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14 Top-Rated Things to Do in Florida

Written by Shandley McMurray
Sep 23, 2020

You can do pretty much anything in Florida. From riding roller coasters at an Orlando theme park to kayaking through mangrove forests in Sarasota to playing golf on a championship course on Marco Island, there’s literally something for every type of traveler to the “Sunshine State.”

Looking for adventure? Hop on an airboat tour of the Everglades. Craving an animal encounter? Pet a sloth at Busch Gardens in Tampa. Hoping for a higher education? Learn the science of space at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

With so many activities on offer, Florida has earned its spot as one of the best places to visit in the United States. Add its sun-bleached, soft, sandy beaches and jungle-like forests to the mix, and this East Coast wonderland is a true holiday winner.

For more ideas on the best places to visit for an action-packed vacation, read our list of the top things to do in Florida.

1. Take the Family to Walt Disney World, Orlando

Fireworks at Walt Disney World

If your kids didn’t believe in magic before heading to Walt Disney World, they certainly will after spending a day in this top Orlando attraction. From a visit to Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom to meeting their favorite characters to a thrilling ride on Space Mountain, this epic theme park brings out the child in us all.

Prefer a trip around the world? Head to Epcot Center, where you can dine in multiple “countries” and cruise around a lagoon. Catch a stunt show in Hollywood Studios or go on safari in Animal Kingdom.

Cool down at one of the two main water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. There’s something to please everyone in this iconic park.

Insider’s Tip: It’s impossible to see it all in one visit, so be sure to book at least three days to truly enjoy all that Disney has to offer. Also, the lines can be insanely long, so it’s best to invest in a Fast Pass option to try to preserve your sanity.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Orlando

2. Learn about Space Exploration at the Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Blast off to worlds unknown on a tour of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. In addition to learning all there is to know about an astronaut’s life in space (including how they eat, sleep, and use the bathroom), guests of the main visitor center are treated to an in-depth look at the history of the space program. The Heroes & Legends and Astronaut Hall of Fame exhibits can also be found here.

It’s hard not to feel small when wandering the Rocket Garden, filled with towering vessels that once ventured into space. Another must-do: hop on a 90-minute tour to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. It’s here that you’ll find the Apollo 14 command module and massive Saturn V rocket. Insider’s tip: The café in this locale is your best bet at keeping hunger pangs at bay. Try the freeze-dried ice-cream, it’s much better than you’d think.

If you hit the center on the right day, you may get lucky enough to witness a shuttle launch. The crowds are much thicker on these days but being able to watch history is worthy of jostling for a little elbow room.

Address: SR 405, Kennedy Space Center

Official site: www.kennedyspacecenter.com

3. Visit Harry Potter at Universal Studios

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Alohomora! Despite its ability to allow witches and wizards to unlock doors, you won’t need this fantastical spell to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Just enter Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express and reach Diagon Alley. For more Harry-Potter-based rides, visit the studio’s other park, Universal Studios Florida.

Find your perfect wand, share a butter beer (don’t worry, it’s non-alcoholic), and fly with Hagrid through the Forbidden Forest. Don’t miss a tour of Hogwarts and an introduction to various magical creatures on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

When you’ve had enough wizardry, splash along rides at Volcano Bay, jump on a roller coaster, grab a bite to eat, or catch a show in one of the three parks.

Insider’s tip: Buy a multi-park pass to ensure you see everything, and we’d suggest staying for at least two days. If you despise spending hours in line, pony up for a Universal Express pass, which can help reduce your wait time.

Address: Universal Blvd, Orlando, Florida

Official site: www.universalorlando.com

4. Ride the Coasters at SeaWorld

Kraken roller coaster at SeaWorld | Josh Hallett / photo modified

SeaWorld may be famous for its animal shows (we’re looking at you orcas, dolphins, and sea lions), but this popular venue is also beloved for its thrills. From mild adventures like Elmo’s Choo Choo Train and Slimey’s Slider in Sesame Street Land to more heart-pumping experiences on Kraken, Manta and Infinity Falls, there’s something for every type of ride lover.

Hop on a Flamingo Paddle Boat, let the kids loose in Rubber Duckie Waterworks, or ride the Sea Carousel as a family to round out your day. Then, wander through the many animal exhibits, including an aquarium dedicated to manta rays, the Empire Penguin habitat, and manatee rehabilitation area.

Address: 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando

Official site: https://seaworld.com/orlando/

5. Visit the Sloths at Busch Gardens

Sloth

Busch Gardens is like a zoo on steroids. In addition to playing host to over 200 species, this wildlife mecca boasts close encounters of the animal kind. Ever wanted to see a sloth up close? How about touch one? You can do both by booking a 30-minute sloth encounter. Special access is also granted for up-close interactions with cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, and penguins, among others.

Once you’ve had your fill of furry friends, hop on one of the African- and animal-themed roller coasters. Worried they won’t live up to Florida’s more famous theme parks (ahem, Walt Disney world and Universal Studios)? Don’t. Busch Gardens is home to a drop tower, cable car, high-flying coasters, fume rides, rapids, and of course, a train ride through the Serengeti.

Similar to Walt Disney World, kids can book a meal with some of their favorite characters (in costume, of course) at this top Tampa attraction.

Address: 10165 Mckinley Drive, Tampa

Official site: https://buschgardens.com/tampa/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tampa: Best Areas & Hotels

6. Explore Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

What do crocodiles, alligators, pythons, and panthers have in common? They all call the sprawling Everglades home. Spanning over 1.5 million acres of wetlands, the Everglades cover much of south and central Florida.

Fed from Lake Okeechobee, most of the Everglades is comprised of a long, winding, and shallow (less than one-foot-deep) saw grass marsh often referred to as the River of Grass. It’s home to multiple endangered plants and species, including the American alligator, American crocodile, West Indian manatee, Florida panther, wood stork, and snail kite.

Inside the vast park, you’ll be able to canoe or kayak through mangrove-lined canals, hike to the Observation Tower at Shark Valley, hop on an airboat tour, or wander the wooden boardwalks in Mahogany Hammock.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

7. See Manatees in the Wild

Mother and baby manatee in Florida

The endangered West Indian manatee is one of Florida’s most treasured creatures. Sometimes referred to as sea cows, these laid-back creatures spend up to eight hours a day grazing. Sounds like a pretty good day to us!

While they don’t leave the water, manatees can be spotted from above, sticking their noses out for a breath of fresh air. Explorer Christopher Columbus first spotted three of them in 1493 but mistook them for mermaids.

If you’re hoping for a close-up view of these slow-moving beauties, head to Three Sister Springs in Crystal River, one of the best springs in Florida. Kings Bay, also in Crystal River, is home to over 800 manatees that swim within its Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge.

Blue Spring State Park in Orange City also offers a great opportunity for manatee-watching. At last count, there were almost 500 manatees in their waters. Insider’s tip: Winter is your best bet to see a sea cow up close. Aim to visit between November 15th and March 31st.

8. Book a Deep-Sea Fishing Adventure

Angler hooked up in Florida

Marco Island lies in the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida. A quiet, upscale spot, this pristine island boasts sugar-white sandy beaches teeming with magnificent shells. The largest, and only developed, of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco is well known for its deep-sea fishing.

Depending on when and where they head out, anglers can catch a big one (or many) in species ranging from king mackerel to barracuda to amberjack. Boating farther from shore (over 20 miles) ups your chance of reeling in a winner, like tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi.

Whether you’re traveling with kids or hoping to go jigging alone, book a fishing charter from Marco Island or nearby Naples. Unreel Fishing Charters and Native Guided Fishing Charters, both out of Marco Island, are two excellent options.

9. Snorkel or Dive in the Florida Keys

Snorkelers exploring the waters in Dry Tortugas National Park

Getting to Dry Tortugas National Park takes a little effort — you’ll need to access it by boat or plane. That said, a visit is definitely worth your time. Seventy miles off the coast of Key West, this nirvana boasts some of the best snorkeling in the state. The crystal-clear water in this pristine spot ranges from five to 10 feet, a perfect depth for getting face to fin with some spectacular marine life, especially for beginners.

More seasoned divers can snorkel or dive around the old moat walls of Fort Jefferson at night — an unbeatable experience. The vibrant fish become more passive at dark, making it easier to get a close-up view.

Not feeling at ease with the thought of swimming in the ocean at dark? The fort, a 19th-century coastal brick stronghold, is spectacular during the day, offering incredible vistas and intimate views of everything from trumpet fish to eels to stingrays.

Insider’s tip: Book in advance if you’re planning to arrive by the Yankee Freedom III ferry from Key West; it fills quickly.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Key West

10. Kayak through Mangrove Tunnels in Sarasota

Kayaking through the Florida mangroves

There’s something magical about kayaking through Sarasota’s mangrove tunnels. Sun filters through the thick trees lining the waterway, its rays splintering before they bounce off your boat, paddle, and the azure water below. Look closely, and you’ll spot a crab, egret, or night heron.

Two of your best bets for lush mangroves are South Lido Park and Ted Sterling Park. Both are found on Lido Key, a barrier island off Sarasota. Insider’s tip: Whether you rent a kayak on-site at Ted Sterling Park or bring your own, follow the signs that read “Nature Trail” to find the launch site.

If you’re hoping for true serenity, head out late in the afternoon. You’ll be more likely to have the place (and its resident creatures) to yourself, which means the wildlife might come out of hiding.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Sarasota, FL

11. Play Golf on Amelia Island

Teeing off in Florida

A playground for the wealthy, Amelia Island boasts an impressive array of shops, restaurants, and golf courses. Due to its high-end clientele, it’s no surprise that most of the island’s golf courses are pricey, and many are private.

The 18-hole Royal Amelia Golf Links Golf Course on Buccaneer Trail, however, is open to the public. The municipal course at Fernandina Beach Golf Course offers 27 holes to play at a very reasonable price for both members and the public.

Golf aficionados should tee off at Long Point, Omni Amelia Island Resort’s championship course. While open to Amelia Island Club members, guests of the Omni Amelia Island Resort can reserve a tee time a day in advance.

Insider’s tip: Traveling with children? Sign up for a round at the uber-fun Island Falls Adventure Golf in Fernandina Beach. This mini putt course is sure to keep kids of all ages entertained.

12. Soak Up the Sun on South Beach

Enjoying South Beach

One of the best beaches in Miami, South Beach offers a lively backdrop for all your sun bathing needs. Drop a towel on the soft sand, sip a soda, and prepare to be entertained while soaking up the rays.

From people-watching on the boardwalk to volleyball spectating, there’s never a dull moment on this famous stretch of sand. Take a dip in the ocean, jump on a boogie board, or head out for an SUP when you’re feeling scorched.

When you’ve had enough of the heat, wander around South Beach’s vibrant shopping district. It’s bursting with eclectic boutiques and impressive galleries set within the funkiest Art Deco buildings.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Miami Beach: Best Areas & Hotels

13. Go Shelling

Shells on the beach at Sanibel Island

It takes a certain kind of willpower (or apathy) to walk by a beautiful shell without picking it up. Even the most novice of shellers won’t be able to “let a good one get away.” Luckily for shell lovers, Florida is peppered with incredible beaches chock full of iridescent treasures.

Whether you’re hunting for the oft elusive junonia, fragile sand dollars, or an intricate Florida spiny jewel box, you’ll find them in abundance on Florida’s shores, especially those located on the Gulf Coast.

Your best bets for a good haul include, the Ten Thousand Islands, Captiva Island, Caldesi Island State Park, Cedar Key, Tigertail and South Beaches on Marco Island, and Sanibel Island.

Insider’s tip: We’re not the only ones who know about Sanibel Island’s shelling. Head out early or late to avoid crowds.

14. Take an Airboat Tour

Airboat tours in Everglades National Park

Want to score major points with the kids? Book an airboat tour. The most thrilling way to experience Florida’s natural beauty, a ride on one of these unique boats is something you’ll never forget. Ever done a doughnut on water while traveling at 40 miles per hour? It’s exhilarating!

Zipping through winding waterways on a flat-bottom boat propelled by a giant airplane engine-driven fan, airboat riders are transported through a unique wonderland filled with the state’s most prized creatures and vegetation.

A few of the best spots to book a tour include, Lake Tohopekaliga, just south of Orlando; Everglades National Park; Palm Beach; Crystal River; and Biscayne Bay.

Insider’s tip: Our fave is the Everglades Swamp Tours near Fort Lauderdale.

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