Sanibel Island is an excellent beach alternative to the typical crowded Florida spots. The island is full of untouched, natural beauty and tranquil sandy beaches. There are no skyscrapers or fast food chains on the island, but there are swaying palm trees and 22 miles of dedicated bike paths. Collect some of the 250 different kinds of seashells covering the shoreline, see the wild animals at the JN ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, or take a boat out on the sparkling waters of Tarpon Bay on the north side of the island.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
The Ichetucknee is a six-mile-long river that meanders along the hammocks and wetlands until it joins the Santa Fe River. The Ichetucknee is fed by natural springs, which give it its signature crystal-clear water. Visitors can scuba dive in the water from October to March at the Blue Hole, or they can go tubing, canoeing, swimming, or hiking in the warmer months. The National Natural Landmark is full of beautiful green canopies and peaceful river views.
Molasses Reef, situated southeast of Key Largo, is home to the most extensive and beautiful collection of reefs in all of Florida, and it is one of the most popular sites in the Florida Keys. Scuba divers and snorkelers will have the chance to see many types of coral reefs up close, and they may even run into turtles, rays, and nurse sharks.
Fort Walton Beach
Fort Walton Beach is a peaceful, family friendly beach located between Pensacola and Panama City. Enjoy the white sand beaches and the shimmering blue-green water of the Gulf Coast. Visitors can golf by the sea, visit the numerous parks and museums in the area, or just lounge on the beach without the usual Florida crowds.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
This National Audubon Society sanctuary is located just north of Naples, Florida in the southwest of the state. The sanctuary was created to protect one of the largest remaining areas of bald cypress and pond cypress in North America from logging during the 1940s and ‘50s. A boardwalk just over three kilometers long runs throughout the park to provide access to pine flatwoods, wet prairie, pond cypress, bald cypress, and marsh ecosystems. The park is an important breeding area for some wetland birds, and American alligators and cottonmouth snakes live throughout the protected area.
Blue Spring State Park
This state park covers more than 2,600 acres of land, including the largest spring on the St. John’s River. Blue Spring State Park is a designated manatee refuge, and it is the winter home to a population of West Indian manatees. From mid-November to March, hundreds of manatees can be found in the area. The park is also the location of the historic Thursby House, built during the steamboat era of 1872, as well as picnic areas and covered pavilions. Swim in the clear water or paddle on a boat to spot the wonderfully serene sea cows.
Naples Beach and Pier
The Naples Pier, located in the city of Naples, is one of the area’s best-known landmarks. The historic structure, which stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico, attracts visitors for fishing (you don’t need a license), bird watching, dolphin spotting, and beautiful sunset views over the ocean. The pier also features restrooms and a concession stand.
Mount Dora is a beautiful city full of small-town charm located near Orlando. The sleepy city is home to a number of antique shops and boutiques, one of the only freshwater lighthouses in Florida, and monthly festivals. The city has multiple buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the beautiful yellow Donnelly House and the stretching historical Lakeside Inn. You can even paddle through the city on the Dora Canal.
When Spanish explorers first landed in Florida and found the waterways full of manatees, they imagined them to be mermaids. You can find the now-endangered gentle giants floating in the water of the Crystal River, a national wildlife refuge. Manatees live in the area year-round, and you can view them from a distance or up close in the water. The most popular area for above-water manatee viewing is the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk. Join a snorkeling tour and learn all about ‘manatee manners’ before you enjoy a day with the beautiful creatures.
Visit America’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement, St. Augustine, founded and settled by the Spanish in 1565. View the centuries-old architecture at Castillo, Fort Matanzas, the city gate, and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America. Then walk the cobbled roads, visit quaint cafés, and spend the hottest days in the air-conditioned museums. Don’t miss the 144-block National Historic Landmark District.
Amelia Island is a lovely shrimping village with 50 blocks of historic buildings, lovely independent restaurants, and beautiful beaches. If you need somewhere to stay, the island is full of unique bed and breakfasts, such as the adorable, antique-covered Fairbanks House or the beautiful garden paradise of Addison. The island is bursting with Spanish moss and Southern charm. Make sure to visit Fernandina Beach, the sea turtle sanctuary, and Fort Clinch.
Falling Waters State Park
Located in the gently sloping greenery of North Florida, this park is the site of a Civil War-era grist mill. The park is filled with towering trees and deep sinkholes. Take the boardwalk Sink Hole Trail to get to Florida’s highest waterfall, which falls 73ft into the bottom of a sink. Visitors might be able to see the colorful flutters of migrating butterflies in the butterfly garden.