When someone talks about the top seven vacation spots to visit in Florida, Disney resorts tend to dominate the list. However, Florida is full of hidden gems that are often overlooked. So when you’re next in town, check out seven of Florida’s most popular vacation spots that everybody should visit at least once in their life.
St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in North America. It is steeped in history, and visitors should definitely make time to see the Castillo de San Marco national monument, one of the oldest buildings left standing in North America. It was completed in 1756, before the United States was its own nation. Tours are self-guided, but there are historical re-enactors who act as guides on occasion. The St. Augustine lighthouse and museum permits people to climb the tower to see what lighthouse keepers kept watch over, and you can explore the house attached to Florida’s first lighthouse.
You can also see the spot where Ponce de Leon thought he found the Fountain of Youth. The Lightner Museum in the Hotel Alcazar contains a full array of Gilded Age artifacts and displays. Ripley’s Believe It or Not has an “odditorium” of oddities that don’t fit any other exhibition hall. Or you could visit the Pirate and Treasure Museum in St. Augustine. More mundane pastimes include year-round golfing.
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a tourist attraction in their own right, attracting more than a million visitors each year. The Overseas Highway brings many travelers along the road connecting the keys, and each of the islands supports fishing, diving and water sports. Old Town offers a unique and eclectic mix of people and businesses, and is especially popular with unusual people who don’t quite fit in on the mainland. The nearby Everglades National Park is also definitely worth a visit.
Santa Rosa Beach
If you want to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches Florida has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the big tourist destinations, you should definitely drop by Santa Rosa Beach. Located on the Emerald Coast, Santa Rosa’s deep blue waters and white sandy beaches will blow you away. Located between Panama City and Pensacola, Santa Rosa is the perfect getaway spot from these two much busier destinations.
Amelia Island is Florida’s northernmost barrier island, and is wrapped in miles of white sandy beaches. While there are luxury and all-inclusive resorts on Amelia Island, you can find budget options like affordable hotels and camping in the area’s state park. There are public beaches you can enjoy that aren’t as crowded as those in Miami or Orlando.
While SeaWorld is a well known destination, it is often neglected in favor of the much more popular Disney World. But SeaWorld has tons of things to offer for the whole family. SeaWorld Orlando is an all in one vacation destination. The traditional part of SeaWorld Orlando is home to dolphins and other aquatic life. The penguin habitat, manatee exhibit and manta aquarium are major draws. Yet there are roller coasters and other rides here for your amusement. The park also hosts live entertainment like concerts and human performers. If you are tired of SeaWorld, there is also a gator park to visit.
Tampa Bay is home to both St. Petersburg and Tampa. Many people have heard of Tampa Bay because of all the sports franchises. Come to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play football, the Tampa Bay Lightning play hockey or the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball. Tampa Bay has its own arena football team, too.
The Busch Gardens amusement park is said to have some of the best roller coasters in the world. The same park also contains a zoo full of animals from the Serengeti, and makes for a pleasant break from all the sea life aquariums in Florida. Those who want to carry on the excitement can take a shuttle bus from Tampa to Miami after watching a game to enjoy Miami’s amazing night life.
While Miami is famous for its nightlife, Latin culture, and crowded beaches, it is also full of hidden gems. (Note that Miami Beach is actually a separate municipality from Miami.) The tourist area along Miami Beach commands a premium, but it is home to outstanding Art Deco architecture. Little Havana is famous for its authentic Cuban cuisine and shops.
Some of the best spots in the city include Stoneage Antiques, which is full of great hidden treasures such as a 18th century old cannon, ancient nautical gear and a wide assortment of props, Moreno’s Cuba, a quaint little speakeasy located behind the Riviera Hotel and the Kapong garden which houses some of the biggest saltwater Mangrove forests in the region.
Miami proper has a sea aquarium that rivals the one in Orlando. The Miami Zoo stands out for its realistic, cage-less environment. Many people pass through on their way to the many cruise ships that depart from Miami, and lots of people also stop at the Vizcaya Museum and gardens to appreciate the hundred year old 28 acre estate. The Renaissance-style villa used to be the home of industrialist James Deering but is now open to the public.
Panama City on the Florida panhandle doesn’t see as much traffic as the big cities, though its 27 miles of white sand beaches are a major draw for students on Spring Break. Golfing, sport fishing, a local water park and an amusement park round out the attractions.
Next time you’re in town, skip Disney World and enjoy a more affordable alternative by vacationing at SeaWorld Orlando. Experience Florida’s deep history in St. Augustine or the eclectic people and recreational opportunities in the Florida Keys. Amelia Island and Panama City offer affordable beachfront stays, while Tampa Bay has a mix of sporting venues and teams to enjoy. Miami is famous for its beaches and nightlife, but has much more in store from shopping and restaurants to historical sites.