The Best Places to Be in Florida, Region by Region
Here are some high points to be found in Florida, from all points across the Sunshine State.
A treasure trove of history, heritage and higher education, North Florida is also known for its casual, friendly attitude and abundant natural attractions.
The region’s metro areas are filled with new offerings. Downtown Pensacola’s historic district is experiencing a culture and nightlife renaissance. Packed with vibrant art galleries, upscale eateries and retail options, Central Palafox Street was recently named one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.
On Panama City Beach, the family-friendly Pier Park shopping and dining complex added Dave & Buster’s, a popular dining and video arcade chain.
In Jacksonville, shoppers are flocking to St. Johns Town Center, which now includes the region’s first Nordstrom outlet and a children’s play area with a seashore theme. Near the actual seashore on Jacksonville Beach, the newly renovated Beaches Museum & History Park captures pivotal moments in history along Florida’s First Coast. After stepping back in time in the nearby St. Augustine historic district, zoom into the present with tours on The El Conquistador Speedboat or St. Augustine Biplane Rides.
For an invigorating nature experience, take a dip in the ancient, crystal-clear springs at Wakulla Springs State Park.
Or go for a swim in the first-magnitude spring at Manatee Springs State Park. More adventurous possibilities, like river tubing and snorkeling, await you in Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Ginnie Springs Outdoors.
Did you know…
The natural spring in Wakulla Springs State Park is one of Florida’s largest; 260 million gallons of water gush out of it every day. A 25,000-year-old mastodon skeleton found in the park is on display at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.
Fun has no age limit in Central Florida. Besides world-famous theme parks, you’ll find charming cities and towns and plenty of options for playing in and exploring nature’s many wonders.
Walt Disney World Resort features the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom and the Pixar Piston Cup Cars at the Walt Disney World Speedway. Busch Gardens upped their thrill quotient with high-speed ride Falcon’s Fury, as did Aquatica with its all-new drop slide, Ihu’s Breakaway Falls. LEGOLAND added farm-themed DUPLO Valley and LEGOLAND Hotel.
At Kennedy Space Center, the new interactive Great Balls of Fire asteroid exhibit and daily “Activity Adventures” offer experiences that are both enriching and fun. The new Sundial dining and entertainment center in St. Petersburg adds to the already booming downtown dining, nightlife and craft beer scene. In Daytona Beach, the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art features an extensive collection of Florida art.
From the East Coast’s cosmopolitan scene and the Keys’ eccentric island charms to the West Coast’s shimmering seashore and the Everglades’ raw wilderness, South Florida is the definition of diversity.
The city meets the sand in Miami Beach, where the historic Art Deco District continually celebrates revitalization. The Boca Raton Resort & Club makes waves with its new double-sided FlowRider simulator and Surf Boca classes by Billabong. The Hollywood Beach Broadwalk was named by USA Today as one of the nation’s 10 best beach boardwalks for food, and it's great for people watching.
And the Margaritaville Beach Resort should be on every visitor’s hit list.
In Sarasota, the cool children’s garden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens adds to the region’s immersive nature experiences. Country magazine recently named the nearby Myakka River State Park as one of the nation’s top 10 most magnificent yet unheralded parks. Naples, too, wins awards – for its stellar beaches. Two are among Dr. Beach’s top 10 for 2014, including Barefoot Beach, pictured below.
Naples is also heralded for its dining options, and Condé Nast Traveler named Naples one of the top 20 U.S. Cities for Foodies. In North Fort Myers, The Shell Factory & Nature Park offers fascination and fun with its fossil museum and zip line.
New in the Keys: Marathon’s riveting fish tanks at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters and Key West’s enticing watering holes – Key West Legal Rum Distillery and Bone Island Brewing Company craft beer brewery.
Did you know…
Miami Beach’s Art Deco District has 800 historically significant structures, the majority built between 1923 and 1943. With their fanciful pastel colors, porthole windows and sleek curves, the buildings are pure eye candy.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA