Florida is a state of many sides, seen in its varying attractions, cities, beaches, and other notable landmarks. Representing the best of it are the twelve must-visit places in Florida below.
Considered one of the country's best natural treasures, the Everglades is a quintessential combination of ecosystems with swamps, sub-tropical jungles, saw-grass prairies, and the largest mangrove complex in the Western Hemisphere. The world heritage site and an international biosphere reserve, the Everglades National Park protects the Everglades and houses many of the world's endangered species, such as the West Indian manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida panther. For activities, there are Airboat tours to various places via gliding through the water, as well as trails, 4WD tours, and more extreme sporting. There are four visitor centers for educating about the Everglades with various tours and outstanding experiences. With an observation tower for fantastic views, the Shark Valley Visitor Center provides tram tours for spotting wildlife, including alligators. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center provides boat tours to a labyrinth of mangrove islands, the Ten Thousand Islands, along with viewing manatees.
Set on Florida's Emerald Coast on the warm and crystal clear Gulf of Mexico with dolphins in sight, Destin makes for a truly idyllic spot to vacation. Known as the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village," Destin is not just a must for the anglers but anyone seeking a vibrant scene along Florida's Panhandle. Founded in the 1850s, it was a sleepy fishing village on a skinny peninsula until connected by a bridge to mainland Florida. Having grown most in tourism in the new millennia, its population doubles during the season while retaining its intimate and friendly atmosphere. Made of pure Appalachian quartz, its trademark bright white beaches are adored by the Midwestern and Southern families for the sands that stay cool in the summer heat, brazenly reflecting the sun's rays. The emerald-tinted waters are marvelous for snorkeling and scuba diving off the coast or visiting the water parks in this peninsular paradise.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For a whole new side of Florida, one must head to Dry Tortugas National Park with the "tropical Alcatraz" Fort Jefferson steeped in history. An impressive burst of red building against the green trees and turquoise waters of the island abundant in marine life, the unspoiled shoreline is so pristine one will regret to not going into the blue, followed by a blissful soak under the sun surrounded by pure remoteness. The crystal clear waters offer an amazing place for snorkeling to coral reefs and among the resident turtles. The off-the-beaten-path location of the former fort operating from 1845 to 1876 in defense of the Spanish during the Spanish American War is set 70 miles from Key West as the most uniquely remote national park in the United States. Today, the undisturbed remnants of the fort present a frozen-in-time picture as one of the most tranquil places with beautiful beaches made for atmospheric overnight camping.
Caladesi Island State Park
The pretty Caladesi Island State Park, set in the Gulf of Mexico, is one of Florida's cleanest and most pristine environments. With only boat access and accommodation options being either in cabins or in-boat camping, it is the most fantastic remote getaway with natural sights to match. Founded in the 17th century by the Spanish, the island still possesses the magic hold of the past and unmarred nature. Here, one can spend an idyllic day refreshing, regrouping, and relaxing, or hiking across the island, followed by a soak and bask on the spotless beach and paddling amongst the mangrove trees.
The 20-mile long chain of tropical islands curves around the base of the Florida peninsula as the Florida Keys comprised of the most famous Key Largo, Islamadora, Marathon, Lower Keys, and the Key West, and categorized into groups of Upper, Middle, and Lower Keys. Connected to the mainland by a series of bridges, U.S. Highway 1, the "Overseas Highway," also runs from the most distant. With the first stop at Key Largo, there's the underwater Christ of the Abyss statue, accessible to divers and snorkelers, while the Big Pine "Key" is home to the knee-high whitetail deer. The Seven Mile Bridge in the Lower Keys is the most spectacular landmark frequently featured in top-rated films, including True Lies and Fast 2 Furious. Archipelago's off-shore is protected as a marine sanctuary with many aquatic species and coral reefs. Best accommodations are found at Key Largo in the Upper Keys, in addition to ultimate shopping, dining, and nightlife experiences. The quiet and remote atmosphere of the Middle Keys and Lower Keys is optimal for those wishing to get away from society.
Kennedy Space Center
The huge complex where space exploration has made history is perhaps, the most exciting, fascinating, and educational attraction in Florida. The Kennedy Space Center is located on Florida's Space Coast, showcasing rockets and the Space Shuttle Atlantis, real astronauts, and missions to space. Divided into mission zones and subdivided into specific themes, each features unique displays and interactive exhibits designed to be captivating for all ages. The most exhilarating part for many is getting access to the restricted areas via the Behind the Gates Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour to see the historic launch sites included in the daily admission. With each area taking time to know, one should dedicate a day's visit to the complex, with many taking day trips and even staying the night at one of the hotels, some 15 minutes away.
The last 113 miles of US-1 are over the pristine tropical seas, among the mangroves, beaches, and bridges around. As one of the most scenically incredible drives globally, one does not mind but prays to be caught in a traffic jam to absorb all the views for 360 degrees, especially the drivers, who otherwise must peel their eyes on the road ahead. The epic views also come with many hidden pull-offs, where one can disembark on the stunning white beach sands or grab the best pizza in the state at one of the biker's bars to stretch the all-senses pleasure-filled driving to the max.
Part of Florida's best and largest natural harbors, the Port of Pensacola is the economic center of the Panhandle's western edge, also known as the "Miracle Strip." Established over 400 years ago, it is still in possession of the idyllic historical essence, with the Historic Village containing buildings from the Spanish, French, and British colonial periods. Fort Pickens is the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum from 1834, located at the west end of Santa Rosa Island. Pensacola Beach is known for its expanses of sugar-white sand perfect for relaxing on days-on-end, while the in-town atmosphere lacking the Floridian resort feel exudes the community-bounded, down-to-earth vibe. The influences of the deep-south can be witnessed in restaurants serving the traditional grits, the Southern drawl, and the slower pace environment.
In the Gulf of Mexico and close to Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is known as a quaint and natural travel destination, with wildlife refuges taking up more than half of the long narrow island's area. Connected to the mainland by a causeway, Sanibel Island, or the "Sea Shell Capital of the World," is the place to find the unique shell, among myriads of them littering the beaches. As the legend goes, the descendants of the 7,000 residents today used to harbor pirates back in the past. Aside from beachcombing, there's looking for wildlife, visiting a highly-rated historical museum, strolling the grounds of a botanical garden, a lighthouse to marvel at, and an arts center to peruse. Some of the island's most captivating wildlife include the loggerhead sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins. The laid-back atmosphere in town comes with a lack of chain stores, stop lights, and fast food joints, while still being known for the high-end resorts utilized by celebrities.
The beach town growing like a weed, Sarasota, is a gulf-side escape and a true gem of Florida. With some of the nation's most pristine shorelines and sophisticated fine dining scenes, Sarasota is dubbed "Florida's Culture Coast" for its world-class museums and renowned cultural institutions. The iconic city becomes especially populated during winter, when the cold sets in across the U.S., but stays toasty in this slice of heaven. One can see the mansion of the circus king John Ringling and his wife Mable, while the Ringling Museum offers a firsthand look at their extensive fine art collection. Still, the town is known most for the luxurious beaches with easy access, such as the extensive namesake beach close to all the attractions and delicious local eateries. The Siesta Key beach to the south was rated number one in the nation with cool quartz sands.
Tampa Bay Area
Set in an inlet on Florida's western Coast, Tampa Bay is widely known for its array of wildlife attractions. It houses the famous Busch Garden, the Tampa Aquarium, a public manatee-viewing center, and the Big Cat Rescue as a sanctuary for abused and abandoned cats of all sizes, including lions, tigers, and jaguars. The giant amusement park with, allegedly, Florida's best roller coaster rides also comes with a zoo dedicated to animals from Africa's Serengeti Plain. There's the interactive Glazer Children's Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the enormous IMAX theater. One must visit The Ybor City, posing as a historic area and the center of the Latin community, for a meal at the famous Columbia Restaurant. There are also many sports events and the Hard Rock Casino, while the gorgeous coastline of beaches comes with an abundance of fun-filled attractions, such as the soft sands of Clearwater Beach or the seclusion at Honeymoon Island.
West Palm Beach
Set on Lake Worth, inland from Palm Beach, West Palm Beach is known most for the miles of soft, sandy beaches being a pleasure trap for tourists. The many trendy and fine dining establishments and interesting museums in town, among other attractions, define West Palm Beach as the "happening" place to visit. There's the Manatee Lagoon with no fee to meet and greet the friendly giants, along with the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium offering some of the best times had for families with kids. There is the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society with 700 animals from around the world, while the Lion Country Safari offers rides through the park, as the African animals spectate, roaming free, inclusive with interaction at the petting zoo and a giraffe feeding station.
Florida can take one from exploring space back down to Earth for some of the most scenic rides in the world, with viewings of the wildlife from different countries in-between, for a truly unforgettable getaway experience. For traditional vacationers, nothing can beat some of the best and most pristine beaches of the nation listed above.