As a proud Florida native (born and raised in Port Orange and currently in Miami), I get a little peeved when the only thing people seem to associate with this wonderful state is theme parks: Disney World and Universal Studios, to be precise. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney and Universal (how could you not love “the happiest place on Earth”?) but people tend to think that just because you live in Florida, you must go to Disney all the time. I don’t live anywhere near Orlando! It’s about a 4 hour drive, which relatively speaking is not too far away, but I thought it was past due that the rest of Florida got a little love. Oh, and I don’t mean pointing out that Florida is also home to lots of gators, beaches, and retirees. These are the stereotypes everyone knows to be true, but here I present to you an insider’s guide to planning the ultimate Florida getaway.
Unless you have a timeshare or a trip to Disney/Universal is an esteemed family tradition, consider these five other Florida vacations that your family is sure to love and enjoy just as much!
1) Fort Lauderdale
Visiting Fort Lauderdale is about as close as you can get to experiencing Venice without traveling overseas to Italy. Known as the “Venice of America,” this city is the perfect blend of history, culture, and resort destination. Pretend you’re in Venice with a gondola ride through the city’s canals as you take in the mansions of the mega-rich along Millionaire’s Row, relax poolside at one of Fort Lauderdale’s luxurious resorts, walk along the white-walled beachfront promenade or historic riverfront, or take in a show or peruse the Museum of Art in the Arts and Entertainment District. You won’t run out of things to do in Fort Lauderdale.
2) The Florida Keys
“Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go…off the Florida Keys, there’s a place called Kokomo…” Kokomo may not be a real island, but you can bet that if the Beach Boys are singing about the Florida Keys in a song about a tropical paradise, this must be a destination worth visiting for the ultimate R&R. I recommend traveling the Keys via car- if you flew there, look into rentals. Start your trip off in Key Largo and take the Overseas Highway all the way down to Key West, the Southernmost point in the Continental United States, just 90 miles from Cuba. In the case of a Florida Keys road trip, the journey matters more than the destination. On your journey from Key Largo to Key West, be sure to explore the diverse marine life on a snorkel trip, sample the freshly-caught seafood, and be sure to visit the famous cultural and historic sites, such as the Hemingway Home and Museum and the Keys History & Discovery Center.
3) Clearwater Beach/St. Petersburg
Clearwater Beach is the quintessential tropical beach: white sand, crystal-blue ocean water, and a laid-back, small-town vibe. Whether you’re looking to sip a tropical drink by the sea, partake in some volleyball on the sand, or enjoy some quality family time, Clearwater Beach will provide! The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to Winter the dolphin, the star of the movie Dolphin Tale. The pier jutting out into the sea features nightly vendors and live music. Plus, Clearwater is just a short drive or boat ride away from St. Petersburg, where you’ll find a plethora of unique shops and restaurants.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my hometown! Miami is most notable for its Latin American culture, which is ingrained in everything from the Cuban cuisine to the bright, candy-colored buildings. Miami truly is a hub of activity that offers something for everyone, so it’s no wonder it’s one of Florida’s (and the entire world’s) most popular vacation spots. Even so, Miami is far from a tourist trap. From the bustling nightlife of South Beach to the Latin flair of Little Havana, Miami is a mecca for foodies, athletes, partiers, shoppers, and artists alike! You’ll have to experience it for yourself if you don’t believe me.
5) St. Augustine and Amelia Island
Before Florida became a state and morphed into the popular vacation destination that it is today, it was the uncharted terrain of the Spanish Conquistadors. Founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine prides itself on being the oldest city in the United States as the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the nation. Obviously then, St. Augustine is a history-lover’s delight! Be sure to visit the Colonial Quarter in the heart of the historic district and Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S.
If you’re looking to plan a vacation to one of these fabulous destinations, check out visitflorida.com for more information.