Top Places to Visit in Florida (National Parks, Cities, and Bay Areas)
Are you interested in the places to visit in Florida? Read on and learn about this beautiful state in the U.S!
The southernmost state in the contiguous 48 states of the United States of America, Florida has always been a popular travel destination for Americans and non-Americans alike. This travel destination, nicknamed “The Sunshine State,” boasts a tropical climate that has attracted retirees and those attempting to escape the winter blues for as long as long-distance travel has been a reality.
Although the modern-day state was already home to thousands of Native Americans for thousands of years, Spanish explorers reached Florida in 1513, making it the first area of the U.S.A. to be visited by Europeans. Upon his arrival in 1513, Ponce de León named the region La Florida, meaning “Land of Flowers.” Due to its miles of coastline and ports along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a melting pot of culture with influences from the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, and Europe. This different combination results in a vivid atmosphere that is sure to delight and intrigue. This has created a vibrant artistic scene, food culture, and rich cultural experience that entices millions of visitors every year.
In addition to the fantastic cultural landscape that the state offers, Florida is also one of the leading states when it comes to environmental protection and conservation. This is evident by the dozens of wildlife sanctuaries and state and national parks. If the bustling cities aren’t your draw, you will be hooked by the natural wonders of this paradise. The tropical climate allows for the growth of flora and fauna you will not see anywhere else in the contiguous 48 United States. The roughly 1,350 miles of coastline hosts some of the most beautiful beaches in the eastern United States as well as many water sports opportunities. In Florida, you can easily unplug from the grind of daily life and retreat into the natural wonders of the Land of Flowers.
Florida attractions get tons of visitors for a myriad of reasons. You can experience the nightlife of Miami, the natural wonder of the Everglades, or the peaceful retreat of Sanibel or the Florida Keys. This article is designed to teach you about some of the most popular and some of the more secret places to go in Florida. This list of some of Florida’s points of interest and Florida’s tourist attractions is guaranteed to help you create the best experience you can while traveling to one of America’s most beloved states.
Top Places to Visit in Florida (National Parks, Cities, and Bay Areas)
Incorporated in 1875, this bustling city is known worldwide as the Theme Park Capital of the World. While Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and the Kennedy Space Station are often listed as some of the top Florida attractions, there are lots of other things to do in Orlando! So, if you want to visit some of the attractions, make sure to really decide ahead of time.
As a Florida points of interest – actors and artists flock to Orlando in droves, so it’s no surprise that Orlando would be teeming with theatres and art museums. The Orlando Shakespeare Theatre offers all sorts of plays and musicals year-round sure to entertain the whole family. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, the Albin Polasek Museum & Gardens hosts one of Orlando’s best fine art exhibits in the city. If you want something a little off the beaten path and maybe a little bit spooky, head to SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology, where you can see the largest collection of animal skeletons in the U.S.A.
Orlando also has experienced the daring and adrenaline junkies. You can take a zip-line at 65 feet in the air over the alligator and crocodile enclosures. If that isn’t enough for you, you can even wrestle one of the park’s alligators, with a little help from a professional. If all that is too much, you can instead bypass Gatorland altogether and take an airboat ride along some of Orlando’s waterways and swamps. Or, you can visit another kind of animal park: Extreme Dinosaurs. There, you can get up close to animatronic dinosaurs and fossils and learn all about these towering reptiles and be thankful that they don’t walk around today.
Also, there are hundreds of restaurants in this energetic city. You can find seafood, all sorts of different kids of Hispanic food, and just about anything else you can imagine. But be sure to stop over at the Chocolate Kingdom. You can get a tour of their chocolate factory and even get a group together to make your chocolates.
Orlando is teeming with more than a lot of the guidebooks lead you to believe. While the usual highlights of Orlando can be a blast, be sure to set aside some time to explore a little bit more of what this interesting city has to offer.
Dry Tortugas National Park
If you’re looking for a one of a kind day trip, head to Dry Tortugas National Park. Only accessible by ferry or seaplane from either The Florida Keys or Naples, this remote island offers a unique experience you’re sure to remember.
The park is made up of seven islands and encompasses roughly 100 square miles of open water. However, its crown jewel lies on Garden Key, the second largest island: Fort Jefferson. Construction began in 1846 and continued until 1875, although the fort was never declared complete. Here, the United States Army was able to monitor the comings and goings of ships in and out of the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. Now, visitors can tour the historic fort and imagine what life must have been like for the soldiers stationed at Fort Jefferson.
You don’t have to be a military or history buff to enjoy Dry Tortugas National Park. Be sure to pack your swimsuit, because since Dry Tortugas is a National Park, the waters are protected. Therefore, visitors can experience some of the most pristine snorkeling in Florida. There’s no doubt that you’ll spot plenty of tropical fish, coral, and maybe a sea turtle or two, but if you’re lucky, you may see an octopus or even a small shark! Not only that, but visitors can explore the numerous shipwrecks that dot the ocean floor within the park. Visitors can also enjoy recreational fishing, paddleboarding, and boating around the various islands of the park.
If this seems like too much to accomplish in one day, the National Park Service has thought of that too. There are a few camping sites available, but be sure to reserve ahead of time as they fill up fast. Even though you have to bring your supplies and the sites are fairly basic and can sometimes get pretty cold, you will never forget watching the sun sink into the ocean and then looking up at the dazzling night sky with almost no interference from light pollution.
The Florida Keys
When you visit Florida and you are desperate to be on island time, look no further than the Florida Keys. Often regarded as one of the best Florida vacation spots, the Florida Keys offer visitors a wealth of water sports on crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, historic and picturesque towns, and most importantly, relaxation. Rent a car and drive down Highway 1 to get to the Florida Keys; the drive is certain to be one of the most beautiful you will ever take. The Florida Keys is made up of five sections: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys, and Key West.
Key Largo, often considered to be the diving capital of the world, is nicknamed the First of the Florida Keys. Here, visitors can explore some of the Keys’ best-preserved corals. Not only that, but ambitious snorkelers and divers can see a little piece of history with the beginning of the 100-mile Shipwreck Trail. So it’s no wonder that Key Largo has some of the best Eco-Tours for visitors. Tourists can visit the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and get guided tours of the mangroves or snorkel around the protected reefs for a mosaic of tropical fish.
Islamorada, believed to be home to some of the best sports fishing in the world, offers visitors a seemingly never-ending list of water sports. Visitors can go parasailing, paddleboarding, kite-boarding, waterskiing, and jet skiing just to name a few. If water sports aren’t within your comfort zone, you can head over to the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geologic State Park. There, you can see a preserved coral reef while enjoying a day in the sunshine.
Marathon is an animal lover’s paradise. Because of its low-key, family-centered atmosphere, several animal and nature protection groups have taken to calling the calm Marathon home. Visitors can spend the day at Crane Point where they can explore the nature museums or observe the wild bird sanctuary and rehabilitation. Not only that, but Marathon is also home to the world’s only turtle hospital! Visitors can get up close and personal to rehabilitating turtles of all sorts and even learn a little about them from the veterinarians on site.
The Lower Keys are the perfect destination for any nature lover. The Lower Keys are home to several natural and wildlife conservations, such as the National Key Deer Refuge and the Great White Heron National Refuge, are sure to delight. Even more than that, there are several different eco-tour groups you can explore with. You can rent a kayak or go for a boat ride through the many bays and mangroves and see all sorts of wildlife up close and personal, from dolphins and manatees to sea turtles and shorebirds.
Key West is the much-loved artsy cousin of the Florida Keys. Celebrities and world-renown movers and shakers have made Key West their playground for decades, and who can blame them? Often regarded as a top the Florida destination, Key West offers countless attractions for everyone.
If you are interested n the history of this little town, there are dozens of museums, like Ernest Hemingway’s summer home. If you are into art, there are a ton of art galleries to explore. If you’re looking for a little fun after dark, Mallory Square becomes almost like a carnival when the sun goes down. No matter what you want to see and do, you can find it in Key West.
Whether you are looking to get away from the real world for a little while, or are just really craving a piece of Key Lime Pie, the Florida Keys are often regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Florida and should be a must-see on your next trip to Florida.
If someone asks you about what to see in Florida, Miami is most likely the first thing that pops in your head. Founded in 1825 and named for the local Native American tribe, this booming metropolis is the largest city in Florida. In fact, it is so appealing, that it is the second-most visited city in all of the United States, right after New York City. So while it may be a little crowded, this is a prime spot to do a little bit of Florida sightseeing.
There’s nothing wrong with hitting the famed South Beach and hoping to do a little bit of celebrity spotting, but Miami has so much more to offer. You can still enjoy a day in the sun by park hopping throughout America’s Most Green City. A few popular spots include Bayfront Park, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Coral Castle where you can walk throughout an art exhibit where artist Edward Leedskalnin carved thousands of tons of limestone and coral to create a stone wonderland.
If you want a break from the sun, there are several museums and historic spots in Miami sure to intrigue. The most opulent and dazzling is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This Italian style architectural marvel was once the home of industrial tycoon James Deering. Now an art museum and garden, visitors can walk the grounds and halls to their hearts’ content, provided there isn’t another meeting of political world powers happening. If you want to get a better sense of some of the cultural history of Miami, make a stop at the Freedom Tower. After The Miami News moved buildings, the government stepped in to give refugees the help and assistance they needed. Now, it serves as an art museum that proudly displays the art of Cuban and Cuban-American artists.
Regardless of what you choose to do, you will never be bored in Miami. The influence of Cuban and Caribbean culture tied with the celebrity appeal has created the perfect balance of mom and pop eateries to celebrity chef restaurants. Not only that, but the youth population of Miami has made their presence known with their artistic presence resonating throughout the city. So whatever you go to Miami to experience, it is an experience you will never forget.
Biscayne National Park
If you’re asking yourself what to do in Florida when you visit then just a hop, jump, and skip away from Miami, Biscayne National Park is a gorgeous retreat filled to the brim with history, natural wonder, and awaiting adventure. Set aside in 1980, the park is made up of a small string of islands seemingly floating within the Biscayne Bay. In fact, the park is roughly 95% water! This allows for the reefs to be protected and the wildlife to remain relatively undisturbed.
Archaeologists and historians believe that there has been human activity in the Biscayne Bay region for at least 10,000 years. There is evidence of Native American life on every island in the park. Not only that, but there are several shipwrecks at the bottom of the Bay. Daring visitors can explore those shipwrecks by snorkeling or SCUBA diving to get a closer look. If you’re looking for something a little calmer, you can take a stroll down one of the nature trails and hope to catch sight of a waterbird or two.
If you want to spend a little more time at Biscayne National Park, you can camp out on either Boca Chita Key or Elliott Key. You can watch the sun set into the water and start to dream up more activities for the next day at the water playground of Biscayne National Park.
One of the largest National Parks in the United States of America and a World Heritage Site, the Florida Everglades is one of the best places to visit in Florida if you want to experience firsthand the natural beauty of the state. Established in 1947, this wetland preserve is made up of mangrove forests and marshes and perfectly captures the natural beauty of Florida. Located in the southernmost of the state, the Everglades are home to all sorts of wildlife. You’ll have no problem spotting some shore and water birds while exploring the Everglades, but if you’re lucky you may even spot a manatee, an alligator, or if the planets align, a Florida panther.
Exploring the Everglades on foot is easy. There are several boardwalk trails throughout the park, and these are perfect for bird watching. Or, you can head to Shark Valley and walk or bike along as much of the 15-mile trail as you want. However, if you want to try your luck at seeing an alligator, take a ride on the ever-popular airboat. These fan-powered boats zip you along the surface of the water and create a one of a kind experience.
Once you’re done exploring, you can wind down at the AIRIE Nest Art Gallery, located in the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. If you haven’t seen as much of the Everglades as you would like, you can always camp out for the night and continue your adventure the next day. However, it is the nighttime when you can best hear the sounds of nature and listen to the calls of the different birds and insects as you fall asleep and dream about the Everglades.
One of Florida tourist attractions, Sanibel offers a sort of escapism you cannot find anywhere else. Boasting 15 miles of coastline with no traffic lights, this is a one of a kind island vibe that is sure to delight. The bizarre east-west orientation that the barrier island of Sanibel has is unlike any other, and so the beaches of Sanibel as not as plagued with debris or loss of sand as a lot of other barrier islands are.
If you’re a history buff, Sanibel Island is the place for you to unwind. In 1513, Ponce de León was the first to explore this island with his crew. It is here that León met his demise while battling the Calusa natives in 1523. This resulted in the Calusas being left alone, however, due to their exposure to the Europeans, they eventually fell ill and their numbers greatly reduced. As a result, pirates began to move onto the island in the 1700s and 1800s. Legend has it that the pirate Jose Gaspar buried his treasure somewhere on Sanibel. If you want to explore the island on your own, rent a bicycle and peddle around the island following either clue that may or may not be true or just your pirate instincts.
After a day of treasure hunting, spending a day on a Sanibel beach is a must. You can visit the historic Lighthouse Beach, home to a still functioning lighthouse, or Tarpon Beach, which arguably has the whitest sand on the island. Regardless of which of the many beaches you choose, the clear blue waters and the soft sand in between your toes will make you want to stay forever. But if you can’t stay forever, be sure to cross the bridge over to the neighboring island of Captiva. These two islands used to be one until a hurricane in 1921 split the island apart.
Founded in 1911, this Atlantic-side seaside town, just a short drive from Miami offers all the amenities of Miami for those who do not want to put up with the Miami crowds or prices. Fort Lauderdale has retained this name because there have been three Fort Lauderdale built in and around the present-day city, so it is only fitting that Fort Lauderdale has a bit of a military presence.
There are dozens of museums and parks to explore in Fort Lauderdale, but several stand out among the rest. If you want to learn more about Florida and its natural habitat, both present and historic, spend the afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science. You can step into a hurricane chamber to feel the force of a hurricane or watch river otters frolic in their enclosure. If science wasn’t your favorite subject in school, you can spend the day at the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and explore the Old Fort Lauderdale Village. You can visit historic buildings and get a sense of what life was like in the early stages of this now bustling city.
Founded in 1886, this Gulf of Mexico-side seaside town offers a quiet, low-key retreat with an island-feel vibe. Even though it is on Gulf of Mexico side, this charming city is far enough away from the Mississippi River that it still has the sugar-white sand beaches and aquamarine waters that so many crave. In fact, if you’re looking for a little fun in the sun, look no further than Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. While there is a small fee for entrance, the crystal clear waters of this white sand beach and the possibility of seeing some Floridian fauna such as manatees or the endangered gopher tortoise are well worth it.
Once you’ve had your fill of the sun, make your way back into town and head to the Venetian Village on Venetian Bay. This outdoor shopping and dining center is modeled after the Italian town of Venice, which is somewhat fitting seeing as though the town of Naples shares its name with an Italian counterpart. This waterfront locale offers some of the best shopping and dining in Naples. Even if it isn’t in your budget to shop, or you’ve already bought too many souvenirs, at least indulge in one of the waterfront eateries. Maybe you’ll get lucky and see a manatee while you enjoy a glass of wine!
No matter what you choose to do in Naples, this lovely and friendly town will soon start to feel like home. Who knows, it may even surpass Naples, Italy on your “Must Return” list!
The area was established as Zarazote in 1763 and officially recognized as Sarasota in 1902. The city rose to prominence as a result of the Ringling family, best known for their traveling Ringling Brothers Circus. The circus made Sarasota their winter home, and the town gained the nickname “Circus City.” Although the circus packed up and left Sarasota a long time ago, there is still much to do in this exciting shore town.
There are some museums in Sarasota, certain to appeal to anybody’s interests. The Ringlings are the proprietors to a network of museums. The most popular of these is the Ringling Museum of Art. The museum is made up of 31 galleries that serve as a home to a host of varying different styles of art. A more family-centered museum is the Ringling Circus Museum. The Circus Museum has interactive exhibits where you can try your own on a tight wire and even fit into a clown car! If you’re still itching for some circus-themed fun, you can head to John Ringling’s old home Ca’D’Zan. This palace of a home is one of the most scenic spots in Sarasota to spend a sunny afternoon. You can see the Ringling’s private collections and learn more about the entertainment family.
Once the curtain has closed on your desire to explore all things circus, you can head over to the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. You can see over 75 cars ranging in all sorts of styles, sure to delight any aspiring drag racer. After your morning of picking out your new car, head to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Established in 1939, this popular attraction lets visitors feed flamingoes, hold snakes, and even train alligators with their keepers!
No matter what brings you to Sarasota, you will find tons to keep you busy. Much like the circus promised they were the Greatest Show on Earth, in Sarasota, you’re going to have the greatest trip on Earth!
This list, by no means, represents the only places to visit in Florida. There are so many places to travel in Florida that it’s impossible to get it all onto one short list. This article is to serve as a springboard to launch you into your own, one of a kind, unforgettable Florida experience. So on your next trip to the Sunshine State, be sure to hit a couple of these spots, but listen to what the locals say. They’ll know their slice of paradise better than anyone and are likely to point a little off the beaten path to some of the best places to visit and some of the most fun things to do in Florida. So relax, go with the flow, and enjoy all that Florida has to offer.
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