At least a dozen images spring to mind at the mention of Florida, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. For many, it is Orlando’s world-famous theme parks at Disney World and Universal, while others may think of the nearly endless number of championship golf courses that are scattered throughout the Sunshine State.
Waterbugs and sun-worshippers have hundreds of beaches to choose from, and retail connoisseurs will find luxury stores and quirky boutiques in abundance in each city. If your trip is based around a beach vacation or specific activity, you may want to consider the climate and best time of year to visit Florida.
Beyond the entertainment and recreation, Florida has a rich historic and cultural past featuring peaceful natives, Spanish conquistadors, swashbuckling pirates, and generations of Caribbean influences that make it an incredibly interesting and diverse place to visit.
Florida is also home to some of the most unique and special natural places, including Everglades National Park and the scores of barrier islands with precious ocean ecosystems.
Plan your adventures in the Sunshine State with our list of the best places to visit in Florida.
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Located in southern Florida, Miami is one of the state’s hippest and most popular cities. Miami and nearby Miami Beach showcase the old and new side of Florida. The thriving modern city center stands in contrast to the much more laid-back atmosphere of Miami Beach.
South Beach is the most exciting of Miami’s beaches, known for its Art Deco District and ultra-trendy pedestrian mall that stretches out parallel to the beach, full of water-facing outdoor restaurants, entertainment, and plenty of things to do. It’s also a popular honeymoon destination in Florida.
Downtown Miami’s Flagler Street has a good number of historic attractions, while the Brickell neighborhood and the Design District are home to a plethora of high-end stores and posh eateries. Caribbean influences are found in Miami’s lively ethnic neighborhoods of Little Haiti and Little Havana, and the Overtown neighborhood is known for its rich African-American history and hearty soul food.
The Vizcaya museum and historic homes made of coral rock are found in Coconut Grove, an area where peacocks strut unfenced among numerous street entertainers and sidewalk cafes.
At the heart of Florida’s tourist industry is the city of Orlando, home to internationally known theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. These have expanded over the years to include large themed water parks, like Discovery Cove, Typhoon Lagoon, and Volcano Bay.
Families descend on the amusement parks in large numbers during school holidays, but the city is a popular destination year-round. This constant influx of tourists has brought a full range of recreational activities and services to the Orlando area, from championship golf courses and chic spas to restaurants and huge shopping centers.
Other nearby attractions can be a refreshing change of pace and are easily visited on day trips from Orlando. Some of these include the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral and seeing the manatees on the Crystal River.
The city of Tampa sits on an inlet on Florida’s west coast, just across the bay from St. Petersburg. Tampa is especially popular with families, who come to enjoy its many wildlife-filled attractions. Busch Gardens is the best-known, a giant amusement park combined with a zoo that has endless things to see and do.
Animal-lovers can also visit the Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park and the Tampa Aquarium and a public manatee-viewing center. Tourists can also visit Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for abused and abandoned cats, including lions, tigers, jaguars, and more.
Families with younger kids will love the Glazer Children’s Museum, which focuses on learning through creative play, and the whole family will enjoy the Museum of Science and Industry, where you can explore the world of technology with hands-on exhibits and take in bigger-than-life shows at the IMAX theater.
Tampa’s Ybor City is one of its most historic areas and the center of the city’s Latin community, where a meal at the famous Columbia Restaurant is a must.
Across the bay from Tampa is neighboring St. Petersburg and nearby Clearwater. Visitors, particularly travelers from northern states, come here to escape cold winters and enjoy the oceanfront beaches and mild climate.
Some unique areas to explore include the St. Petersburg Pier, the dockside shops and restaurants of Johns Pass, the quaint atmosphere of historic Pass-a-Grille, and the soft sand of Indian Rocks Beach.
Clearwater is also known for its beach, one of the best beaches in Florida, particularly for families, and also a popular resort destination. St. Petersburg has many cultural tourist attractions, including several theaters and prominent art museums, like the Dali Museum and the Morean Art Center.
One of the most popular things to do when visiting St. Petersburg is taking boat tours that range from dolphin-spotting and eco-tours to recreational cruises. Nature lovers will appreciate the abundance of peaceful spots, like Caladesi Island State Park, which has remained undeveloped thanks to its offshore location and is full of beaches and nature trails.
Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach
Downtown Fort Myers, also known as the River District, is full of things to do, from plentiful shopping options to a wide variety of dining choices, as well as sightseeing in this historic area.
Families will enjoy the IMAG History & Science Center, which includes dozens of hands-on exhibits; exciting wildlife interactions, including the chance to touch an alligator; and even the opportunity to see the original fort at Fort Myers in a 3D virtual reality experience.
Fort Myers Beach is on the shores of Estero island, separated from the mainland by a narrow inland waterway and connected by bridges. The expansive beach is known for being an ideal place to see dolphins playing in the water and is full of top-notch resorts that are popular with families, couples, and celebrities.
Fort Myers also attracts many New England baseball fans, who come to watch Red Sox spring training games and hope for chance sightings of their favorite sports heroes around town.
Sanibel Island sits off the west coast of Florida as an important barrier island, connected to Fort Myers by a causeway. Sanibel is best known for its high-end resorts, which are popular with families, celebrities, and couples. Beyond each resort’s generous amenities, tourists will find no lack of things to do, from ocean adventures to leisurely shopping at Sanibel’s numerous boutiques and galleries.
One of the most appealing aspects of Sanibel and Captiva is the dedication to conservation, a mission that has resulted in the protected status of half of the island’s land and the establishment of organizations like the Sanibel Sea School and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.
Many resorts also have their own programs led by naturalists to educate tourists about the delicate ecosystem and amazing wildlife. Some of the island’s most treasured wildlife includes the loggerhead sea turtle, which nests on the pristine beaches; manatee and dolphins, which play in the water nearby; and hundreds of bird species, including the bald eagle.
10 reasons why moving to Florida is a great idea
- The majority of the year is sunny and warm
Why are so many people moving to Florida? For the weather, of course! With more than 200 sunshine-filled days a year, Florida offers newcomers exceptionally warm and sunny weather. Despite the hot and humid summers, Florida seasons tend to be mostly mild and warm. Those living in the southern portion of the Sunshine State will likely never need more than a sweater during the winter. With so many warm and sunny days a year, residents can spend less time indoors and more time outdoors exploring all that Florida has to offer.
- There’s no state income tax
Looking to save more money on a monthly basis? Consider moving to Florida. While the majority of U.S. states require residents to pay state income taxes, the State of Florida does not. Fortunately for Florida residents, this lack of income tax allows them to save more of their hard-earned money for fun activities, vacations and belongings.
- The beaches are fantastic
Life really is a beach in Florida. Residents have access to some of the world’s best and most beautiful beaches right outside their doors. Well-known and award-winning beaches in Florida include Sarasota’s Siesta Public Beach, which was named the number one beach in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, Clearwater Beach, Pensacola Beach, Delray Beach, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Panama City Public Beach, Grayton Beach and St. George Island – just to name a few.
- There’s plenty of cultural diversity
There’s no other state quite like Florida when it comes to cultural diversity. Throughout the state, you’ll find people of every age, religion and background imaginable, making it one of the greatest melting pots in the country. In addition to those who are born and raised in Florida, many residents include snow birds and transplants from different states who have moved for the weather, job opportunities and tax benefits. Given its coastal location, Florida also attracts a large Latino population. The state’s diversity is without a doubt one of the reasons why Florida is such an interesting place to live.
- Locals receive discounts to a number of attractions
There’s a major benefit to living where others vacation. From Walt Disney World in Orlando to The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, hundreds of Florida attractions and hotels offer resident-only discounts and bargains throughout the year. The majority of deals are available during the late spring, summer and early fall months when tourism slows down.
- There’s so much to do outdoors (and indoors!)
There’s no shortage of things to do in Florida. Thanks to the 200-plus days of sunshine a year, residents are able to spend much of their time outdoors partaking in everything from water sports to cultural experiences. Popular water activities in Florida include swimming, boating, scuba diving, paddle boarding and fishing. Residents also have easy access to a number of attractions such as Disney World and Universal Studios. Miami’s many art deco inspired hotels and restaurants, along with the city’s annual Art Basil event, offers plenty to do as well.
- Living in Florida won’t break the bank
Looking to get more bang for your buck in terms of housing and day-to-day services? Move to Florida. While the cost of living in Florida’s major cities, such as Miami, can be on the higher end, the majority of areas throughout the Sunshine State are very affordable compared to many other U.S. states. According to AreaVibes, the overall cost of living in Florida is one point lower than the national average. Goods and services, healthcare, and housing in Florida all fall below the national average.
- The sports culture is intense
From professional sports to college sports, Florida offers some of the best sports teams in the country to cheer on. While most states have one or two professional football teams (or none!), Florida has three. Florida also offers two professional baseball teams, two professional basketball teams and two professional hockey teams. Popular teams in the state include the Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccanneers, Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins and more. College’s such as the University of Florida and Florida State University also offer their own teams for students and alum to rally around.
- The food and drink are delectable
From its famous stone crabs to its locally-made craft brews, Florida is home to a plethora of delectable dining options. With its many climate zones and thriving farms, it’s a mecca for fresh produce such as its world famous oranges, sugarcane, tomatoes, watermelon, avocados, strawberries and more. The state’s heavy Cuban influence also makes it a popular place for empanadas, Cuban coffee, sweet plantains and other Cuban delicacies. Florida restaurants serve plenty of Island-inspired and Caribbean-style foods such as Key Lime Pie and coconut shrimp as well. No matter where you are in Florida, you’ll be able to find fresh and tasty fare nearby.
- You can vacation where you live
If you live in Florida, you’ll never have to travel for vacation again. The state’s many beaches, theme parks and attractions mean there are hundreds of vacation (read: staycation) options for you – all within a few hours drive. From the secluded sandy beaches along the Gulf Coast to the family-friendly theme parks of Disney World, there’s no shortage of fun and exciting places to visit in your own state.