116.5 million people visited Florida in 2017, setting a tourism record. To put that number into perspective, the U.S. population is about 328 million.
That’s like more than one in three Americans visiting the Sunshine State. In one year.
Of course, that’s not the case. Florida is a hotbed of tourism for overseas travelers. And, for good reason.
There are 8,436 miles of coastline, allowing visitors two separate and unique experiences. The Atlantic Ocean’s crashing waves make the east coast a favorite for surfers. The serenity of the Gulf of Mexico calls millions of people to its calm, warm waters.
It’s also home to Orlando, the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” where almost half of Florida’s visitors flock every year. Miami brings a flavor unlike anywhere else in the country. Tampa Bay and St. Augustine are both rich in history.
Florida has much more to offer than beaches and roller coasters. There’s farmland, citrus groves, water sports, wild animals, and more.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, why not take a road trip and explore the “and more”?
Here are seven of Florida’s best-kept secrets for a vacation filled with fun in the sun.
1. Historic Sponge Docks
One of the most popular “best-kept secret” in Florida is the Historic Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs.
What makes this area so unique is it’s one of the more non-beachy coastal towns in Tampa Bay. A visit to the famous Tarpon Sponge Docks will take you back to the 1900s when Greek sponge divers settled here.
If you’re a savvy traveler and plan your vacation in January, you might even get to witness one of the U.S.’s most celebrated Epiphany celebrations.
During the celebration, an archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church tosses a cross into the water. Dozens of teenage boys dive in after it and it’s said the boy who retrieves it will half good luck all year.
If you can’t make a trip to beautiful Tampa Bay in the winter, there are still plenty of other things to do at the Docks. Enjoy an authentic Greek meal from one of the many restaurants or go shopping at the local Greek-owned shops and boutiques.
2. Caladesi Island
Staying on Florida’s Gulf coast, head south for 20 miles and you’ll run into the world famous Clearwater Beach. While this is definitely a hotspot for tourists, a short ferry ride into the Gulf of Mexico will take you to Caladesi Island. Or, if you’re at the southern tip of Clearwater Beach, you can walk all the way out to Caladesi Island State Park!
Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands are the byproducts of the Hurricane of 1921. Today, Caladesi boasts a 3-mile nature trail, marina, and pavilions. There’s even a concession stand if you need a snack.
Enjoy the wildlife on land or explore it in the Gulf by snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, or good ol’ fashioned swimming!
3. Bahia Honda State Park
When most people think “Florida Keys,” their mind transports them to the colorful and vibrant Key West. But, any Floridian will tell you that the Keys aren’t only Margaritaville and Hemingway’s estate.
Bahia Honda State Park gives you a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the Southernmost Point in Continental U.S.
Located at mile marker 37 on Bahia Honda Key, the State Park offers tons of water activities including snorkeling and kayaking. If you rent a boat on your Florida adventure, overnight docking at one of the marina slips is available.
So, why would you need overnight docking? To explore the 500 acres at your leisure. There are cabins to rent and a campground which gives you ample time for a boat tour to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
4. Dry Tortugas National Park
If you’re looking for more interesting things to do in the Keys, take a seaplane or boat west of Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s comprised of seven remote islands and has quite a unique history.
A coral stone fortress named Fort Jefferson stands at the park, giving the area its original name, Fort Jefferson National Monument. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave it “National Park” designation in 1935. Fort Jefferson was never completed.
Today, Dry Tortugas National Park is a haven of marine life, coral reefs, tropical birds, and breathtaking aqua water. It’s also the epicenter of many interesting stories of pirate shipwrecks and buried treasure.
Bring your snorkeling and scuba gear! You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with tropical sea life.
5. St. Augustine
From the historic Castillo de San Marcos to the Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, St. Augustine is one of the best-kept secrets on the entire eastern seaboard.
Spend some time downtown amid the quaint shops and restaurants on Saint George Street. Or, spend an afternoon at Lightner Museum.
Whatever you choose to do in the oldest city in the U.S., make sure you bring your swimsuit and camera. The city is filled with centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture, which is a sight in itself to behold!
6. Edison & Ford Winter Estates
One of the coolest things about planning a trip to Florida is that you’ll find something to do at every turn. Almost every town has something to see and Ft. Myers has several!
One of which is the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.
These were the winter homes of Thomas Edison and his very good friend Henry Ford. Edison first decided on Ft. Myers in 1885. It wasn’t long after that Ford followed.
The 20-acre grounds boast incredible foliage and fauna, gorgeous mansions, and historic buildings — including a garage filled with classic Ford cars. You can also venture a peek into Edison’s Botanical Research Laboratory and learn about some of his research and inventions.
7. Mount Dora
Central Florida isn’t only about mouse ears and a young wizard who saved the world. Mount Dora is about 30 miles northwest of Orlando and is a hidden gem you’ll be thankful you now know about.
It’s an eclectic little town known for its museums, antique shops, and festivals. There are cafes, parks, gardens, and Lake Dora is its crowning jewel.
But, if you get the Orlando itch, why not experience the best of both worlds? After all, Disney and Universal are just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
If you can, try and prepurchase your theme park tickets. Be careful which sites you use, though, to avoid scams. Check for things like Floridatix reviews to ensure you’re getting a good deal and can trust the seller.
This leaves you plenty of spending cash to enjoy shopping at the Mount Dora Village Market!
Ready to Start Planning a Trip to Florida?
If you’re ready to start planning a trip to Florida, our 7 best-kept secrets will give you a vacation you never dreamed possible!
Keep in mind that although Florida has gorgeous blue skies and mild temperatures all year round, they do have some extreme weather, too. Make sure you check our Florida hurricane guide before planning your trip.
If you need other tips on traveling, we’ve got you covered. Check out our travel tips blog today.