Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
With so many fantastic places to visit in Florida, it’s no surprise that most Americans make their way here at least once in their lives for a warm, sunny vacation! Crystal white beaches, bucket list worthy amusement parks, and all sorts of interesting history mean you could keep coming back and discover something new each time.
I’ve been down to Florida more times than I can count, and I’ve always loved each trip. There’s a reason we’ve highlighted so many local destinations on “Places to Love!” Check below for some of my top picks.
Fantastic Places to Visit in Florida Right Now
Less than an hour from Jacksonville, Amelia Island is an absolutely underrated family destination in northeast Florida. Ever since it was “discovered” by Jean Ribault while the Timucuan Indians were settled here in 1562, it’s been under control of the French, the Spanish (twice), the English, a group known as the Patriots, another group known as the Green Cross, a pirate claiming it for Mexico, the Confederacy, and, finally, the United States. Phew!
Be sure to visit Fort Clinch, which goes all the way back to 1736, and grab a drink at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest bar. Enjoy the 13 miles of pristine beach and get on the water with Kayak Amelia. And if you’re traveling with any bird lovers, know that Amelia is the east gateway to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Anna Maria Island
Slow down and step back in time at Anna Maria Island right at the southern tip of Tampa Bay. Everything about this place oozes with old Florida charm from the total lack of modern high rises to the preference for walking or biking instead of driving. Heck, if you don’t want to do too much exercise, they also offer up a free trolley to help you get around. Shop around cute boutiques or grab a long, leisurely lunch on the north side before soaking up the sun at a beach with sand so white, it looks like sugar. Really the only thing you want to make sure you’re on time for is the island’s famous sunsets.
Many call Anna Maria Florida’s best kept secret, so don’t say you heard about it from me!
With one of the most scenic drives in America, the Florida Keys is the land of eternal vacation for good reason. All the way down at the southernmost point of Florida (and the continental United States), this is area is comprised of “keys,” aka small islands made from coral deposits. It’s the perfect place to plan a girls’ trip, a family trip, and even a romantic getaway. In fact, my husband and I booked our own honeymoon at Sunset Key Cottages back in the day.
While down here, take your time stopping off at the different islands to see what makes each so unique. Dine on authentic Cuban food, sample all sorts of key lime desserts (not just the pie), and be sure to learn about all the famous residents of the keys from Ernest Hemingway to Jimmy Buffet to President Truman to Judy Blume, who’s still living there today and owns a local bookstore, Books and Books. Don’t forget to make time to visit Dry Tortugas National Park while you’re here as well.
See more in our “Florida Keys” episode.
For those craving some party with their beach and sun, Miami is not only one of the best places to visit in Florida, it’s one of the best places in the world. The energy in this city is palpable as cultures from all over blend together to share their traditions and cuisines.
When you’re not lounging in postcard-worthy South Beach, you can explore Miami’s Art Deco scene before checking out all the delicious restaurants in Little Havana and snapping the perfect new profile picture at Wynwood Walls. For a bit of peace, head over to the Everglades or hug some trees at the Fruit and Spice Park, one of the most unique places to get outdoors.
See more in our “Miami” episode.
Orlando & Kissimmee
If there’s one city on this list that needs no introduction, it’s Orlando. Home to both Disney World and Universal Studios, those two parks alone can fill up any vacation. However, if you want to go beyond two of the most famous amusement parks in the world, I recommend exploring nearby Kissimmee as well. It’s actually closer to the parks than some parts of Orlando, so if you aren’t planning on staying at a resort, look for hotels here, specifically Celebration. This town has a unique history as it initially began as a dream of Walt Disney’s to create the perfect, utopian town. While he died before he could do more than dream it about it, it became a reality later in the nineties. Do a bike tour with Celebration Bike Rental to learn more
Other activities you can sign-up for include flying high via hot air balloon or helicopter ride, visiting the Everglades with an airboat tour, and having a blast the very underrated FunSpot America, which is home to the world’s tallest sky coaster and one of the last three wooden roller coasters in the state.
When it comes to places to visit in Florida, Florida’s Space Coast might just be the most out of the world. If you can’t tell from my episodes in “Houston” and “Huntsville,” I’m a bonafide fan of everything our space program has accomplished in the 60+ years it’s been around, so this place is a real treat.
Base yourself in the charming Cocoa Beach before spending the day at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The visitor complex is an incredible experience that’ll take you through all of Amercia’s history with space exploration. Add on a lunch with an astronaut and coordinate your trip with a rocket launch. Then head back to relax at Cocoa Beach, try your hand at surfing (or at least visiting the world’s largest surf shop, Ron Jon’s), and wander through historic Cocoa Village.
Less than an hour from Orlando, it’s easy to add on to a big family trip while giving everyone a break from the rides!
If you were to ever forget the Florida belonged to the Spanish up until 1821, then a visit to St. Augustine will very quickly remind you. Part of Florida’s historic coast, here is where you’ll find the oldest continuously occupied European settled in the entire United States. America may only be just shy of 250 years old, but St. Augustine has been around since 1565!
Because of this history, the whole area is full of Spanish architecture and St. George Street especially is a great place to stroll through while visiting any number of restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. Be sure to visit Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, an old limestone fort from 1672, and climb all the way up St. Augustine Lighthouse for some incredible views.
See more in our “St. Augustine” episode.
Located along the Gulf of Mexico and part of Florida’s Paradise Coast, Naples is known for its sophisticated, world class atmosphere just as much as it’s known for its proximity to some of Florida’s best parks and wildlife refuges. Spend your mornings enjoying its white sand beaches, trekking through Big Cypress National Preserve, or spotting the many seashells in the Everglades’ Paradise Key before cleaning up to dine and shop along 5th Avenue in the evenings.
See more in our “Naples & Paradise Coast” episode
Known as the City of Palms, the city of Fort Myers sits right on Caloosahatchee River and is a gateway to some incredible islands like Sanibel, Captiva, and Cayo Costa out in the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the game here is to get outdoors whether it’s shelling on the beaches, walking around the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, getting out on the water, or exploring one of the more hidden gems in Cabbage Key and Matlacha Island.
See more in our “Fort Myers & Sanibel Island” episode
And those are some of my top places to visit in Florida right now! The Sunshine State is one of the few places in the country you can visit year around and get both a classic beach vacation while also being able to plan unique experiences from space exploration to pirates and more. I’ve been down countless of times for all sorts of reason, and it’s proved itself over and over as a place to love.