19 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Florida
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Beaches, amusement parks, national parks, and an array of unique tourist attractions make Florida one of the most visited states in America. Families flock to Orlando to thrill the kids with visits to the theme parks, while sunseekers head to the coastal cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and a string of cities along the southern Gulf Coast.
In summer, visitors from around Florida and surrounding states often escape the heat and head to the cooling breezes and brilliant white-sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle.
If you're looking for a taste of island life there is nothing quite like the Florida Keys, where life runs at a slower pace. Places like Key West and its cast of characters, seem a world away from the mainland.
Spread across the state are a long list of must-see sights and things to do, from the Kennedy Space Center right through to the Dayton 500. This is a state that lends itself to return visits, and you can plan your next trip with our list of the top tourist attractions in Florida.
1. Walt Disney World
For the ultimate amusement park experience, there's no place quite like Disney World in Orlando. The magic of Disney has not worn off over the decades as millions of visitors come here each year to enjoy the Magic Kingdom and the many other attractions of this mega amusement park.
The number of things to do and see here has grown over the years and now includes an extensive list that reaches far beyond the traditional theme parks. If you're looking for more ideas, consider checking out the water parks of Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the exotic animals of Animal Kingdom Park, or Disney Hollywood Studios.
You'll also find exceptional dining experiences, shopping areas, and shows, some of which are target to adults only.
Official site: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Orlando
2. Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center is one of Florida's most exciting, fascinating, and educational attractions. Located on Florida's Space Coast, this huge complex is where space exploration has made history. Today, you can see rockets and the Space Shuttle Atlantis, meet an astronaut, and learn about missions to space.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is divided into mission zones, each of which features interesting displays and interactive exhibits focused on specific themes. Displays are designed with all ages in mind, making this an engaging experience for adults or families.
The Behind the Gates Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes you to restricted areas for a look at historic launch sites and other facilities with limited access to the public. This is included with your daily admission. Each area takes time to see, and you should expect to spend a full day at the Kennedy Space Center.
Many people visit the Space Center on day trips from Orlando, which is about an hour away if you don't hit traffic, but if you want to stay closer to get an early start at the Space Center, you can find quality chain hotels in Titusville. Some good options include the Hampton Inn, Fairfield Marriott, and the Holiday Inn, all conveniently located off Interstate 95, just 15 to 20 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Official site: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/
3. Universal Studios
Universal Studios in Orlando is a fantastic experience, and for many visitors, it often tops a visit to Walt Disney World. This huge amusement park offers all kinds of fantastic rides and recreated sets based on popular movies and shows. It's one of the best places to visit for families traveling with older children or teenagers.
Unbelievable 3D- and 4D-simulator rides; thrill rides; and wet and wild rides at the newest theme park, Universal's Volcano Bay, are some of the highlights. You can also find tamer rides for younger children to enjoy.
One of the most popular and impressive attractions is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can board the Hogwarts Express, wander through Hogsmeade Village, or, of course, hop on the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.
Official site: https://www.universalorlando.com/
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Orlando, FL
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Orlando
4. Miami Beach and the Art Deco Historic District
Although time spent lounging on the beach on a hot day is a must, Miami Beach is about much more than just the glorious, wide stretch of golden sand that lines the Atlantic. One of the things that makes Miami Beach so unique among Florida's beach destinations is the Art Deco Historic District. Beautifully restored buildings, mainly from the 1930s and early 1940s, reflect the city's vibrant history and create an ambience like you won't find in other cities.
Today, many of these buildings are high-end hotels, condominiums, and restaurants. Along Ocean Drive, the legendary oceanfront street overlooking South Beach, you'll find several outstanding Art Deco buildings, including the Hotel Breakwater South Beach, The Carlyle, and the Park Central Hotel (now part of the new Celino Hotel complex).
Collins Avenue is another street in the area worth strolling along, with more classic buildings. The Delano South Beach and the National Hotel Miami Beach, an adults only resort, are both standout Art Deco properties along Collins Avenue.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Miami
5. Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of marsh and swamp, an important and fragile ecosystem that supports alligators, American crocodiles, Florida panthers, deer, turtles, egrets, manatees, river otters, and many other species. It is one of the largest parks in the country and offers a unique opportunity to see some of these creatures in the wild.
The entire area is a wide, shallow river that flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Bay of Florida. The bottom of this river is porous limestone over the top of a bedrock base called the Tamiami Formation. It catches rainfall and acts as southern Florida's main water reservoir.
Airboat rides are the best way to see the Everglades and catch a glimpse of alligators and other wildlife. Half-day tours from Miami will take you from your hotel to the Everglades for a 30-minute airboat ride and an alligator and wildlife education program. You'll also have time to walk along a walking trail.
If you want to combine an airboat tour with some sightseeing, consider the Miami Combo Tour: City Sightseeing, Biscayne Bay Cruise, and Everglades Airboat Ride. This is a full-day tour that covers it all.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Everglades National Park
6. Daytona 500 International Speedway
The Daytona 500 race is one of the most famous and most important in the NASCAR Cup Series, kicking off the racing season each February. It is held in Daytona Beach at the Daytona International Speedway, and it attracts huge crowds every year.
The Speedway was built in 1959 to move auto racing off the beach. Previously, races and land-speed competitions were held on the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach. If you can't make the race itself, you can still take a tour to explore the Speedway.
Official site: http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com
Accommodation: Best Hotels in Daytona Beach
7. SeaWorld Orlando
Much like Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando is a mega amusement park that has long been an important part of family vacations to Florida. The complex features its classic dolphin and whale shows, as well as acts featuring a cast of unexpected characters, from cats and ducks to otters and sea lions.
Other highlights include the Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin display and a host of other aquarium exhibits offering opportunities to see all kinds of marine life. Thrill rides, like the high-speed Mako roller coaster, which reaches speeds of up to 73 miles per hour, and the Journey to Atlantis water coaster ride are also a big part of the SeaWorld experience.
Official site: http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-orlando
Accommodation: Where to Stay near SeaWorld
8. Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Tampa area. This African theme park is home to all kinds of exotic animals and proudly claims to be one of the largest zoos in North America.
You can see lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, and much more. Safari style tours in open-air vehicles offer an opportunity to see some animals, like giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and ostrich roaming freely.
Other tours take you behind the scenes and offer a chance for close-up encounters with penguins, or a closer look at tigers and elephants. Live animal shows, featuring an unusual combination of characters, are another popular family activity.
Beyond the animal encounters, Busch Gardens also features all kinds of thrill rides, both wet and dry. While the wild and fast roller coasters get most of the attention, you can find rides for smaller children.
Official site: https://buschgardens.com/
Accommodation: Best Hotels in Tampa
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tampa
9. Manatee Viewing
These gentle, slow-moving giant sea creatures were once supposedly mistaken for mermaids by Christopher Columbus on his famous voyage to the Americas. When you see them up close in person, you may wonder if old Christopher had been at sea for just a bit too long.
Manatee viewing is a great family outing between November and mid-April, and fortunately Florida has several good spots to see these creatures. One of the most popular (and free) places to see manatees is at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. As the waters in the surrounding bays cool with the winter weather, the manatees come into the lagoon by the plant to luxuriate in the warm water used to cool the power plant.
Another great spot for those with a bit more of a taste for adventure is Crystal River. Here, you can actually get in the water and swim with the manatees as they enjoy the warm-water springs. The easiest way to do this is to take the three-hour Crystal River Manatee Swim in Kings Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You and a small group of others, along with a licensed guide, will take a boat to the manatees and then swim alongside them. Alternatively, go on a kayak tour, take a stand up paddleboard, or walk along the boardwalk and gaze down through the crystal-clear water at the manatees below you.
Over on the West Coast in Riviera Beach, another good spot is the Manatee Lagoon and FPL Eco-Discovery Center. The viewing platforms are an ideal spot to see the manatees enjoying the warm waters below. In addition, it's a great place to educate the kids on not only manatees, but the wider Florida ecosystem.
10. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is home to the impressive Fort Jefferson, built by the US Government in the 1800s. Although this is the key attraction of the park, the beautiful reef islands, seven in total, that make up the Dry Tortugas are themselves worth the trip. You can tour the fort and spend the rest of the day enjoying the soft-sand beaches and snorkeling in the clear, shallow waters.
Located 70 miles west of Key West, these islands are not accessible by car. Catamaran boat trips from Key West bring visitors here for a full day, which includes a tour of the fort, time for beaching and snorkeling, and breakfast and lunch.
You can also camp here and, once the tourists have left for the day, you can have your own desert island experience. Access is via private boat or the public ferry that carries a maximum of 10 campers.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm
Accommodation: Best Hotels in Key West
- Read More: Top-Rated Beaches in Key West
11. Duval Street in Key West
Most people touring the Keys make Key West their main destination due to its location at the end of the chain of islands. And fortunately, a leisurely stroll along Duval Street in Key West is one of the highlights of the Florida Keys. Shops and restaurants with outdoor patios, many in beautifully restored old buildings, line the street. There is always a lively vibe, regardless of the time of year, but even more so on days when cruise ships come to port.
Key West has a distinctly Caribbean flare, making it unique from other destinations around the state. In addition to Duval Street, there are lovely residential areas for walking and a number of interesting attractions, including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Southernmost Point in the continental USA.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Key West
12. St. Augustine's Historic District and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Known for being one of the oldest settlements in Florida, although Pensacola would beg to differ, St. Augustine's historical sites and charming old architecture definitely make it worth a visit. At the top of the list of things to see is the late 19th-century Flagler College, one of the most photographed buildings in the city. It was originally built as a hotel by railroad magnate Henry Flagler.
Also not to be missed is the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, famous for being the "oldest masonry fort in North America," according to the National Parks Service. Built in the 17th century, it is remarkably well preserved and an impressive sight, even for those with little interest in history. The view over the coast is also quite spectacular.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in St. Augustine
13. Edison and Ford Winter Estates
These adjacent, oceanfront mansions in Fort Myers offer a glimpse into the lives and livelihoods of inventor, Thomas Edison, and the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford. You can tour the homes and outbuildings, see where Edison conducted experiments, wander through the palm-lined grounds, and learn about Edison's famous botanical experiments. Once you reach the seashore, you'll quickly understand why these two men chose to spend winters here instead of up north.
The Edison Botanical Research Lab, one of the most impressive portions of the tour, is a designated National Historic Chemical Landmark.
Address: 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, Florida
Official site: http://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org
14. The Ringling
This outstanding, Venetian-inspired property, built mainly in the mid-1920s, consists of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, the Ca' d'Zan, and gardens.
The Circus Museum celebrates the history of this unique form of performance. It displays all kinds of circus costumes, props, posters, and other memorabilia, and features exhibits on the history of the famous Ringling Bros. One of the highlights is a massive scale model of the circus as it approaches, sets up, and leaves a location.
The Ca' d'Zan was the residence of John and Mable Ringling. Their inspiration for this waterfront Venetian-style mansion came from their travels in Europe and the great palaces of Venice. The 36,000-square-foot home was completed in 1926 and is an architectural masterpiece in southern Florida.
A visit to the art museum, housed in a stunning pink palace, is almost jarring after you view all the relatively low-brow circus memorabilia. It showcases the Ringling's extensive art collection, which includes classic pieces by Velazquez, El Greco, Van Dyke, Veronese, and Rubens. It may seem to the casual visitor like John and Mabel Ringling were trying to overcompensate for their humble beginnings by collecting and showcasing these pieces.
Address: 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida
Official site: https://www.ringling.org/history-ca-dzan
15. Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg
The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg is located on the city's impressive waterfront and housed in a unique modern building designed to match the creativity of the artist himself. Curving glass appears to envelope the otherwise box-like structure, giving the building a very striking appearance.
Inside, the museum showcases pieces from throughout Dalí's career, providing a complete overview of his development as an artist. Even those with little knowledge of his mind-bending art will find this museum interesting and thought provoking.
Address: One Dalí Blvd, St. Petersburg, Florida
Official site: https://thedali.org/
Accommodation: Best Hotels in St. Petersburg
16. Beaches of Naples
The beaches on Florida's Gulf Coast are some of the best in the entire United States. Unlike their counterparts on the Atlantic Ocean, the water here is warm, generally calm, and often shallow. Beach resorts along this section make popular holiday destinations.
Of all the beach areas up and down this coast, some of the finest are located in Naples. Powdery sand, crystal-clear waters, and lots of room to set up your umbrella and chair are what you can expect. One of the liveliest areas is right near the historic Naples Pier, where you'll find volleyball courts and the greatest concentration of sunseekers.
Naples' beaches have a laid-back atmosphere and are rarely crowded outside of holidays. You can access the main stretches of beach from town, or for a more natural experience, visit one of the state or local parks up and down the coast. Just back from the beach area is the delightful city of Naples, with exceptional dining and high-end shopping.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Naples
17. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail
Florida's unique ecosystems, with the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, The Everglades, and the swamps and bayous of its northern portion, attract a wide assortment of birds. One of the best ways to check off species on your bird "to see" list is to follow the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Starting in Pensacola, and winding its way all across the state, the trail lists 510 birding hot spots, divided into four regions: East, Panhandle, South, and West. Many of the sites are located in state, county, local, or national parks and are always identified with a distinctive brown sign with a bird flying through a stylized O.
Official site: https://floridabirdingtrail.com/
18. Pensacola Beach and the Gulf Island National Seashore
One of Florida's hidden gems, Pensacola Beach and the Gulf Island National Seashore are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Blindingly white soft, squeaky sand is lapped by the green-blue crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico. You may bring a bestseller to read under your umbrella, but chances are you'll just end up gazing out at the amazing view.
Unlike beaches along Florida's East Coast, the beaches here are protected in many areas by the Gulf Island National Seashore Park. As a result, they have limited development, allowing for you to experience the seashore in its natural environment.
That isn't to say they are all natural. Pensacola Beach is one of the Panhandle's top beach destinations for its fun vibe, great restaurants, and affordable accommodations. While you are visiting, if you hear a roar in the sky, it's the Navy's Blue Angels aerial acrobatic team performing death-defying maneuvers.
19. Weeki Wachee Spring and Live Mermaids Show
Florida wouldn't be Florida without its weird and wonderful assortment of tourist attractions. Ask yourself, where else in the world can you go and see a live mermaid swimming in a freshwater spring?
Although it may seem a bit over the top, the show is actually quite entertaining and well worth a visit. Mermaids have been performing here for over 60 years, and a trip to Weeki Wachee is almost a rite of passage for many tourists. Grab one of the 400 seats in the underwater theater, and settle in for a show unlike anything you've ever seen.
The mermaid show is actually located in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Other things to do include slipping and sliding on the waterslides at Buccaneer Bay, or taking a river boat tour.
Official site: https://www.floridastateparks.org/WeekiWachee