The Most Beautiful Spots in Florida

Swimming area on the Blue Spring Run in Blue Spring State Park
Swimming area on the Blue Spring Run in Blue Spring State Park | © Ian Dagnall Commercial Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Courtney Stanley
18 March 2021

Florida is all about white-sand beaches, wild nightlife and, of course, Mickey Mouse. But there is so much more beauty to be found beyond the celebrated tourist landmarks. Here’s our guide to Key West, the Everglades, and more.

Key West

Art Gallery, Botanical Garden, Museum, Natural Feature
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PALM TREES SMATHERS BEACH KEY WEST FLORIDA USA
© GALA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Key West is Mile 0: the southernmost point of the Continental US, and one of the most incredible places in Florida for sun-seekers. Although the Conch Republic, as it’s unofficially known, has relatively few beaches, you’ll be too busy snorkeling, sailing and fishing to worry about carving out a spot on the sand. If you prefer to embrace island life on land, the vibrant bars along lively Duval Street will position you elbow to elbow with the laid-back locals – order something rum-based for a nostalgic Hemingway-style afternoon-into-evening.

Everglades National Park

Park
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Airboat at a jetty in the Everglades National Park. Florida.
© philipus / Alamy
Everglades National Park showcases Florida at its wildest. Snakes, alligators, panthers, crocodiles, manatees and more call the country’s largest subtropical wilderness home. Established in 1947, Everglades National Park was subsequently named a World Heritage site, and you’ll find the serene swamps just an hour away from lively downtown Miami. Journey into the wetlands of this International Biosphere Reserve on foot, by bike, kayak or airboat to discover hundreds of species – precious sightings indeed, as some of these creatures are sadly threatened or endangered.

Vero Beach

Natural Feature
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Florida brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
© Allen Creative / Steve Allen / Alamy Stock Photo
Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast is equidistant from Orlando and West Palm Beach, granting Florida vacationers an additional escape. It’s not unlike other Florida coastal cities, in that the sun and surf are always in season. Whether you play the links or cast a line, there’s always a peaceful place with your name on it, to savor the outdoors. If you’re a nature lover you will especially enjoy checking out McKee Botanical Garden and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Sanibel Island

Natural Feature
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© Jo Miyake / Alamy Stock Photo
Sanibel Island has untouched natural beauty and tranquil sandy shores in abundance. There are no skyscrapers or fast-food chains in sight, just breeze-ruffled palm trees and mile upon mile – 22mi (35km) to be precise – of dedicated bike paths. Some 250 varieties of seashell lie surf-scattered on the shore – your cue to go collecting. You might like to check in with the wild animals at the JN ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, or how about taking a boat out on the sparkling waters of Tarpon Bay, on the north side of the island. It’s the Florida fantasy in a nutshell (or seashell).

Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Park
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Snorkler at Blue hole, head spring that feeds Ichetucknee river, Florida, USA
© Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
The Ichetucknee is a river that meanders among the wetlands for six or so miles, until it joins the Santa Fe River. It owes its clear water to the eight natural springs that feed it. Full of beautiful green canopies and peaceful river views, the 2,669-acre (1,080ha) Ichetucknee Springs State Park is home to a host of creatures – beavers, otters, wild turkeys and wood ducks. Between October and March you can scuba-dive at the Blue Hole. Outside these months, you’ll have more fun with tubing, canoeing, swimming or hiking while enjoying the warmer weather.

Molasses Reef

Natural Feature
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Aerial of Molasses Reef and boaters Upper Keys Florida
© Chris A Crumley / Alamy Stock Photo
Within the boundaries of the Key Largo Existing Management Area, Molasses Reef is easy to reach. Lying southeast of Key Largo, it is one of the most visited reefs for diving in the Upper Keys, home to an extensive and beautiful array of shapes, sizes and other-planetary colors. For scuba divers and snorkelers, there’s the chance to glimpse many types of coral up close – elkhorn coral, billowing brain corals – which descend to a variety of depths, and you might just encounter turtles and rays, as well as perhaps the odd nurse shark or two.

Fort Walton Beach

Natural Feature
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Fort Walton
© Bruce Corbett / Alamy Stock Photo
Fort Walton Beach is a peaceful, family-friendly beach on the Florida panhandle between Pensacola and Panama City. You come for the sweeping white-sand beaches and the shimmering water of the Gulf Coast, but you stay for all the added attractions and pursuits, including games of golf by the sea and the numerous local parks and museums. Take your pick from the hands-on kids’ favorite, the Emerald Coast Science Center, with its selection of extraordinary living creatures (meet the African pygmy hedgehog); or visit the fascinating Indian Temple Mound and Museum, home to thousands of objects that fill you in on the lives of prehistoric Native Americans in the Fort Walton Beach area.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Park
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Birdwatcher on the boardwalk in the National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples, Gulf Coast, Florida, USA
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
This National Audubon Society sanctuary, just north of Naples, in southwest Florida, 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 1950s. A boardwalk just over 2.5mi (4km) long runs throughout the park to bring you up close and personal with pine flatwoods, wet prairie, pond cypress, bald cypress and marsh ecosystems. The park is an important breeding area for some wetland birds, and you might spot alligators and cottonmouth snakes, which proliferate throughout the protected area.

Blue Spring State Park

Natural Feature, Park
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Blue Springs State Park, Florida, USA
© Cecile Marion / Alamy Stock Photo
This state park is a giant, covering more than 2,600 acres (1,052ha) of land, and encompassing the largest spring on the St John’s River. Blue Spring State Park is the home to the historic Thursby House (built during the steamboat era of 1872), as well as picnic areas and covered pavilions. It is also a designated refuge for manatees – marine herbivores affectionately known as sea cows – and is the winter home to a population of the West Indian (as opposed to Floridian) variety. Between mid-November and March, hundreds of these curious creatures can be found nosing their way around the waters. Fancy a meeting one up close? Dive into the clear water or paddle out on a boat to say hi.

Naples Beach and Pier

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
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Colorful Alto-Sunset over the pier, Naples, Florida, USA
© Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo
Naples Pier, in the city of Naples, is an eye-catching historic structure that stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico. Built in 1889 (the same year as the Eiffel Tower) by the Naples Company, it served as a passenger and freight dock. It has withstood storm damage – even Hurricane Irma – and today it’s appeal is cerebral: inter-generational fishing sessions are commonplace, the youngsters learning from their well-practised elders (you don’t need a license). You can join the twitchers with binoculars, or scan the horizons for sea turtles or the fins of breaching dolphins. And the brilliant, berry-colored sunsets over the Gulf are trance-inducing – silencing – in their molten beauty.

Mount Dora

Natural Feature, Historical Landmark
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The historic Lakeside Inn and verandah in Mount Dora, Florida, USA on 23 May 2019
© NJphoto / Alamy Stock Photo
Mount Dora is a spectacular place not far from Orlando, oozing small-town charm from every pore. It’s a delightfully sleepy city, with a kaleidoscope of boutiques and antiques, one of the only freshwater lighthouses in Florida and festivals every month. The Annual Blueberry Festival takes place in April, not to mention the big ol’ Fourth of July Independence Day Parade. The city has multiple buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the magnificent yellow Donnelly House, a fabulously fey confection built in 1893 in Queen Anne style, by the man who would become the first mayor. A decade older is the landmark Lakeside Inn: the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida and an icon of Grand Victorian design. You can even paddle through the city on the Dora Canal.

Crystal River

Natural Feature, Park
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Crystal River, Florida, USA, 5 January 2018. Frigid temperatures along the west coast of Florida are causing manatees (Trichechus manatus) to seek shelter in warm, protected areas such as the springs at "Three Sisters." Generally a more solitary creature,
© Cecile Marion / Alamy Stock Photo

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 these majestic creatures.

St Augustine

Church, Architectural Landmark
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St. Augustine, Florida. January 26 , 2019 . Seventeenth century mansions in St. George St. at Old Town in Florida's Historic Coast (1)
© VIAVAL / Alamy Stock Photo
Roll up to experience America’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement, St Augustine – founded and settled by the Spanish in 1565. The centuries-old architecture is so photogenic. Aim your lens at Castillo, Fort Matanzas, the city gate and the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America. Then take a wander along the cobbled roads, stop for refreshments at pretty cafes and spend the hottest hours in the air-conditioned museums. Don’t miss the 144-block National Historic Landmark District.

Amelia Island

Natural Feature
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Fort Clinch, Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Florida, USA
© Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Amelia Island is a lovely shrimping village with 50 blocks of historic buildings, fantastic independent restaurants and incredible 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 you stop off at Fernandina Beach (the sea turtle sanctuary) and Fort Clinch.

Falling Waters State Park

Park, Natural Feature
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Falling_Waters_State_Park
© floridastateparks.org
In the thick of gently sloping greenery in 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 cascades more than 70ft (21m). Visitors might be able to see the colorful flutters of migrating butterflies in the butterfly garden, and other forms of wildlife are everywhere – you’re bound to meet members of the grey-furred fox squirrel family, as they love to pop up by the park gates, leaving the brown bats to lurk in the subterranean caves that link the sinkholes.

Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on March 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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