America's Sunshine State is a vacation hotspot for travellers all around the globe. With (year-round!) sun-soaked beaches, bustling cities, expansive wetlands and a rich biodiversity, Florida offers something for everyone to discover.
No matter when you're planning to travel, we've put together our list of best things to do in Florida to help you plan your next adventure.
A narrow strip of tropical islands interconnected via 42 bridges, the Overseas Highway (US-1) stretches for over 120 miles terminating at ‘Mile 0' in Key West.
The Florida Keys are a world away from the state's mainland. If you have yet to experience the uber-chilled ambience that is ‘island-vibe', the Keys are a good place to find it.
In our experience, locals here have always been friendly and, as expected, very laid back. Maybe it's ability to wear shorts and flip-flops year round?!
When looking for things to do along the drive, the Keys offer opportunities for boating, fishing or simply chilling on the beach and soaking up that incredible sun!
The cherry on top of this incredibly scenic drive is making it to Key West at the end. Key West is undeniably one of Florida's most iconic destinations and so has to be mentioned in our guide to visiting the Sunshine State. It's loud, vibrant and completely captivating! Basically, Key West is a lot of fun.
The famed Duval street certainly has that “*It's 5 o'clock somewhere*” attitude about it. We loved that live music was easily found at least somewhere at any point in the day.
As darkness falls the masses spill into the bars. While all the musicians were fantastic, I think the drag show performance I pulled Rhys into was perhaps the most memorable.
Key West is certainly unique.
Here I am adding a $1 bill to the estimated 35,000 that already adorn the walls of Willie T’s along Duval St.
Florida's famous Everglades offer a plethora of unique wildlife and vegetation for visitors to discover.
The Everglades have been listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 in recognition of it’s unique habitat and value
Spanning a huge area of over 4,000 square miles, this intricate network of wetlands is in fact a very slow-moving river, draining from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida's southern tip.
FUN FACT: The Florida Everglades is the only place on earth in which both alligators and crocodiles coexist!
Perhaps the activity most synonymous with a trip to Florida's Everglades, is an airboat tour.
Airboat tours are understandably popular, given that they allows visitors to explore the sub-tropical wetlands and come face-to-face with some of the more well-known inhabitants (like the above alligator).
In hindsight, we would have paid a little more to join a smaller tour. Our 10-minute wait became over 30 so the boat could be rammed full. We felt a lot like cattle. I also questioned the operator's practices as they had lots of caged alligators on site; it just seemed ‘off'.
We're still encouraging an airboat experience for sure, just make sure to research to go with a decent guide.
For those wanting even more, there are numerous trails to be explored within the Everglades National Park. Pick up a map on route to Flamingo and make pit-stops along the way.
Rhys, in particular, is a little obsessed with the water so we seize any opportunity for unique experiences like this. Hands down, swimming with manatees is up there as one of the coolest things we've ever done.
Seriously, we cannot big this experience up enough! Getting to see these gentle giants up close and personal in the wild is simply magical.
It's important to note that there are many places to visit in Florida where you can see manatees but there is only one location where you are legally permitted to swim with them.
Crystal River is the self-proclaimed ‘Manatee Capital of the World'
We couldn't write a blog post on the best things to do in Florida and not mention theme parks. When I was growing up, America – as a whole – meant Disney. I've thankfully since expanded my knowledge since the 6-year-old me first met Donald Duck.
Orlando is predominantly Florida's theme park hub. This city houses the previously referenced Disney Magic Kingdom as well as Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom, just to name the big ones. Don't forget the waterparks also!
Further west of Orlando, travellers to Florida will discover Tampa Bay's Busch Gardens, a unique 335-acre African-themed animal theme park. It's been one of our favourites to visit. And remember, theme parks are not just for families! We loved theme parks as kids but honestly, they're even more fun as adults!
Of course we had to mention food. In particular, brunch. Now I don't simply mean eating an eggs benny at 11am which then warrants the skipping of lunch. No no no, no!
The brunch I refer to, is a whole extravagant event! Come hungry and ready for a drink.
With some beginning as early as 10am, brunch in Florida can last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. For a set price, many participating restaurants offer diners unlimited orders from the menu during this time. Better yet, is it almost always includes bottomless bubbly.
Despite these indulgent offerings, you don't have to break the bank to experience such luxury. Now don't get me wrong, it's still a treat, but starting from as little $25 USD it's totally worth it. For the above mentioned we payed around $45pp.
So I'll admit this one obviously isn't unique to Florida. The state doesn't even boast the most premium outlets however it does have the biggest!
While Rhys and I never got the opportunity to visit the 355+ stores of Sawgrass Mills Premium Outlet in Sunrise, FL, we have spent more time than we would like to admit browsing the windows of other premium outlets across the state.
They are just such great spots to find quality bargains! I may be showing my more materialistic side here but, when you get a good pair of hiking boots for $35 USD, you tend to rave about it a bit! Raving done, I promise.
With a peak elevation of just 345m, Florida's flat-as-a-pancake landscape makes it a golf-lovers haven. The Sunshine State actually has more golf courses than any other state in the country. How many you ask? Try over 1,250!
If, like us, you're not very skilled at aiming while swinging a club, then a driving range always makes for a good laugh.
*Recommendation*: For those who love golf, shopping, dining out, and don't mind a bit of expense, the picturesque city of Naples along Florida's southwest ‘Paradise Coast' is the idyllic destination. Wander to find some interesting artwork around town and go dolphin-spotting off the pier.
If you need clarification, I'm referring to bird watching. Florida is one the only states that boasts an exclusively endemic species! The Florida Scrub Jay can only be found around central and southern Florida. Sadly we didn't spot one on our ventures. Beyond the Scrub Jay, Florida's Everglades in particular are lauded as one of the best birding hotspots in the US.
This is definitely an interest that has developed with age. Like ‘leaf peeping'!
We had to wrap it up by expanding a little more from just the coastline surrounding the Florida Keys.
Florida literally has hundreds of miles of coastline, with the peninsula bordering the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. Note, the water is warmer along the Gulf coast.
You can't really go too wrong with Florida beaches, although I will be honest that busy scenes at Pensacola are not quite our thing. A few of our favourites throughout the state include:
Jensen Beach – a hidden gem on the state's east coast. Numerous pathways like the one above lead down to the quiet shoreline of Jensen beach.
Siesta Key Beach – south of Sarasota, this expansive beach has been frequently championed ‘Best Beach in the US'. It is not the usual quiet, secluded beaches we typically prefer but it is so vast that there is plenty of space for everyone. The soft white sand is pretty magical also.
Bradenton Beach – located off of Anna Maria Island, this might well be top of our list for beach-time in Florida. Here a narrow strip of sand meets the Gulf and is bordered by a picturesque row of Australian pine trees (ironically a not-so-good invasive species). We like to head south of the beach to escape the crowds.
Gulf Islands National Seashore – white sands meet stunning blue-green waters owing to its unofficial title of the Emerald Coast. A trip to Florida's Panhandle is a must to discover this protected coastline which runs for 160 miles, across to Mississippi (although strangely doesn't include Alabama's shores in between).
Guided tour of Sapelo Island five miles offshore from the Georgia Coast. Includes roundtrip ferry ride to the Island, the University of Georgia's Marine Institute, R. J. Reynolds Mansion, historic, Sapelo Island Lighthouse, beautiful unspoiled and undeveloped Atlantic Ocean beach, and African-American community of slave descendants.
The Bridge and River tour is a scenic 3-hour bicycle tour will take you from the Upper West Side of New York City up and over the George Washington Bridge for a ride along the river on Route 9W. Get the full touring experience and leave New York City for a few hours. During the ride, we make stops at Grants Tomb Memorial on the Upper West Side.