The sun is shining, the weather is warming up and it is time to start planning your summer vacation. Whether you want to sightsee, brush up on some history or just relax on a white-sand beach, Florida offers a wide variety of activities from which to choose that are all under or very near to $5.
The information below provides fun and exciting activities to do year-round while visiting the Sunshine State that won’t empty your wallet. For additional information on ways to stretch your dollar further in Florida, check out our Hot Deals and sign up for weekly alerts.
MUNSON (near Pensacola) − Coldwater Creek, located in Northwest Florida, is known as “the canoe capital of Florida.” It flows through the Blackwater River State Forest and some say it is the swiftest water in Florida. The river is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the nation, making this park a popular place for swimming, fishing, camping and paddling for only $3 per vehicle. The shallow water is enjoyably cool and makes it an ideal canoeing option for paddlers of all ages. (850) 983-5363. www.floridastateparks.org. For more information about Florida’s canoeing and kayaking trails, explore the Florida Paddling Trails electronic guide on www.VISITFLORIDA.com/guides.
ST. AUGUSTINE − At the southern end of the 18-mile Anastasia Island, St. Augustine Beach awaits fishermen reeling for some action. Cast a line from the beach or pier, and the least you can do is catch some Florida sunshine. Bait and tackle are available on-site, as well as picnic tables, playground, showers and a volleyball court. While admission to the beach is now $6 for residents and $7 for non-residents, it's still an opportunity for fun in the sun and savings. (904) 471-1596. www.getaway4florida.com.
DAYTONA BEACH − Beachgoers can sun, splash and beat the heat at Volusia County’s Sun Splash Park. The park features an interactive water fountain, decorative walkways, a shaded playground, volleyball courts and picnic areas. Admission is free to the four-acre facility, which also provides 95 off-beach parking spaces and is open from sunrise to sunset. (386) 258-4529. http://volusia.org/parks/sunspla.htm.
CEDAR KEY − The thriving and pristine environment of Cedar Key makes it an ideal location to catch something for dinner. Recreational scalloping, which is in season during the summer, makes for a day’s worth of fun and a belly full of fresh seafood for free. Dive down to the bottom and grab a few. Many restaurants in the area will even prepare your catch for you. (877) 387-5673. www.visitnaturecoast.com.
ORLANDO − Take time to smell the roses and journey through Happy P. Leu Gardens, a 50-acre botanical wonder five minutes from downtown Orlando. Winding pathways lead you on a sightseeing expedition of a beautiful oasis in the tropical stream garden, rose garden, butterfly garden, palm garden and Idea Garden. Leu Gardens offers free admission on the first Monday of the month from 9 a.m.− 5 p.m. (407) 246-2620. www.leugardens.org.
KISSIMMEE − Disney Wilderness Preserve provides its own enlightening look at Florida before modernization. The preserve offers miles of hiking trails leading to the shores of Lake Russell for a breath taking view of natural Florida. The preserve shelters many rare animal species including red cockaded woodpeckers, wood storks, eastern indigo snakes, crested caracaras and Florida scrub-jays.. The preserve offers visitors recreational activities such as bird watching, a self-guided nature trail and a 2.5-mile hiking trail. Admission is free. (407) 935-0002. www.nature.org/disneypreserve.
HOLLYWOOD (near Fort Lauderdale) − Spend the day unwinding at Hollywood Beach, known for its casual atmosphere and international flair. Walk or bike along Hollywood’s scenic oceanfront boardwalk. Or treat yourself to an afternoon of exploring historic downtown, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts a variety of street markets and festivals unique to South Florida for free. (877) 672-2468. www.visithollywoodfl.com.
KEY LARGO − Adventurous visitors can kick into high gear on the developing, 106-mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, following the railroad route completed by Henry Flagler in 1912. Bikers can enjoy 70 miles of trail currently paved in segments that run through colorful Keys communities and incorporate Flagler’s historic railroad bridges. With stunning views of the glittery Gulf and light salty gusts, this trail is a breeze. (305) 853-3571. www.dep.state.fl.us. For more information about Florida’s on- and off-road bike trails, visit www.VISITFLORIDA.com/guides to view the electronic Florida Bicycle Trails guide.
KEY WEST − Want to swim with the fishes? At the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, you will. This national reserve covers 2,800 square-miles on both sides of the Florida Keys from Miami to the Tortugas. Its inhabitants include coral reefs, kelp forests, deep-sea canyons and underwater archaeological sites. There is no admission fee for visitors to boat, scuba, kayak or canoe in this national park teeming with wildlife. (305) 809-4700. www.floridakeys.noaa.gov.
HILLARD (near Jacksonville) − Launch a canoe on the St. Mary’s River that separates Florida and Georgia on the east coast, for free, from the Canoe Country Outpost. Observe Florida wildlife, like osprey, bald eagles, deer, beavers or otters, plenty of Florida foliage and a changing tide; its close proximity to the Atlantic makes its water levels change through the day. Pitch a tent on the shore for a weekend of free family fun or just make a day trip and canoe. Rentals are available. (866) 845-4443. www.canoecountryoutpost.com.
JACKSONVILLE − Bring your family to spend a day of exploration and adventure where native Americans once feasted and early colonists built a protective fort. Fort George Island Cultural State Park offers hiking, biking, canoeing and fishing, as well as more than 5,000 years of history, with no admission. The historic Ribault Club serves as a museum to reflect the grounds’ history and educate guests on “old Florida.” (904) 251-2320. floridastateparks.org.
DAYTONA BEACH − The Marine Science Center at Lighthouse Point Park provides an innovative learning experience where visitors can discover, enjoy and appreciate the many wonders of the world of marine science. For $5 and under, the whole family can explore a sea turtle rehabilitation hospital, bird sanctuary, interactive displays, a sting ray touch pool and nature trails. (386) 304-5545. www.marinesciencecenter.com.
OVIEDO (near Orlando) − Little-Big Econ State Forest has been named one of the nation’s top family-friendly trails by the American Hiking Society. This 4.6-mile Florida trail gives hikers scenic views from the shade of palm hammocks on the bluffs above the St. Johns River. See nature first-hand as you explore natural Florida terrain for an admission fee of $2. (407) 971-3500. floridaforestservice.com. For more information about Florida’s top hiking trails, venture to www.VISITFLORIDA.com/guides to view the electronic Florida Hiking Trails guide.
ORLANDO − For more than 50 years, the ducks at the Peabody Hotel have greeted guests at the door. Everyday at 11 a.m. the Peabody ducks are led in by their “duck master” to the beautiful Italian fountain in the lobby where they are free to roam, splash and play until 5 p.m. The ducks are then led back to their penthouse in the hotel. Not bad for a day’s work. Shake your tail feathers with the Peabody ducks for free everyday. (407) 352-4000. www.peabodyorlando.com.
KISSIMMEE − Jam out while you look at antique cars at Old Town. Now in its 22nd year, every Saturday evening the city hosts a free parade of more than 300 vintage cars, including hot-rods, classic cars, street-rods and antiques. Then, get your poodle skirt and saddle shoes ready to twist and shout for a free rock-n-roll concert of ‘50s and ‘60s style tunes. Restaurants, shops and amusement park rides make the brick-lined streets of Old Town provides a night of entertainment for the whole family. (407) 396-4888. www.old-town.com.
COCOA − Bring your little star-gazers to the BCC Planetarium & Observatory for a fun space exploration experience. Open Wednesday afternoons and Friday and Saturday evenings, the exhibits are always free and include ViewSpace, a breathtaking collection of panoramic shots of the cosmos; and hands-on exhibits. Guests can take a peek through the giant telescope in the Observatory, free of charge, to see planets, star clusters and galaxies far, far away. (321) 433-7373. www.brevardcc.edu/planet.
KEY WEST −The fun begins as the sun sets at Mallory Square. This world famous free sunset celebration, located at the center of the historic Key West waterfront, fills the beach walk with local performers, comedy acts and musicians. The horizon, dotted with sailboats, creates a priceless view of a purple, pink and orange sunset. www.mallorysquare.com.
TALLAHASSEE − Mission San Luis, the western capital of Spanish Florida from 1656 to 1704, was the largest and one of the most important colonial missions in all of Florida. Visitors to Mission San Luis can tour a re-created community where time stands still. Meet the people of San Luis going about the tasks that sustained life centuries ago. Walk the plaza where the Apalachees played their traditional ball games. Visit the most important structure in the Apalachee village, the council house and home of the Spanish Deputy Governor. Visitors are welcomed at the church built under the supervision of Franciscans, and at the friary where they lived. Mission San Luis is a very special place where history comes to life. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 65 and older, $2 for children 6-17 and free for those under 6 and in the military. (850) 245-6406. www.missionsanluis.org.
PENSACOLA − With historic roots dating back to 1559, the town of Pensacola has come to be known as the “City of Five Flags.” Ruled at one time by the British, Spanish, French, Confederacy and now the United States, Pensacola’s eclectic past makes for an interesting present. Brick sidewalks and wrought-iron porches among century-old oak trees create a charming façade for art galleries, museums, unique shops and cafes that line historic downtown. Pensacola is home to the US Navy’s Blue Angels and National Museum of Naval Aviation, that displays more than 180 vintage aircrafts, including the first to land on the South Pole, the first to cross the Atlantic and several that survived Pearl Harbor. Admission to the museum, including the Blue Angels’ practice air show, is free. (800) 874-1234. www.navalaviationmuseum.org.
ST. AUGUSTINE − As the nation’s oldest continuously settled city, St. Augustine has centuries of adventure and romance for visitors to experience. Beautiful architecture inspired by early Spanish settlers characterizes downtown, along with many shops, boutiques, lighthouses and historic buildings. Walk in the footsteps of your ancestors on St. George Street, once the town’s main thoroughfare, now only open to pedestrians. Explore Florida history afoot, for free, in this celebrated coastal city. (800) 653-2489. www.Getaway4florida.com.
TAMPA − Known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter, a tour of Ybor City will give you a taste of Florida’s rich and diverse past. Founded by immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy, Ybor City went through revitalization in the 1980s, resulting in parts of the original neighborhood being declared a national historic landmark. To relive Tampa’s dynamic transformation from small coastal town to booming city, visit the Ybor City Museum State Park, located in the historic cigar manufacturing district. The museum, with an admission of $4, offers events and exhibits throughout the year, entrance into one of the several Casitas (small cottages built for cigar workers’ families) and the Garden, a great rendition of a 19th century Mediterranean-style patio. Striking rhythms of Latin music fill the air each night and an extensive history of hand-rolled cigars nicknamed Ybor City “the cigar capital of the world.” (813) 241-8838. www.ybor.org.
ST. PETERSBURG − The unique cultural and historical significance of Egmont Key State Park makes this pristine island a free must-see. A lighthouse stands on the shore as it has for 150 years and Fort Dade, built during the Spanish-American War, is still holding its ground. After touring the historic sites and trails, explorers are beckoned to the beach for swimming, shelling, picnicking and fishing. Admission to the park is free. Visitors can take their own boat or hop on the ferry for a small fee to get to the island. (727) 893-2627.www.floridastateparks.org.
ESTERO (near Fort Myers) − Take a step back in time at Mound Key Archaeological State Park, where early Native Americans are credited for ancient mounds rising 30-feet above Estero Bay’s waters. The island is frequented by amateur archaeologists and is an excellent place to cast a line, as the park is located on an island. Only accessible by boat, this secluded and historic location dating back more than 1,000 years offers a primitive look into Florida history, with no admission fee. Visitors can take their own boat or rent a canoe or kayak (for a small rental fee) to get to the island. (239) 992-0311. www.floridastateparks.org.
TALLAHASSEE − For more than 30 years, the Museum of Florida History has offered a free glimpse in the development of the Sunshine State and its impact on the nation. Through exhibits, educational programs, research, and collections, the Museum reflects the ways that people have shaped and reacted to their cultural and natural environments. (850) 245-6400. www.museumoffloridahistory.com.
JACKSONVILLE − Explore up-and-coming artists on the first Wednesday of each month from 5 − 9 p.m. at First Wednesday Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville. The monthly event features a self-guided tour of art galleries, free boat rides from the Jacksonville Landing, live music and more. (904) 634-0303. www.downtownjacksonville.org.
GAINESVILLE − The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, located in the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza, is one of Florida’s largest museums. The museum features American paintings, African and pre-Columbian collections, as well as contemporary works of art. Be sure to check the hours of operation, as they vary from day to day, but admission is always free. (352) 392-9826. www.harn.ufl.edu.
INVERNESS (near Ocala) − Formerly the Citrus County Courthouse, the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum tells an exciting and educational tale of the county’s heritage through free exhibits and presentations. In 1912, the original wooden courthouse was replaced by a yellow-brick building described as “eclectic,” which still stands today. The Courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was the site of the 1961 film with Elvis Presley, "Follow that Dream." (352) 341-6429. www.cccourthouse.org.
SARASOTA − The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art houses a collection that consists of more than 15,000 objects, including a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts from ancient through contemporary periods from around the world. Admission is free for children 6 and under accompanied by an adult, museum members and Florida students and teachers with valid ID cards. On Mondays, admission is free for everyone. (941) 359-5700. www.ringling.org.
TALLAHASSEE − The Florida Historic Capitol, restored in 1982 to its 1902 appearance with the stained glass dome and candy-striped awnings, houses the Florida Legislative Research Center and Museum. Also restored, the Governor’s office and chambers of the House of Representatives, Senate and Supreme Court are available for tours. Through photographs, artifacts and interactive exhibits, relive Florida’s history and tradition at this iconic location. All exhibits are free. (850) 487-1902. www.flhistoriccapitol.gov.
ST. AUGUSTINE − Friendly staff awaits you at San Sebastian Winery, where visitors can embark on a fruitful journey through the complete wine making process. Experience a free guided walking tour of the 18,000 square foot wine production facility. In keeping with tradition, visitors can learn the important details about how wine is fermented and stored prior to bottling. Then comes the wine tasting. Learn all the interesting steps of how to taste, savor and enjoy a complimentary selection of San Sebastian Premium Table Wines. (888) 352-9463. www.sansebastianwinery.com.
ST. AUGUSTINE − For an on-the-water adventure, try the Fort Matanzas National Monument Park boat tour. A free boat ride takes visitors across the river to see how the 18th century Spanish fort protected the back entrance of St. Augustine from invaders. Don’t be surprised if there are still Spanish soldiers standing guard, as staff re-enact what life was like for soldiers during that time. After the tour, visitors can hike the half-mile self-guided nature trail, swim, picnic or bird watch. (904) 471-0116. www.nps.gov/foma.
ORMOND BEACH (near Daytona Beach) − Formerly the winter home of multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller, The Casements now serves as the City of Ormond Beach’s cultural center and museum. The building contains art and historical exhibits and visitors can tour the Rockefeller period rooms daily. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. (386) 676-3216. www.thecasements.net.
CLERMONT (near Orlando) − Offering free tours and wine tasting daily, the Lakeridge Winery is one of the largest wineries in Florida. With more than 400 awards for their wine making, the Lakeridge Winery is an educational and fruitful experience. Watch our video, then call to find out more. (352) 394-8627. www.lakeridgewinery.com.
TAMPA − The University of South Florida’s Botanical Gardens is a 17-acre collection of exotic flora with a $5 admission fee, except during festivals. With more than 3,000 types of plants, including carnivorous species, tropical and sub- tropical trees and wildlife, the USF Botanical Gardens is a diverse and expanding assortment of extraordinary vegetation. (813) 974-2329. www.cas.usf.edu/garden.
LAKE PLACID (near Okeechobee) − Explore the colorful history of the city of Lake Placid through murals. The Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce’s Mural Society produced 42 murals to beautify its city’s walls and to tell the story of years past. Paintings like the “Cracker Trail Cattle Drive,” “Bassin’” “Toby’s Clown School,” and “Caladium Fields” all highlight unique aspects of this region. Brochures containing mural history and location maps are available from local retailers or at the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Center. (863) 465-4331. www.lpfla.com.
MIAMI − The famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables offers free tours of the magnificent property and grounds every Sunday afternoon. Visitors can relive the hotel's early days and rich stories of the City's past. The Biltmore has hosted royalty, both Europe's and Hollywood's including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts, including Heads of State Bush, Clinton and Obama. Today, the hotel proudly boasts a four-star, four-diamond ranking and is the only hotel in South Florida recognized as a National Historic Landmark. (305) 445-1926. www.biltmorehotel.com.
STATEWIDE − Enhance your road trip by cruising one of Florida’s designated scenic highways. Florida’s Scenic Highways Program, established to raise awareness of Florida’s historic resources, offers a guide to the best drives through the Sunshine State to any destination.
The “Old Florida Heritage Highway,” a 48-mile stretch of U.S. 441 just south of Gainesville, offers access to a well-preserved section of Florida's natural and scenic heritage with views of rural countryside. The Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway, a 195-mile loop along the east coast from State Road A1A and U.S. 1, includes views of Titusville and the Canaveral National Seashore.