9 of the best places to visit in Florida

From sunny, white-sand beaches and untamed subtropical mangrove forests to bustling space centers and theme parks packed with excited kids, the Sunshine State is one gigantic fantasyland.

Choosing the best places to visit in Florida is no mean feat because this peninsular paradise is equally beautiful in many ways. Whether you’re slipping away on a romantic sojourn or making family memories, here’s a list of the places you simply shouldn’t miss.

1. Miami, the “Magic City”

Best for parties and nightlife

With pastel-colored art deco buildings trimming sparkling azure waters, Miami screams tropics. One of America’s most visited cities, this bustling metropolis scores big with urban see-and-be-seen types. Crowd lovers bask in South Beach’s iconic energy, slathering on sunscreen to soak up scorching rays and indulging in the best people-watching opportunities the planet offers. And, for those who energize after dark, Miami’s packed, world-renowned clubs epitomize wicked all-nighters. Miami scores big with foodies, too, who savor its tasty cuisines enhanced with strong Cuban and Caribbean flavors. 

Detour: A world apart, yet only 50 miles away, the Everglades offer a very different kind of wildness. Airboat, camp or take scenic drives to see gators and other exotic wildlife.

Here’s how you can plan the ultimate long weekend in Miami.

2. Vero Beach 

Best for calm, romantic getaways

For a more sedate experience, visit the skyscraper-less beach of this under-the-radar jewel, just 150 miles north of Miami. There’s little in the way of nightlife, but many find it a delightful reprieve. Embrace each new day with meditative yoga, digging your toes into warm sand as the sun rises over the ocean at popstar Gloria Estefan’s Costa d’Este resort (non-guests welcome). Grab an award-winning burger at Casey’s Place, a throwback to outdoor burger shacks of the 1970s, and learn the juicy history of Florida oranges at the tiny Indian River Citrus Museum.

Detour: Visit A.E. Backus Museum and Florida Highwaymen Museum in nearby Fort Pierce and become instant fans of this famous Florida landscape artist and the talented African-American painters he inspired.

Want more ideas for a beach vacation? Discover Florida’s best beaches.

The theme parks of Orlando offer endless family entertainment © Kamira / Shutterstock

3. Orlando

Best for theme parks and family activities

A place where dreams come true, Orlando is a cosmopolitan city sprinkled with pixie dust. Sure, there’s serious business going on here, but you wouldn’t know it basking inside a sun-kissed swan paddleboat on Lake Eola, surrounded by towering skyscrapers in the heart of downtown. The ultimate in family fun, Orlando offers Disney parks and Universal – theme parks that are bound to keep kids awake weeks before arriving. There’s also a chocolate museum, a star-car museum and, for when you really need a break from all the crowds and chaos (and you will!), Leu Gardens, a tranquil 50-acre botanical paradise.

Detour: See what it’s like to be an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour’s drive away.

Continue the fun at Florida’s best theme parks.

4. St Augustine

Best for history and arresting architecture

Step back in time by wandering ancient cobblestone streets in St Augustine, America’s oldest city. Settled by Spaniards in 1565, the facades of Old Town buildings reflect the Spanish-Colonial and Spanish Renaissance Revival eras. Its main thoroughfare, St George Street, is packed with charming boutiques, tacky souvenir shops, and restaurants overlooking the glimmering waters of the Matanzas River. If museums, galleries and churches are up your alley, there are plenty of those nearby as well.

The seafront beach promenade in Fort Lauderdale is lined with palm trees, while blue sun loungers are laid out on the white-sand beach beyond.
Come for Fort Lauderdale’s impressive white-sand beaches, stay for its myriad other attractions © mariakray / Shutterstock

5. Fort Lauderdale

Best for tantalizing beaches and boating

Blessed with an impressive stretch of white-sand beaches and seemingly endless canals, Fort Lauderdale is heralded as the yachting capital of the world and “The Venice of America.” Its annual boat show in October is the world’s largest in-water boating show. Stroll the famous Riverwalk, stop for a beer at the legendary Elbo Room, watch mermaids perform at America’s only underwater burlesque show, or shop and dine along famous Las Olas Boulevard.

Detour: Take a narrated water taxi tour to Hollywood Beach’s lively Broadwalk, passing mansions of the rich and famous along your journey. Buy an express pass or a hop-on, hop-off day pass with eleven scenic stops to enjoy.

A band performing in rockabilly outfits at the Green Parrot bar in Key West, Florida
Key West is laid-back in the daytime, but its many bars promise lively nights out © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

6. Key West

Best for barhopping and snorkeling

Rows of pastel yellow, pink and green conch island homes with gingerbread trim complement Key West’s crystal-clear turquoise waters, transporting you to a world seemingly immune from daily problems. It’s no wonder that world traveler and celebrated author Ernest Hemingway chose this Caribbean-style jewel to settle in during the 1930s (don’t miss the museum about his life).

Though laid-back by day, a festive party vibe dominates at night. (Some dive bars along Duval Street get rowdy, so avoid staying in Old Town if you want to sleep!) Foodies take note: Key Lime Pie Co bakes up some of the country’s best, and Conch Republic Seafood Company serves killer conch fritters, another Key West delicacy.

Detour: Ferries and seaplanes shuttle to the secluded island paradise of Dry Tortugas National Park, which has some of the world’s greatest snorkeling in the shallow Florida Reef.

Two women walking on a path through palm trees at The Square shopping complex in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
The Square is one of the top spots for shopping in West Palm Beach © Margaret.Wiktor / Shutterstock

7. West Palm Beach

Best for shopping and bargain hunting

West Palm Beach’s palm-lined boulevards welcome visitors to some of Florida’s best shopping. At the heart of it all is The Square, a 72-acre shopping, dining and entertainment complex featuring brand-name retailers and specialty boutiques. Fill your bags, then relax by the central fountain to enjoy free classic rock and country music concerts. Don’t miss the spectacular GreenMarket, a downtown farmers market with more than 120 vendors, every Saturday morning (October to April). Sixty additional flea market booths leading up Clematis St certify it as a bargain hunter’s utopia.

Detour: Take a 10-minute ferry ride to nearby Peanut Island, a snorkeler’s paradise, where crystal-clear waters promise a captivating underwater adventure. It’s all the more extraordinary for being the location of a nuclear bunker built for JFK, though it’s currently closed to the public.

8. Fort Myers, “the City of Palms”

Best for local arts and fishing

Despite the devastation wrought upon Fort Myers Beach’s seven miles of stunning coastline by Hurricane Ian in 2022, the recovery is well underway – with Margaritaville Beach Resort leading the pack.

Sadly, its signature quaint pubs and boardwalk taco stands will be gone as the blank canvas is repainted with glossy chic. But that doesn’t detract from the other riches this beautiful Gulf Coast area boasts. The bricked, palm-lined boulevards of downtown Fort Myers’ River District are enhanced with colorful murals and artistic sculptures and dotted with bistros, cafes, galleries, museums and theaters. Deep-sea anglers reel in massive tarpon and swordfish nearby, while paddleboarders love navigating the Gulf Coast’s calm, clear waters.

Detours: Nearby Sanibel Island boasts a motherlode of almost 400 species of shells, while Bonita Springs is a quiet enclave with cafes and microbreweries. Also, don’t miss Wonder Gardens, a lush botanical garden and animal rescue facility that first opened in 1936 and is still a throwback to “Old Florida.”

A senior woman paddles on a paddleboard in shallow water off the coastline of Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola Beach’s gentle, warm waters are ideal for beginner surfers and paddleboarders © Cavan Images / Getty Images

9. Pensacola

Best for learning to surf

With emerald-green waters kissing 18 miles of powdery, sugar-white sand, Pensacola’s spacious beaches are heaven to those seeking a secluded getaway. The unspoiled terrain of Gulf Islands National Seashore, America’s largest stretch of protected coastline, extends from both sides of Pensacola Beach, a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Its warm waters and gentle summer waves make it perfect for people learning to surf.

The city itself feels like a cross between an urban hub and a chill beach town, with award-winning eateries and chic boutiques. Seville Quarter, a former cigar warehouse complex, is packed with busy bars and trendy restaurants. Seville Square, a small historic park, hosts many unique music, food and art festivals throughout the year.

Detour: Dolphins regularly swarm the warm coastal waters off nearby Destin. Several local boat-tour operators offer guided excursions to observe these splendid creatures from a safe distance within their natural environment.

Planning a trip to Florida? Here’s more of our expert advice:

From beaches to theme parks, don’t miss these top experiences
Here’s when the Sunshine State gets the most sunshine (and other great times to visit)
This is what you should know before any Florida trip
These road trips will take you to all the highlights in Florida

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