Believe it or not, there are 50 enjoyable activities within the huge state’s borders that don’t have anything to do with Disney. Florida gets downplayed more than almost any other state in terms of its entertainment options. People know of the worlds of wonder that open within Disney’s walls. As for its beaches, visitors flock to Florida’s coastal towns flushed with hopes of catching a pristine sunrise or smearing layers of tanning oil beneath the summer sun.
PSA to all future visitors to Florida: Tanning oil is a poor choice. Florida’s sun is brutally strong. But still, it’s no coincidence Florida’s industry for tourism booms during the winter. The sun shines throughout the winter season — so long as there’s not a hurricane. In some areas of Florida, there are only a couple of weeks of actual wintertime, marked by a dull dip in temperature that only just grazes 50 degrees.
Undoubtedly, you should visit the beach while you’re in Florida. The shores of this state are unlike any other beaches in the world. And if you get the chance, do go to Disney at least once in your lifetime. The park has some incredible entertainment and truly magical menus at its restaurants.
But those aren’t the only things that make a visit to Florida worthwhile. The state has some wacky citizens, but its scenery cannot be beat. Elaborate gardens, impressive mansions, and a variety of other parks perfect for thrill seekers are within its beach-lined borders. Venture further than the shoreline to find these 50 worthwhile scenes and attractions.
Art Basel is an international art fair with three shows annually. They are located in Basel, Switzerland; Miami Beach, Florida; and Hong Kong. So unless you’re traveling internationally, Florida is your best bet for attending this iconic art event. The fair showcases art from emerging contemporary artists, attracting a large international audience. In 2017, over 200 galleries were on display with artworks by over 4,000 artists, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photography, film, video, and digital art. You can be sure the art will be influential and powerful — nothing like this pineapple someone left behind and people mistook for a display.
A National Historic Landmark, Bok Tower Gardens is a sight worth traveling for. The site looks like it’s straight out of a movie, consisting of a lush, 250-acre garden and a 205-foot tall tower with carillon bells. The gorgeous gardens were started when Edward W. Bok, editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies’ Home Journal, and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, who later founded the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, were spending the winter in Florida and decided to create a bird sanctuary. They chose an unusually elevated area of the flat state, a hill that rises 298 feet above sea level. Now, the tower stretches high above its level surroundings.
There are two locations for Busch Gardens in the United States: one in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the other in Tampa. Owned and operated by SeaWorld, Busch Gardens features thrilling roller coasters, safaris, and other animal exhibits. Busch Gardens is home to more than 12,000 animals from 300 different species, outdoing some zoos. For thrill-seekers, the famous Sheikra roller coaster will not disappoint. The ride drops passengers face-down at an alarming 90-degree angle, plummeting directly towards the earth at shocking speed.
Every South Floridian has fond, magical memories of visiting Butterfly World as a child. The center, self-described as “the result of one man’s hobby gone wild,” is located inside is located in Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek. The facility houses around 5,000 live butterflies, all of which roam free inside their vast greenhouse. Currently, it is known for being the biggest butterfly park in the world and often runs campaigns to save various plant species that butterflies need to survive.
Ca' d'Zan is a Mediterranean Revival residence in Sarasota and the former winter home of American circus owner John Ringling and his wife Mable. The house is enormous and stunning, reminiscent of Venetian architecture. A tour of the residence can give you a glimpse into the private lives of one of the world’s weirdest couples, featuring spectacular views and game rooms that once hosted historic gatherings between Ringling and his well-heeled friends. Beside the residence itself is the Circus Museum and an art gallery housing works from the Ringlings’ collection.
The Castillo de San Marcos, located on the shore of Florida’s most historic city, St. Augustine, is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. The monument was constructed by the Spaniards during colonial conflicts with the English, and it withstood two sieges and changed hands several times 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. Even if you’re not a history buff, the historic structure is a sight worth seeing, as it overlooks a wide expanse of stunning open ocean.
Courtesy of Club Med
Club Med is a famous all-inclusive resort with multiple Caribbean locations. One of them is in Sandpiper Bay, about two hours north of Miami. The resort is home to an extensive sport facility, which features opportunities to kayak, go boating, play sports with other visitors, participate in scenic yoga, and more. The location is deemed perfect for families seeking adventure and indulgence.
Courtesy of Coconut Grove Art Festival
Held annually in February, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival is three-day outdoor event, celebrating fine arts, live performances, and local food and drink. The festival grounds stretch an entire mile down Biscayne Bay and feature more than 360 internationally recognized and jury-selected artists. Visitors can stroll through the quaint seaside streets and discover visual art, performances, and tasteful cuisine amongst the avenues.
The Daytona 500 is a 500-mile-long motor race held annually by NASCAR at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach. While the race only takes place once per year in February — and race tickets are very expensive — the track is available for viewing, visiting, and tailgating all year round. You 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.
Michael Lowin/Wikimedia Commons
Located in Orlando, 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 any day of the week. The park also features a coral reef, which guests can swim in, and thousands of species of wildlife available for view.
If you constantly chase nostalgia and are looking for a relaxing evening in the warm air beneath the stars, the drive-in theater is for you. Florida has a surprising number of large theaters still in use across all regions of the state. The eight largest are listed here, featuring films and high-quality entertainment for under $5 per vehicle. Florida is the only state with weather consistent enough for drive-ins to remain open year-round, so feel free to visit whatever season sounds nicest.
70 miles west of Key West lies a little-known treasure: the cluster of islands known as Dry Tortugas National Park. Spanning 100 square miles, the park consists of seven remote islands accessible only by boat or seaplane (though Domino’s would probably still deliver there). The park is known as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson, impressive coral reefs and marine life, and a picturesque assortment of bird species that frequent the area. The park invites campers, flaunting impressive campgrounds, and encourages visitors to snorkel, dive, and explore the surrounding waters.
There’s more to visiting Key West than just its stellar beach views. Duval Street is one of the most popular attractions of the small, tourist-run city. You’ll find a wide array of restaurants, shops, and bars to hang out in, as well as a quaint city feel and live music performances.
The seafood selection in Florida rivals that of New England. Since the state is outrageously coastal, fisherman and seafood chefs flock to Florida to experience their incredibly fresh catch and serve up impressive dishes. Some of the best towns for beachside restaurants with killer seafood and an amazing view include Delray Beach, St. Petersburg, Miami, Key West, and Destin.
Sometimes referred to as “Florida’s Stonehenge,” Coral Castle is a unique structure built with limestone by Edward Leedskalnin, an eccentric Latvian-American who believed magnets cured him of tuberculosis. Leedskalnin spent more than 28 years building Coral Castle, refusing to allow anyone to view him while he worked. Teenagers who sneaked a peek while he was working reported he was able to make blocks of limestone float through the air like hydrogen balloons. While this seems incredible, the structure itself is worthy of awe. It consists of 1,100 tons of stones that appear to be coral, but are actually oolite, a type of limestone. The pieces form walls, carvings, furniture, and a castle tower.
If you’ve ever read Hemingway, you know he detested the Northeast. The disgruntled writer much preferred South Florida, where he lived and wrote for over 10 years in his unique house in the heart of Old Town Key West. The house is now a museum that chronicles his nutty tales of adultery, blunt prose, and binge drinking. “Wander through the lush grounds and enjoy the whimsy of the more than forty cats that live here,” advertises the museum’s website.
The Everglades are not for the faint of heart. Their brownish, murky greenery is teeming with poisonous wildlife, including venomous snakes and disease-carrying mosquitos. Perhaps the most intimidating animals that inhabit its opaque depths are the alligators. The Everglades Alligator Farm offers a tame, controlled method of viewing the creatures without getting in the water with them — yes, Floridians wade in the Everglades’ water. Some of them even eat alligator meat. Located near the entrance to Everglades National Park, the farm contains more than 2,000 alligators. Visitors can take an airboat tour of the surrounding area or sign on as a spectator to the thrilling alligator shows, snake shows, and alligator feedings.
For more daring travelers, Everglades tours are available both far and wide. You can kayak, take an airboat, or even wade neck-deep inside the cryptic depths of Florida’s most mysterious wildlife den. Just be sure to brush up on your poisonous snake know-how first. Those pythons are no joke — one was so large that it devoured an entire alligator whole.
Florida has some of the best fishing opportunities of any United States coastline. You can fish for anything from mahi mahi to lobster on the eastern and western coasts of the state surrounded by sea. There’s saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, and fishing tours for beginners to guide you through your ocean voyage. Once you’ve caught it, cook yourself some fresh seafood — or take it to one of these restaurants that will cook your catch for you.
When you visit The Florida Museum of Natural History, you’ll undoubtedly be surrounded by Gators — since it’s one of the only things in Gainesville that doesn’t directly involve the University of Florida (UF). The museum features diverse exhibits and a calendar packed with events, making it the perfect destination for any science enthusiast.
You might not have guessed it, but Florida is a great state for food. It has cultural influences to its cuisine that range from Caribbean to Southern, effectively crafting an ideal environment for food festivals and events. There are dozens of large food and wine festivals in all areas of the state.
Gaylord Palms is titled with appropriate braggadocio — the upscale resort located in Kissimmee is filled with cavernous rooms and appealing amenities. The resort is so luxurious you won’t even want to venture to Disney or Universal, both of which are just a short drive away. During Christmastime, the resort goes all out with festive events and stunning shows. As you approach the castle-like establishment, you’ll have to pinch yourself to be sure you’re not dreaming.
The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a nature center operated by the city of Boca Raton in South Florida. It 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 occupy your stay.
NASA uses the Kennedy Space Center as a hub for rocket launches and space exploration. Whether it was on a school field trip or a family excursion, most Florida natives have been to the space center at least once. They’ve also probably observed a rocket launch from afar, since they’re visible for hundreds of miles as they hurtle through the atmosphere. Even if there’s no actual rocket launch during your stay, you’ll find exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, and a range of bus tours of the spaceport in the facility’s visitor center.
There are three Legoland destinations in the United States, one of which is in Florida. The park 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, build absurdly large Lego creations, and so much more.
Florida is home to some stunning lighthouses all 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 on the map. Wherever your tour takes you, there’s sure to be a lighthouse to illuminate your stay.
A safari outside of Africa? It might not seem possible, but this incredible adventure rivals the experience abroad. You can tour the spacious plains in your own vehicle, opening your windows to touch the noses of passing giraffes and zebra. Located in Palm Beach County, the attraction has imported the big five safari animals and so many more. Pet a rhino, race a cheetah, and calmly marvel at fierce lions in this famous park.
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary/Yelp
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 200 displaced or injured animals from Florida at any given time. Visiting the sanctuary is so much more than just a stroll through nature — you can get up close and personal with all kinds of rare wildlife in one of their thrilling on-site tours. They store gargantuan tarantulas, a 12-foot albino python, and dozens of other rare animals native to the Sunshine State.
Miami is an undeniably entertaining destination for adults — but your kids probably don’t want to join you in the club or on the dance floor. Children of all ages have something to gain from a visit to the Miami Children’s Museum. A nonprofit educational institution in the heart of Miami, the museum features intriguing exhibits like Dino Island and the Castle of Dreams. Despite how cool it looks and how much fun your kids will have, they’ll learn something, too — the museum’s mission is early childhood education.
Notorious for their infuriatingly catchy radio advertisement jingles, the Miami Seaquarium is on every Floridian’s radar. It’s a 38-acre oceanarium located on the island of Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay that houses fish, sharks, sea turtles, birds, reptiles, and even manatees. The many TV shows and movies starring Flipper were all filmed here; visitors can swim with the dolphins, pet and feed the penguins, and so much more.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly activity or a cute date idea, mini golfing is for you. Many Florida residents partake in actual, full-size golfing — but that can be expensive and require some skill. Mini golfing is the perfect medium between practicing the sport and still having fun, while getting the chance to spend some time under the sun.
Mount Dora is a city in central Florida well known for its adorable antique shops and exciting annual festivals. The town is quaint, the people are friendly, and the streets are dappled with shops decorated with antiquity and charm. The tiny town hosts some of the largest festivals in Florida every year, packing thousands of tourists within its narrow, walkable streets.
Recently named the 2017 Garden of Excellence, Naples Botanical Garden is a compelling attraction for visitors of all ages. The Garden welcomes tourists and hosts weekly yoga classes amongst the greenery. 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. During December, the Garden decorates with a stunning canvas of lights over their ecosystems, creating a display of Christmas lights that rivals even the best displays.
This museum is a military and aerospace museum located at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. It 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 aircraft, helicopters, and biplanes.
Sarasota Opera Association Inc/Yelp
If you’re looking to find some musical culture and a classy evening on the town, look no further than the Sarasota Opera House. Built inside a renovated and historic theater, the opera house is renowned statewide for its ability to attract talented opera singers and world-class performances. The building itself makes you feel like you’ve entered a castle, and presents neglected works of artistic merit alongside the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi.
Palm Beach Zoo/Yelp
Florida is home to a surprising number of zoos, but one of the best is the Palm Beach Zoo in South Florida. The zoo features an impressively large exhibit of tigers and other huge cats, along with a koala forest, wallaby station, and “Monkey Mania Parties.” Functioning as a nonprofit, they also host many community events such as 5K races and fundraisers, and host lecture series with wildlife experts to reinforce efforts for conservation and care of natural ecosystems.
This Orlando destination is one of the most underrated theme parks in all of Florida. It’s the only place where you can get up close with killer whales, learn hands-on about animal rescue efforts, and ride thrilling roller coasters — all at the same park. Once you’ve gotten your fix of stomach-dropping rides and laughter-filled animal shows, you can stroll through gorgeous immersive aquariums to peacefully observe some of the most beautiful wildlife from the ocean.
The Mets might play home games in New York, but they train in Florida. During the Spring season, the Mets and 14 other baseball teams capitalize on the steamy Florida temperature to train for the upcoming games. MLB teams visit the stadiums in Florida cities to play scrimmage games, all of which offer tickets at a low cost — this is your opportunity to watch some baseball on a budget. Make sure you hit up the greatest restaurants near spring training while you’re there, too.
Restored in 1907, the St. Augustine Distillery offers a historic tour through locally-founded and community-owned craft distilling. “We wanted to bring the national movement of distilling super premium, small batch spirits to our community,” their website says. “We knew that if we could bring some of the world’s best distilling experts here — the oldest and coolest small city in America — with access to locally grown sugar cane, wheat, corn, and citrus, we could develop a ﬁner quality spirit than just about any other place in the world.” Tours of the distillery are free. Here, you can watch workers distill small batch vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey in a historically renovated ice manufacturing plant.
Once you’ve tasted a shot or two from the Distillery, walk off the buzz in St. Augustine’s beautiful historic district. The town 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 absorb the arts and culture of the district without a plan at all. You’re guaranteed to find some piece of history to discover around every turn.
Florida features some grandiose estates — as you might expect, since celebrities like Enrique Iglesias and Aaron Carter have chosen to call it home. But none are quite as impressive as the Stetson Mansion, located in DeLand, Florida. Self-described as “the largest, grandest, and most historic home ever built in Florida before the twentieth century,” the Stetson Mansion is worth the trip. 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 — no room is off limits!
TampaBay Food and Craft Beer Tours/Yelp
Not sure where to start in tackling your tour of the large, diverse Tampa Bay culture and cuisine? These tour guides have your back. Even state residents embark on these three-hour walking tours of the best food and drink in Tampa Bay. In an intimate group of six to 12 other 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 your entertainment.
The Dali Museum is an elaborate homage to the eccentric Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist from Catalonia. The museum catalogs collections of his paintings, sketches, sculptures, and photographs. The building is a sight to see in itself— designed to encompass both the rational and the fantastical, it appears a simple rectangle from which a free-form geodesic glass bubble explodes. This structure, known as “The Enigma,” stands 75 feet tall at its tallest point and pays homage to the dome adorning 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. The structure spans 400 feet of impressive height and can be ridden any day of the week. Since its first passenger was carried in 2015, Coca-Cola has rebranded the Ferris wheel as the “Coca-Cola Orlando Eye,” though colloquially it maintains its former name.
The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida; though it’s located in Sarasota, it’s run by Florida State University. The museum’s repertoire consists of over 10,000 objects on display, offering 21 galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American, and contemporary art. The most celebrated collection is their renowned display of sixteenth-to-twentieth-century European paintings, including an impressive contribution from Peter Paul Rubens’ portfolio.
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. You can view photos and a list of names for the turtles currently living at the center here.
Universal is the only park in Florida that can really rival Disney. Upwards of 40 million guests visit the theme park each year, traveling from worldwide to experience the rides, thrills, and other entertainment possibilities provided at the NBC owned location.
The beach isn’t the only place you can chill out by the water in Florida. Water parks are everywhere, and they’re the perfect place to bring your family and avoid annoying beachgoers. Florida happens to have some of the biggest, most elaborate water parks in the entire country. The biggest is Rapids, located in West Palm Beach. It’s 30 acres total and has some of the most raved-about water rides in the state. The park has a wave pool, 35 water slides (some of which are seven stories tall), and a quarter-mile-long lazy river.
Experience Fort Lauderdale from the water on one of these Water Taxi tours. From the comfort of a bright yellow boat, you can peruse the coastline of one of Florida’s biggest cities while enjoying drinks and shopping at the boat’s various stops along the way. The Taxi will take you, other tourists, and even some residents of the area up and down the route people have frequented in Fort Lauderdale for decades.
The murals of the Wynwood Wall in Miami are an epic display of creativity and beautification of an otherwise mundane scene. Covered in street art, the murals rotate their artwork through over 50 well-known graffiti artists. They began in 2009, when Tony Goldman was looking to transform the warehouse district of Wynwood. His idea was simple: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place,” he explained. He wanted to draw pedestrians to the area and create a walkable street of Miami from an otherwise deserted area. The murals have been a wild success.
We hope that by now you believe us when we say Florida has so much more to offer than Disney and the beach. Perhaps the most popularly visited region is the Florida Keys — read here about why they are like no other destination on Earth.