Mention vacation and Florida jumps to mind. But the Sunshine State is more than just beaches and theme parks, although for some those are enough for a perfect getaway. Many of Florida’s cities and towns are home to museums, music, sports, fine dining, nightlife and sunset celebrations.
Fort Lauderdale, the “Venice of America,” boasts outdoor recreation, museums, dining, shopping and three historic districts. Visitors can get a taste of Europe with Riverfront Gondola Tours through the city’s canals. Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale stretches for a mile and incorporates ten parks along the New River.
If boating is your passion, plan to attend the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the largest in-water boat show in the world, held every fall.
Art, history and specialty museums also beckon. The NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, part of Nova Southeastern University, has more than 7,500 works and an extensive collection of Latin American and Cuban art. At the Museum of Discovery & Science try tons of firsthand and educational activities and see live otters. Learn about the proud culture and history of LGBTQIA+ people and their contributions to American society at the Stonewall National Museum & Archives, the biggest lending library of its kind in the country.
Speaking of the outdoors, Martin County has more than 77 parks –and the most bio-diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern hemisphere, the St. Lucie Inlet. The area boasts deep sea fishing, and of course, beaches! Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast in Jensen Beach offers indoor fun. The town of Stuart is home to the Creek District, with artwork, music and restaurants. The Stuart Heritage Museum is filled with stories of the town’s past.
For glamour and glitz, head to the City of Miami with its trendy shops, restaurants and Little Havana neighborhood Calle Ocho, full of Cuban food, culture and music. Colorful murals adorn the Wynwood neighborhood, and clubs are alive with music and dancing day and night.
Coconut Grove, Miami’s original neighborhood, features specialty shops and restaurants and living history of the area, which was settled by Bahamian immigrants in the late 1800s. And yes, there are world-famous beaches.
What can you say about Orlando, the fun capital of the planet, with something for all ages? Spend packed days and nights at Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida Resort.
While at Universal, cool off at Volcano Bay, a South Sea oasis-themed water park featuring a volcano towering over a sunny beach and palm-tree-lined paths. Or Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, part of Walt Disney World’s Resort. Ready for a change of scenery? Check out Aquatica, rated the number one outdoor water park by USA Today. For those who enjoy the great outdoors, Orlando is known for fishing, birdwatching, kayaking and ecotourism.
The Palm Beaches
Whether it is ocean beaches, shopping, golf, gourmet food or music, the Palm Beaches don’t disappoint. With more than 160 golf courses, it is no wonder the area is known as Florida’s Golf Capital. For those who are not fans of golf, there are opportunities for hiking, croquet, tennis, mini-golf and other activities.
When you get off the links, drive through the “jungle” at Lion Country Safari and see prowling lions and towering giraffes. Then see animals from around the world at the Palm Beach Zoo and book time for a personal visit with some of the critters including a panther, flamingo and sloth.
Take in some of the area’s maritime history at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum and get a feel for the Gilded Age at the Flagler Museum, built in 1902 and once the estate of business magnate Henry Flagler, who built much of Florida’s infrastructure. Stroll through 16-acres of gardens at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens and view a world-class bonsai display and galleries of Asian art.
In the state’s northwest region, Pensacola offers white sand beaches and walking tours through Historic Pensacola Village on America’s First Settlement Trail. This trail has 20 stops and more than 70 points of interest, some from as early as 1756. Shops and restaurants are plentiful, and accommodations are easy to find.
For “Top Gun” fans, Pensacola also is the home of the U.S. Navy aviation training station, the Blue Angels air acrobatic team and the National Naval Aviation Museum.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater/Gulf Coast
In the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, you’ll find miles of beaches for relaxing, as well as eclectic art museums. Contemporary glass art from around the world is on display at the Imagine Museum while the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg includes thousands of artifacts covering nearly 5,000 years of civilization. The Dalí Museum features one of the most extensive collections of the surreal artist’s work. More glass work is on display at the Chihuly Collection – Morean Arts Center.
Celebrate days’ end at Sunsets at Pier 60 in Clearwater. Enjoy nightly performances and artwork displays while waiting for the sun to drop below the horizon. Clearwater Marine Aquarium became world famous in 2007 when the nearby Hanger Clinic constructed a prosthetic tail for Winter, an injured dolphin. The story spawned a book and two movies; Winter lived at the rescue center until she died in 2021.
If outdoor sports are more to your liking, the Sunseeker Resort is scheduled to open in neighboring Port Charlotte December 15. Accessible from five airports, guests can enjoy golf, sunset cruises, fishing, biking and kayaking.
Moving on, Tampa Bay has something for everyone, including beaches, amusement parks, art, vibrant nightlife and scenic strolls.
Popular with tourists and locals alike is the 2.6-mile-long Riverwalk, a path along the Hillsborough River, which passes the Tampa Museum of Art, the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Tampa Bay History Center.
Younger visitors will enjoy Glazer Children’s Museum, with hands-on exhibits about farming, banking, art, engineering and more.
Stop in for a drink, or spend the night at the Hotel Flor Tampa, formerly the Floridian Palace. The New York-style hotel built in 1926 is on the National Register of Historic Places and recently underwent extensive renovations. Dine in a Roaring ‘20s speakeasy atmosphere at The Dan, the hotel’s on-site restaurant and bar, featuring a Gulf Coast and New Orleans infused menu. In the mood for a beverage and a snack? Check out the hotel’s Cass Street Coffee.
No trip to Tampa is complete without a visit to Ybor City, Tampa’s National Historic Landmark District. This is the birthplace of the industry that earned Tampa the nickname the Cigar City, built by Spanish, Cuban, Italian and Eastern European immigrants. Visitors can enjoy Ybor City Museum State Park, The Cuban Club, a former community club now available for events and the nearby Jose Marti Park, owned by the government of Cuba, and is considered the sole parcel of free Cuba in the world.
Tampa Bay’s restaurant scene satisfies with food and drink from every corner of the world. For example, Koya offers a tasting menu of Japanese delicacies. Italian eatery Rocca specializes in handmade pasta, tableside mozzarella, dry aged meats, exotic cocktails, and a long and varied Italian wine list. Ready to try authentic Himalayan food? Head to Gorkhali Kitchen where the menu includes goat dishes and Indian and Nepalese recipes.
Whatever type of vacation you are craving – relaxing beach time, music, museums, amusement parks – Florida has it all. Learn more.