When it's time to set off on holiday for a well-deserved break, deciding where to go can be difficult. Do you want to dive into all-action city attractions or escape it all on a nature retreat? Discover historical hamlets full of tales from the past or write new travel stories at the latest landmarks? And that's before we even get into the debate of where's best for foodies.
Thankfully, no matter what your travel interests are, Florida has it all. To prove it, we've put together a guide on Florida's best destinations for every holiday interest, so you can explore all sides of the Sunshine State.
Best for History: St. Augustine
Can you guess where the USA's oldest city is? It's right here in Florida! Founded in 1565 by Spanish conquerors, St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in Florida and the USA. You'll notice its Spanish flair the moment you set foot in its ancient quarters. Alluring, ornate, and oozing character, uncover the past in this northeastern Floridian city.
The National Historic Landmark District holds Spanish colonial houses from different eras. You could easily mistake it for a Spanish village with its terracotta clay roofs and white stucco walls. Then venture down to St. Augustine's most beloved landmark, Castillo de San Marcos. Built in 1672 to protect Florida's trading route, the coquina walled fortress is America's oldest garrison.
You can view history and ancient artefacts in the grand Lightner Museum. What was once the Alcazar Hotel, it's a striking piece of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Here you will find a Victorian-age collection of costumes, furniture, and musical instruments. Let St. Augustine steal your heart with its beautiful old-world charm.
Best for Arts and Culture: Sarasota
Pull up a chair and let Sarasota's artsy enclave put on a show for you. Easy on the eyes, Sarasota is a stunning city where you can revel in the art scene at every turn. Its cultural story reads like a fairytale.
A winter sun circus owner relocated to this Gulf Coast village with his costly European art collection. Wanting to parade his hoard, he opened the Ringling Museum, a stately salmon-pink Gothic structure. Thus, Sarasota’s art galleries, museums, and theatres spread like wildfire throughout the city.
Feed your cultural appetite by visiting the opera, ballet or watching a musical performance. Also, the city hosts year-round art festivals, attracting cultural finds from around the country.
Best Food Scene: Tampa
Is there a better way to discover a city than through its cuisine? There are many reasons to visit beautiful Tampa, and food is one of them. Tampa can thank its large Cuban, Italian, and Spanish population for pinning it on the map as a foodie city. Its signature dishes are a fusion of flavours from Latin America and Europe.
One of Tampa's most well-known delicacies is the Cuban sandwich. While the cheesy, three-meat, pickle sarnie is a Florida staple, it originated in Tampa's Ybor City. This was the location of Tampa's illustrious cigar factory, and its workers wanted a quick and affordable bite to eat. So, the Cuban sandwich rose to fame, and so did devilled crab. Bits of spiced crab fried in breadcrumbs created a hearty street food snack for blue-collar workers. For a comfort meal, try Tampa's take on Spanish bean soup. It's a satisfying mix of ham, potato, and beans in a warm broth that melts in your mouth.
Best for Architecture: Miami
While Miami may not have iconic skyscrapers like New York City, it does have the world's highest density of Art Deco buildings. A relic of the glamorous 1920s, Art Deco design merges fancy with simplicity. The structures are bold and boxy and boast strong lines and porthole windows. Their pastel hue exudes a tropical vibe, particularly at night when the neon lights shine. Miami’s Art Deco Historic District is an architectural masterpiece, with each structure outdoing the last. The Webster, Park Central Hotel, and Ocean's Ten restaurant are some fine examples of Art Deco architecture.
Another Miami area where you can baulk at its impressive design is Coral Gables. And there is no finer example of Spanish revival architecture than the jaw-dropping Biltmore Hotel. So grand and elegant, it received acclaim from the Spanish king, who delighted in its elaborate Moorish style. Looking more like a palace than a hotel, it's no wonder royal visitors to Florida have stayed in the luxurious mansion. Take a spin around the neighbourhood to view Coral Gables' other grand architectural showpieces.
Best for Entertainment: Orlando
It's no secret that Orlando is the best Florida city for entertainment. You can rub shoulders with Mickey Mouse, drink butter beer at Universal Orlando, and get splashed at SeaWorld's water park. But Ocean Florida's special Ocean Explorer offer may be lesser known: every one of our customers visiting O-Town gets tickets to four of our favourite attractions.
First, soar to dizzy heights on The Wheel at ICON Park. From 400 feet above, you can gaze over Orlando's playground and spot your favourite rides. Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay's mighty peak, Krakatau, cannot be missed from above. After your 18-minute flight, you can spot celebrity lifelike wax figures at Madame Tussauds or enter a marine tunnel at Sea Life Aquarium. Don't miss a ride on the Pearl Express, ICON Park's charming train.
Speaking of transport, you'll get to ride the I-Trolley for free for 7 days. So you can say goodbye to costly parking tickets. You'll get easy, fast, and convenient access to I-Drive hotspots and hotels, so you can hop from one attraction to the next.
We all love free food, but can you beat a free meal and guaranteed laughs? The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show is where you'll find that. Board the I-Trolley for a night of unbelievable magic and unlimited laughter. Know what else is unlimited? The pizza! And you will believe in magic after eating that cheesy pie!
And if you think it can't get any better, you're wrong. Ocean Explorer also gives a $20 shopping voucher per person for The Mall at Millenia in Orlando. And you can spend as long as you like in retail therapy as you have free valet parking.
Best for Nature: Florida Keys
There are many contenders for Florida's best nature spots, but you just can't beat the Florida Keys. Nature is all around you, from coral reefs to azure bays and coastal forests. Florida Keys' best-located city, Key Largo, is a paradise on Earth. Dive into the sea to explore a magical underwater world in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Also, the Everglades National Park, Florida's pride, is only a 40 minutes drive from Key Largo. In this 1,5 million acre mangrove swamp, you can cruise on the gator-infested waters, hike through a pine forest and try to spot an endangered Florida panther.
Head down the Overseas Highway to Marathon's Turtle Hospital, where rehabilitated reptiles are released into the cerulean sea. Then visit the blissful blue waters of Bahia Honda State Park. Not just a pretty beach, the park holds over 150 plant species from Florida silver palm, yellow satinwood, and lily thorns. Lose yourself in nature as you hike the overgrown green paths. Look out for deer in Big Pine Key before you make your way down to Key West. Known for its slow-island living, bask in the tropical beauty of Smathers Beach, adorned with swaying palms and crystal waters. Then sail westward to the Dry Tortugas National Park, where you snorkel amongst stingrays in the clear ocean waters.
Best Music Scene: Gainesville
Central Florida's university city is a surprising music mecca. Turn up at Gainesville's dive bars, concert halls, and nightclubs and turn on the volume! From underground bands to stellar music acts, Gainesville knows how to entertain a crowd and crank up the party. Gainesville hosts The Fest, Florida's loudest punk rocking party, every year. Guitar riffs, brassy base chords, and up-tempo energy pulsate throughout the fun weekend. Visit top music venues like The Hardback Cafe, Boca Fiesta, and the High Dive to sample Gainesville's finest bands.
Best for High-end Holidaying: Naples
Elegant, refined, and truly sublime, Naples is a luxury on the water. Home to upmarket boutique stores and endless golfing greens, you'll love Naples if you love the finer things in life. On the tranquil Gulf Coast, you'll enjoy a life of leisure and a taste of luxury. Dress in elegant evening wear for fine dining, or treat yourself to an indulgent spa day. Lather the sunscreen as you cruise on the aquamarine waters discovering Naples from the sea. Don't forget the pristine sugar-sandy beaches and abundant nature of this beautiful town.
What's more, this peaceful Gulf Coast city is the gateway to secluded island escapes. Leave the crowds in Miami Beach as you choose the perfect spot to laze on Marcos Island's white-sand beach. Sanibel Island's pristine bay is nearby, too, an elegant escape for those seeking an upmarket beach break.
Come visit Florida's multi-dimensional state, bursting with fun, flavour, and fancy finds. Click here to discover Florida in your own way.