For anyone sick of hearing Florida is just Walt Disney World, this list is for you. These hidden gems include state parks where you can explore caverns or swim with manatees, quiet beaches where you can actually relax, verdant gardens, and top-notch restaurants.
So gas up the car and start exploring everything our beautiful state really has to offer.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL
This majestic 200-acre garden features a 205-foot singing tower facing a reflecting pool, a bird sanctuary, and acres of oaks, pines, ferns, camellias, jasmine, spider lily, and wetland plants.
2. Crystal River State Park in Citrus County, FL
Crystal River not only has some of the clearest water in Florida, it is also the only place you can legally swim up close with endangered manatees.
3. Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, FL
Visit Rainbow Springs and take a walk through paradise. The park offers swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking, and tubing in some parts of its beautiful blue springs. You can also spot some incredible wildlife and man-made (but still spectacular) waterfalls.
4. Winter Park, FL
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Natural Art in Winter Park, FL
This charming city north of Orlando offers lots of cute shops, restaurants, and parks to stroll through, as well as an excellent Saturday morning farmers market and cultural landmarks like the Morse Museum, which holds the most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany's works in the world.
5. Falling Waters State Park
Falling Waters near Chipley, FL, is home to the tallest waterfall (and one of very few, period) in the state of Florida. It can be quite impressive after a heavy rain, as the water rushes down 73 feet of limestone into a huge sinkhole.
6. Santa Rosa Beach
This beach is renowned for its turquoise waters and upscale dining, but visitors should also check out the nearby artist colony, Gulf Place. Santa Rosa Beach also touches Point Washington State Forest, a 15,000-acre preserve for an alternative to beach days.
7. Swap Shop Flea Market and Drive-In Theater in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Swap Shop has over 2,000 vendors for 180,00 square feet of shopping, restaurants, farmers markets with tons of local produce, and one of the world's largest drive-in movie theaters. Whatever you're looking for, Swap Shop probably has it. There are also locations in Tampa and Lake Worth.
8. The French Pantry in Jacksonville, FL
Put on your fancy pants and head to this tres chic cafe in Jacksonville. As expected, they have some of the best pastries and cakes you will ever try, but they're only open for lunch.
9. Tigertail Beach, Marco Island, FL
A beach in Florida where you can actually get some alone time is rare indeed. Enjoy the lagoon or the beach for emerald Gulf waters and bright white sand.
10. Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, FL
11. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
This park on Key Biscayne is home to the Cape Florida Light (the oldest standing structure in Miami), was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and has one of the best beaches in the country.
12. Cafe La Buca in Pompano Beach
This little restaurant has Italian food as good as you wish your mama made. There's no menu, no listed prices, and no tap water (only bottles for sale), but guests will be just fine if they bring their own wine and a few people to share the family-style food (and the bill) with.
13. Caladesi Island, Dunedin, FL (offshore)
Caladesi Island is one of the best beaches in the country and one of the few in Florida that have been kept completely natural.
14. Secret Woods Nature Center, Dania Beach, FL
This Urban Wilderness Area features a great many different trees native to Florida, including cypress, maple, mangrove, and a laurel oak hammock. Then there's the butterfly garden and reptile habitat, making the Secret Woods fun for nature loving adults and kids alike.
15. Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound, FL
On this preserve on Jupiter Island you'll see waves breaking on huge limestone formations, sending sprays up to 50 feet in the air. Don't miss the educational center, plant nursery, boardwalk, and butterfly garden.
16. The Goblin Market Restaurant in Mount Dora, FL
The Goblin Market is an eclectic bistro that is a must-visit for anyone near the charming town of Mount Dora. The restaurant has great ambiance that's only matched by the high quality steaks and seafood. Books line the walls of the three small dining rooms, and most guests rave about the shady courtyard and garden patio.
17. Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, FL
This center for Japanese culture in Palm Beach County is unique and serene, offering Japanese tea ceremonies, a bonsai garden, festivals, classes, and a superb gift shop and cafe.
18. Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna, FL
This park provides access to the only air-filled caves open to the public in Florida. The park also offers bicycling, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and camping.
Florida is a huge state, so of course no one list could gather all of its hidden gems. Plus, the very best ones are probably still well hidden. Please let us know some of your favorites in the comments below!