8 Great Florida Vacation Destinations (That Aren’t Miami or Orlando)
Times may change, but Florida remains one of the great American travel destinations. From Miami’s multinational bustle to Orlando’s burgeoning fantasylands to the eerie swamps of the Everglades, Florida has something for practically everyone – except snow-lovers.
If you’re thinking about a Florida vacation but aren’t sure quite what to do or where to go, here are eight great Florida vacation destinations that thrive outside of the Miami-Orlando axis.
The Best Florida Travel Destinations:
It calls itself “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” but Destin is a lot more than that. It’s a wonderfully laid-back beach getaway that gets gulf-side breezes and offers more than 325 days of sunshine a year. Destin features a wide range of lodging possibilities, from standard hotels to luxury rentals with glorious beach-and-water views. The variety of lodgings is almost matched by the variety of activities, which range from swimming and snorkeling in the water, deep-sea fishing on the water, and great golf, biking, and hiking inland.
With more than 27 miles of beach, Panama City Beach is all just what the doctor ordered for sand-starved northerners. But PCB, the self-styled “Spring Break Capital of the World,” has much more than that.
With two state parks flanking the town, more wild natural landscapes are not that far away. And naturally, for a destination that prides itself on Spring Break adventures, the nightlife is pretty robust – though it’s not all beer bars and burger joints; Panama City offers fantastic fine dining, with seafood the star of many menus. Luxurious vacation rentals abound, with many family-sized rentals available, makes PCB a wonderful family getaway – when the students aren’t around, that is.
Another spectacular Gulf Coast beach town in North Florida, Fort Walton Beach, offers a surplus of what many people come to Florida for: laid-back peace and quiet. The white-sand beaches, golf courses, and museums are just a bonus – well, not really; they’re a major reason to visit the area, too. For many vacationers, Fort Walton Beach has just the right amount of beach, swimming and snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, parks, inland recreation, dining, nightlife, and attractions – not to mention a wide selection of vacation rentals.
The largest of Florida’s 10,000 Islands, Marco Island is a luxurious South Florida getaway that features some of the area’s most well-manicured and popular beaches. Start at either Tigertail or South Marco Beach, and you may not want to go anywhere else; the boardwalks, butterfly gardens, parasailing, windsurfing, and beach volleyball should keep you occupied for hours, if not days. The shelling is great, the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico are inviting, and if you do feel like a change of pace, the Everglades (see below) are 40 minutes away.
Man does not live by beach alone, even in Florida, making a trip to the Everglades a must. The Everglades are one of the world’s great natural wonders, a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance – and a national park.
This deep and dense swamp occupies a huge portion of South Florida’s interior and provides a home for many rare and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. Don’t be afraid of the crocs and gators; hop on one of the fabled Everglades airboats and see the swamps for yourself. If you’re really brave, try swamp camping on one of the park’s elevated platforms, called “chickees.”
Pretty much everyone agrees that Sanibel Island is America’s shell-collecting capital. It’s a matter of geography: Gulf currents are gentle, but Sanibel sits on the windward side, juts out into the water and just rakes in the shells. Hundreds of thousands of shells are on Sanibel and its sister island, Captiva, just for the picking-up, meaning anyone can be a first-class shell-hunter with zero experience.
Don’t feel like shell-hunting? There are 22 miles of bike trails, and the sea kayaking is excellent. Consider renting a condo for your stay, and you’ll want to rent a car to explore the nearby Fort Myers area.
Sometimes called the “Venice of America” because of its 300 miles of inland canals, Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant city that has taken huge steps out of Miami’s shadows. Take a water taxi and experience historic sites like the Stranahan and Bonnet House museums, hit the high-end shopping on Las Olas Boulevard, or try a different kind of hike on the Greater Fort Lauderdale Ale Trail. The restaurants are four-star, the night life is exciting, the lodging options are almost endless, and we haven’t even mentioned the spectacular beaches and plethora of water activities.
Founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, St. Augustine wears its status well as the oldest city in the U.S. (and the supposed home of Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth). The city’s Spanish colonial architecture has been beautifully restored, but the city also has another legacy as well – that of one of America’s first sun-and-fun playgrounds. That heritage is on display at the Lightner Museum (the old Alcazar Hotel, a/k/a “The Castle of Happy Returns,” built in 1888 by the railroad mogul Henry Flagler).
There’s even more history to explore in this fascinating city, from Native American to African-American. It’s an appealing combination of the old world and the new … and it’s only in Florida.
Wherever in Florida your travels take you, and whether you make it to the Sunshine State by air, rail, or car, help protect your vacation with travel insurance from Generali. Generali plans include coverage for certain trip interruptions or cancellations, medical emergencies, medical evacuation, and more.
Get a quote today – and have fun in Florida!