Florida Travel Blog - Destinations in Florida

Florida Travel Blog 

Travel destinations, beaches and attractions and things to do in Florida. Documented by RESIDENTS of Florida.

The Florida Travel Guide

Don't Travel Florida Without It!

What is In the Florida Travel Guide

There are all kinds of Florida travel guides. Most are influenced by advertisers, publishers, or content creators’ motives. 

The Florida Travel Blog’s Travel Guide for Florida is just common sense data we have accumulated through our travels, state-published tourist details and numbers directly from attraction sources.

We have published this guide online so it is interactive and always with you and updated for current information.

You will find budget-friendly ideas, information about driving in Florida, distances between major attractions, packing ideas for Florida travel, and the places most visited in Florida.

The Table of Contents to the right is interactive. Just click the heading for a direct link to the information indicated.

Bookmark this Travel Guide for Florida to keep it handy on your phone.

Table of Contents

The Florida Travel Guide

Don’t Travel Florida Without It!

What is In the Florida Travel Guide

There are all kinds of Florida travel guides. Most are influenced by advertisers, publishers, or content creators’ motives.

The Florida Travel Blog’s Travel Guide for Florida is just common sense data we have accumulated through our travels, state-published tourist details and numbers directly from attraction sources.

We have published this guide online so it is interactive and always with you and updated for current information.

You will find budget-friendly ideas, information about driving in Florida, distances between major attractions, packing ideas for Florida travel, and the places most visited in Florida.

The Table of Contents to the right is interactive. Just click the heading for a direct link to the information indicated.

Bookmark this Travel Guide for Florida to keep it handy on your phone.

things you need when flying

Table of Contents

The Best Budget Beating Travel Guide for Florida

Travel is not cheap! Gas, airline tickets, cruise fares or whatever method you use to get around the state of Florida will cost you money. Sometimes BIG money! If you are wealthy and don’t care, just skip this section. If you are like most of us, let’s see what we can save.

Coupons Can Save

Florida Travel Guide and Coupons Save Money
Coupons can save big dollars!
Certainly, you have heard of Groupon or similar coupons mailed to your home. Coupons are used in Florida for many things. Here is a list of sites to get seasonal coupons. https://www.floridatravelforless.co.uk/florida-coupons (travel savings) https://sflsg.com/  (south Florida discounts) www.entertainment.com  (books of coupons) https://scottscheapflights.com    (flight deals) https://www.bestoforlando.com  (theme park discounts) https://www.destinationcoupons.com/ (coupons by area) For other coupon ideas visit the Chamber of Commerce of your destination city and don’t forget the lobby of your hotel. Some bargains can be found by asking desk clerks when checking into your hotel.

Member Discounts Rock! (AARP, AAA, Florida Residents, Military and First Responders)

Hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and many theme parks have discounts for members of various groups. Check with any groups you belong to before leaving. Here is a list of common discounts many hotels, theme parks, attractions and restaurants offer for their services –
  • AAA- the travel service.
  • AARP –  association of retiredFlorida Travel Guide - AAA discounts
  • Florida Residents – just ID
  • First Responders – police, fire, emergency
  • Military – Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Army
  • Student – student ID, limited
  • Elderly – sometimes 65 plus
You can even join Triple A (AAA) and get more than the cost of joining in discounts off a hotel room in many cases!

Time of Year Travel –  Travel Guide for Florida Tips

If you can avoid peak seasons in Florida, you can save a ton of cash. Any travel guide for Florida will suggest off season travel in Florida. For instance, during spring break on Clearwater Beach rooms that sell for $250 per night in the off-season start to cost $600 per night from the middle of February to the middle of May. Peak season (and holiday) rates also apply to rental cars, major theme parks, airlines and family attractions. A trip for a family of four in March for a week may cost $7-8000, while the same trip could cost half that in September or October. On Marco IslandKey West and a few places in Naples, rooms can cost as much as $1500 per night during March and April. By late July through September, the rates have reduced to one-third that amount. Be aware of special events. The small islands in the Florida Keys can easily fill up. Key West will double hotel rates during the week of the Super Boat Races in November, Hemingway Days in July and the Song Writers Festival in April or May. Islamorada rates will go up when a big annual fishing tournament is scheduled. Always check rates in advance and try to avoid peak times for substantial savings.

Things to Buy Before Traveling to Florida….

It’s no secret that retail products around primary tourist areas are more expensive than your neighborhood market.
  1. Florida Travel Guide - buy before you travel Florida
    Toiletries, sun tan lotion, aspirin and accessories will cost double at hotels and tourist stores.
    Before you go to the beaches, buy sunscreen at home. That bottle of Hawaiian Tropic at home may be $6, but at the beach, it will be $9.
  2. Buy your water before you go. A case of water with 36 bottles may cost you $4 at Walmart, but at the beach it may cost $4 per bottle!
  3. To rent an umbrella at some beaches can be $20 to $30 per day. You can buy one for $30 at Costco!
  4. That $4 dollar hamburger at McDonald’s may be $10 at the beach.
  5. Buying things at hotels isn’t cheap! They have a captive audience at hotels and the prices show it. Buy snacks for the room before you get there. That $1.29 pack of M&M’s will be $3.50 at the resort!
  6. Need toiletries? Find a Walmart or CVS pharmacy. You will pat $5 for 2 ounces at the hotel and the same amount for 10 ounces at CVS.
  7. Traveling by automobile? Buy gasoline before you get to your tourist destination. Gasoline on Key West will be higher than a few miles east of the island. When traveling to the Keys we get a full tank before getting in the Keys and that will last until we are well back on the mainland some 250 miles later.
Most hotel rooms have a refrigerator – stocking it up is less expensive than the hotel snack menu. Even leftovers can save money!

Happy Hours and Early Bird Specials – Ask The Experts

2023 Florida Travel Guide
Most Florida Bars and Restaurants have some type of specials. You can save a bunch of bucks!
Look around you. Florida has a lot of seniors who eat early and they know where the best happy hour deals are. Our older population loves a bargain and they don’t mind sharing their best ideas to save a few bucks with some younger travelers. Just ask a local or your desk clerk in the hotel. Two-for-one drinks, BOGOs, and similar deals are available for off-prime hours. Trust us, a $4 tequila sunrise at 5 PM tastes just as good as the $8 one at 8 PM.

Plan Your Trip Well – One of Our Best Travel Guide for Florida Tips

2023 Florida Travel Guide post sign
One of our best Florida travel tips is to plan carefully. Spending hours in a car at high gas prices is not fun!
Florida is a big state. If you are going from Jacksonville to Key West, that’s over 500 miles which will take you about 9 hours by car. To put it in perspective, that is like going from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina! Below we have given you the distances between the major cities and tourist destinations. The point is to make the most of your time. Save gas and money by visiting places within a comfortable range of your destination. No one wants to spend valuable vacation time in a car. According to the IRS the cost per mile traveled in a car is more than 62¢ per mile. That gets expensive if you are in Orlando and think going to Panama City, Florida is a good idea. That’s 350 miles away and a round trip cost of over $400 by automobile! Planning your distances and staying within an hour or two of your destination will save you money. Have more fun and spend less time in an automobile.

Cabs, Ubers and Limousines

Most tourist areas in Florida have all the major sources of travel available. However, dependability and costs are variable. Traffic can be slow and heavy in densely populated tourist areas. Many Uber drivers, cab drivers and others prefer not to get caught in traffic and avoid busy times. Islands that have one way on and one way off can be nightmares for traffic. You will also pay more in slow-traffic metro areas – if you can get a ride scheduled. We have seen an increasing trend for ride-share drivers to increase the cost as much as double for rides during busy high traffic times on beaches. In many cases, it is impossible to find any drivers during peak spring traffic in tourist districts.

Tolls, Bill by Plate and SunPass

2023 Florida Travel Guide sunpass
You will see this logo on Florida toll roads, parking lots, and airport exits. You can save money and a run to the bank by arranging for SunPass in advance.
You can’t travel very far by car in Florida without encountering a toll road, pay-to-park lot or toll bridge. While the state will bill you by your license plate number, there is an extra fee. Prior to arriving in Florida, you can sign up for the SunPass system which will send you a transponder that will record your tolls in a prepaid system. SunPass is good in many private parking facilities and airports. SunPass is also good for toll roads all through the eastern United States. Save billing fees and the potential for fines! This travel guide for Florida suggests saving time and money with SunPass.
2023 Florida Travel Guide Clearwater Beach
This shot of Clearwater Beach is an example of a FREE beach that is about 3 miles long with multiple places to enter.

Beaches Are Free

Almost all major beaches in Florida are FREE! The most popular include Clearwater Beach, Panama City Beach, Cocoa Beach, Miami Beach, Sanibel-Captiva Beaches, St. Pete Beach, Siesta Key Beach and Santa Rosa Beach. All five of the major beaches in Key West are free as well as the beaches in the Keys. Of course, you can find all the best beaches at Florida Travel Blog. Remember, while the beaches are free, the parking, food, umbrellas and sunscreen are not! A day at the beach for a family can be an inexpensive fun experience – just be prepared. Silver springs state park The cost to enter Silver Springs State Park is $8 per vehicle. If you had 6 people in the car, that would be less than $1.35 per person! Pretty inexpensive for a guaranteed day of fun!

Florida State Parks Are Cheap

Check around the area where you plan to stay for a state park. Admission varies from a couple dollars to a carload of people for 5 bucks! The Florida Parks system has 175 places that have springs, rides, water sports, exhibits, tours, and much more. All are inexpensive family fun. For a few bucks, one of the best deals for a family is one of Florida’s springs. Most have state parks that provide swimming areas, kayak rentals, hiking trails, picnic areas and concession stands. Some of our Florida Springs here provide all day fun for the entire family for under $10. Find the Florida State Park near you here. See our Top Ten Florida State Parks below.

Florida History is Your Friend – And a Cheap Date!

Fort Castillo St. Augustine
Fort Castillo in St. Augustine protects the harbor. Construction started in the 1600s. It remains substantially intact today.
Florida may have more fun and accessible historical sites than any state in the union. From the early settlements in the 1500s to the battles between the French, Spanish, British and American forces for the next 350 years, to the wars with Native Americans and the Civil War in the 1800s – there are sites everywhere! There are thousands of historical battle sites, preserved homes and inexpensive museums throughout Florida. Most document man’s foraging and learning to survive in the wild and savagely hostile territory once called La Florida by Spanish explorers. Many historical sites are free and others are open at a very low cost to visitors or a reasonable donation. Some are part of the Florida State Park system and others are privately supported. There is an app you can download to your phone called History Here. The App gives you a list of historical sites near your location. You can also find many historical recollections on Florida Travel Blog. Our Travel Guide for Florida has many suggestions.

Florida Map and Driving Distances Between Major Visitor Areas

Below are driving distances between major cities and attractions in Florida. By reviewing the distances you can figure out your estimated time between different destinations. Naples is the beginning of the western edge of the Everglades and Miami on the eastern edge.
Distance from Major Cities to Tourist Destinations

Orlando to…..

Tampa – 85 miles Clearwater Beach – 100 Miami – 235 Key West – 393 Pensacola – 450 Naples – 195

Miami to….

Tampa – 280 Orlando – 235 Jacksonville – 345 Key West – 165 Naples – 125 Panama City Beach – 590

Tampa to….

Key West – 425 Orlando – 85 Miami – 280 Clearwater Beach – 15 Naples – 166 Jacksonville – 200 Apalachicola – 295

Jacksonville to…

Orlando – 141 Pensacola – 359 Tampa – 200 Naples – 359 Key West – 503 Miami – 345 Amelia Island – 34
Florida State Map

The Ten Safest Places in Florida

Florida is the third largest state in the union. We have over 65,000 square miles of territory, 21 million people and cities with hundreds of thousands of residents. It makes sense that some areas are historically safe due to location, police presence and type of residents. Our information is based on crime data with particular focus on violent crime, type of location and common sense. Here is our list of the safest places (cities or areas) in Florida.
  1. The Villages
  2. Venice
  3. Marco Island
  4. Punta Gorda
  5. Naples
  6. Vero Beach
  7. North Palm Beach
  8. Oviedo
  9. Santa Rosa Beach
  10. Cape Coral
The common themes among the safest communities are they have an average age above normal, a relatively very low violent crime rate and a strong police force.  General crime rates for over 300 Florida cities can be found here.

What To Pack Traveling Different Parts of Florida

Let’s start by saying we live in Florida. We travel Florida an average of twice per month. Florida Travel Blog is not selling anything – just the fun of taking a road trip in Florida. We know what 10 essentials to pack on a Florida road trip or vacation. We also know that most travel blogs will tell you how to dress, what cosmetics to pack, what electronics you need, and other common-sense items. We are going to suggest only the 10 essentials of a road trip or Florida vacation. Plus, we will tell you why, when, and where you will need them.

10 Essentials to Pack for a Florida Road Trip or Vacation in Florida

These items to pack on a Florida vacation or road trip will make your day delightful instead of disastrous! Just take a few minutes to pack these items and you are good to go.
southernmost point buoy for photos - travel guide for florida
This is the southernmost point in the United States. This buoy is the most photographed place perhaps in the country. Lots of sun in Key West bring your sunscreen.
  • Sunscreen – Florida is called the sunshine state for a reason. We recommend you buy it before leaving home. It will most likely cost less for branded products at your local Walmart or Target, rather than a beachside boutique. We suggest either an SPF 50 for an all-day trip to the beach or SPF 30 for walking around in the intermittent sun.
  • Lip Balm – we can’t count the times while fishing we sloshed on SPF 50 to protect our bodies, only to find our lips parched and cracked from the sun a day later. Heading to Key West for some fun in the sun? Get some lip balm.
  • Sunglasses– your eyes need as much protection as your skin. We would also recommend Polarized sunglasses, if possible. The polarization will help in viewing dolphins, fish, manatees, and other below-the-water surface sights. Even walking the sands of Sanibel, Polarized sunglasses will help you see shells in the water.
    Beach St. George Island Florida Travel Guide
    A long walk along this remote beach on St. George Island is great, but an occasional cut from shells is not uncommon. A first aid kit is handy.
  • Bug Repellent – Repellent is most suggested for forested areas near water. If you are visiting Florida State Parks or the Everglades, repellent is a requirement. If you have never heard of “Swamp Angels”, you will quickly learn about them when taking Florida road trips in deep south Florida. This is big item our list of essentials to pack on a Florida road trip or vacation in Florida.
  • Hat or Visor – the sun is not only warm but bright too. Your eyes will get tired in direct sunlight. On a white sand beach that extends a couple miles like Lido Key, the sun is magnified by the bright sand. On a long Florida road trip, you will find many occasions for a hat.
  • Cover Up – yes, some shops or restaurants may require you to cover up that new bikini, thong, or Speedo. Just something light will work fine.
Florida Travel Guide Kayaking the Everglades
Mangroves and marshes are dense. Everglades kayaking is fun, but insect repellent for “swamp angels” is a necessity.
  • Hand Wipes (sanitizing) – if you are around mother nature on a Florida road trip, you will want to clean your hands after picking up that box turtle, hermit crab, or other creatures of the sea or forest. After the pandemic, we learned the benefits of hand sanitizing.
  • Water Shoes – these specialty shoes are light and designed to walk along Florida beaches. If you have never had a cut on the sole of your foot from roaming the beach, you haven’t been on enough beaches. Shells can be sharp.
  • Small First Aid Kit – the Band-Aids in the kit will handle the foot cut referenced above. If you have children that don’t occasionally need a Band-Aid, you are a fortunate parent. Of the essentials to pack on a Florida road trip, this is the one most forgotten for families.
  • Beach Bag & Flip Flops – ok, we admit these are not “essential”, but if you want to look like you belong in Florida, then buy a pair of flip-flops and some colorful beach bag to carry all this stuff in! Holds a big beach towel too. However, forget the fanny-pack!

Non-essential Packing Items for a Florida Road Trip or Vacation in Florida

The items below may not be necessary in some locations. Many of these non-essentials on a Florida vacation will make your vacation in Florida more comfortable, particularly if you travel certain parts of the state as we note below.
  • Waterproof Phone Covering – many phones are sensitive to small amounts of water. Even a plastic bag from your pantry will protect your phone from that thunderstorm that pops up in the afternoon. May be necessary on that kayak trip through the mangroves.
  • Jacket (preferably water resistant) – yes, Florida is warm. However, after a little rain shower, temperatures can drop to jacket weather, plus anything water-resistant will keep you somewhat dry. A panhandle Florida road trip to Apalachicola in January may require a jacket.
2023 Florida Travel Guide Shrimp Boats - vacation in Florida - travel guide for florida
If you are up in Apalachicola along the shrimp boat docks in January, you will need a jacket.
  • Binoculars – Florida is full of wildlife. There have been countless times while on a Florida road trip, we have wished we had binoculars to see that deer in the distance, that eagle in the tree or the occasional whale that flirts with the shoreline.
  • Pocket Poncho – for a couple bucks at a discount store, you can buy a pocket-size poncho all folded up about the size of a deck of cards. That thunderstorm that popped up may keep you stranded or very wet. The only thing is, we almost 100% guarantee you will never again be able to fold that poncho back in that little packet.
  • Water – almost every popular Florida beach has someplace to buy refreshments – but not all. If you visit a remote island like Cayo Costa or get on a five-mile trail in Myakka River State Park, you will want (and need) water.
  • SunPass – this is an automatic way to pay tolls on your Florida road trip or vacation. You can buy one to stick on your windshield or get a movable module for any car. Using the SunPass means you can drive straight through checkpoints without worrying about change or money to pay. You can find out more here. SunPass is also good on toll roads and bridges in other states also. We mentioned this as a budget-friendly tip earlier, but it is a time saver too!
Florida Travel Guide Alligator on Tamiami Trail
Traveling the Everglades is always an adventure. You can see these guys along the Tamiami Trail.
  • Everglades Special Considerations – the Florida Everglades are harsh. Big temperature swings, animals that don’t know you don’t want to be eaten, brutal heat and humidity and bugs you have never seen or heard of. Out Travel Guide for Florida recommends the following;
    • Plenty of bug repellent – make sure it is strong.
    • If you are camping, be aware of snakes. Fuel oil repels them around a campground.
    • Log sleeves will help keep the sun off and keep the “swamp angels” at bay.
    • If you are hiking, make sure you have a map. You will not be able to rely on cell service in many areas of the Everglades.
    • Finally, carry a lighter and keep it dry. A cheap Bic lighter could save your life. It can provide warmth, food, pure water and create a signal should you get lost.
Here is a short 17-second video of a lady walking on a boardwalk near Big Cypress. She has a humourous encounter with a Florida panther. Things can happen in the Everglades. They don’t all turn out like this one.

Ten Less Safe Places in Florida

In general, Florida is comparatively very safe. This is sometimes a subjective evaluation. We pay particularly high attention to violent crime rates per thousand, size of the area, and reported major issues.
  1. Tallahassee
  2. Lake City (north of Gainesville)
  3. Orlando
  4. Panama City (Florida panhandle)
  5. Lake Worth (south of West Palm Beach)
  6. Opa-locka (near Miami)
  7. Riviera Beach (north of West Palm Beach)
  8. Homestead (near Miami)
  9. Marianna (north Florida panhandle)
  10. Florida City (near Miami)
While the cities above are ones with high violent crime rates per 1000 people, there are neighborhoods in some towns that have a high incidence of crime. They include neighborhoods in;
  • Miami Beach
  • Jacksonville
  • West Palm Beach
Remember, you can use good judgment and be safer in Florida than in many states around the country. Comparatively, Florida is safer than most. According to Consumer Affairs Magazine, Florida is number 15 on the list of safest states.

The Top Ten Florida State Parks

There are over 175 Florida State Parks. While Florida is known for its large number of parks, some are wildly popular tourist sites, which is unusual for most state public parks. Because they are so popular, they may be in our top ten. The ones below are based on our experiences. Here are our top Ten Florida State Parks – Anastasia State Park – Near St. Augustine, Florida in northeast Florida. Bahia Honda State Park – just north of Key West. Great place to teach kids how to snorkel. Also good RV sites. Caladesi Island State Park– Near Clearwater Beach, another fun island state park with boat trip to the island.
Cayo Costa State Park Florida Travel Guide
Want to get lost for a couple of days? Cayo Costa State Park in Florida is the perfect place to forget phones, people, and modern conveniences.
Cayo Costa State Park – The island of Cayo Costa off Pine Island in southwest Florida. This is an island with only boat access. Grayton Beach State Park – Near Seaside, Florida in the panhandle. Great beachside park in a remote community. Ichetucknee Springs State Park – Off rt. 27 north of Gainesville, Florida. One of many state parks with a spring. Known for a great place to tube down the river. John Pennekamp State Park – Key Largo, Florida. 70-plus acres are underwater for exploration.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park – near Hobe Sound, Florida on the east coast. One of the largest state parks.

Myakka River Sate Park sign
Highly recommend this park. A river, a lake, and over 37,000 acres. Plenty of wildlife and flora for the photographers in the family.
Myakka River State Park – near Sarasota, Florida. One of the largest with 58 square miles of parkland. Silver Springs State Park -near Ocala in north-central Florida. One of the largest springs in Florida with glass bottom boats. Honorable Mention is another one of our favorites near Apalachicola, Florida in the panhandle. It is St. George Island State Park.  

The 10 Most Visited Places in Florida

We are listing the most visited places in Florida. Some could be considered attractions. Others could be islands or small towns. 63% of hotel bookings are at coastal locations and many are listed in this top 10 list of the most visited popular places in Florida. Follow along with our top 10 Most Visited Places in Florida – Number 1Disney World – Orlando, Florida – The Disney operations are, by far, the most visited attraction in Florida. The theme park gets over 58 million visitors annually. Please note, we are considering all Orlando theme parks to be one destination.
Iguana in Key West
See one of these guys at 8 AM as you walk out of your second-floor hotel room in Key West will quickly open your eyes. All over southwest Florida, Iguanas are relatively harmless.
Number 2Key West, Florida – this island has become an international destination. Residents, tourists and cruise ship passengers flock here daily. Number 3Miami Beach – We include South beach as part of this huge metropolitan area. Wildly popular, but not one of our favorites.
Palace Saloon Amelia Island
One of the attractions on Amelia Island is the Palace Saloon. It is the oldest operating bar in the state of Florida.
Number 4Amelia Island – This 18-mile-long island at the northeast border of Florida border with Georgia gets a lot of year-round visitors going to places like Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch, and the resorts along the Atlantic side of the island. Number 5The Everglades – If you counted all the traffic that crossed the 1.5 million acres of the Everglades, it could be the number one attraction in Florida. This is the most unique ecosystem in the world. Number 6The Kennedy Space Center – Cape Canaveral, Florida on the mid-Atlantic coast. The public is fascinated with space travel and the Kennedy Center answers all their questions. Over 1,5 million people visit each year.
Florida Aquarium Florida Travel Guide
When visiting the Tampa area, The Florida Aquarium is a must-see attraction in downtown Tampa.
Number 7Tampa Bay Area – The area on the west coast includes Clearwater Beach, Busch Gardens and St. Petersburg.
Sunset in Key Largo
Sunsets in the Keys are always spectacular. This was taken at the Opal Resort in Key Largo.
Number 8The Florida Keys – A 100-mile stretch of beautiful islands connected by 42 bridges on Florida’s southernmost coast. The islands of Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, and Big Pine Key are some of the most famous. These islands and the 7 Mile Bridge will create lasting memories. Number 9St. Augustine, Florida – Known as the most historic city in the country, St. Augustine is a history lesson and fun destination rolled into one.
Florida Travel Guide - Marco Marriott
This is a stunning view from the lobby of the Marriott Resort on Marco Island. Their courtyard leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Number 10Naples/ Marco Island Area – These are gateways into the Everglades and know for their upscale shopping and accommodations. You may need to keep one hand on your wallet, but the area is magnificent. Notes About Our Top Ten Most Visited in Florida – Most people visit more than one attraction or destination. We consider the areas as one for Florida visitors. Here are some others that have made the list previously – Sanibel/Captiva/Ft. Myers Area – Last fall Hurricane Ian devastated much of this area. Rebuilding will bring them back to our top ten in the future. Sarasota/Bradenton – This west coast duo gets tons of tourists visiting beaches like Siesta Key, Lido Key Beach and Anna Maria Island. Great travel destination with massive beaches. Destin to Panama City Beach – This stretch of the panhandle of Florida is very popular with Florida residents and tourists alike. Beautiful Gulf coastal communities like Apalachicola, Pensacola, Mexico Beach and many more dot Rt. 98 hugging the coastline. Keep this travel guide for Florida with you on your phone or print it out for your glove box. We encourage comments, suggestions and additions to our Florida Travel Guide. Give us a shout!
Top Florida Destinations by Florida Travel Blog

The Best Budget Beating Travel Guide for Florida

Travel is not cheap! Gas, airline tickets, cruise fares or whatever method you use to get around the state of Florida will cost you money. Sometimes BIG money! If you are wealthy and don’t care, just skip this section. If you are like most of us, let’s see what we can save.

Coupons Can Save

Florida Travel Guide and Coupons Save Money
Coupons can save big dollars!

Certainly, you have heard of Groupon or similar coupons mailed to your home. Coupons are used in Florida for many things. Here is a list of sites to get seasonal coupons.

https://www.floridatravelforless.co.uk/florida-coupons (travel savings)

https://sflsg.com/  (south Florida discounts)

www.entertainment.com  (books of coupons)

https://scottscheapflights.com    (flight deals)

https://www.bestoforlando.com  (theme park discounts)

https://www.destinationcoupons.com/ (coupons by area)

For other coupon ideas visit the Chamber of Commerce of your destination city and don’t forget the lobby of your hotel. Some bargains can be found by asking desk clerks when checking into your hotel.

Member Discounts Rock! (AARP, AAA, Florida Residents, Military and First Responders)

Hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and many theme parks have discounts for members of various groups. Check with any groups you belong to before leaving. 

Here is a list of common discounts many hotels, theme parks, attractions and restaurants offer for their services –

  • AAA- the travel service.
  • AARP –  association of retiredFlorida Travel Guide - AAA discounts
  • Florida Residents – just ID
  • First Responders – police, fire, emergency
  • Military – Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Army
  • Student – student ID, limited
  • Elderly – sometimes 65 plus

You can even join Triple A (AAA) and get more than the cost of joining in discounts off a hotel room in many cases!

Time of Year Travel –  Travel Guide for Florida Tips

If you can avoid peak seasons in Florida, you can save a ton of cash. Any travel guide for Florida will suggest off season travel in Florida.

For instance, during spring break on Clearwater Beach rooms that sell for $250 per night in the off-season start to cost $600 per night from the middle of February to the middle of May.

Peak season (and holiday) rates also apply to rental cars, major theme parks, airlines and family attractions. A trip for a family of four in March for a week may cost $7-8000, while the same trip could cost half that in September or October. 

On Marco IslandKey West and a few places in Naples, rooms can cost as much as $1500 per night during March and April. By late July through September, the rates have reduced to one-third that amount.

Be aware of special events. The small islands in the Florida Keys can easily fill up. Key West will double hotel rates during the week of the Super Boat Races in November, Hemingway Days in July and the Song Writers Festival in April or May.

Islamorada rates will go up when a big annual fishing tournament is scheduled.

Always check rates in advance and try to avoid peak times for substantial savings.

Things to Buy Before Traveling to Florida….

It’s no secret that retail products around primary tourist areas are more expensive than your neighborhood market.
 
  1. Florida Travel Guide - buy before you travel Florida
    Toiletries, sun tan lotion, aspirin and accessories will cost double at hotels and tourist stores.
    Before you go to the beaches, buy sunscreen at home. That bottle of Hawaiian Tropic at home may be $6, but at the beach, it will be $9.
  2. Buy your water before you go. A case of water with 36 bottles may cost you $4 at Walmart, but at the beach it may cost $4 per bottle!
  3. To rent an umbrella at some beaches can be $20 to $30 per day. You can buy one for $30 at Costco!
  4. That $4 dollar hamburger at McDonald’s may be $10 at the beach.
  5. Buying things at hotels isn’t cheap! They have a captive audience at hotels and the prices show it. Buy snacks for the room before you get there. That $1.29 pack of M&M’s will be $3.50 at the resort!
  6. Need toiletries? Find a Walmart or CVS pharmacy. You will pat $5 for 2 ounces at the hotel and the same amount for 10 ounces at CVS.
  7. Traveling by automobile? Buy gasoline before you get to your tourist destination. Gasoline on Key West will be higher than a few miles east of the island. When traveling to the Keys we get a full tank before getting in the Keys and that will last until we are well back on the mainland some 250 miles later.

Most hotel rooms have a refrigerator – stocking it up is less expensive than the hotel snack menu. Even leftovers can save money!

Happy Hours and Early Bird Specials – Ask The Experts

2023 Florida Travel Guide
Most Florida Bars and Restaurants have some type of specials. You can save a bunch of bucks!

Look around you. Florida has a lot of seniors who eat early and they know where the best happy hour deals are.

Our older population loves a bargain and they don’t mind sharing their best ideas to save a few bucks with some younger travelers.

Just ask a local or your desk clerk in the hotel. Two-for-one drinks, BOGOs, and similar deals are available for off-prime hours. 

Trust us, a $4 tequila sunrise at 5 PM tastes just as good as the $8 one at 8 PM.

Plan Your Trip Well – One of Our Best Travel Guide for Florida Tips

2023 Florida Travel Guide post sign
One of our best Florida travel tips is to plan carefully. Spending hours in a car at high gas prices is not fun!

Florida is a big state. If you are going from Jacksonville to Key West, that’s over 500 miles which will take you about 9 hours by car. To put it in perspective, that is like going from New York City to Winston-Salem, North Carolina! Below we have given you the distances between the major cities and tourist destinations.

The point is to make the most of your time. Save gas and money by visiting places within a comfortable range of your destination.

No one wants to spend valuable vacation time in a car.

According to the IRS the cost per mile traveled in a car is more than 62¢ per mile. That gets expensive if you are in Orlando and think going to Panama City, Florida is a good idea. That’s 350 miles away and a round trip cost of over $400 by automobile!

Planning your distances and staying within an hour or two of your destination will save you money. Have more fun and spend less time in an automobile.

Cabs, Ubers and Limousines

Most tourist areas in Florida have all the major sources of travel available. However, dependability and costs are variable.

Traffic can be slow and heavy in densely populated tourist areas. Many Uber drivers, cab drivers and others prefer not to get caught in traffic and avoid busy times. Islands that have one way on and one way off can be nightmares for traffic.

You will also pay more in slow-traffic metro areas – if you can get a ride scheduled. We have seen an increasing trend for ride-share drivers to increase the cost as much as double for rides during busy high traffic times on beaches.

In many cases, it is impossible to find any drivers during peak spring traffic in tourist districts.

Tolls, Bill by Plate and SunPass

2023 Florida Travel Guide sunpass
You will see this logo on Florida toll roads, parking lots, and airport exits. You can save money and a run to the bank by arranging for SunPass in advance.

You can’t travel very far by car in Florida without encountering a toll road, pay-to-park lot or toll bridge. While the state will bill you by your license plate number, there is an extra fee.

Prior to arriving in Florida, you can sign up for the SunPass system which will send you a transponder that will record your tolls in a prepaid system. SunPass is good in many private parking facilities and airports. 

SunPass is also good for toll roads all through the eastern United States. Save billing fees and the potential for fines! This travel guide for Florida suggests saving time and money with SunPass.

2023 Florida Travel Guide Clearwater Beach
This shot of Clearwater Beach is an example of a FREE beach that is about 3 miles long with multiple places to enter.

Beaches Are Free

Almost all major beaches in Florida are FREE! The most popular include Clearwater Beach, Panama City Beach, Cocoa Beach, Miami Beach, Sanibel-Captiva Beaches, St. Pete Beach, Siesta Key Beach and Santa Rosa Beach. All five of the major beaches in Key West are free as well as the beaches in the Keys.

Of course, you can find all the best beaches at Florida Travel Blog. Remember, while the beaches are free, the parking, food, umbrellas and sunscreen are not! 

A day at the beach for a family can be an inexpensive fun experience – just be prepared.

Silver springs state park

The cost to enter Silver Springs State Park is $8 per vehicle. If you had 6 people in the car, that would be less than $1.35 per person! Pretty inexpensive for a guaranteed day of fun!

Florida State Parks Are Cheap

Check around the area where you plan to stay for a state park. Admission varies from a couple dollars to a carload of people for 5 bucks!

The Florida Parks system has 175 places that have springs, rides, water sports, exhibits, tours, and much more. All are inexpensive family fun. 

For a few bucks, one of the best deals for a family is one of Florida’s springs. Most have state parks that provide swimming areas, kayak rentals, hiking trails, picnic areas and concession stands. Some of our Florida Springs here provide all day fun for the entire family for under $10.

Find the Florida State Park near you here. See our Top Ten Florida State Parks below.

Florida History is Your Friend – And a Cheap Date!

Fort Castillo St. Augustine
Fort Castillo in St. Augustine protects the harbor. Construction started in the 1600s. It remains substantially intact today.

Florida may have more fun and accessible historical sites than any state in the union. From the early settlements in the 1500s to the battles between the French, Spanish, British and American forces for the next 350 years, to the wars with Native Americans and the Civil War in the 1800s – there are sites everywhere!

There are thousands of historical battle sites, preserved homes and inexpensive museums throughout Florida. Most document man’s foraging and learning to survive in the wild and savagely hostile territory once called La Florida by Spanish explorers.

Many historical sites are free and others are open at a very low cost to visitors or a reasonable donation. Some are part of the Florida State Park system and others are privately supported.

There is an app you can download to your phone called History Here. The App gives you a list of historical sites near your location.

You can also find many historical recollections on Florida Travel Blog. Our Travel Guide for Florida has many suggestions.

 

Florida Map and Driving Distances Between Major Visitor Areas

Below are driving distances between major cities and attractions in Florida. By reviewing the distances you can figure out your estimated time between different destinations. Naples is the beginning of the western edge of the Everglades and Miami on the eastern edge.

Distance from Major Cities to Tourist Destinations

Orlando to.....

Tampa – 85 miles

Clearwater Beach – 100

Miami – 235

Key West – 393

Pensacola – 450

Naples – 195

Miami to....

Tampa – 280

Orlando – 235

Jacksonville – 345

Key West – 165

Naples – 125

Panama City Beach – 590

Tampa to....

Key West – 425

Orlando – 85

Miami – 280

Clearwater Beach – 15

Naples – 166

Jacksonville – 200

Apalachicola – 295

Jacksonville to...

Orlando – 141

Pensacola – 359

Tampa – 200

Naples – 359

Key West – 503

Miami – 345

Amelia Island – 34

Florida State Map

The Ten Safest Places in Florida

Florida is the third largest state in the union. We have over 65,000 square miles of territory, 21 million people and cities with hundreds of thousands of residents. It makes sense that some areas are historically safe due to location, police presence and type of residents.

Our information is based on crime data with particular focus on violent crime, type of location and common sense. Here is our list of the safest places (cities or areas) in Florida.

  1. The Villages
  2. Venice
  3. Marco Island
  4. Punta Gorda
  5. Naples
  6. Vero Beach
  7. North Palm Beach
  8. Oviedo
  9. Santa Rosa Beach
  10. Cape Coral
 
The common themes among the safest communities are they have an average age above normal, a relatively very low violent crime rate and a strong police force.
 
 General crime rates for over 300 Florida cities can be found here.
 

What To Pack Traveling Different Parts of Florida

Let’s start by saying we live in Florida. We travel Florida an average of twice per month. Florida Travel Blog is not selling anything – just the fun of taking a road trip in Florida. We know what 10 essentials to pack on a Florida road trip or vacation.

We also know that most travel blogs will tell you how to dress, what cosmetics to pack, what electronics you need, and other common-sense items. We are going to suggest only the 10 essentials of a road trip or Florida vacation. Plus, we will tell you why, when, and where you will need them.

10 Essentials to Pack for a Florida Road Trip or Vacation in Florida

These items to pack on a Florida vacation or road trip will make your day delightful instead of disastrous! Just take a few minutes to pack these items and you are good to go.
southernmost point buoy for photos - travel guide for florida
This is the southernmost point in the United States. This buoy is the most photographed place perhaps in the country. Lots of sun in Key West bring your sunscreen.
 
  • Sunscreen – Florida is called the sunshine state for a reason. We recommend you buy
    it before leaving home. It will most likely cost less for branded products at your local Walmart or Target, rather than a beachside boutique. We suggest either an SPF 50 for an all-day trip to the beach or SPF 30 for walking around in the intermittent sun.
  • Lip Balm – we can’t count the times while fishing we sloshed on SPF 50 to protect our bodies, only to find our lips parched and cracked from the sun a day later. Heading to Key West for some fun in the sun? Get some lip balm.
  • Sunglasses– your eyes need as much protection as your skin. We would also recommend Polarized sunglasses, if possible. The polarization will help in viewing dolphins, fish, manatees, and other below-the-water surface sights. Even walking the sands of Sanibel, Polarized sunglasses will help you see shells in the water.
    Beach St. George Island Florida Travel Guide
    A long walk along this remote beach on St. George Island is great, but an occasional cut from shells is not uncommon. A first aid kit is handy.
  • Bug Repellent – Repellent is most suggested for forested areas near water. If you are visiting Florida State Parks or the Everglades, repellent is a requirement. If you have never heard of “Swamp Angels”, you will quickly learn about them when taking Florida road trips in deep south Florida. This is big item our list of essentials to pack on a Florida road trip or vacation in Florida.
  • Hat or Visor – the sun is not only warm but bright too. Your eyes will get tired in direct sunlight. On a white sand beach that extends a couple miles like Lido Key, the sun is magnified by the bright sand. On a long Florida road trip, you will find many occasions for a hat.
  • Cover Up – yes, some shops or restaurants may require you to cover up that
    new bikini, thong, or Speedo. Just something light will work fine.
Florida Travel Guide Kayaking the Everglades
Mangroves and marshes are dense. Everglades kayaking is fun, but insect repellent for “swamp angels” is a necessity.
  • Hand Wipes (sanitizing) – if you are around mother nature on a Florida road
    trip, you will want to clean your hands after picking up that box turtle, hermit crab, or other creatures of the sea or forest. After the pandemic, we learned the benefits of hand sanitizing. 
  • Water Shoes – these specialty shoes are light and designed to walk along Florida beaches.
    If you have never had a cut on the sole of your foot from roaming the beach, you haven’t been on enough beaches. Shells can be sharp.
  • Small First Aid Kit – the Band-Aids in the kit will handle the foot cut referenced above. If you have children that don’t occasionally need a Band-Aid, you are a fortunate parent. Of the essentials to pack on a Florida road trip, this is the one most forgotten for families. 
  • Beach Bag & Flip Flops – ok, we admit these are not “essential”, but if you want to look like you belong in Florida, then buy a pair of flip-flops and some colorful beach bag to carry all this stuff in! Holds a big beach towel too. However, forget the fanny-pack!

Non-essential Packing Items for a Florida Road Trip or Vacation in Florida

The items below may not be necessary in some locations. Many of these non-essentials on a Florida vacation will make your vacation in Florida more comfortable, particularly if you travel certain parts of the state as we note below.

  • Waterproof Phone Covering – many phones are sensitive to small amounts of water. Even a plastic bag from your pantry will protect your phone from that thunderstorm that pops up in the afternoon. May be necessary on that kayak trip through the mangroves.
  • Jacket (preferably water resistant) – yes, Florida is warm. However, after a little rain shower, temperatures can drop to jacket weather, plus anything water-resistant will keep you somewhat dry. A panhandle Florida road trip to Apalachicola in January may require a jacket.
2023 Florida Travel Guide Shrimp Boats - vacation in Florida - travel guide for florida
If you are up in Apalachicola along the shrimp boat docks in January, you will need a jacket.
  • Binoculars – Florida is full of wildlife. There have been countless times while on a Florida road trip, we have wished we had binoculars to see that deer in the distance, that eagle in the tree or the occasional whale that flirts with the shoreline.
  • Pocket Poncho – for a couple bucks at a discount store, you can buy a pocket-size poncho all folded up about the size of a deck of cards. That thunderstorm that popped up may keep you stranded or very wet. The only thing is, we almost 100% guarantee you will never again be able to fold that poncho back in that little packet.
  • Water – almost every popular Florida beach has someplace to buy refreshments – but not all. If you visit a remote island like Cayo Costa or get on a five-mile trail in Myakka River State Park, you will want (and need) water.
  • SunPass – this is an automatic way to pay tolls on your Florida road trip or vacation. You can buy one to stick on your windshield or get a movable module for any car. Using the SunPass means you can drive straight through checkpoints without worrying about change or money to pay. You can find out more here. SunPass is also good on toll roads and bridges in other states also. We mentioned this as a budget-friendly tip earlier, but it is a time saver too!
Florida Travel Guide Alligator on Tamiami Trail
Traveling the Everglades is always an adventure. You can see these guys along the Tamiami Trail.
  • Everglades Special Considerations – the Florida Everglades are harsh. Big temperature swings, animals that don’t know you don’t want to be eaten, brutal heat and humidity and bugs you have never seen or heard of. Out Travel Guide for Florida recommends the following;
    • Plenty of bug repellent – make sure it is strong.
    • If you are camping, be aware of snakes. Fuel oil repels them around a campground.
    • Log sleeves will help keep the sun off and keep the “swamp angels” at bay.
    • If you are hiking, make sure you have a map. You will not be able to rely on cell service in many areas of the Everglades.
    • Finally, carry a lighter and keep it dry. A cheap Bic lighter could save your life. It can provide warmth, food, pure water and create a signal should you get lost.

Here is a short 17-second video of a lady walking on a boardwalk near Big Cypress. She has a humourous encounter with a Florida panther. Things can happen in the Everglades. They don’t all turn out like this one.

Ten Less Safe Places in Florida

In general, Florida is comparatively very safe. This is sometimes a subjective evaluation. We pay particularly high attention to violent crime rates per thousand, size of the area, and reported major issues. 

  1. Tallahassee
  2. Lake City (north of Gainesville)
  3. Orlando
  4. Panama City (Florida panhandle)
  5. Lake Worth (south of West Palm Beach)
  6. Opa-locka (near Miami)
  7. Riviera Beach (north of West Palm Beach)
  8. Homestead (near Miami)
  9. Marianna (north Florida panhandle)
  10. Florida City (near Miami)
 
While the cities above are ones with high violent crime rates per 1000 people, there are neighborhoods in some towns that have a high incidence of crime. They include neighborhoods in;
  • Miami Beach
  • Jacksonville
  • West Palm Beach
 
Remember, you can use good judgment and be safer in Florida than in many states around the country. Comparatively, Florida is safer than most. According to Consumer Affairs Magazine, Florida is number 15 on the list of safest states.
 

The Top Ten Florida State Parks

There are over 175 Florida State Parks. While Florida is known for its large number of parks, some are wildly popular tourist sites, which is unusual for most state public parks. Because they are so popular, they may be in our top ten. The ones below are based on our experiences.

Here are our top Ten Florida State Parks –

Anastasia State Park – Near St. Augustine, Florida in northeast Florida.

Bahia Honda State Park – just north of Key West. Great place to teach kids how to snorkel. Also good RV sites.

Caladesi Island State Park– Near Clearwater Beach, another fun island state park with boat trip to the island.

Cayo Costa State Park Florida Travel Guide
Want to get lost for a couple of days? Cayo Costa State Park in Florida is the perfect place to forget phones, people, and modern conveniences.

Cayo Costa State Park – The island of Cayo Costa off Pine Island in southwest Florida. This is an island with only boat access.

Grayton Beach State Park – Near Seaside, Florida in the panhandle. Great beachside park in a remote community.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park – Off rt. 27 north of Gainesville, Florida. One of many state parks with a spring. Known for a great place to tube down the river.

John Pennekamp State Park – Key Largo, Florida. 70-plus acres are underwater for exploration.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park – near Hobe Sound, Florida on the east coast. One of the largest state parks. 

Myakka River Sate Park sign
Highly recommend this park. A river, a lake, and over 37,000 acres. Plenty of wildlife and flora for the photographers in the family.

Myakka River State Park – near Sarasota, Florida. One of the largest with 58 square miles of parkland.

Silver Springs State Park -near Ocala in north-central Florida. One of the largest springs in Florida with glass bottom boats.

Honorable Mention is another one of our favorites near Apalachicola, Florida in the panhandle. It is St. George Island State Park.


The 10 Most Visited Places in Florida

We are listing the most visited places in Florida. Some could be considered attractions. Others could be islands or small towns. 63% of hotel bookings are at coastal locations and many are listed in this top 10 list of the most visited popular places in Florida.

Follow along with our top 10 Most Visited Places in Florida –

Number 1Disney World – Orlando, Florida – The Disney operations are, by far, the most visited attraction in Florida. The theme park gets over 58 million visitors annually. Please note, we are considering all Orlando theme parks to be one destination.

Iguana in Key West
See one of these guys at 8 AM as you walk out of your second-floor hotel room in Key West will quickly open your eyes. All over southwest Florida, Iguanas are relatively harmless.

Number 2Key West, Florida – this island has become an international destination. Residents, tourists and cruise ship passengers flock here daily.

Number 3Miami Beach – We include South beach as part of this huge metropolitan area. Wildly popular, but not one of our favorites.

Palace Saloon Amelia Island
One of the attractions on Amelia Island is the Palace Saloon. It is the oldest operating bar in the state of Florida.

Number 4Amelia Island – This 18-mile-long island at the northeast border of Florida border with Georgia gets a lot of year-round visitors going to places like Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch, and the resorts along the Atlantic side of the island.

Number 5The Everglades – If you counted all the traffic that crossed the 1.5 million acres of the Everglades, it could be the number one attraction in Florida. This is the most unique ecosystem in the world.

Number 6The Kennedy Space Center – Cape Canaveral, Florida on the mid-Atlantic coast. The public is fascinated with space travel and the Kennedy Center answers all their questions. Over 1,5 million people visit each year.

Florida Aquarium Florida Travel Guide
When visiting the Tampa area, The Florida Aquarium is a must-see attraction in downtown Tampa.

Number 7Tampa Bay Area – The area on the west coast includes Clearwater Beach, Busch Gardens and St. Petersburg.

Sunset in Key Largo
Sunsets in the Keys are always spectacular. This was taken at the Opal Resort in Key Largo.

Number 8The Florida Keys – A 100-mile stretch of beautiful islands connected by 42 bridges on Florida’s southernmost coast. The islands of Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, and Big Pine Key are some of the most famous. These islands and the 7 Mile Bridge will create lasting memories.

Number 9St. Augustine, Florida – Known as the most historic city in the country, St. Augustine is a history lesson and fun destination rolled into one.

Florida Travel Guide - Marco Marriott
This is a stunning view from the lobby of the Marriott Resort on Marco Island. Their courtyard leads to the Gulf of Mexico.

Number 10Naples/ Marco Island Area – These are gateways into the Everglades and know for their upscale shopping and accommodations. You may need to keep one hand on your wallet, but the area is magnificent.

Notes About Our Top Ten Most Visited in Florida – Most people visit more than one attraction or destination. We consider the areas as one for Florida visitors. Here are some others that have made the list previously –

Sanibel/Captiva/Ft. Myers Area – Last fall Hurricane Ian devastated much of this area. Rebuilding will bring them back to our top ten in the future.

Sarasota/Bradenton – This west coast duo gets tons of tourists visiting beaches like Siesta Key, Lido Key Beach and Anna Maria Island. Great travel destination with massive beaches.

Destin to Panama City Beach – This stretch of the panhandle of Florida is very popular with Florida residents and tourists alike. Beautiful Gulf coastal communities like Apalachicola, Pensacola, Mexico Beach and many more dot Rt. 98 hugging the coastline.

Keep this travel guide for Florida with you on your phone or print it out for your glove box. We encourage comments, suggestions and additions to our Florida Travel Guide. Give us a shout!

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