The Sunshine State is almost synonymous with Disney World and sandy beaches, but there are actually a lot more sights to see in Florida. From safaris to NASA, to charming little streets and seafood shacks, the activities are nearly endless if you know where to look. Here are 50 things to do in Florida.
Art Basel is an international art fair with three shows annually, including one in Miami Beach (the top honeymoon destination in America). The fair showcases art from more than 4,000 emerging contemporary artists, attracting a large international audience. Over 200 galleries display artwork including paintings, sculptures, photography, film and digital art. Art Basel also hosts a series of conversations about the global art scene.
Bok Tower Gardens has a lush, 250-acre garden and a 205-foot-tall tower with carillon bells. The gorgeous gardens were a product of Edward W. Bok, former longtime editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies’ Home Journal, and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok’s desire to create a bird sanctuary while they were spending a winter in Florida. They chose an unusually elevated area of the flat state, a hill that rises 298 feet above sea level. Florida’s subtropical conditions made it an ideal place to plant bushes and trees, which made it a perfect spot for 126 species of birds.
Owned and operated by SeaWorld, Busch Gardens in Tampa features thrilling roller coasters, safaris, and is home to more than 12,000 animals from 300 different species, outdoing even some zoos. For thrill-seekers, the famous Sheikra roller coaster drops riders face-down at an alarming 90-degree angle and shocking speed. Busch Gardens was ranked among the top 10 best amusement parks in the country by USA Today readers.
Butterfly World is self-described as “the result of one man’s hobby gone wild,” and is located inside Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek. The facility houses about 5,000 live butterflies, all of which fly free inside a massive greenhouse. It is also known for being the biggest butterfly park in the world and often runs campaigns to save various plant species that butterflies need to survive. If you embark on the park’s self-guided tour, you can find your way to places like Macaw Landing, the tropical rain forest or an English rose garden.
The Ca’ d'Zan Mansion was the former winter home of one of America’s wealthiest — and most eccentric — couples, John Ringling, of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and his wife Mable. They started building the mansion in 1924 for a price tag of $1.5 million. After they died, the estate was given to the state of Florida, but climbing costs of maintenance left the mansion in dingy conditions — Ca’ d’Zan was even used as the location for an abandoned mansion in the 1996 Hollywood remake of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” The house was officially revived by the state in 2002 and opened to the public. A tour of the residence gives visitors a glimpse into the private lives of the Ringlings, with spectacular views and extravagant rooms that once hosted gatherings for the elite. In fact, Florida is home to several of the largest mansions in America.
The Castillo de San Marcos, located on the shore of Florida’s historic city, St. Augustine, is the oldest masonry fort in the United States. The monument was constructed by the Spaniards during colonial conflicts with the English, and it withstood two sieges before Spain ultimately ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. The stones that make up the structure are composed of tiny fossilized shells, and the soft rock actually made the fort more resistant to attack by absorbing the impact of cannonballs.
Alyssa T./ Yelp
Club Med is an all-inclusive resort in Sandpiper Bay, about two hours north of Miami. It’s a great spot for a family getaway where you can relax at the spa, dig into their famous white chocolate bread and take a scenic yoga class. They also offer kayaking, boating and organized sporting activities. It’s perfect for families seeking adventure and indulgence all in one. If you’re looking for a June trip, a five-night all-inclusive stay will cost about $700-800 per adult.
Held annually in February, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival is a three-day outdoor event, where more than 360 internationally recognized artists spanning different mediums showcase their work right along the Biscayne Bay. The festival is a celebration of fine arts, live performance and the local food scene with celebrity chef-led cooking demonstrations and tastings. Visitors can stroll through the quaint seaside streets while discovering visual art, performances and tasteful cuisine.
The Daytona 500 is a 500-mile-long race held annually by NASCAR at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach. While the race only takes place once a year in February — and race tickets can be expensive — the track is available for viewing, visiting and tailgating all year round. Visitors can participate in a tour of the speedway, attend a smaller-scale event or race, or get tickets to a country music festival held in the stadium.
Located in Orlando and operated by SeaWorld, Discovery Cove is an ideal spot for anyone who’s ever dreamed of swimming with the dolphins. Guests at Discovery Cove can talk, touch, play and swim with bottlenose dolphins. The park also features an underwater walking tour where guests wearing a dive helmet can get an up-close-and-personal look at wild marine life — and even touch unique sea creatures swimming their way.
If you’re looking to step back in time for a few moments, consider stopping by a drive-in movie theater. Many drive-ins in Florida are still going strong across the state for good reason — they're a bargain and family friendly. Most drive-in theaters feature films both old and new for under $10 a person and even less for children.
Dry Tortugas National Park is a cluster of islands 70 miles west of Key West. Spanning 100 square miles, the park is accessible only by boat or seaplane. The park boasts impressive coral reefs and marine life, and a picturesque assortment of bird species that visit the area frequently. Also part of the park is Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the country. The park is a great spot for campers. Visitors can also snorkel, dive and explore the surrounding waters.
Though Key West screams beaches, Duval Street is one of the most popular attractions of the small, tourist-filled city. The bustling and lively street has things going on day and night with a wide array of restaurants, shops, seafood shacks and pubs. The quaint city also features live music performances right on the street and is home to the best food festival in all of Florida.
Fishermen and seafood chefs flock to Florida and serve up impressive dishes. Some of the best towns for beachside restaurants with killer seafood and amazing views include Delray Beach, St. Petersburg, Miami, Key West, and Destin. For a classic seaside dive, check out J.B. Fish Camp & Seafood near New Smyrna Beach and try the rock shrimp and anything fried. To really do it right, Joe's Stone Crab is the one restaurant everyone should try in Florida.
Latvian-American Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly built the Coral Castle in honor of his long lost love. The construction of his castle has even been compared to Stonehenge and the great pyramids. Leedskalnin spent more than 28 years building the monument and managed not to be seen while constructing it. The structure consists of 1,100 tons of stones that appear to be coral, but are actually a type of limestone. The pieces form walls, carvings, furniture and a castle tower. Visitors can tour the Coral Castle museum on their own or with a guide. Artifacts include a 9-ton gate that can move with just a touch of the finger, a Polaris telescope and rocking chairs made entirely of stone.
If you’re a fan of literary history, don’t miss a trip to the Ernest Hemingway House. The American novelist lived and wrote for over 10 years in his unique house in the heart of Old Town Key West that he purchased in 1931 for $8,000. The house is now a museum that honors his life and contributions to society and literature. According to the museum keepers, Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain, and some of the cats who live on the grounds are descendants of that original cat, named Snow White. As a bonus, the tour guides share quirky narratives about Hemingway’s personal life along the way.
The Everglades Alligator Farm is located near the entrance to Everglades National Park — a swampland just outside Miami — and contains more than 2,000 alligators. The farm offers a tame, controlled method of viewing the intimidating creatures. Visitors can take an airboat tour of the surrounding area or be a spectator to the thrilling alligator shows, snake shows and alligator feedings.
For more daring travelers, Everglades tours are also available. Visitors can kayak, take an airboat or even wade neck-deep through the depths of Florida’s swamp. The Everglades’ brownish, murky greenery is teeming with poisonous wildlife, including venomous snakes.
On the eastern and western coasts of the state, you can fish for anything from mahi-mahi to lobster. There’s saltwater fishing, which is a general term for baiting marine fish that live in ocean water — popular among deep-sea fishermen. There’s also fishing tours for beginners who are just getting their feet wet. Once you’ve reeled in your catch, you can take it to a restaurant that will cook it for you.
If you’re in the mood for discovery, the Florida Museum of Natural History is the perfect place to explore fossils, “Waterways & Wildlife” and a butterfly rainforest are among many exhibits on display at any time of the year. The museum is located partially on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville and partially at the Randell Research Center in southwest Florida.
Because Florida’s cuisine ranges from Caribbean to Southern, it’s an ideal place for food festivals and food-related events. If you’re spending spring break in Florida, Delray Beach’s annual free-admission wine and seafood festival is all about fish tacos, shrimp gumbo, Cajun crab cakes and other local delicacies. If you’re a fan of garlic, head to Lake Worth — close to West Palm Beach — in February for the ultimate Garlic Fest, which boasts more than 100 garlic-infused dishes, a cooking competition and liquor bars. If you’re there in August, hit the Lobsterfest in Downtown Key West.
Though Walt Disney World is just a short drive away, Gaylord Palms might appeal to you just as much with its castle-like flair. The upscale resort in Kissimmee is filled with cavernous rooms overlooking the Everglades and luxurious amenities like a full-service spa to keep you entertained during your Florida trip. During Christmastime, the resort is dressed up in twinkling lights, festive decorations and hosts extravagant events and shows. There’s also a guest-exclusive water park with a surfing simulator.
The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton sits on 20 acres of protected land filled with barrier reefs, forestry and waterways. There is a butterfly observatory, scenic boardwalk and dozens of other wildlife-focused activities to take part in. To support wildlife, you can adopt a resident sea turtle at Gumbo Limbo by funding the care, feeding and growth of a turtle or a hatchling you pick, and you’ll get an adoption certificate to take home.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center visitor complex near Orlando takes guests to infinity and beyond — without ever actually leaving earth. It’s a hub for rocket launches and space exploration and you’ll find exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft memorabilia, two IMAX theaters, and a range of bus tours of the spaceport. The tours are arranged chronologically from the beginning of space exploration to current and ongoing missions, so visitors get a full-circle look at NASA’s story and what it means for future endeavors into the unknown.
Legoland features rides, tours, a water park and more kid-friendly attractions fun enough to entertain the whole family. Visit the botanical gardens, meet life-size Lego people and build larger-than-life Lego creations.
Florida is home to 29 stunning lighthouses up and down its expansive coast. You can view rockets launching from the Kennedy Space Center at the iconic lighthouse of Cape Canaveral or travel south to the pristine Cape Florida Lighthouse just below Miami.
Florida’s only drive-through safari in Palm Beach County is an adventure with over 1,000 animals to see. You can tour the grasslands in your own vehicle, opening your windows to touch the noses of passing giraffes and zebras. Visitors can pet a rhino, drive by a cheetah and simply marvel at fierce lions in this famous park. The park was ranked a top 10 wildlife park by USA Today readers in 2018.
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 200 displaced or injured animals. And visiting the sanctuary is so much more than just a stroll through nature — you can get an up-close glimpse of all kinds of rare wildlife in one of the on-site tours. The Sanctuary looks after tigers, lions, pythons, eagles and dozens of other animals in need of care and rehabilitation. It also rescues wild animals from all types of situations, including privately owned captive tigers that are in danger, and brings them to the sanctuary with the help of local wildlife officials.
Children of all ages have something to gain from a visit to the Miami Children’s Museum. The nonprofit museum features intriguing exhibits like the two-story sand Castle of Dreams and an interactive virtual aquarium.
The Miami Seaquarium is a 38-acre aquarium located on the island of Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay that houses fish, sharks, sea turtles, birds, reptiles and even manatees. Visitors can swim with the dolphins and pet and feed the penguins or even come face-to-fin with stingrays and nurse sharks.
Mount Dora is a city in central Florida known for its adorable handmade shops and exciting annual festivals. The town is quaint, the people are friendly, and the streets are dappled with vendors selling art, spices, wine and unique knick-knacks.
In 2017, the Naples Botanical Garden was given a Garden of Excellence award by members of the American Public Gardens Association. The site encompasses 170 acres of cultivated gardens and preservation land. The total campus represents seven distinct natural habitats and ecosystems, and features over 1,000 species of plants. During December, the garden’s ecosystems are decorated with lights and festive ornaments.
The military and aerospace museum chronicles the history of military aviation, including that of the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps and the United States Coast Guard. More than 150 aircraft and spacecraft are on display, including impressive helicopters and biplanes.
At Orlando International Premium Outlets — the state’s largest outlet mall — you can shop from over 180 brands.
Florida is home to a number of zoos, but Palm Beach Zoo in South Florida has an impressively large exhibit of tigers and other big cats, along with koalas, sloths, Komodo dragons, Capuchin monkeys and more. Functioning as a nonprofit, the zoo also hosts many community events such as 5K races and fundraisers, as well as lecture series with wildlife experts to reinforce efforts for conservation and care of natural ecosystems.
At SeaWorld, you can learn about animal rescue efforts, see killer whales in action and ride thrilling roller coasters — all at the same park. You can also stroll through immersive aquariums to observe some of the most beautiful wildlife through a window to the ocean.
If you go during February or March, you can watch MLB athletes get warmed up before the start of the regular season and catch a ballgame on a budget. The teams visit the stadiums in various Florida cities to play exhibition games, all of which offer tickets at low costs. Some of the cities include Sarasota, Clearwater, Tampa — where the New York Yankees play, Jupiter, Fort Myers — temporary home of the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals, West Palm Beach and more.
Restored in 1907, the St. Augustine Distillery offers a historic tour through locally founded and community-owned craft distilling. Tours of the distillery are free and you can watch workers distill small-batch vodka, rum, gin and whiskey in an old ice manufacturing plant with access to locally grown sugar cane, wheat, corn and citrus.
St. Augustine, one of the 50 most underrated small towns in America, is known as the Nation’s Oldest City and is filled with old-timey avenues and unique restaurants. Embark on a Tasting Tour of the old town or walk around the city to explore the arts and culture of the district.
Stetson Mansion, located in DeLand, Florida is self-described as “the largest, grandest, and most historic home ever built in Florida before the twentieth century.” Thomas Edison himself installed the first iteration of its electricity for famous hat mogul John B. Stetson when he built the home in 1886. Tour guides now exhibit the mansion’s embellished halls and no room is off-limits.
TampaBay Food & Craft Beer Tours/Yelp
The three-hour Tampa Bay Food & Craft Beer tour showcases the best food and drink in the area. In a group of six to 12 visitors, you can stroll around the Bay area while eating at the best restaurants and touring the best breweries. Whether you’re into food, craft beer or fine spirits, there’s a tour for you.
The Dali Museum is an elaborate homage to the Spanish surrealist from Catalonia, Salvador Dali. The museum catalogs collections of his paintings, sketches, sculptures and photographs. The geometrical building was designed to celebrate both the rational and the fantastical — from the outside, it’s a simple rectangle from which a free-form geodesic glass bubble explodes. This structure, known as “The Enigma,” is 75 feet tall and is a tribute to the dome top on Dali’s museum in Spain.
Operated by the same company as the famous London Eye, the Orlando Eye towers over all of Orlando’s theme parks with a 360-degree view. The observation wheel is 400 feet high and visitors can hop on any day of the week. In 2016, Coca-Cola rebranded the Ferris wheel as the “Coca-Cola Orlando Eye.”
In 1925, circus master John Ringling wanted to build an art museum to honor his legacy and also as a memorial to his wife Mable. The museum’s repertoire consists of over 10,000 objects on display, with almost two dozen galleries of 16th-to-20th-century European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American and contemporary art.
The Turtle Hospital is a small nonprofit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles. Visitors can attend educational sessions that teach attendees about the lives, struggles and rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles. At the end of the session, visitors are invited to hand-feed the sea turtles and view them up close.
Dubbed Harry Potter World, this Universal Studios attraction is a dream for fans of the wizarding world. And even if you haven’t read any of the books (or watched the movies), the enchanted mock-up of the fictional universe, including the Hogwarts Express, is bound to leave you impressed. Hop on roller coasters like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure or make your way through Hogwarts on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. And to top it all off, gulp down a jug of butterbeer in Diagon Alley. Universal Studios is really the only rival to the Disney theme parks and there’s a little something for everyone — whether it’s Harry Potter you’re a fan of or Jurassic Park.
Florida happens to have some of the biggest, most elaborate water parks in the entire country — so the beach isn’t the only place to hang out by the water. The largest one in South Florida is Rapids, located in West Palm Beach with 30 acres of water rides including 42 slides, a wave pool, seven-story speed slides, and a quarter-mile lazy river. Another popular park is Big Kahuna's Water & Adventure Park in Destin, home to 40 different water attractions including a new ride called Kowabunga Racer. Up to four people can plunge 300 feet and race to the finish line down a slide that’s as long as a football field.
Experience Fort Lauderdale from the water on one of these water taxi tours. From the comfort of a bright yellow boat, passengers can view the coastline of one of Florida’s biggest cities while enjoying drinks and shopping at the various stops along the way.
The murals of the Wynwood Walls in Miami, which showcase street art from over 50 well-known graffiti artists, are an epic display of creativity. They began in 2009, when Tony Goldman was looking to transform the warehouse district of Wynwood. His idea was to trurn Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings — with no windows — into “the greatest street art ever seen in one place.”
But at the end of the day, it is Florida, and you're going to want to eventually hit the beach. Avoid the crowds at one of Florida's most underrated beach towns.
More From The Daily Meal: