Hutchinson Island [2-hour drive from Orlando]:This skinny barrier island – or technically, two – provides the perfect antidote to Orlando’s buzz, with unspoilt beaches galore. Manatees, dolphins, whales and turtles all swim in the waters offshore. And you can study up on marine species at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, with its nature trails, lagoons and stingray aquarium.
Like the name suggests, beaches are top of the list in West Palm. It grants easy access to almost 50 stretches along the Atlantic Coast. But that’s not its only charm. You can see Florida’s ‘sea cows’ at Manatee Lagoon, visit over 500 animals at Palm Beach Zoo, or watch local bands perform at Rosemary Square – an open-air shopping and entertainment hub.
West Palm Beach [2-hour 30-minute drive from Orlando]:
This city flies under the radar, compared to big-hitting Miami and Orlando, but it’s just as worthy of wonder. Its oceanfront promenade is packed with upscale eateries, bars, boutiques and hotels. Or, you can get back to nature at one of its many beaches, hang out with tropical birds at Flamingo Gardens, or explore its waterways via taxi boat.
Fort Lauderdale [3-hour drive from Orlando]:
Miami’s a city that needs little introduction. This buzzing metropolis is dubbed the Magic City for several reasons. Firstly, it’s got a glorious oceanfront postcode, which means white-sand beaches are just as common as waterfront malls. A drive or stroll down Ocean Drive is another essential – it’s where you’ll see the city’s Art Deco architecture in all its modernist glory.
Miami [3-hour 30-minute drive from Orlando]:
This wetlands preserve is a must when visiting the Sunshine State. It spreads out over 1.5 million acres of central and southern Florida, and on an airboat tour, you’ll pass alligators, birds, turtles and lizards as you breeze through the mangroves and marshes. Just make sure to bring earplugs for younger kids, as the airboats can be loud for little ears.
Everglades National Park [3-hour 50-minute drive from Orlando]:
Key Largo’s the first of the Florida Keys. After starting in the Theme Park Capital of the World, you’ll now be entering the Dive Capital of the World. And it’s no surprise when it’s home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the world’s biggest artificial reef: the USS Spiegel Grove shipwreck. Above the waves, you can visit the historic African Queen steamboat – made famous by the Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn classic.
Key Largo [4-hour 30-minute drive from Orlando]:
Key West [6-hour 30-minute drive from Orlando]:This is the southernmost point in the continental USA. And that’s not its only claim to fame. It’s so idyllic here that writers like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams have all been drawn to its shores. You can even visit the former home of Hemingway, which is a masterpiece of Spanish colonial architecture. Come evening, we recommend heading to Mallory Square for the nightly sunset festival.
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