When people think of Florida they think of towering palm trees, brilliant clear waters, and reasonably, mouse ears. But there’s so much more to Florida than Miami and Orlando.
While these two wonderful cities should be on everyone’s Florida itineraries, coming from a 7th generation Flogrown local, I’m here to tell you those are not where the locals are vibing.
If you want to discover true Florida and figure out why everyone is trying to move here, you have to get out of the big cities. Go see some alligators, watch the osprey, get a sunburn when it’s cloudy out, be confused by the 3 pm hurricane that only lasts 20 minutes.
The list of things to do in Florida is plentiful and I’m going to share with you my top list as a local and a lover of Florida.
1) Disney World And Universal Orlando Studios
I had to throw these up here at the top of the list as the first of the list of things to do in Florida. Theme parks aren’t for everyone, but you truly are missing out if you have never bought a pair of mouse ears to wear while riding dumbo. Or if you’ve never tried drinking around the world at Epcot.
And on the Universal side of things, I don’t know if you are as much of a Potterhead as I am, but the first time I walked into Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I cried. I still get so excited every time I go! The new rides in Universal are fantastic – Hagrid’s Motorbike adventure exceeded all expectations I’ve ever had for any rollercoaster.
My brother and I visit Universal at least once a year – we always start early in the day, ride all the long wait rides first, and end the day with the water rides. (Shoutout to Jurassic Park and Popeye’s).
Other fun things to do in Orlando:
- Star Wars Park
- Kennedy Space Center
2) The Florida Keys
Easily the gem of Florida, the Florida Keys, or the straights of Florida are among the best places to visit in the sunshine state.
Spend your days kayaking the mangroves, laying out on white-sand beaches, snorkelling reefs in crystal clear water, catching lobster and chowing down for dinner, and maybe getting a little inebriated on Duval Street in Key West.
Don’t forget to visit the Southern Most point while you are there!
While you are in the Florida keys, take a private boat or a seaplane from Key west just 70 miles and visit Dry Tortugas National Park.
Hosting 7 little islands and 19th century Fort Jefferson – this little Florida gem is truly a slice of paradise. Explore lighthouses, the windjammer shipwreck, and snorkel, dive, swim, and play all in this national park – which is comprised of only 1% land. Camp on the island and truly escape reality in the Dry Tortugas.
3) Florida Springs
Heading back towards the center of the state you get into a little more wilderness, and a little more old Florida. One of the coolest things (both physically and figuratively) about this state is our natural cold springs. Florida boats 700 springs – most of which set around at a nice temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Most of these natural springs you can go and tube down, swim in, kayak around, and just escape the heat. Here are some of my favorite Florida springs.
- Ichetucknee Springs – A great tubing natural spring river canopied by colossal oaks. This can get busy during the summer and spring break!
- Rainbow Springs – Another great tubing spring. There is also a beautiful swimming hole and some wonderful nature trails.
- Bobs River Place – A little bit different – Bob’s River Place is like a natural theme park. Tons of rope swings, jumping platforms, and all that kind of good stuff.
- Three Sisters Springs – My favorite springs in the state of Florida. You can rent kayaks or go on a tour to come here. Why is it my favorite? During the winter there are HUNDREDS of manatees here you can swim with. Make sure you visit October – April though to get the manatees!
- De Leon Springs – This famous watering hole also has a unique take – there is a restaurant at the hole where you can make your pancakes!
- Devil’s Den – This crazy pre-historic blue hole spring in Florida is a deep pool that reaches far into the earth. If you are scuba certified this place is incredible! Even if you aren’t it is still really neat to snorkel and free-dive.
- Silver Springs
- Blue Springs State Park
- Ginnie Springs – More tubing down the river, this is a classic Florida spring to visit. #pureflorida
4) Visit Historic St. Augustine
Far too often skipped over – St. Augustine is a wonderful place to visit in Florida.
Just 45 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport, this tiny little seaside town has a lot of charm and a whole lot of history. Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest town in the United States.
But apart from a rich history, St. Augustine has a myriad of things to do and a rich food scene. Some of my top things to do in St. Augustine area:
- Visit the Castillo de San Marcos
- Climb the St. Augustine Lighthouse
- Take a Sunset Boat Ride on the Schooner Freedom
- Eat delicious seafood at one of the many places in town. Some of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat include:
- Catch 27 – modern style seafood
- The Floridian – Classic Florida – Style Spanish Dishes – with a seafood twist
- Blackfly – Classic Florida Seafood with a modern flare
- Caps on the Water – Fresh local seafood
- Osprey Tacos – Local tacos made fresh next to Old Coast Ales brewery
- Collage – High-End Seafood
- Iceplant – A little bit of everything. Comfort food with craft cocktails
- Sangrias – Tapas bar
- Preserved – High-end comfort food.
- Blue Hen – Brunch & Comfort Food
- Aunt Kates – Old School Florida Seafood
- Osteen’s – The best friend seafood you will ever have in your life
- Play in the surf on St. Augustine Beach
- Shop on St. George Street
- St. Augustine Distillery (their gin is ah-mazing)
- Happy hour at one of the many bars in town
- Offshore fishing
- St. Augustine Alligator Farm
It would be a crime to come to Florida and not spend a little bit of time in St. Augustine. St. Augustine makes a great place to base and take day trips to the springs, Orlando, Cape Canaveral, or even Savannah.
Bonus St. Augustine Tip
If you visit St. Augustine during November or December you will be there during the best time of year! Every year St. Augustine puts up millions of dazzling white lights that the entire historic downtown participates in.
This festival, known as Nights of Lights, is a huge draw for tourists every year. It has been named as one of the top 10 light displays in the world and something you will not want to miss if you are in Florida during this time!
5) Take A Bioluminescent Kayaking Tour
I didn’t even know this activity existed in Florida until this past year, but I am going to make it a thing to do every year from now on!
This amazing kayaking tour in Cape Canaveral takes you out on the water at night to watch the dinoflagellates as they dance and swirl in the water below you. It’s only during certain times of the year and you’ll want to make sure you aren’t visiting on a full moon!
Every little ripple in the water turns blueish green. With the clear kayaks, you can see the water glow in the dark as fish, manatees, or dolphins swim around you.
Legitimately one of the most ethereal experiences I’ve ever had in my lifetime.
6) Visit The Everglades
If you want to see the swampy side of Florida, look no further than the Everglades.
This 1.5 million acre National Park is a refuge to wildlife and a testament to Florida before we started making homes here. The Everglades are home to endangered animals such as manatees, the Florida panther, and the American Crocodiles.
You can take swamp and airboat tours through the everglades. This world heritage site is an important part of Florida history and culture.
It’s easy to access from Miami, and a great way to get outdoors that isn’t the beach! It can get hot and muggy during the summer, so don’t forget to bring your bug spray!
7) Get A Taste Of Latin Culture In Miami
Miami truly is unlike anywhere else in Florida. Undoubtedly the most international city in Florida, Miami feels more like any Latin city than in the US – most of the time you will get spoken to in Spanish before English.
There are tons of great things to do in Miami – from fantastic bars and restaurants to boating in Biscayne Bay.
Here are some fabulous things to do in Miami:
- Catch rays and people watch the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of South Beach
- Go to one of the cities many clubs or bars that exclusively plays Latin Music
- Eat a Cuban sandwich in Little Havana
- Get great insta-worthy shots at the Wynnwood Walls (pictured below)
- Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
- Ride your bike along Ocean Ave
8) Visit Tampa And St. Pete To Get A Taste Of The Gulf Coast
The Gulf Coast is known for clear waters and white sand beaches without having to run down to the Florida Keys. Tampa is a bustling place with vibrant nightlife, professional sports teams, theatre, and everything else that comes with a big city.
Just down the road is St. Petersburg, with some amazing beaches and just a nice west coast town with a good vibe and lots of places to eat.
If you keep heading south there are tons of little barrier islands to explore. Gasparilla Island, Sanibel Island and so many more sometimes seem more like Tahiti than a part of Florida.
9) Race At The Daytona International Speedway
Ladies and gentlemen….start your engines! While this might not seem like the girliest thing to do in Florida – I’ve got to say I’ve always had a blast at any of the races.
The Daytona International Speedway, located about an hour north of Orlando in, you guessed it, Daytona – is a huge draw for thousands of people. Of course, the two largest races of the year are the Daytona 500 – which kicks off race season – and the Coke Zero 400 – typically the Sunday of July 4th weekend.
If you can’t catch a race (they happen all the time – not just NASCAR) – try out a hands-on experience inside the cockpit at neck-breaking speeds with the Daytona Race Experience.
10) Camp On The Suwannee River
If you’re an outdoors kinda person a camping trip along the Suwannee River is a great experience. Pack a canoe full of your tent, a cooler, a change of clothes and your camera, and stay at one of the many campsites along the way!
This classic old Florida adventure will have you singing “Old Folks at Home” more commonly referred to as “The Suwannee River Song”.
This is a fun way to spend the weekend with friends who love being in nature. Some of the campgrounds even have cabins so if you’re not a tent kinda gal, you can stay in those. And the great thing about being in a canoe is you can pack the air mattress and not have to worry about the extra weight.
If you’re planning on camping the Suwanne River I recommend going in the spring or fall when the weather isn’t unbearably hot and the mosquitos and noseeums (aka gnats or midgies) aren’t going to drive you mad.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Florida. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Florida
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- The Best Of Key West – Beyond Duval Street
- Dry Tortugas National Park: A Fortress In The Sea
- How To Have The Perfect Florida Keys Roadtrip
- The Best Things Central Florida Has To Offer
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