No one likes to be stuck at the airport. But if you find yourself with a layover, the Sunshine State is a pretty decent place to pass the hours.
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Dining: Trying to decide where to eat at Miami's airport is like trying to decide where to eat in the city itself. You have many great options. In a nod in Miami's Cuban influence, consider La Carreta in Terminal D. It's one of several Cuban eateries at the airport, serving up pastelitos (turnovers) and croquetas (croquettes), plus a variety of salads, sandwiches and more. Other standouts include The Counter for a great burger, Shula's Bar and Grill for surf-'n-turf and Barcardi Mojito for a spirited start to your trip.
Shopping: Score a slam dunk with the basketball fan in your life when you come home with a souvenir from the airport's new Miami Heat store. Open since December, the 1,000-square-foot retail space is chock-full of all things Heat, from jerseys and iPhone cases to bed sheets and bobbleheads. Find it near Gate D-32 in the American Airlines terminal. Another must-do retail therapy stop in Terminal D is the Shoppes at Ocean Drive. Named for Miami's famed shopping thoroughfare, it's actually 10 stores in one. At nearly 10,000 square feet, the shopping paradise houses retailers such as Solstice Sunglass Boutique, Hugo Boss Sport and Prive Gourmet Market.
If You Go: 2100 NW 42nd Ave., Miami, 305-876-7000, miami-airport.com
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Dining: Skip the hot dogs and pizza and have an unprecedented airport dining experience at one of two great restaurants inside the Hyatt Regency Orlando, in the main terminal. McCoy's Bar and Grill features food you'd love to eat at any dinner party, with offerings such as baked brie and Cornish hen. The menu includes plenty of healthy choices, too, with sushi and a decent selection of organic and vegetarian options. Then there's the more formal Hemisphere Steak and Seafood, offering upscale fare like filet mignon and swordfish piccata.
Shopping: Leave it to Orlando's airport to include retail outlets for Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando and Kennedy Space Center. This is your chance to grab a last-minute souvenir for the same price as you'd pay in the parks. You can also pose with statues of iconic park characters, like Cinderella or Harry Potter, in front of each store.
Art: Browse the main terminal to check out the airport's permanent art collection, featuring notable 20th century artists like Doris Leeper and Duane Hanson – both inductees into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame.
If You Go: One Jeff Fuqua Blvd., Orlando, 407-825-2001, orlandoairports.net
Jacksonville International Airport (JAX)
Relaxation: Plenty of airports offer chair massages, but this one contains a full-service spa. At Comfort Zone Spa, you can relieve the stress of traveling, combat stale airplane air with a facial, get beach-ready with a wax job or just treat yourself to a mani-pedi.
Entertainment: Many airports showcase special entertainment on holidays, but Jacksonville has live music every day of the year. In the center courtyard, enjoy a different performance each day – a solo saxophonist, jazz guitarist, singer/keyboard player, old-style crooners, North Florida folk music and more. Performance times vary.
Art: You'll find pieces by Jacksonville artists throughout the airport, from the pre-security wood carvings by Grant Ward to post-security paintings by Jason John. Also be sure to visit the Sky Gallery, which for the next few months features an exhibit on Jacksonville's historic Riverside Avondale district.
If You Go: 2400 Yankee Clipper Drive, 904-741-2000, Jacksonville, flyjax.com
Tampa International Airport (TPA)
Relaxation: Take the elevators to the Blue side baggage claim, and check out the aquariums, which you can see from inside and outside the building. Also on the Blue side is an oasis of green space. With fountains and benches, it's the perfect place to curl up with that novel you bought in the airport bookstore.
Dining: Tampa International Airport really stepped up its culinary game in 2012 with the addition of Cigar City Brewing, the popular local chain Green Iguana, Shula's Bar and Grill and Shula Burger. Another new addition getting rave reviews is First Flight, a wine bar by the popular Tampa restaurant Mise En Place. Located in the center terminal, it serves beer, wine and appetizers. But perhaps the most “Tampa” restaurant of all is Columbia Restaurant Cafe, an offshoot of the century-old Cuban restaurant that started in Tampa and has since expanded to locations across the state. Settle in for Cuban comfort food such as Spanish bean soup, the Ybor City devil crab croquette and, of course, a Cuban sandwich. Buen provecho.
Artwork: Frequent travelers will appreciate the rotating art gallery on Level 3 of the main terminal, which periodically changes its featured works. The focus is always on Florida artists.
If You Go: 4100 George J. Bean Parkway, Tampa, 813-870-8700, tampaairport.com