Best Places to Visit in Florida
With more than 8,000 miles of shoreline, the Sunshine State is prime vacation territory. But with so many diverse destinations in Florida, it can be hard to pick which place is right for your next getaway. That's why U.S. News considered factors like the number of attractions, availability of accommodations and the opinions of everyday travelers to pick the best places to visit in Florida. Vote for your favorite spot below to help determine next year's list.
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If you consider yourself a nature lover, you've come to the right place. Here, you can explore one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks (Myakka River State Park), soak up some sun at Lido Beach on nearby Lido Key or admire the butterflies at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Make sure you save some time for learning about some of the city's most famous residents at The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art or Ca' d'Zan.
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While the cast of Disney characters draws families to Orlando year after year, there are endless attractions and activities outside of the theme parks. Families can shop till they drop at outlet malls and get up close and personal with animals at Gatorland or Discovery Cove. Those without little ones can explore Orlando's revitalized nightlife and restaurant scenes in the downtown area.
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Holding the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days of sunshine, St. Petersburg appeals to all types of travelers. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy St. Pete Beach and the 7 miles of waterfront parks. Away from the shore, downtown St. Petersburg offers plenty of attractions, including a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dalí and the Sunken Gardens, the city's oldest living museum.
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Travel to this island in the Florida Keys to see the southernmost point in the continental United States. Key West is known for its free-spirited locals, colorful conch-style homes and coral reefs ripe for snorkeling and scuba diving. Between boat tours and margaritas, bibliophiles will enjoy visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where they can learn more about the famous writer and see descendants of his six-toed cat, Snow White.
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The elegant and romantic city of Naples is all about luxury and relaxation. This spot on Florida's Paradise Coast is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches, incredible golf courses and high-end shops and gourmet restaurants, especially along Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Plus, flora and fauna lovers have access to all kinds of nature-focused attractions here, such as the Naples Zoo, the Naples Botanical Garden and Clam Pass Park. Those who appreciate art won't want to miss The Baker Museum or one of the city's many art galleries.
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Few places in the world compare to colorful, vibrant Miami Beach. From the art deco architecture along Ocean Drive to the scantily clad beachgoers on South Beach, this Miami offshoot attracts everyone from relaxed retirees to night owls. But you'll want to bring along your credit card, because those fashionable dance clubs and chic, trendy restaurants don't come cheap. To save some money, consider buying a Go Miami card before your trip to access to some of the area's museums and tours for a fraction of the price.
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"Low-key" and "quaint" are two words often used to describe this Gulf Coast island. Sanibel Island offers a casual beach environment that's popular with families for its reasonably priced vacation rentals and wide, uncrowded beaches filled with seashells. When the little ones tire of the beach, visit the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge to spot birds like herons, roseate spoonbills and ospreys.
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History buffs should make a beeline for St. Augustine. Founded by the Spaniards in 1565, this town in northern Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the U.S., earning it the nickname the Ancient City. St. Augustine's seaside buildings and monuments, from the pedestrian-friendly St. George Street to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, act as a living guide to history.
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This spot along the Florida Panhandle's Emerald Coast is a home away from home for thousands of summer vacationers. Its unique, picture-perfect white sands made from Appalachian quartz and its clear, bright blue-green water help Destin stand out from other Florida beaches. And Destin's small-town feel, manicured golf courses, optimal fishing conditions and shop- and restaurant-lined boardwalk continue to attract travelers year after year.
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Everglades National Park#10 in Best Places to Visit in Florida
Florida is almost as famous for its alligators as it is for its beaches and theme parks, and one of the best places to see them is in Everglades National Park. As the largest subtropical wilderness in the country, the park is home to alligators, plus other unique Florida animals like manatees and panthers. The Everglades also offers several trails and guided tours for navigating its vast 1.5 million acres. Be sure to visit between November and April (the park's dry season) to enjoy lower temperatures, fewer mosquitos and increased chances of spotting wildlife.
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If you're looking for sun, sand and superb shopping, Fort Lauderdale is the place to go. Fort Lauderdale's palm-tree lined beaches are some of the best in Florida, and its 165 miles of waterways and canals have earned it the nickname the Venice of America. Those looking to partake in some retail therapy will find plenty of shops and restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard and in The Galleria mall and Sawgrass Mills, the largest outlet mall in the country. Don't forget to also check out the city's thriving art scene, especially in downtown's FATVillage area and the MASS District.
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For a quiet, relaxing vacation, head to Fort Myers. The city is known for its many nature reserves and parks, including Manatee Park and the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium. Fishing is also a popular pastime here. But Fort Myers offers more than just nature-focused activities. In March, sports fans flock to the area to watch the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins baseball teams conduct their spring training. What's more, the city is where travelers will find the historic Edison and Ford Winter Estates, which were built by American inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
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Amelia Island#13 in Best Places to Visit in Florida
Located about 30 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Amelia Island's historical charm and 13 miles of uncrowded beaches make it a top vacation destination. Stroll through Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, where pirates used to roam and the modern shrimping industry was born. For some fun yet relaxing activities, go horseback riding by the water or play a round of golf on one of the island's highly regarded courses.
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Known as the Dive Capital of the World, Key Largo is home to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S., the country's first undersea park and the only underwater hotel in the world solely accessible by scuba diving. The largest island in the Florida Keys is also a prime spot for other aquatic activities, including snorkeling, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing and glass-bottom boating. When you're ready to trade your sea legs for solid ground, grab a bite to eat at one of Key Largo's restaurants or unwind with a treatment at a local spa.
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Cocoa Beach#15 in Best Places to Visit in Florida
Cocoa Beach appeals to everyone from space enthusiasts to sun seekers and surfers. The nearby Kennedy Space Center offers a firsthand look at NASA's shuttles and launch pads. In the northern part of Cocoa Beach, visitors will find one of the best places in Florida to surf and Ron Jon Surf Shop, the largest surf shop in the world. Vacationers can also sign up for bioluminescent kayaking tours of the area's waterways or play beach volleyball next to the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier.
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Clearwater Beach's beautiful white sand, clear blue water and small-town vibe make it an ideal destination for a family vacation. Get a snapshot of the city during a Segway or helicopter tour before heading to Pier 60 to catch a sunset, purchase locally made crafts and watch various street performances. Also save time for a visit to one of the area's biggest attractions, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter and Hope (the stars of the "Dolphin Tale" movies) live.
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As one of Florida's Palm Beaches, Boca Raton offers something for everyone. Sugar Sand Park is a great option for travelers of all ages, with nature trails, a theater, a science center and a carousel. Other must-see Boca Raton attractions include the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, where visitors can stroll through a butterfly garden and view four outdoor aquariums, and Mizner Park, which features an art museum, a movie theater and dozens of stores and restaurants.
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Situated along Florida's Atlantic Coast, Vero Beach is an excellent spot for a peaceful getaway. Its beautiful, quiet beaches are perfect for swimming and sunbathing, and some stretches of sand like the Seagrape Trail even offer opportunities to see sea turtle nests between May and October. For a relaxing stroll and additional wildlife viewing, visit Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge or McKee Botanical Garden. Also make sure to hit the links at a local golf course, peruse the exhibits at the Vero Beach Museum of Art and savor fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant.
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Panama City Beach boasts 27 miles of white sand beaches just waiting to be explored. There's no shortage of things to do away from the shore, either. Gulf World Marine Park and Shipwreck Island Waterpark provide hours of family-friendly fun, while the town's beach bars, dance clubs and live music venues offer ample nighttime entertainment for adults. With an average of 320 days of sunshine a year and consistently warm temperatures, chances are the weather will be sublime no matter when you visit.
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Marco Island#20 in Best Places to Visit in Florida
The largest of Southwest Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island is a haven for water sports like boating, fishing and kayaking. Its sunny skies and white sand beaches invite visitors to sunbathe, swim and search for seashells. Those who want a break from the sand can learn about the island's ties to the ancient Calusa Native Americans at the Marco Island Historical Museum or look for manatees, pelicans and other wild animals in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
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