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Florida Travel Guide

25 Ultimate Things to Do in Florida

With such a diverse landscape, there’s something in the Sunshine State for just about every traveler, and we've got all the unmissable recommendations for what to do and see while you are visiting Florida.

Florida is the land of swamps and space shuttles, Disney and DAYTONA 500. You could spend your mornings sunbathing on the beach or catching a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral before speeding through the Everglades by airboat in the afternoon. Miami is known as the “Gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean” with bakeries serving croquetas as authentic as Cuba. Orlando, meanwhile, claims both Walt Disney World and a booming craft beer scene. Theme parks aren’t only of the artificial variety, either; over 175 superlative natural parks dot the state, from the largest national forest and underwater cave system to the country’s most-visited ecotourism site, Everglades National Park, one of the few places in the world where you can see alligators and crocodiles cohabitating. There’s something for everyone in Florida.

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Sunbathe on the Beaches

Beaches in Florida are just as varied as the state itself. For people-watching and bar hopping, South Beach is the place. For powdery white sand, head to Destin. Searching for surf-worthy waves? Cocoa Beach boasts some of the best. The state is also home to a number of more under-the-radar stretches of sand like remote Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, northwest of Fort Myers. Here, you’ll find remnants of Old Florida, like the historic Gasparilla Inn & Club, originally an escape for wealthy northerners.

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Try Cuban Food

Cuban exiles who fled to Miami in the 60s carved out a corner of the city to keep their culture alive. Cigar shops and buzzy bars like Ball & Chain line Little Havana’s main drag, Calle Oche (S.W. Eighth Street), the spot where some of the city’s best Cuban restaurants got their start. Create your own moveable feast (or join one of the guided neighborhood tours), sampling Cuban specialties like latte-style café con leche, guava and cheese pastelitos (pastries), and classic ham- and cheese-stuffed Cuban sandwiches in authentic eateries like abuela- (or grandmother-) inspired La Carreta.

Related: Pass the Gator Tail, Please! 14 Things You Should Eat and Drink in Florida

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Party on South Beach

The late-night lounges and bars lining Collins Avenue have helped South Beach earn its party-heavy rep. Alternate between dancing and ice skating at subterranean disco-style Basement Miami (developed by Studio 54’s Ian Schrager) or join the party at another underground venue, FDR at Delano, where world-famous DJs are often behind the turntable. For something more subdued, pull up a bar stool inside Delano at the sophisticated, red velvet-draped Rose Bar, one of South Beach’s best people-watching perches.

Related: Miami Is So Much More Than South Beach–Here’s How You Can Experience It

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Take an Art Deco Tour

Get a crash course on Miami architecture in the center of the city’s Art Deco District at the Art Deco Museum. After getting a grasp on the Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Cubism geometric patterns that influenced Miami’s iconic, 1920s architecture—the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, with 800-plus preserved, pastel beauties—set out and explore the spots themselves. The very people who helped save the city’s skyline, the Miami Design Preservation League, offer walking tours of South Beach’s square-mile district, where The Carlyle and Essex House are just a few of the highlights.

Related: Miami’s 12 Most Instagrammable Locations

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Snap a Selfie at Wynwood Walls

The Wynwood Walls started with a few murals in 2009 (a way to tidy up a tired warehouse district) and quickly expanded into an outdoor street art park spanning over 80,000 square feet of walls. Six main buildings form the 25th-26th Street complex—the official “walls”—which acts like a living gallery for graffiti artists around the globe (Miss Van and Invader are just two of over 50 famous names who have contributed murals). Tour the latest work sprayed on Wynwood’s walls during Miami’s Best Graffiti Guide’s daily walking tour, led by local artists, or swing by on the second Saturday of the month when streets open up for one of Miami’s largest block parties: Art Walk.

Related: How to Spend 3 Days in Miami

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Airboat Through The Everglades

The 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park sits only an hour from Miami, and nine entry points provide access to the park. Cycle along Shark Valley’s “Gator Trail,” a 15-mile, bike-friendly loop, pausing for panoramic views of the swamp from the halfway point—a 45-foot-tall observation tower. The most common mode of transportation in the Everglades, however, is by airboat, and Everglades Holiday Park is one of the more popular picks since it’s a quick drive from Downtown Fort Lauderdale.

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Dig Into Fresh Seafood

Florida is home to fishing so legendary, it’s attracted anglers like author Ernest Hemingway. Catch of the day is practically a given in any of the coastal towns dotting the state, where you’ll see fresh filets baked, broiled or blacked with Cajun spice. Two destinations worth the drive: South Beach institution Joe’s Stone Crab (deemed best claws in Florida) and Cap’s Place, a one-time rum-running restaurant reached by boat. If you’re in Northwest Florida, make sure to try Apalachicola oysters.

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Shop Until You Drop

Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard and Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue are boutique central in South Florida. And Miami, with its sprawling outlet malls and over-the-top designer boutiques, has become a shopping paradise on par with fashion capitals like Paris. If you’re looking to snag a bargain, head to Dolphin Mall, the largest outlet shopping center in the city, filled with over 240 shops ranging from Converse and Coach to Calvin Klein. Former furniture warehouses have rapidly transformed into some of the city’s swankiest showrooms in the Miami Design District, where gallery-worthy installation art sits between boutiques like Fendi.

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Snorkel Past a Shipwreck

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first undersea park, is a series of mangrove swamps and vibrant coral reefs best explored by paddleboard or glass-bottom boat. If you want to get up close to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. (and the landmark, 4,000-pound bronze Christ of the Abyss statue), set off on one of the twice-daily dives to sites like Carysfort Reef Light, named after the 20-gun Royal Navy post ship that sank on the reef in 1770.

Related: 12 Places to Follow in Blackbeard’s Footsteps

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Visit Ernest Hemingway’s Home

The legendary American author called everywhere from Paris to Pamplona, Spain, home, but the only one of his actual homes that has transformed into a shrine-style tribute sits in Key West. Hemingway spent nearly a decade here marlin fishing before jetting over to nearby Cuba, and the 19th century house looks nearly the same today as it did when he lived there in the Thirties—six-toed cats (descendants of his pet, Snow White) and all. Tour the two-story Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (where “A Farewell to Arms” was finished), admiring the furniture his wife, Pauline, had shipped from Paris when “Papa” purchased the property.

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Catch a Sports Game

When it comes to pro sports, Florida features some of the most famous teams in the nation. Baseball, football, hockey—you name it. If you’re in Miami, catch a football game at the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium, Hard Rock Stadium, or watch some of Florida’s basketball stars like Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade hit the court at the AmericanAirlines Arena, where culinary options like HYDE (helmed by Macchialina’s Michael Pirolo) are anything but concession stand cuisine.

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Get Pampered in Palm Beach

In this luxe destination, you can stay at exquisite resorts like The Breakers or The Eau Palm Beach, shop around the chic boutiques on Worth Avenue, play golf on the Champions Course at the PGA National Resort & Spa or get cultured at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.

Related: 11 Under-the-Radar Florida Beach Towns to Visit this Winter

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Be a Kid at Walt Disney World Resort

The 40-square-mile resort—home to four theme parks, including the legendary Magic Kingdom—is a destination in itself. Get the full experience staying at a Disney Resort Hotel like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which offer perks like complimentary transportation to the parks and extra “Magic Hours,” meaning more time for the kids to play at the parks.

Related: 14 Ultimate Things to Do In Orlando (Besides Disney World)

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Feel the Adrenaline at Universal Orlando Resort

Disney may have initially helped drive Orlando’s theme park tourism, but thrill-seekers flock to the cinema-centric Universal Studios and sister park Islands of Adventure, where you can live out your wizarding fantasies flying on broomsticks over Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. During the annual Halloween Horror Nights event, Universal Studios turns into the ultimate Halloween party with horror movie-inspired haunted houses based on films like 1980s classic Poltergeist, plus over 1,000 costumed “scare actors” dressed as zombies and clowns.

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Soak up History in St. Augustine

The star attraction in St. Augustine is Castillo de San Marcos, a waterfront Spanish stone fortress constructed from crushed coquina shells. It was built more than 350 years ago, making the national monument the oldest standing structure in the city—as well as the oldest masonry fortress in the continental U.S. Time your trip to catch the weekend cannon firings and weaponry demos, which fall five times a day Friday through Sunday.

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Check out the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg

What started as a private collection has expanded into one of the largest displays of Dalí’s work outside Europe. Dalí’s “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening‑Hope!” hung in the home of the Morses before it was donated —along with their entire personal Dalí collection—in the mid-1970s. In 2011, the Dalí Museum debuted a new building that is as bizarre as the artist’s work (with a free-form, geodesic bubble composed of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass), featuring a helical staircase—a nod to Dalí’s obsession with spirals—and over 2,100 pieces of art.

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Collect Seashells on Sanibel Island

Shelling is so popular on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, locals even created a term for shell collectors’ slumped-over stance: the “Sanibel stoop.” Sanibel’s southeastern end works like shovel, catching hundreds of thousands of shells swept to shore by the Gulf. Smaller shells like butterfly-shaped coquina wash up on the lighthouse end of the island chain, while larger cockle shells (commonly used as natural soap dishes) are found near Captiva. While half the fun is combing the sand for shells yourself, you can also purchase shell-themed souvenirs at shops along the shore.

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Gawk at the Ringling in Sarasota

You could spend an entire day exploring the 66-acre waterfront estate in Sarasota where 1920s circus star John Ringling (who Fortune magazine called the “best millionaire alive”) built the 21-gallery museum, modeled after Florence’s famous Uffizi Gallery, to showcase his collection of classics from masters like Velázquez and Rubens. For a behind-the-scenes look at how the Ringling Brothers created “The Greatest Show on Earth,” take the 30-minute tour through the Original Circus Museum, curated with posters and props from famous 19th and 20th century performers, as well as parade wagons and wardrobes, remnants from Ringling’s traveling show.

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Catch a Race at Daytona International Speedway

Daytona Beach first earned its rep as “The Birthplace of Speed” back in 1903 when two men placed a bet on whose horseless carriage was quicker. Stock car racing on the sand got its start in the 1950s, and the Daytona International Speedway, the “World Center of Racing,” held the first DAYTONA 500 at the tail end of the decade in 1959. The annual 200-lap race still takes place every February, but if you can’t make it for the Speedweeks events, you can get a taste of the excitement riding shotgun with a professional racing instructor in a NASCAR race car on a three-lap tour around the infamous track.

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Watch a Rocket Launch at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s working spaceflight facility, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, is located just 45 minutes from Orlando and features the closest public viewing points to the rocket launches. Highlights include tours of the permanent home of Space Shuttle Atlantis, where you can learn to steer like a pro on one of the training simulators.

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Be Mesmerized by Mermaids in Weeki Wachee

You haven’t truly seen “The Little Mermaid” until you’ve visited Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, the deepest freshwater cave system in the U.S. Located 45 minutes north of Tampa, resident mermaids have performed shows (including a version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale) in the submerged auditorium here for the past six decades.

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Sample Craft Beer

Florida’s craft beer scene is on the rise, with over 200 breweries sprouting up in metropolises like Miami, as well as college towns like Gainesville and Tallahassee; Jacksonville now boasts an Ale Trail. Sample a few at the source, like Cigar City Brewing’s Jai Alai IPA at its taproom in Tampa; Orlando Brewing’s organic I-4 IPA, poured in bars in Walt Disney World Resort; and Funky Buddha Brewery’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, a beer so popular, the brewery created a whole street festival around it.

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Paddle Board on Coastal Dune Lakes

The Panhandle boasts some of the most pristine white sand beaches in the state, undisturbed by high rises and over tourism. South Walton’s 16 beach communities along the Gulf of Mexico, with its calm and clear waters, are a prime position for activities like paddle boarding and are one of the only areas in the world—along with countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Madagascar—with coastal dune lakes.

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Find “Old Florida” in the Northwest

Relish in the slower pace of this region, which has ample opportunities to get a taste of Florida as it was before the theme parks and tourist attractions. With low hanging oaks draped in Spanish moss and genuine hospitality, the state’s Southern capital, Tallahassee, is prime for college football games, but the real gems are the beaches of South Walton, Panama City Beach, and St. George Island. Dig into some Apalachicola oysters at family-run restaurants, dive into Wakulla Springs, or bike your way to the St. Marks Lighthouse.

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Swim With Manatees in the Crystal River

One-sixth of Florida’s sea cows (as they’re lovingly called) make their way to Crystal River’s warm, spring-fed waters each winter—the only place in the U.S where you can legally swim with the threatened species. Season officially runs from mid-November to late-March, and one of the best places for manatee spotting is Kings Bay, northwest of Orlando along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where you can swim with manatees on a guided snorkel tour.

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