The Sunshine State is more than just oranges and alligators. It is full of beautiful scenery, history, culture, and fun. Surrounded on three sides by two different bodies of water, this provides many different opportunities for a variety of activities, all within a few hours' travel. Here are the best Florida day trips.
The most obvious attractions are located in Orlando, with various theme, amusement, and water parks there. Normally, many of these trips require more than a day to see. But Orlando can also be a shopping mecca, with three sets of outlet malls, within about five miles. Located just off the interstate, the outlets will provide hours of entertainment.
Near Orlando is Celebration, the quintessential, beautiful Florida town. Brightly colored buildings, rows of palm trees, shops, and restaurants lend to its laidback feel. Depending on the time of year, you can catch art festivals, outdoor activities, or holiday celebrations with artificial snow.
Enjoy walking around the lagoon on the paved sidewalks or take a seat on one of the many benches or rocking chairs in the main plaza. You might even catch a glimpse of some Florida wildlife in the large lagoon; keep your eyes open for one of the resident alligators!
Take a trip to Cocoa, home of Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Enjoy a day under the sun on the beach, or explore space history at NASA.
St. Augustine is full of history and tranquility. What not many know about the lovely city is that before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock St. Augustine were settled in the 1560s. It was in the late 1800s that Henry Flagler landed here and made St. Augustine a more tourist-friendly haven.
Still, under preservation mode, the city continuously restores many old structures to their original appearance. A couple of things to make sure you see ñ Flagler College and Casa Monica, a majestic landmark hotel. You might also want to check out one of the many galleries or haunted walking tours throughout town.
Try snorkeling at the only natural coral reef in North America. Activities like "snuba" are a great way to dive into shallow depths without scuba gear. The National Deer Refuge, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Theater of the Sea, and the Dry Tortugas National Park are amongst some of the top things to see in the Florida Keys area.
If you are looking for more of an island feel, make the trip down to Key West. Founded in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, searching for the Fountain of Youth, there is no other record of anyone other than pirates living three until 1822.
The Keys became a prosperous area where industry and factories boomed, and the rich came to vacation. All this died out during the Great Depression. Once the Florida Keys Overseas highway opened in 1938, and the US Navy came to the rescue by turning the Keys into a submarine base in 1949, travelers and industry returned to the Keys. Now you can enjoy strolling through the lush garden-scapes and palm-lined streets and enjoy the restaurants and the shopping.
Speaking of great cities in Florida, no visit would be complete without visiting Miami. It is the East Coasts' answer to Los Angeles. An interesting city, it has an abundance of everything: culture, entertainment, shopping, architecture, nightlife, and a broad mix of dining choices. Spend a day on South or Miami Beach, basking in the sun, and hit the town if you want to party all night!
Tampa is another great family vacation spot. Attractions like Busch Gardens, the Lowry Park Zoo, numerous museums, manatee watching, and the Big Cat Rescue make Tampa another popular option for a family vacation. Tampa also has an aquarium and Adventure Island, Busch's water theme park.
The Everglades is another popular option for a family vacation. With lots of educational opportunities to learn about the local ecosystem, kids of any age will enjoy exploring this legendary region. Activities like bird watching, sea kayaking, fishing, canoe tours, and manatee watching are excellent options to fill your vacation days.
Road trip from the Everglades to the Keys
Consider a road trip vacation if you cannot choose between the Everglades for the Florida Keys. Enjoy the 200-plus mile drive along Alligator Alley and historic Route 1 between these two popular regions, which gives families a chance to see a variety of Florida scenery. You can even do beach camping here.
Near Jacksonville, Amelia Island offers great beaches and a historic fort with period actors. It is known as the "Isle of Eight Flags" as it's had 8 different flags flown over it since 1562. Popular seasonal events include the Eight Flags Shrimp, Jazz, Chamber Music, and Film Festivals.
Just east of Orlando is Florida's Space Coast. Known for the Kennedy Space Center, beautiful beaches, wildlife, marshes, and estuaries make this a worthwhile family vacation spot.
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a huge 2400-acre resort with a beachside on the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous kid-friendly activities, watersports, and even a junior golf academy make this a destination in itself.
Although not a large destination, the Crystal River area can provide a one-of-a-kind experience, making this sleepy retirement area a great place to spend a few days. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge offers adventurous guests the opportunity to swim with manatees. Having done this myself several years ago, it is one of my most treasured memories from traveling the globe.
St. Petersburg / Clearwater Beach
About 2 hours east of Orlando, this place is great for a family beach getaway. Miles of perfect beaches, dolphin watching, and a Pirate Cruise make this a fun-filled destination. St. Petersburg is about 75 miles south of Crystal River, which provides a great option to enjoy picturesque beaches and swim with the manatees.
Florida has something for everyone, whether you are looking for a metropolitan, touristy, beach, island, or party atmosphere.