We don’t like “best”, “top ten” or “most popular” lists. These terms are subjective as to rank or, in many cases, posted according to advertising revenue – not good for visitors trying to find places in Florida to visit.
Florida Travel Blog attempts to give you places we enjoy for different reasons. You may want a sunny beach, a beach chair and a big bottle of sunscreen. The next traveler may want cultural destinations. The next visitor wants family-oriented locations. That’s why we give you the facts – you choose your best places in Florida to visit!
Below is our list with the reasons, attractions, basic surroundings and methods for further review. We also include $ signs from one to five – five being the most expensive. The ratings are based on the cost of hotels, food and neighboring attractions. Budgets vary and so do costs at different places in Florida to visit.
We make one other exception. Disney World is not included in our attraction list. Over 58 million people visit Disney World annually. Orlando attractions are neither a secret or unknown by even the least educated traveler. In addition, there are well over 2000 websites and blogs that cover Disney. We will leave the most visited site in Florida to others.
Our list takes us from the far reaches of the panhandle to the southernmost point in the country. Enjoy the tour in alphabetical order! Plus you get a bonus of 11 of our favorite Florida State Parks! The budget minded traveler will like Florida parks and the other visitors can savor the beauty in day trips to these wonders of Mother Nature.
Amelia Island, Florida -The Most Fought Over Island in the Country
- once ruled by a pirate
- occupied by seven nations at different times
- defended to protect a whole river basin
- built by various cultures.
Amelia Island is unique. The Spanish influences are most prevalent, but French, British and American settlers left their mark on the architecture.
We like visiting Amelia Island because –
- there are miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches and breezes.
- attractions like Fort Clinch, Maritime Museum and Amelia Island State Park where you can walk or drive on the beach.
- Fernandina Beach is the largest town on the island and offers quaint antique shops, restaurants and the oldest bar in Florida.
There are numerous resorts on the east side of the island. A couple have a golf course and all have beach access. In Fernandina Beach, a reasonably priced Hampton Inn is close to the historic downtown area and within walking distance to the shops. Resorts like the Omni and the Ritz-Carlton are beautiful and expensive, but many of their amenities may be worth the expense. Several bed and breakfast locations dot the island.
Spending a few days on Amelia Island can be one of the places in Florida you choose to visit. $$$ Food Resorts $$$$
Destin, Florida – Jewel of the Panhandle
Jupiter, Florida – Home of the Stars
On Florida’s east coast, north of Miami and south of the space coast is a growing city along the Atlantic Ocean. That city, Jupiter, is the town of superstars. We can’t find any other location in Florida that has more famous names that were born in Jupiter of have resided there.
People like Burt Reynolds, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Michael Jordan and Alan Jackson. Dozens more actors, sports figures and musicians have called Jupiter home. In fact, one sport for tourists is star watching. Tourists go to beaches, restaurants and places where the stars are known to frequent. That is not why we like Jupiter.
We like Jupiter because –
- the city is clean and fresh.
- the location has both Intracoastal activities and oceanfront beaches.
- the homes and condos along A1A are magnificent and worth a drive.
- within a few miles are many attractions from the Everglades to famed locations around the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.
- for east coast beaches, they have some of the best.
Jupiter has a famed lighthouse that has been protecting mariners since 1856. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum provides visitors with the challenges of keeping a lighthouse operating for over a century and a half. This attraction and the Riverwalk along the Intracoastal are two of our favorite things to do in Jupiter.
Jupiter is fortunate with a vibrant restaurant scene. Several eateries are owned by the stars living in the area. One of our favorites is right on the inlet. The Square Grouper has stunning views, great food and a quirky atmosphere welcoming to everyone.
There are lots of hotels in Jupiter. Our preference would be something on the water. Along the Intracoastal are several hotels that have views of the yachts cruising up and down the waterway. We could suggest the Wyndham Grand Jupiter or the less expensive Jupiter Waterfront Inn. Both also offer a place to dock your boat and views of the Intracoastal. All the major brands have hotels throughout the Jupiter area for less than $200 per night.
If you are looking for something different in places to stay in Florida, Jupiter may be the place for you. Hotels $$ Food $$
Key West – The International Destination
We have watched cruise ships unload thousands of passengers on the docks of Key West. Those ships were from all over the world. The passengers would go home and extoll the adventures they had on this island. Over the last two decades, Key West has grown an international reputation as compelling as the British Virgin Islands and American Caribbean holdings.
We must be honest and let our readers know that Key West is our favorite road trip in Florida! We have written extensively about this island and all of the Florida Keys.This may not be the destination you want for a very young family, but it certainly can provide plenty of entertainment for adults of all ages.
First-time Key West visitors will most certainly choose from places like Hemingway’s Home, Sloppy Joe’s, Irish Kevin’s, Mallory Square and Mel Fisher’s Atocha Treasure. All of these are classic Key West. No self respecting tourist can refuse to go to this list or they become an outcast by their friends after returning home.
However, the “real” Key West is much more complex than the most popular bars, attractions and restaurants. For instance, why would one man risk his entire vast fortune to bring a railroad to Key West? Find out how a band of Union soldiers held Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West despite Florida’s secession and confederate alignment. Did you know that Key West was once the richest city per capita in the country? At one time Key West’s largest industry was known around the world as the largest city in Florida. Did you know that just a few miles offshore is a prison that was built in the 1850s that was called an “historic engineering marvel”?
As you can see, Key West is far more than the “biggest party in the world” as one writer stated. The influences of the Calusa Indians, the Spanish and Caribbean immigrants are still evident today in the architecture, food and culture of Key West.
To see more of the real Key West try visiting Fort Jefferson, the Key West Cemetery, Museum of Art & History, Fort Zachary Taylor and much more detailed in our post on Key West and the Florida Keys.
Key West is more than one of the best places in Florida to visit. This city must be on your bucket list of places in the United States to visit! Food $$$ Hotels $$$$ Attractions $$$
Naples – Marco Island – The Everglades
The three locations suggested in this post are inextricably linked because of their proximity and relationships. Each has its own characteristics, but are related to the extent you normally wouldn’t visit one without the other. You can stay in Naples or Marco Island, but a long weekend or extended vacation would be enhanced by visiting the other two.
Naples – The city is located in Collier County, Florida ranked as one of the wealthiest counties in Florida. Located on the Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41), Naples is known for its beaches, elegant shopping, exquisite restaurants, and waterfront resorts. It is also known as the winter haven for some of the richest families in the country.
Naples’ Gulf shoreline is dotted with swank resorts and aging, but expensive condos. A trip through Port Royal, an exclusive neighborhood of Naples, will give you a glimpse of wealth and elegance. The 400-plus homes in Port Royal radiate the economic position of the county.
We like to stay at a hotel on the river called the Bayfront Inn. They are located within walking distance of Tin City and one of our favorite waterfront restaurants call Riverwalk. The Bayfront is also one of the places a family can stay at relatively reasonable rates.
One must see the upscale (or must spend in!) shops on 5th Avenue. Within walking distance of the Bayfront you will find some of the most exclusive shopping in Florida. Both sides of the street are lined with posh shops and fine dining restaurants. So if a $660 pair of shoes or a $25,000 necklace interests you, the shops on 5th will put a dent in your budget. Window shopping is free.
Marco Island – Just a few miles south of Naples is Marco Island. The island was once home to Calusa Indians. Today the condominiums, resorts and upscale homes line the waterfront where the Calusa lived and foraged for fish and oysters.
The wide beach in front of the major hotels offers enticing sunbathing, beach games and strolling the Gulf shoreline. The Marriott Marco Island Resort is our favorite with Kane’s Tiki Bar on the beach. This resort has several restaurants, shops, a spa and everything you need for an extended stay. They are proud of their facility and Marriott gets about $1500 a night during season. Off-season is half that. A little research and you can find some lower-priced options.
Marco Island has many year-round residents who enjoy the shops, restaurants and watersports. Fishing around Marco Island, both offshore and inshore, is excellent. One of the resident’s favorites for eating and entertainment is the Snook Inn. When Happy Hour and good entertainment start at 2 in the afternoon, it explains their local popularity.
Marco can be a fun diversion to the rest of the world. This exclusive island is devoid of the Walmarts, Costcos and supersized malls. But Marco still has some great small shops and restaurants that serve everything from fresh local fish to prime steaks.
The Everglades – It would be unthinkable for a traveler to spend a few days in this part of Florida and not visit some part of the everglades. This river of grass and swamps offer some of the most unique features mother nature has to offer.
From, either Marco Island or Naples take a day trip along Rt. 41. You will find numerous airboat tours offered. These tours are great fun for the entire family and you get an education about the everglades and the creatures that live there.
You can also visit Everglades City and Chokoloskee. History has forgotten what these little fishing villages have meant to Florida’s development. What hasn’t been forgotten are the traditions and struggles of living off the grid. Not much has changed in the last 150 years. Lots of history and charm, but don’t expect a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen along the way. These towns may be an eye-opener for today’s children and a few adults too!
Marco Hotels $$ Naples Hotels $$ Food $$ Attractions $$
Sarasota, Florida – Beaches, Culture, Shopping and more Beaches….
Hotels $$$ Food $$$ Attractions $$
St. Augustine, Florida – Most Historical City in America
We grew up reading about Christopher Columbus, Plymouth Rock and the fleet Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Nice story and some of it is certainly true. Today, there is an argument, and limited evidence, that some Irish monks, Vikings or Chinese explorers beat Columbus by hundreds of years.
Notwithstanding the history related by contrarians, we do know the Spanish settled much of America before the pilgrims could get a solid foothold. By 1513 the Spanish had explored what is today Florida, Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. By 1565 Spain had a formidable presence in what is known today as St. Augustine, Florida. That is 45 years before the story we learned about the Mayflower and Pilgrims that arrived in 1620.
St. Augustine was, at various times, occupied by the Spanish, the French, the British, the Spanish again, and finally, we Americans took over. By the way, there is little known about the Timucuan Indians who occupied the area well before anyone crossed an Ocean in search of a new world.
In 1672 the Spanish built a fort called Castillo de San Marcos, which still stands today guarding the harbor at St. Augustine. The fort is a major attraction to visitors.
History was kind to St. Augustine by salvaging many different cultures’ structures, customs and homes. Even street names are the same as they were a couple hundred years ago. Narrow streets make driving difficult in old parts of the city, but horse-drawn carriages easily traverse the city showing visitors historic landmarks.
Places to visit include the Lightner Museum, Oldest Store Museum, and our favorite, the Oldest House Museum which shows how people lived in the 18th century. These and a plethora of other historical locations will keep you engulfed in the history of our country.
One of the main retail streets is St. George Street. This narrow walkway, formerly a street, was turned into a shopping and dining district. Unique retailers and funky restaurants line both sides of the street. One of our favorite restaurants is the Prohibition Kitchen. The crafty homemade food offerings make the menu unique. Don’t forget one of their luscious milkshakes (with or without bourbon!).
For a more formal dining experience, the Old City House Inn and Restaurant is an old stable that has been converted into a fine dining Inn. A newcomer to the restaurant scene is Sainte George Restaurant. We had an excellent experience at this Euro-American restaurant.
Hotels in St. Augustine are comparatively inexpensive along hotel row on Avenida Menendez Street. Hilton, Best Western and other chains have hotels in St. Augustine. Plenty of Bed & Breakfast operations are found in Old Town. Our favorite hotel is the Casa Monica, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. This downtown hotel is a throwback to the days when all hotels were in the downtown retail area. The Casa Monica is within walking distance of most historical sites.
We like St. Augustine. The restaurants are good, the history is everywhere and the prices are some of the most reasonable in all the places in Florida to visit we list.
Hotels $$ Restaurants $$ Attractions $$
Tampa, Florida – Sports, Culture, and Location
What if you could find the perfect Florida vacation destination that
- was an hour from Disney World?
- was 45 minutes from the number one beach in Florida?
- was 20 minutes from a highly rated water park called Busch Gardens?
- has one of the best marine aquariums in the state?
- had three professional sports teams within 45 minutes?
- had headline entertainment venues?
- was one hour from Universal Studios and Hogwartz School of Magic?
- had a riverside walking path that was 2.6 miles long with water taxis, boat rentals, tour boats, bars, fine restaurants and shopping along the way?
- is a major cruise ship port located near The Florida Aquarium?
Sounds like a heck of a lot of choices for one destination, but Tampa, Florida is the only place in Florida where we could suggest all of these activities and attractions nearby within minutes.
Add a culturally rich environment with opera, art galleries and theatre performances and Tampa may be your next vacation destination.
For the younger members of your family, Disney World and Universal Studios are an hour away in Orlando. Kids and adults may enjoy a football game with The Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing. Or hockey with two-time Stanley Cup winners and 2022’s runner-up Tampa Lightning. Just 30 minutes across the bay is the young exciting Tampa Bay Rays. In the spring, the New York Yankees have their training facility in Tampa and the Toronto Blue Jays have their spring training 45 minutes across the bay in Dunedin, Florida.
Downtown Tampa features Riverwalk. Along the Riverwalk is The Florida Aquarium, one of our favorite attractions, and the Tampa Bay History Center. You can stay at a hotel a mile or two up the Hillsborough River and take a water taxi to the Aquarium, History Center or the dining & entertainment complex the Sparkman Wharf.
Clearwater Beach is 45 minutes away from Tampa. Clearwater Beach has been ranked as number one in Florida and in the top ten in the country. White powdery sand will greet you on a three-mile long popular beach.
Downtown Tampa is safe, active and full of hotels and restaurants. American Social is a popular eatery a couple blocks off Riverwalk. A few minutes away from downtown is one of the most decorated steakhouses in the country, Berns Steak House. A few blocks northeast of downtown Tampa is the neighborhood of Ybor City featuring one of the oldest restaurants in Florida called The Columbia.
Our favorite hotel is the Marriot Water Street. Close by are branded hotels by Embassy Suites, Hilton and a second Marriott. All are a block or two off Riverwalk.
Clearly, not all Florida vacation destinations are created equal. Tampa, Florida is an excellent way to cram in dozens of activities in a short period of time.
Hotels $$$ Food $$ Attractions $$
The Villages – The Playground for the Over 55 Crowd
You won’t find The Villages on most travel blogs or fancy travel brochures. Apparently, all travelers are supposed to fit in a notch that excludes the over 55 generations.
The Villages bill themselves as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown”. We believe it and have experienced it. You have over 130,000 residents who, for the most part, are committed to living the rest of their lives having fun and enjoying the gift of life.
Here are some facts about this community near the middle of the state.
- The Villages are the fastest-growing community in Florida.
- Encompassing parts of three different Florida counties, the Villages occupy over 31 square miles and growing.
- The Villages has 50 plus golf courses.
- The Villages have a very low crime rate and almost no violent crime.
- The Villages are one hour from Orlando (Disney and Universal), 1.5 hours from Tampa, 2.5 hours from Jacksonville, one hour from Crystal River and the Gulf coast, and under two hours to Daytona Beach and the Atlantic coast.
Just as an indicator of what Villagers are interested in, they just opened their 100th recreation center! We don’t want to bore you, but activities in the Villages include everything from crafting to polo at The Villages Polo Club. Each day the Villages Daily Sun publishes the activities scheduled for the day. That list is from 50-75 different scheduled events.
The preferred mode of travel in the Villages is by golf cart. It seems there are more carts than cars. They buzz from village to village in customized carts with everything from air conditioning to computer screens.
So, what is there to do in the Villages? If golf and the other 50 activities don’t interest you, there is shopping in the three main parts of the Villages. In the north, there is Spanish Springs Square. Four miles south is Lake Sumter Square and 6 miles south of that is Brownwood Square. Each square has its own identity.
Spanish Springs’ buildings have Hispanic influences. The square has a dozen restaurants of different types. Our favorite there is Americana. Shopping includes Talbotts, Chico’s, Kilwin’s, an art store and several more. Spanish Springs also has a bowling alley that is fronted by a restaurant, named McCall’s where you can eat and watch bowling. Nightly entertainment starts at 5 PM in the middle of the square.
Down the road, Lake Sumter Landing has a lakefront theme with a walkway along the lake. The square’s shops include ladies’ boutiques, a cooking store, a wine shop, a Hallmark store, and a Hanes store among others. Lake Sumter is our favorite square. We like a hotel on the lake called The Waterfront Inn that has reasonable rates.
Our most frequented restaurant is called Red Sauce where you will find excellent Italian food and pizza. City Fire and the Lighthouse are two other places we enjoy. Lake Sumter square is larger than Spanish Springs and draws a huge crown when nightly entertainment starts at 5 PM. You don’t have to wait until 5 for entertainment. Most days, Cody’s and RJ Gator’s start their entertainers at 2 PM.
Heading south to Brownwood Paddock Square you will pass several of the many recreation centers and golf courses. Upon arrival, you see a western country theme that prevails throughout the square. On the square is a Tommy Bahama Outlet store and an unusual decorative store called the Rustic Rose that women love. A City Fire restaurant is also located here, but Blue Fin on the square is our choice. Brownwood also has nightly bands. Note that a new hotel opened about a mile from the square called Brownwood Hotel & Spa. We haven’t stayed there, but it is nicely done and has a Wolfgang Puck restaurant that is excellent.
Entertainment is prominent is the Villages. The Sharon L. Morse Center in Spanish Springs and Savanah Center near Lake Sumter have hosted people like George Thoroughgood, The Beach Boys, the Philadelphia Harmonica Orchestra, Paul Anka and many theatrical shows.
There are two aspects of the Villages that words can’t describe. One is the beauty that engulfs each roadway, building and green space. The oversized roads are decorated and manicured to entice guests. Rarely do you see litter, trash or fallen branches. Flowers and trees line all of the main roads. It’s attractive!
The second thing that’s difficult to put into words is the atmosphere. Friendly people having a great time isn’t sufficient. People get along. Smiles on faces. No fear on the streets. You won’t be mugged and your car won’t be stolen. The newspaper prints more positive news than human horror stories. Their Villages-owned radio station plays music you remember, not music you regret. You just can’t imagine a place like this can exist in today’s world.
A final attractive feature of the Villages is the location. It’s easy to get to places like Silver Springs, a famous Florida State Park. The Orlando attractions are just an hour away. The horse farms of Ocala are worth a drive on Rt. 301. This is a perfect place to visit in Florida where you can take a different road trip each day and come back for the entertainment and food each evening.
Hotels $$ Food $$ Attractions $
Note: If you want to see live action at the Villages here is a link to cameras at all three squares. Our experience with the cameras is most of them work some of the time and some of them work most of the time!!!!