20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Florida
Everything about Florida beckons – the endless beaches; the eternal sunshine; the beguiling emerald green sea, its azure warm lakes, or its clement blue gulf waters; and the all-encompassing tropical climate, with almost no change of temperature all year round. In fact, nothing quite compares to the all-embracing Florida sunshine, a tropic-like climate that keeps the area rain-free.
Of course, Florida is much more than mere climate: the Native Americans lived here for thousands of years; the Spanish conquered the territory in the 1500s, and came up with a more or less official naming, 'La Florida.' The English took it in 1763; America captured it in 1783, and then sold it back to Spain; Americans took it in 1821; and, in 1845, the Brits finally took it over, renaming it 'Florida.' By the late 1800s, American settlers came in the tens of thousands to develop it into a state, and, by the early 20th century, Florida had become the first true tropical state, and was a magnet for the Old South aristocracy. It's been 'Flori-dado' ever since.
You'll find plenty of beaches and sunshine, as well as many historical sites, museums, water parks, wildlife sanctuaries, historic sites, and miles of tropical forest. Here are some of the top things to see and do in Florida.
Everglades National Park
It's hard to overstate the beauty of the Everglades, a 3,000 square-mile 'river of grass,' which flows from the Florida Everglades into the Gulf of Mexico. Covering parts of the northern Florida state, the Everglades National Park is also home to the world's tallest mammal: the American crocodile, and boasts one of the most important biodiversity collections in the world. The biggest draw is undoubtedly the park's two vast rivers, the Biscayne and the Everglades, which are separated by a system of canals, roads and railways, and dotted with some of the most beautifully intact tropical ecosystems on the planet. These are habitats for many of the exotic and endangered species that live in the Everglades, from American alligators to the Miccosukee Indian tribe.
The Florida Keys is an archipelago of mostly islands and cays lying off the coasts of southern Florida. Much of the land here was once submerged beneath the sea and is of particular interest to marine life and underwater divers, while the beaches are one of the most popular destinations in the world. Activities in the Keys include diving and snorkeling, fishing, hiking and kayaking, camping, and wildlife viewing at the nature centers and parks. Among the best way to explore the area is by renting a golf cart and following the marked trail across the flat islands. Those who like a longer walk can take the Overseas Highway, the longest such road in the world, or the one-hour'scenic loop,' a route that takes you to the most famous Key, Seven-Mile Bridge, and past almost all the major tourist destinations on the islands. The various islands and key destinations include Key Largo, Tavernier, Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda Key, Islamorada, Marathon, Little Torch Key, Sugarloaf Key, Lignumvitae Key, Bahia Honda Key, Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda Key, Old Seven-Mile Bridge, Sugarloaf Key, Key West, Grassy Key, Windley Key, North Key Largo, Marathon, Sugarloaf Key, Lignumvitae Key, Bahia Honda Key, Islamorada, Marathon, Key Largo, Tavernier, Big Pine Key, Homestead Key, Grand Bahama, Little Torch Key, Lignumvitae Key, Bahia Honda Key, Islamorada, Marathon, Sugarloaf Key, Big Pine Key, Tavernier, Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key, Lignumvitae Key, and Bahia Honda Key.
Tampa Bay, located on the southern peninsula of Florida, has a history of industry, tourism, and good living. Tampa, a commercial center with a well-developed transportation infrastructure, is now the home of American Airlines and the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. As Florida's third largest city, it has a population of about 130,000. Perhaps the city's best-known event is the annual Jazz and Rib Festival, a three-day arts festival which brings thousands of people from across the nation to Tampa. As in other cities of Florida, you'll find plenty of great restaurants, world-class shopping, and friendly locals.
Although Key West used to be the stuff of tropical adventure in the 1950s and '60s, the island has reinvented itself as a sophisticated resort destination, drawing wealthy Europeans, American and Caribbean vacationers. The fascinating US National Park service maintains the former Stock Exchange Building as a museum, and gives a brief tour of what went on inside while in operation. The Broke of Bar Harbor Museum in Key West is focused on the island's ecology. Mention is made of the controversy over building a huge cruise ship terminal on the southern tip of the island. Key West's burgeoning museum scene, a booming dance and arts scene and good hotel and restaurant options are features to look out for. For the traveler, Key West offers up a bar, or two, on the main street. And nightlife is plentiful, as long as you don't expect cheap hotel rooms and disco balls. Key West hosts a wide range of events, including food festivals.
St. Petersburg is a modern resort city with beautifully preserved architecture dating back to the early 19th century. The city was first settled in the 1770s by people of the Cajun nation, and named for the 9th century Russian prince St. Peter. The city was later settled in the 18th century by Russian nobility who built many of the majestic homes, mansions and fortifications that characterize the city today. The city is built around a large inlet from the Gulf of Mexico called the Gulf of Finland, which runs through the heart of the city. St. Petersburg was an important port for trade between Europe and the East in the 18th century. Today, the economy is dominated by tourism and recreation. The economy is dominated by the number of restaurants, theme parks, shopping centers and visitor attractions. The city has many historic landmarks, such as museums and historic landmarks. Downtown St. Petersburg is primarily business and shopping while historic downtowns include Old Northeast and Central neighborhoods. The city is famous for St. Petersburg Pier, a three-story outdoor carousel, as well as being the backdrop for the 1979 movie, "The Big Chill". The famous Hotel Astor, constructed in 1907, has been restored and remains one of the city's most popular landmarks and attractions.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, where millions of people go each year to see the most spectacular places in the world. Visitors to Disney World will find the best-known attractions, as well as those that are lesser known but are still deserving of at least a day of their time. The Magic Kingdom is one of Disney World's major attractions and the theme park that gave birth to the family vacation in Orlando. Visiting this park for the first time is an adventure and an experience that will stay with you forever. There are seven separate areas that make up the theme park, each with its own unique character and feel. They are the Magic Kingdom, Main Street, U.S.A., Frontierland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Adventureland, and the Town Square. Of the seven, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, and Adventureland are the least populated, but are usually home to more attractions and restaurants. Other popular Disney attractions in Orlando include Epcot, Typhoon Lagoon, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and SeaWorld.
Biscayne National Park
Spanning more than 230 square miles, Biscayne National Park is one of Florida's largest parks. Once part of the Caloosahatchee National Forest, it was founded in 1915 and is the only national park in Florida. Today, it protects remnants of America's coral reefs, which can be viewed while snorkeling or diving on a nature tour with the park's Ocean Exploration Center. In addition to its pleasant nature, the park offers a variety of tours to its visitors. There are also over 16 miles of biking and hiking paths through the park. The park is popular among bikers, too, who can choose between a loop on the Biscayne Greenway Trail and a bike rental.
When people say Florida's Gulf Coast is full of pristine beauty, they mean it. Sanibel Island is one of the best examples of the prime example of Florida's cultural assets, and there is something for everyone. The city is quaint and rich in history, there are tons of places to enjoy history and culture as well as take in nature. There are also thousands of places to explore in the wild; climb through mangroves, explore endless biking trails, or even just take an all-American vacation. Sanibel's beaches are soft, shallow, and white-powdery as the waves roll in. They're perfect for fishing, relaxing, and just being one with the ocean. If you do choose to stay in Sanibel, there are a variety of options, from little cabins to condo's to traditional inns. Plus, it has a good cultural life with art shows, jazz festivals, and more.
In Universal Studios Florida, the USA's first of six theme parks, the gates are made up of large sculptural displays designed to simulate Universal's movie characters and their homelands. Shown in a series of large illuminated dioramas, the backdrops include scenes of ancient Egypt and ancient Rome as well as outer space. Displays feature rides, attractions, and special events, including immersive musical acts, dance performances, and karaoke and sing-along singing. Costumed characters are ubiquitous, and photo opportunities with the characters of such popular films as The Wizard of Oz, Spider-Man, and Harry Potter are abundant. Not to be missed are the daily magic shows, which feature audience participation and magic tricks.
Originally known as Disney World, Orlando is home to Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and many other attractions. Here in Orlando, and throughout the state, you will find all sorts of beautiful parks, exciting theme parks, natural attractions, plenty of shopping, and nightlife galore. There are many ways to get around the theme parks of Orlando. The city is a major transportation hub, with convenient airport, mass transit and Amtrak stations. To get a real feel of Florida, it's easy to spend a day or two driving along the famous Beachline West in the Orlando area. You can drive almost any direction to get the full effect of the region, but be sure to see the longest stretch of beach in North America - a 65-mile long beachfront.
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Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto National Park is a Florida nature park and it's considered to be one of the best parks to visit during spring. It contains a plethora of flora and fauna, attracting more than half a million visitors each year. If you're looking for inspiration, Fort De Soto National Park can give you the vivid life of a local who lives on the edge of wilderness.
Shaped by the warm water of the Gulf Stream, Miami Beach has also been shaped by the criss-crossing of canals that carry water to the Bay and South Biscayne bays. When it was settled in the early 1900s by Cuban and Florida planters, Miami Beach was modeled after the French Riviera, which itself was influenced by a tradition of the French Second Empire style. A palette of Spanish Colonial and early 20th-century Art Deco buildings are preserved in the heart of South Beach, in the historic district. There are always entertaining events taking place at South Beach. The Art Basel fair, held over an entire week in May, showcases cutting-edge art in galleries and museums throughout the Miami Beach.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is an enjoyable city in the United States that's easily accessible from Atlanta and Miami. The city's oldest buildings, with their defensive-arch design, are great examples of the architecture of this dynamic city. The city's principal attractions are the remnants of its Spanish colonial period. During this period, the city became a vital stop on the southern trade route between Europe and the Caribbean. After experiencing the Spanish colonial style, visitors can take a ride on the Alcazar Trolley tour to see the more than 150 restored turn-of-the-century buildings. They also can enjoy the sights at the San Marco District. It's not hard to see the city's passion for the sea, with the first dock built at the west end of St. Augustine being built in 1675. Locals say that within a half-hour's drive from the city there are 10 fishing and clamming areas, 10 nautical museums and shops, and numerous blue water fisheries. It's no wonder the city is on the list of the "50 Best Things to do in Florida."
With its beautiful white-sand beaches, quaint towns and abundance of wild flora and fauna, Naples is a popular vacation spot, though not much more than a busy but clean tourist attraction. The city lies on the west coast of Florida's tip, on a quiet, 37-mile peninsula. Its historic downtown is centered on one of the state's oldest, well-preserved Spanish Colonial–style villas, San Martino, which dates back to 1556. Even with all the attention that Naples has received, it retains a down-to-earth feel, and even though you might have the illusion that you've traveled back in time with all the old restaurants and antiques shops, things don't really slow down until after 6 pm. By far the nicest way to spend your time in Naples is along the emerald-green sands of its many miles of clean and inviting beaches, which include the Puerto Rico beach (nicknamed 'Napa Riviera'), Clearwater Beach, Estero Bay and Morelet and Celestia Beaches. Also worth mentioning is the attractive town of Marco Island and the Naples-Immokalee Airport.
The streets of Miami feel more like a Caribbean island with their pastel white-washed houses than the swank streets of the Magic City. Sun, sand, and sea are what this south Florida city is all about, and many of the tropical-looking houses along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach have wide balconies that run right over the sand and sea. During the winter months, Miami Beach is almost deserted, with many of its residents either wintering in Florida or in warmer places in the south. For visitors, though, there are a number of things to do in Miami. The starting point for the adventure is South Pointe Park, a realist's paradise just offshore from Miami Beach. In a town of great beaches, this park is the best of them all. A lighthouse, a bridge, and the historic Keppel Bay Club all make this an interesting spot to visit. There's also a large number of hotels, restaurants, and bars on the grounds. Beyond South Point Park, travelers have a number of choices for seeing Miami's highlights. The beaches in Miami Beach are some of the most interesting in the world, and it's a good place to take the kids on a day-long adventure, whether it's at South Beach's boardwalk, Hollywood Beach, or Virginia Key Beach Park. In the Little Havana district, see the beautiful architecture of New World Park, the striking Cuban Museum of the Americas, and the tree-lined streets of Cuba, Little Havana, and Calle Ocho, which features one of the most well-known flea markets in the country.
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Tallahassee is a bustling capital city in the heart of the U.S. state of Florida. Tallahassee's colonial buildings reflect its rich history; its center is an interesting mix of old-world and modern. The city features a strong social, economic and cultural influence. During its bicentennial year, its government decided to name the capital "Florida's First City" and an eight-month public campaign led to the renaming of the state's capital to Tallahassee. Parks in Tallahassee include Lake Jackson, and a beech wood wildlife park and nature trail. While in Tallahassee, visit the Museum of Florida History, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and Culture and the Leon County Courthouse.
Miami Zoo is a kind of cross between the world-famous Bronx Zoo in New York and Florida's Miami Seaquarium, with almost as many reptiles, birds, and mammals to see. The animal collection is in a huge, leafy, tree-lined park, which allows plenty of free-range grazing. Highlights include the gentle giant "Armadillo," big cats, koalas, porcupines, and clouded leopards. The zoo has a gift shop selling top-quality souvenirs, including a range of ceramic animals, as well as a children's book store with books for kids and old-fashioned spinning tops that they can spin. Zoo admission includes unlimited admission to the Seaquarium, which allows visitors to watch the world's greatest collection of marine mammals, as well as sea lions, beluga whales, and a few cute penguins. You can spend hours here watching the sea lions playing, eating, or dancing.
North Miami is part of Miami-Dade County in the far southeastern corner of the state of Florida, 20 miles northeast of Miami proper. With low-lying and tropical-looking streets, North Miami is a hot-weather, city-like place for the winter. Home to more than 100,000 people, it is within a few miles of some of Florida's largest beach resorts, which include South Beach, Sunny Isles and Aventura. All North Miami is within an easy drive from the Miami airport, which is at Doral, and there are frequent buses that take visitors from the airport to Downtown Miami, the suburbs, Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Downtown, too, has excellent restaurants, an artsy-chic nightlife scene and dozens of new hotels, mostly concentrated on busy Federal Highway and Sheridan Street. The area's shops are mostly along Washington Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard, a block from the Atlantic Ocean and Royal Palm Avenue, where there are some waterfront hotels.
Ybor City is a great example of how historical movements, such as the wave of Italian immigrants who came to the area at the turn of the 20th Century, affected the physical appearance of an old city. Today, one of the best things about the neighborhood are the many beautiful Neoclassical and neo-Gothic buildings lining 4th Avenue, the strip along which the city's famous cigars, now largely gone, were once sold. In addition to the cigar culture, Ybor City also has a vibrant nightlife, restaurants and live music scene. Some of the most popular spots include The Cactus Club, O'Mara's Irish Pub, The Borrasca Cigar Co., Pecos Bill's Cantina, The Mustard Seed, and Cafe Concreto.
Clearwater is a small city on Florida's Gulf Coast known for its annual summer festivals that attract over a million visitors each year. Clearwater has a waterfront park where the lake of the same name begins, and the historic city of Clearwater Beach is nearby. Clearwater is located just one hour south of Tampa, and a 30-minute drive from the best of the area's beaches. Clearwater's proximity to the park makes it easy to visit Busch Gardens, Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags, and Seaworld or to relax and swim at Clearwater's beaches. A visit to the interactive 'Lost Treasures of WWII' at Clearwater's USF Alhambra campus is one of the best ways to see the history of the region, as is a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, which features works by Picasso, Gainsborough, and other famous artists. One of the most enjoyable days in Clearwater is a walk through its working waterfront, including its farmers' market, restaurants, and nightclubs. Enjoy a drink at the beachside bars, and while you are there, be sure to check out the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which features stingrays and sharks.