Beaches, amusement parks, national parks, and an array of unique tourist attractions make Florida one of the most visited states in America. Families flock to Orlando, while sunseekers head to the coastal cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, a string of cities along the southern Gulf Coast, and in summer, to the brilliant white-sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle. For a taste of island life, there is nothing quite like the Florida Keys, where life runs at a slower pace and Key West seems a world away from the mainland. You’ll also find a long list of must-see sights and events, from the Kennedy Space Center to the Dayton 500, spread across the state. Florida is a place that lends itself to return visits.
1 Walt Disney World
For the ultimate amusement park experience, there’s no place quite like Disney World in Orlando. The magic of Disney has not worn off over the decades as millions of visitors still flock here each year to enjoy the Magic Kingdom and the many other attractions of this mega amusement park. The number of things to do and see here has grown over the years and now includes an extensive list that reaches far beyond the traditional theme parks. If you’re looking for more ideas, consider checking out the water parks of Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the exotic animals of Animal Kingdom Park, or Disney Hollywood Studios. You’ll also find all kinds of dining experiences, shopping areas, and shows.
2 Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center is one of Florida’s most exciting, fascinating, and educational attractions. Located on Florida’s Space Coast, this huge complex is where space exploration has made history. Today, you can see rockets and the Space Shuttle Atlantis, meet an astronaut, and learn about missions to space.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is divided into mission zones, each of which features interesting displays and interactive exhibits focused on specific themes. Displays are designed with all ages in mind, making this an engaging experience for adults or families. The Behind the Gates Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes you to restricted areas for a look at historic launch sites and other facilities with limited access to the public. This is included in your daily admission. Each area takes time to see, and you should expect to spend a full day at the Kennedy Space Center.
Many people visit the Space Center on day trips from Orlando, which is about an hour away if you don’t hit traffic, but if you want to stay closer to get an early start at the Space Center, you can find quality chain hotels in Titusville. Some good options include the Hampton Inn, Fairfield Marriott, and the Holiday Inn, all conveniently located off Interstate 95, just 15 to 20 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
3 Universal Studios
Universal Studios in Orlando is a fantastic experience, and for many visitors, it often tops a visit to Walt Disney World. This huge amusement park offers all kinds of fantastic rides and recreated sets based on popular movies and shows. Unbelievable 3D and 4D simulator rides, thrill rides, and wet and wild rides at the newest theme park, Universal’s Volcano Bay, are some of the highlights. You can also find tamer rides for younger children to enjoy. One of the most popular and impressive attractions is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can board the Hogwarts Express, wander through Hogsmeade Village, or of course, hop on a ride.
4 Miami Beach and the Historic Districts
Although time spent lounging on the beach on a hot day is a must, Miami Beach is about much more than just the glorious, wide stretch of golden sand that lines the Atlantic. One of the things that make Miami Beach so unique among Florida’s beach destinations in the Art Deco Historic District. Beautifully restored buildings, mainly from the 1930s and early 1940s, reflect the city’s vibrant history and create an ambiance like you won’t find in other cities.
Today, many of these buildings are high-end hotels, condominiums, and restaurants. Along Ocean Drive, the legendary oceanfront street overlooking South Beach, you’ll find several outstanding Art Deco buildings, including the Hotel Breakwater South Beach, The Carlyle, and the Park Central Hotel (now part of the new Celino Hotel complex). Collins Avenue is another street in the area worth strolling along, with more classic buildings. The Delano South Beach and the National Hotel Miami Beach are both standout Art Deco properties along Collins Avenue.
5 Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of marsh and swamp, an important and fragile ecosystem that supports alligators, American crocodiles, Florida panthers, deer, turtles, egrets, manatees, river otters, and many other species. It is one of the largest parks in the country and offers a unique opportunity to see some of these creatures in the wild.
The entire area is a wide, shallow river that flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Bay of Florida. The bottom of this river is porous limestone over the top of a bedrock base called the Tamiami Formation. It catches rainfall and acts as southern Florida’s main water reservoir.
Airboat rides are the best way to see the Everglades and catch a glimpse of alligators and other wildlife. Half-day tours from Miami will take you from your hotel to the Everglades for a 30-minute airboat ride and alligator show.
6 Daytona 500 International Speedway
The Daytona 500 race is one of the most famous and most important in the NASCAR Cup Series, kicking off the racing season each February. It is held in Daytona Beach at the Daytona International Speedway, and it attracts huge crowds every year. The Speedway was built in 1959 to move auto racing off the beach. Previously, races and land-speed competitions were held on the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach. If you can’t make the race itself, you can still take a tour to explore the Speedway.
7 SeaWorld Orlando
Much like Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando is a mega amusement park that has long been an important part of family vacations to Florida. The complex features its classic dolphin and whale shows, as well as acts featuring a cast of unexpected characters, from cats and ducks to otters and sea lions. Other highlights include Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin display and a host of other aquarium exhibits offering opportunities to see all kinds of marine life. Thrill rides, like the high-speed Mako roller coaster, which reaches speeds of up to 73 miles per hour, and the Journey to Atlantis water coaster ride, are also a big part of the SeaWorld experience.
8 Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in the Tampa area. This African theme park is home to all kinds of exotic animals and proudly claims to be one of the largest zoos in North America. You can see lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, and much more. Safari-style tours in open-air vehicles offer an opportunity to see some animals, like giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and ostrich roaming freely. Other tours take you behind the scenes and offer a chance for close-up encounters with penguins, or a closer look at tigers and elephants. Live animal shows, featuring an unusual combination of characters, are another popular family activity.
Beyond the animal encounters, Busch Gardens also features all kinds of thrill rides, both wet and dry. While the wild and fast roller coasters get most of the attention, you can find rides for smaller children.
9 Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is home to the impressive Fort Jefferson, built by the US Government in the 1800s. Although this is the key attraction of the park, the beautiful reef islands, seven in total, that make up the Dry Tortugas are themselves worth the trip. You can tour the fort and spend the rest of the day enjoying the soft-sand beaches and snorkeling in the clear, shallow waters.
Located 70 miles west of Key West, these islands are not accessible by car. Catamaran boat trips from Key West bring visitors here for a full day, which includes a tour of the fort, time for beaching and snorkeling, and breakfast and lunch.
10 Duval Street in Key West
Most people touring the Keys make Key West their main destination due to its location at the end of the chain of islands. And fortunately, a leisurely stroll along Duval Street in Key West is one of the highlights of the Florida Keys. Shops and restaurants with outdoor patios, many in beautifully restored old buildings, line the street. There is always a lively vibe, regardless of the time of year, but even more so on days when cruise ships come to port.
Key West has a distinctly Caribbean flare, making it unique from other destinations around the state. In addition to Duval Street, there are lovely residential areas for walking and a number of interesting attractions, including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Southernmost Point in the continental USA.
11 St. Augustine’s Historic District and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Known for being one of the oldest settlements in Florida, St. Augustine’s historical sites and charming old architecture definitely make it worth a visit. At the top of the list of things to see in the late 19th-century Flagler College, one of the most photographed buildings in the city. It was originally built as a hotel by railroad magnate Henry Flagler. Also not to be missed is the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, famous for being the “oldest masonry fort in North America,” according to the National Parks Service. Built-in the 17th century, it is remarkably well preserved and an impressive sight, even for those with little interest in history. The view over the coast is also quite spectacular.
12 Edison and Ford Winter Estates
These adjacent, oceanfront mansions in Fort Myers offer a glimpse into the lives and livelihoods of the inventor, Thomas Edison, and the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford. You can tour the homes and outbuildings, see where Edison conducted experiments, wander through the palm-lined grounds, and learn about Edison’s famous botanical experiments. The Edison Botanical Research Lab, one of the most impressive portions of the tour, is a designated National Historic Chemical Landmark.
13 The Ringling
This outstanding, Venetian-inspired property, built mainly in the mid-1920s, consists of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, the Ca’ d’Zan and gardens. The art museum, housed in a stunning pink palace, is the true centerpiece, showcasing the Ringling’s extensive art collection, which includes pieces by Velazquez, El Greco, Van Dyke, Veronese, and Rubens, among others. Added much later, the Circus Museum came about in the late 1940s to celebrate the history of this unique form of performance. It displays all kinds of circus costumes, props, posters, and other memorabilia, and features exhibits on the history of the famous Ringling Bros. Finally, the Ca’ d’Zan was the residence of John and Mable Ringling. Their inspiration for this Venetian-style mansion came from their travels in Europe and the great palaces of Venice. The 36,000-square-foot home was completed in 1926 and is an architectural masterpiece in southern Florida.
14 Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg
The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is housed in a unique modern building designed to match the creativity of the artist himself. The curving glass appears to envelop the otherwise box-like structure, giving the building a very striking appearance. Inside, the museum showcases pieces from throughout Dali’s career, providing a complete overview of his development as an artist. Even those with little knowledge of art will find this museum interesting and thought-provoking.