as Ripley’s Believe or Not, the Orlando Science Center, and Skeleton’s Museum.
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» Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is a lively coastal town on the Gulf of Mexico in northwestern Florida. Its fantastic beaches and rich nightlife make it a popular destination for thousands of students during the spring break. Younger kids prefer Gulf World Marine Park, where they can swim with dolphins, or Shipwreck Island Waterpark with its pools and waterslides. Take a hike through Camp Helen State Park to see large undisturbed dunes at the Phillips Inlet, stroll around Lake Powell, and swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Take a boat tour to see the dolphins or throw a line off Russell-Fields Pier.
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» Everglades National Park
Everglades is the biggest subtropical wild area in the States, a 1.5-million-acre wetlands located on the southern tip of Florida. It is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. The Everglades consists of coastal mangroves, pine flatwoods, and sawgrass marshes that provide a home to hundreds of species of animals, some of them rare and endangered such as the manatee, American crocodile, Florida panther, and leatherback turtle. The best way to experience the magic of the Everglades is by taking a quiet walk along one of many boardwalk trails, a boat guided tour of the Ten Thousand Islands or Florida Bay, or a tram ride through fascinating Shark Valley. If you are lucky and patient, you might spot an alligator sunning itself on a log in addition to deer or one of many wading birds.
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Sanibel is a lush green island on the Florida Gulf of Mexico, just a short trip from Fort Myers. The island is surrounded by magnificent beaches and is famous for its breathtaking sunsets, historic lighthouses, and thousands of shells that provide endless entertainment to tourists who collect them as souvenirs. The best thing to do on Sanibel is absolutely nothing, in one of many luxury resorts all around the island. If swimming, snorkeling, boating, and sunset watching are not enough for you, visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which protects about half of the island and where 245 species of birds live protected amongst a dense tangle of mangroves, together with crocodiles, giant manatees, and 30 other species of mammals.
Photo: Chad McDermott/Fotolia
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Sarasota is a large, modern city south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, once famous as the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Today, the Ringling Museum of Art hosts numerous events, concerts, and plays and showcases work from the Old Masters as well as modern art. After spending some time on the fine sands of Lido Beach and Siesta Key Beach, go see sharks, manatees, sea turtles, and 100 other marine animals at the Mote Marine Laboratory. Visit the lush, tropical Sarasota Jungle Gardens and feed the free-roaming pink flamingoes, Florida’s state bird. Catch a fascinating Sarasota Ski-A-Rees waterskiing show or rent a kayak or paddleboard and go see dolphins close up in the bay.
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»Cool Places in Florida: Siesta Key
This tiny, just 9-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Sarasota in the Gulf of Mexico, known as Siesta Key, has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The miles and miles of fine white sand are perfect for long strolls, jogging, making a perfect castle, playing volleyball, or throwing a Frisbee. At the south end of Crescent Beach is Point of Rocks, a rugged limestone outcropping with tidal pools and great snorkeling and diving at the nearby reefs. As you keep walking, you will find Turtle Beach, where you can have a bit of privacy and tranquility to truly enjoy the beauty of the sea and the sky. In the evening, Siesta Key Village offers lively entertainment, great restaurants, bars, and cafes.
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»St George Island
Located just off north Florida's Gulf Coast, 28-mile-long St. George Island is one of the last unspoiled inhabited islands in Florida. The island has miles of uncrowded beaches for relaxing on the sand, crystal-clear waters for swimming, and wild marshes for spotting wildlife. St. George Island is a small, tranquil beach community where no high rises or chain stores are allowed. Almost half the island is protected in St. George Island State Park, perfect for watching sea turtles and birds, canoeing, hiking, and swimming. Fishing in the park is superb. Don’t miss the 1852 Cape Saint George Lighthouse, the views from the top are spectacular.
Photo: Jo¨rg Hackemann/Fotolia
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» St. Augustine
Located on the Florida’s northeast coast, St. Augustine is known as the oldest city in the States. Its beautiful downtown is full of well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. Another reminder of the city’s Spanish past is the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish fortress made of stone that offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the St. Augustine Inlet. St. Augustine’s beaches are magnificent, with fine white sand, and the most popular are St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach. Take a hike through lush Anastasia State Park, a protected wildlife sanctuary with 4 miles of pristine beach, a nature trail through the ancient dunes, the estuarine tidal marsh, and the maritime hammocks.
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» St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is located on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, a large modern city called Sunshine City because of its permanently pleasant weather. The city’s beautiful beaches attract millions of tourists. Besides fine sands, the city also has some excellent golf courses and fishing charters. Among many excellent museums, the Dali Museum is an absolute must-see, as is the Museum of Fine Arts and the Chihuly Collection, with some of the most beautiful glasswork in the world. Try to catch a concert of the Florida Orchestra at the Mahaffey Theater, and enjoy a stroll through the huge Locale Market for some of the freshest and most delicious regional artisanal foods.
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» Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is a 172,000-acre park that is 95 percent underwater. This makes it the biggest marine park in the country. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead is less than an hour from South Beach, within sight of Miami but in a completely different world. The park consists of four unique ecosystems: The mangroves, the Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay, and the coral reef. The park is a heaven for boaters, kayakers, divers, snorkelers, birdwatchers, and history buffs, both above and under water. The Maritime Heritage Trail, which is underwater, connects dive sites that include some interesting shipwrecks. Because of the vast size of the park, the best way to explore it is by joining one of the guided tours, whether it is to kayak through the mangroves in the Keys or to watch dolphins in the bay.
Photo: Fotoluminate LLC/Fotolia
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25 Best Places to Visit in Florida
- Tampa, Photo: Courtesy of sbgoodwin - Fotolia.com
- Clearwater, Photo: Courtesy of kushty - Fotolia.com
- Daytona Beach, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Destin, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Delray Beach, Photo: Courtesy of ThierryDehove - Fotolia.com
- Pensacola, Photo: Courtesy of Cheryl Casey - Fotolia.com
- Florida Keys, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Fort Lauderdale, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Fort Myers, Photo: Courtesy of Jo¨rg Hackemann - Fotolia.com
- Gainesville, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ragan - Fotolia.com
- Best Places to Visit in Florida: Jacksonville, Photo: Courtesy of thejimcox - Fotolia.com
- Key West, Photo: Courtesy of katy 89 - Fotolia.com
- Places to Go in Florida: Miami, Photo: Courtesy of katy 89 - Fotolia.com
- Naples, Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Orsillo - Fotolia.com
- Wakulla, Photo: Courtesy of Ruth P. Peterkin - Fotolia.com
- Orlando, Photo: Courtesy of aiisha - Fotolia.com
- Panama City Beach, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Everglades National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Andy Lidstone - Fotolia.com
- Sanibel, Photo: Courtesy of Chad McDermott - Fotolia.com
- Sarasota, Photo: Courtesy of Maria - Fotolia.com
- Cool Places in Florida: Siesta Key, Photo: Courtesy of levranii - Fotolia.com
- St George Island, Photo: Courtesy of Jo¨rg Hackemann - Fotolia.com
- St. Augustine, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- St. Petersburg, Photo: Courtesy of Maria - Fotolia.com
- Biscayne National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of PixieMe - Fotolia.com
Dry Tortugas National Park
About 70 miles from Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote park that consists mostly of open water and several small islands. The park is world famous for the massive 19th-century Fort Jefferson located on Garden Key as well as clear blue waters, thriving coral reefs, and rich marine life. Take a kayak and visit Loggerhead Key and its lighthouse and numerous sea turtles. Divers love Loggerhead Reef, with the Windjammer Wreck, a ship that sank in 1875. Another wonderful spot to visit is Bush Key, where seabirds such as sooty terns nest. There are no hotels, but there are several lovely camping grounds for those who wish to spend a night under the stars and enjoy the tranquility and silence so far away from any city noises and lights.
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