Hike to Juniper Spring in Ocala National Forest — Photo courtesy of Michael Warren / Getty Images
Beaches, beaches, beaches. That’s why most people come to Florida. But the state’s sand-swept shorelines are only the beginning. Florida may have some of the best beaches in the South, but Florida also boasts a verdant interior teeming with wildlife, world-class dining and shopping, vibrant cultural centers, and plenty of history.
Follow us to eight of the state’s most photogenic, breathtaking areas to see Florida in a whole new way.
Fernandina Beach boasts more than 400 ornate Victorian structures built prior to 1927 — Photo courtesy of Ameliaisland.com
Take a step back into the Victorian era on the tree-lined streets of the island’s Fernandina Beach, an Italianate seaport. This island boasts a lively shrimping culture, which you can experience on a specially themed tour with Amelia River Cruises. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, treat yourself to the delicacies served up at Timoti’s Seafood Shak.
The Amelia Island Museum of History centers its exclusive tours around Gilded Age architectural treasures and other period gems. To explore Amelia’s wild side, straddle a horse and take to the beach, where you might spy dolphins and whales on the ocean’s horizon. Up for more adventure? Amelia Island offers paragliding, skydiving, and private sailboat charters.
Swim with manatees, the teddy bears of the marine world — Photo courtesy of Discover Crystal River
Sailors of yore believed manatee to be mermaids. A bit too much rum, eh? The Old Florida, spring-fed town of Crystal River turns legend into reality. Tour boats and charters have been running swim-with-the-manatees excursions for decades, possibly Florida’s most magical wildlife encounters.
One operation, Crystal River Watersports, offers a combo Manatees and Mermaids Tour, where you can learn to swim while wearing an outfitter-provided mermaid’s tail. Should you decide you need a mermaid’s tail in your life, visit Mertailor for a custom-fitting and a tour of its aquariums, which include a mermaid performance tank.
Explore the stunning Dry Tortugas National Park — Photo courtesy of imagoDens / Getty Images
Known for its uber-casual code of conduct, the Florida Keys brandishes unique experiences that escape the party throngs. Islamorada specifically caters to a discriminating crowd with high-end fishing and diving excursions and fine seafood at Chef Michael’s.
In Key West, bypass the buzzing bar scene along Duval Crawl for a seaplane flight to the visually stunning Dry Tortugas National Park, where you can spy shipwrecks and sea life in the crystal waters. (You’ll also beat the crowds who arrive by tour boat.)
The sunset at Key West’s Mallory Square is highly celebrated, but there’s nothing quite like toasting the day’s end with a champagne-spiked sail.
Fort Lauderdale’s glamorous waterways are a must for exploration — Photo courtesy of dbvirago / Getty Images
Since the 1960s and the flick, “Where the Boys Are,” Fort Lauderdale has been synonymous with over-the-top beaches. Yet, its waterways are a must for exploration with their extravagant yachts and mansions along Millionaire’s Row. Tour operators like Water Taxi offer fun explorations of the glam excess.
Off the beaten path, Fort Lauderdale’s speakeasy scene alludes to a different era of living large. A favorite lies close to the city’s cultural heart in famed shop-and-dine destination, Las Olas Boulevard. Near Nova Southeastern University Art Museum (NSU Art), you’ll find Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, a taco joint by day and speakeasy by night. Simply pass through the port-a-potty door at back to enter the elegantly industrial speakeasy space.
Downtown Naples offers world-class dining and shopping — Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone / Getty Images
Naples balances on the edge of raw Everglades wilderness and an elite dining, shopping, golf, and arts scene. At its heart, Fifth Avenue South offers fine-dining experiences interspersed with exclusive jewelry stores, art galleries, and Sugden Community Theatre.
Book a prix-fixe seafood dinner at Sails Restaurant or wander over to Third Street South to find Hotel Escalente’s Veranda E for global haute cuisine. After dinner, stroll down the street to Gallery Row and the Naples Pier.
On the flipside of Naple’s city treasures, natural wonders await. For one-of-a-kind wildlife experiences, participate in dolphin research and sightings with The Dolphin Explorer on Marco Island or immerse yourself in the rugged wilds with Everglades Adventures Kayak & Eco Tours in Everglades City. The latter offers everything from boat-assisted kayak tours in remote waters to private kayak camping trips.
Grandview Clydesdale Tours offers horse-drawn carriage rides — Photo courtesy of Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau
Mineral springs run below the surface of this Florida town, Silver Springs State Park, and Ocala National Forest. A glass-bottom boat tour of Silver Springs, one of Florida’s oldest attractions, is de rigueur. Not only do the springs provide recreational opportunities and sheer beauty, they nourish Ocala’s green-carpeted horse farms that have produced world-champion thoroughbreds for many years.
The Horse Capital Tours and Grandview Clydesdale Tours take you behind the scenes of horse farm life. Be sure to check the calendar at World Equestrian Center for premier competitions and horse shows held throughout the year.
This Old City is full of Instagram moments — Photo courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images
Don’t even think about going to St. Augustine without a camera or fully charged smartphone. You’ll find photo ops — from colonial Spanish and Victorian architecture to costumed pirates and wenches — around every corner in the oldest continuously occupied city in the US.
Plus, there’s the beach. St. Augustine is home to Anastasia State Park, whose beach ranked among the 10 Best Beaches in the South.
Yet, the town’s interior is equally inviting, ranking fourth among the 10 Most Walkable Cities in the US. To make the most of your walk, sign up for a tour. Ghost and history tours are super popular in the Old City. Saint Augustine Photo Tours adds the benefit of a professional photographer who will ensure your snaps are archival quality. On the shoreline, climb the St. Augustine Lighthouse for stellar shots.
Perhaps not as famous as Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach for surfing, St. Augustine Beach keeps its gnarly reputation more low-key. Surf schools can get you riding the waves or check out the windsurfing and kiteboarding action.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the centerpiece of The Ringling — Photo courtesy of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Its glaringly gorgeous, powder-sugar beaches and rich art scene get most of the applause. Then, there’s the circus. The Ringling name takes the center ring among Sarasota’s cultural assets.
The Ringling complex showcases circus impresario John Ringling’s love for fine art and Italian architecture. Begin your Sarasota circus experience there, where circus and art museums prime you for spectacular Circus Arts Conservatory live performances in the complex’s baroque Asolo Theatre or under the Sailor Circus Big Top.
In Sarasota’s fashionable St. Armands Circle shopping district, the Circus Ring of Fame statuary pays homage to all the greats. Stop for lunch nearby at elegant Café L’Europe or — if you’re up for a little adventure — head to the Amish community of Pinecraft for legendary homemade pies and comfort food.