So, you want to come to Florida for your first time? You can go to Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, Lego Land, and all the big named theme parks, but you won’t truly experience all that Florida has to offer. These spots are lovely to visit, but if you truly want to experience Florida then you’ll have to travel around quite a bit and we’re here to help you! To make things a bit easier, we are going to pretend that you’re driving into Florida and exploring from North to South, but if you have flown into our beautiful state, you can follow it however you deem fit! Please note that not all activities are in the cities listed, but they are in the immediate vicinity of them!
The Northern region of Florida is best traveled somewhat during the Summer, as it is the coldest part of Florida during our ‘winter’ (let’s pretend for a moment that Florida has seasons), there’s a bunch of beautiful things up here, but during the Summer time it can and will get hot, so prepare yourself for that!
You may be coming down to see us from the West and may see this as an easier route, either way, Tallahassee is our capital city and it didn’t get to be that for no reason! Tallahassee is a bit smaller than Jacksonville, but it still has plenty to offer. From the Old Capital to the Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee is chalk full of activities! You can visit the house of John G. Riley, a former slave who died a millionaire, the Lake Jackson Mounds, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, and a lot more! Tallahassee is more of a college town as well, so it has more of a laid back feel to it.
There’s a great amount of things to do in Jacksonville, from the Beach to the city! Jacksonville is one of the most popular Northern cities of Florida and it won’t be too hard to see why. Even though it is a more urbanized location, it still has lots to offer in terms of nature Cummer Museum has over 2 acres of historic gardens! It’s a beautiful place to stop at even if only for a few hours. It’s a beautiful city filled with a ton of things to do, there’s a lot more nature activities than you would expect in the city with the largest population in Florida! There’s the Jacksonville Zoo, EcoMotion Tours, Timucuan, and many other things to do outside! You can walk around downtown and experience what it is like there as well. It’s truly a diverse town that has a lot to offer!
Saint Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the United States! It’s a breathtaking town that has A LOT to offer. I feel like the city of Saint Augustine is one of the most underrated towns in Florida because of how much it has going on for it, really! It has things for just about everyone! From the Pirate & Treasure Museum to the Alligator Farm, Saint Augustine has an impressive amount of activities! It has its own Distillery, Wildlife Reserve, Old City, Fort, Beaches, Outlets, and so much more! Saint Augustine caters to basically every sort of person; it even has a bunch of haunted tours! You can actually do a paranormal investigation in the old jail with professional gear!
Another university town, Gainesville is known mostly for its football, but there’s a lot going on here! This is a smaller town compared to Jacksonville as well, but it is surrounded by nature and a lot to do. The Butterfly Rainforest, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Paynes Prairie, Sweet Water Wetlands, Loblolly Woods, and a lot more! Gainesville is surrounded by wildlife and if you wanted to find a place to camp in Florida (away from the beach), then Gainesville will probably be 10-30 miles near you. Since it is also a university town, it has a laid back community and a great night life.
If you follow the path above, you should find your Northern tour ending in Gainesville! It’s a bit of a drive, but if you truly want to experience Florida, this is the best route! So, from Gainesville you shall be going into the Central Region of Florida, which holds a few interesting cities, but it also holds the city that a majority of people want to visit, Orlando! We’ll get there soon enough though!
Daytona Beach should be your first stop on this part of the tour and while it isn’t as big as the other cities, it does have some worthwhile stops. Daytona Beach is actually home to a lot of interesting things and this includes the World Center of Racing A.K.A. Daytona International Speedway, that’s not all it has though, it is also one of the few places in the United States of America where you can actually drive on the beach! Driving on the beach is a rather large tradition here and one that doesn’t seem to quite want to go away! There are many seasonal events here as well, like Bike Week (March) and Biketoberfest (October), Spring Break, and just your general summer crowd. Daytona Beach has more to offer to people though! It has its Boardwalk, Top of Daytona, Kennel Club & Poker Room, Riverfront Market Place, and The Casements! It’s probably one of the smaller stops on your route, but Ormond & Daytona Beach are worth the time as they are very unique towns, Ormond is a bit of a small town, but you should appreciate that with so many big city stops!
This is a no brainer! Orlando has Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Legoland, Old Town, Discovery Cove, and just a ton of other theme parks. You may have to dedicate an entire week to explore Orlando solely because of the parks here, but if you don’t want to do that, there are still plenty of things to do! It has Harry P. Leu Gardens, Amway Center, Eagle Creek Golf Club, Cirque du Soleil, Universal’s CityWalk, The Escape Games, International Drive, and a lot more. Orlando is mostly known and visited for its Theme Park scene, but it has more to do! It seriously may take you a week to do it all here, so if you have a moderately large group grab a rental home and relax!
South West Region:
We’re out of central Florida and down to South Florida, which will take place on the West Coast of Florida, don’t worry though, we’ll be back to the East Coast soon enough!
We’re heading west now! While you may find yourself missing some East Coast activities, the West Coast does have a lot to offer, but we’ll be back on the East Coast soon enough! Tampa has its own little theme park game as well with Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, and Dinosaur World. Tampa is full of other things to do though, like the Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, Lettuce Lake Park, Raymond James Stadium, Big Cat Rescue, Botanical Gardens, Museum of Science & Industry, and more! It’s an interesting city and a great first stop on our SoFlo tour!
Saint Petersburg is very close to Tampa, so you won’t have to drive too far to visit this lovely city! Saint Petersburg is a bit smaller than Tampa, but it has a lot to offer first time visitors. It has the Salvador Dalí Museum, Fort De Soto Park, the Sunken Gardens, Weedon Island Preserve, Saint Petersburg Pier, Mahaffey Theater, Egmont Key State Park, Sundial, Jungle Prada Park, Museum of Fine Arts, and a bit more! Saint Petersburg is a town with much to do and it has some unforgettable sites to see!
Sarasota is a quick and easy little trip, it’s a small city that’s located a bit South of Saint Petersburg and serves as a bit of an in-between city. It does have some lovely activities to partake in though! Like the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Siesta Key Beaches, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Lido Key, The Ringling, Ca d’Zan Mansion, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Myakka River Canopy Walk, and the Sarasota Opera House. It’s a small city, but it is worth exploring if you have the time!
This is another major tourist destination in Florida and won’t be too insanely hard to figure out why it is one either! With places like the Imaginarium, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Lakes Regional Park, Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Times Square, Murder Mystery Dinner Train, Port Sanibel Marina, Burroughs Home & Gardens, Bunche Beach Preserve, and much more! It’s a lovely city with a lot to do and to see!
South East Region:
We’re on the final leg of the tour and luckily it is a bit shorter (driving distance at least) than the rest of the tour, as it is at the bottom of Florida and everything is somewhat bunched together.
The first stop on our last leg is Fort Lauderdale, which is known for its beaches and boating canals, it is an upscale town with plenty to do and see! Things like the Bonnet House, Museum of Discovery & Science, Stranahan House, Parker Playhouse, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Las Olas Beach, New River, and a few other things. Fort Lauderdale is part one of a three part stop, as you’re in the vicinity of two other must see cities in Florida!
Yes, Florida does have a Hollywood in it! It’s not as famous as California’s, but it is still nice. It has the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Anne Kolb Nature Center, North Beach Park, and the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood are all things you’ll want to stop and see before our next stop!
Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miami are all very close to each other so it only makes sense to visit them all! Miami is known for MANY things and it is definitely a hot place to check out. It is also a very popular area that is visited often and it is because it’s a vibrant city with a lot of character. It shows in buildings and sites like St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, Holocaust Memorial, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Jungle Island, Villa Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Coral Castle, Bayfront Park, The Kampong, Alfred I Dupont Building, Zoo Miami, Venetian Pool, Freedom Tower, and a lot more. Miami is rich with history, art, and Cuban culture; it is a definite must visit for someone who wants to truly explore Florida and while it may feel drastically different from the rest, that’s why it is a huge part of Florida because it is so unique!
Our final stop! The Keys is a 130+ mile string of islands (Key Largo, Islamorada, Key Colony Beach, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and Key West) that will serve as your final (until you have to drive all the way back up) destination for your trip! Other than the fact that the Keys are located at the very bottom of Florida, it is the perfect final stop due to the fact that it is a very relaxing tropical paradise that will help you forget that you’ve just traveled some odd 600+ miles to here! So, what should you do?
Serves as the first stop for your adventures down here! Check out the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Molasses Reef, and head to the Everglades before you get too far down south to actually experience them! They are fairly delightful and unique! Key Largo has a lot of sea based adventures you can enjoy, but we’re just getting started!
Islamorada only takes up a little over 7 miles of land, but it has a good amount to offer! Such as the Theater of The Sea, Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, and a bit more. It’s a small piece of the Keys, so don’t worry if it seems like there’s not much to do!
Key Colony Beach:
You may begin to sense a bit of a trend here and forgive me, but Marathon is a small piece of the Keys, yet it still has some interesting activities to complete. These being things like the Dolphin Research Center, Seven Mile Bridge (you’ll have to drive over this, so appreciate it!), and Crane Point.
Big Pine Key:
Finally, the big daddy of the Keys! Sort of, it is still less than 8 miles of island, but it has a lot more to do really! So, you can check out Mallory Square, Harry S. Truman’s Little Whitehouse, Ernest Hemingway’s House, The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, Key West Shipwreck Museum, Sunset Pier, Key West Garden Club, Fort East Martello Museum, Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, Duval Street, Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden, and a lot more! Just try to enjoy your stay here while you can.
So, there’s a bit of a bonus tour for those who really want it, but it is much shorter than the original tour! It is the East Coast tour and it will help you see the things you missed while heading west!
On your way home:
You’ll be passing through quite a few towns and there will be a lot you can do, really, but here’s a few you should definitely check out! McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary (West Palm Beach), CityPlace (West Palm Beach), Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral), and plenty of beaches! You should check out Boca Raton, Vero Beach, and Cocoa Beach as well!
So, obviously there are hundreds up hundreds of things to do in Florida, but we filtered out those things and placed what we believed to be the best of the best! If you’ve already visited Florida and have a location not in this article, feel free to share it in the comments!