Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is full of fun places to visit and magical locations to discover. It offers fantastic beaches, unique attractions and fun theme parks such as Disney World, Legoland and Universal Studios; but there are also some lesser-known places that may not be on your radar.
This glorious garden was founded by Dutch immigrant Edward W Bok in 1929 and more than 23 million people have visited it since. See the majestic Singing Tower with its 60-bell carillon, and kick back by the fabulous Reflection Pool. This is a great family-friendly place to come and enjoy spending time in nature, or just to have some quiet time by yourself on a warm Florida day. If there’s one thing Florida can provide, it’s dependable sunshine.
This enchanting attraction in Coconut Creek is like something out of a dream. It is the largest butterfly park in the world and features over 80 different species – see how many you can spot when you head there for a visit. If you’re lucky, one might even alight on your outstretched finger. Founders Ronald Boender and Clive Farrell turned their butterfly-collecting hobby into an incredible park, which opened in 1988, and continues to amaze people from all over the world who come to see the collection of beautiful butterflies and flowers.
Chances are you’ve heard of Ernest Hemingway. The house was built in 1851 and became Hemingway’s in 1931 during his Key West days. The prolific author, who wrote many novels and poetry – including the World War I biopic A Farewell To Arms – lived in this fabulous home that is now open to the public. According to the home and museum site, “The cats about the home and grounds are descendants of the cats [Hemingway] kept while he lived in the house, including many extra-toed.”
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is a small spiritual community that has been around for 122 years. The community was built as a place for like-minded individuals to live together and share spiritual practices, and visitors can come here for spiritual healing, church services and to talk to a medium. If you’re suffering from stresses in your work or home life, have been looking for a change or simply want to experience something outside of your daily norm, it’s definitely worth including on your tour of Florida wonders.
Florida is great for adventure travelers and, if you love exploring the ocean’s depths, don’t miss Vortex Spring, where you’ll find an underwater cavern (fed by the cool water of an underground river) that stretches for over 1,600ft (488m). It’s a favorite for divers. The cavern begins just 58ft (18m) below the water’s surface but extends far beyond that. Experienced cave divers are allowed to travel to a depth of 115ft (35m). This is so rare that you’ll definitely only see it when you’re in Florida.
If you find yourself near Miami, take a boat ride out to Stiltsville. This group of wooden homes built on stilts in the 1930s was the fashionable place to be when visiting the Miami Beach resorts. Accessible only by sea, it’s especially ideal on a warm day when the waters are calm. These homes seem to float and look almost dream-like, and as mentioned, the only way to get there is by water. If you get seasick, you may want to pass, but if you can stomach it, make sure this spot is at the top of your list. It’s truly magical.
Stop by the International Independent Showmen’s Museum
If circus acts appeal, you’ll want to visit this creepy-but-cool museum where you can see all kinds of different items including old circus rides, game pieces and funhouses. The museum showcases American circus and traveling show history and is an incredibly interesting place to visit. With more than 52,000sqft (4,831sqm) of American carnival and traveling show history, you might just be inspired to run away and join the circus. Whether you specialize in the high wire, training animals, clowning around or being the ringmaster will depend on which exhibit has inspired you.
This kooky little restaurant on Captiva Island is known for its kitsch, colorful decor, illuminated with fairy lights and all kinds of unusual wall art; plus its famous bubble bread and sticky buns served with every entrée. The menu offers dishes such as salads, crab soup, pasta, pork chops, roasted chicken and fried shrimp. Spend the day on Captiva Island’s quiet beach soaking up some sun, then head to the Bubble Room for dinner. It’s great for families and groups of friends, and let’s face it, pictures from this spot will win you Instagram gold.
If you’re looking for a cute place to take your partner, this is the place to go – especially if you both love nature. The Love Trees of St Augustine are natural wonders that people have marveled over for years. Simply St Augustine defines a Love Tree as “when two trees are so tightly entwined that they must embrace forever or both die.” St Augustine, America’s oldest city, is already a beautiful spot to visit with your honey, but the Love Trees just make it that much more special. It is also said that “if you kiss your loved one under the Love Trees, you’ll seal your love for eternity.”
This odd store located in Orlando is the place you’ll want to visit if you’re in the market for glass eyeballs and taxidermy animals. OK, so it is super weird, but it’s definitely worthy of an in-person stop and a pushpin on your map. So just how does James Bissett, the store’s owner, find all this unusual stuff that he sells? His motto is “anything that catches my eye,” and the retired US army veteran has stocked his store with items that make it look like a combination of a museum and a science class. Want to revisit a biology high-school lesson? Step right in.
If you’ve always wanted to hit a Polynesian island but haven’t been able to just yet, Florida is your next best bet. At Mai-Kai, you’ll get your hands on flavorful exotic dishes such as thai red chicken curry, Cantonese shrimp, pad thai and surf and turf. You can sip on tropical drinks such as pina colada and strawberry daiquiris, and catch a fun and lively show that includes dancing, music and tricks. Who knows – maybe you’ll even take new hula-dancing skills home with you.
If you’re a fan of Hermione, Ron and Harry, you can’t leave Florida without making a pilgrimage here. This theme park is actually two parks in one – one in Universal’s Islands of Adventure and another in Universal Studios. You can get the Hogwarts Express between the two, hang out in the Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley and Honeydukes and fly with dragons. You might want to come in costume – many super-fans do. You’ll leave equipped with a wand, plenty of sweet souvenirs and the wish that you really had got your Hogwarts letter, aged 11.
Beer lovers, assemble. The town of Jacksonville has developed a great beer scene in the past few years, and the absolute best way to discover it is by completing the Jax Ale Trail. Get yourself a ‘passport’ at any of the eight participating breweries, and start drinking responsibly. You have to visit four or more breweries to start getting stamps in your passport and win fun prizes. Dedicated participants can hop on the Jax brew bus, which will take you on a four-and-a-half-hour tour of the best local breweries, which includes learning about the history of beer and drinking plenty of the stuff itself.
This famous square has hosted a vibrant party scene since the 1960s. Walk around Mallory Square at sunset and you’ll encounter jugglers, troubadours, psychics, bands, dancers, artists and street performers walking tightropes or swallowing swords. When you get peckish, try out some authentic treats from the food vendors on the square. Key West favorites include Key lime pie, conch fritters and coconuts filled with rum. And don’t forget to look up over your head at the sky, which every night creates the kind of pink-and-purple-spangled displays that will stay with you forever.
The water park attached to SeaWorld should not be underestimated. And there’s no place like Florida with its heat and humidity for a refreshingly cool water park. With nine water slides, ranging from speedy to slow and spinning to shooting, two lazy rivers and two kids areas, this is one of the best water parks around. With many sandy beaches to relax on and soak up the sun, Aquatica is great, whether you want to kick back with a cocktail and watch others in the water or spend all day going down every single water ride in the park.