As we welcome the New Year, we’ve been thinking a lot about ways to make this year the best one yet. Why not make 2017 the year of exploring your home state? There’s so much to see and do in Florida, there’s no need to travel around the world for a vacation. The Sunshine State is packed with natural beauty, history, culture, stunning architecture, and unbelievable cuisine for you to explore. Here are a few places we think every Floridian should see:
1. Visit the Keys.
You might be surprised how many Floridians haven't been to the Keys. (Florida is a very large state, so it's not exactly close to everyone.) The Florida Keys are so cool, unique and full of natural beauty. There's truly something for everyone.
2. Spend some time in the Everglades.
This one is probably a no-brainer. This park is one of the few places where we can see Florida as it was long before development.
3. Go tubing down the Ichetucknee.
Tubing down the Ichetucknee deserves a place on every Floridian's bucket list. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, canoeing and kayaking are other popular pastimes. There's no camping at this state park, and it's open every day of the year from 8:00 a.m. until sundown.
4. See the nation's oldest city.
There are a million reasons to visit St. Augustine, one of them being that it's our nation's oldest city. Beside all of the incredible history and architecture, there's also lots of food, art, music, and shopping to explore here.
5. Explore the Florida Caverns.
Air-filled caves are not very common here in the flattest state in the country. Most of our caves can only be explored underwater, and the Florida Caverns are the only air-filled caves in Florida that offer tours for visitors. If you haven't been to this state park in the Panhandle, it's definitely worth a visit.
6. Check out Florida's own fairy tale tower.
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales is right out of a fairy tale. The 205-foot tower is not only a work of art, it holds some of the world's finest carillon bells. The surrounding gardens are lush and romantic. It's definitely in the running for best place to propose in Florida.
7. Dine in Florida's oldest restaurant.
Columbia Restaurant in the historic neighborhood of Ybor City has been serving succulent Spanish and Cuban dishes since 1905. It has since branched out to Sarasota, St. Augustine, Clearwater Beach and Orlando, but nothing can replace a visit to the original.
8. Ponder the mysteries of Coral Castle.
This landmark in Homestead is a monolithic structure made to look like a castle, complete with huge furniture and sculptures. It was constructed using tons of coral-formed limestone. The weird thing is that how it was built remains a mystery to this day. Its creator claimed to have sourced, moved and carved all of the giant stones by himself.
9. Experience the sights and sounds of vibrant Miami.
Although this big city can seem intimidating compared to some of the other places on this list, there's a lot more to see outside of the nightlife. There's fascinating history, architecture, cuisine and culture waiting to be explored here.
10. Dive into the Devil's Den.
Devil's Den in Williston has an ethereal beauty that reminds you how lucky we are to live in our state. This unique prehistoric spring is covered by a karst window that lets in a stream of sunlight, like a spotlight into the clear, blue water below. Visitors must be scuba diving or snorkeling to explore here.
11. Visit an eccentric artist's DIY castle/gallery.
Incredibly, this more modern-looking castle in Ona (Central Florida) was also built by a single individual. This one, however, was made by an artist and houses tons of his unique, and sometimes hilarious, artwork. Rumor has it he also built an excellent restaurant here in the shape of a ship.
12. Learn about the culture of Japan without leaving Florida.
Visitors to this museum in Delray Beach learn about Japanese culture in a serene setting, through art, tea ceremonies, food and classes. The festivals at this museum are especially amazing.
13. Try Florida's tastiest delicacy at this legendary restaurant.
Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach has been around in some form since 1913 and serving Florida stone crab since 1921. Joe's was the first place to attempt to serve this dish, which has become a beloved Florida delicacy.
14. Watch the mermaids at Weeki Wachee.
Florida is probably the only state with mermaids on its payroll. But the mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park aren't just cool, they're an enchanting display of Old Florida's natural charm.
15. Visit our largest attraction at least once.
Of course, if you're really writing your bucket list, you can't leave off the Disney World. If you don't have any kids to bring along to the Magic Kingdom, some of the other parks are more adult-friendly. Even grown-ups can have a good time at EPCOT or the Animal Kingdom.
Have you visited any (or all) of these places? What were your favorites? What places would you add to the list?