10 Best Places to Go in Florida

Posted September 5, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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 The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida's natural fun-in-the-sun appeal. If you're dreaming of your next Florida vacation, no trip to the Sunshine State is complete without a visit to the 10 best places to go in Florida.


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Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

It's no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy! The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it's difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.

Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started:

Disney World ticketing options start at $89 for single-day, single-park adult passes ($83 for kids ages three to nine). You can extend your Disney World stay with multiday passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, three-day passes cost $80.67 per adult, per day (about $242 total); seven-day passes cost $41.14 per adult, per day (about $288 total); and 10-day passes cost $31.80 per adult, per day ($318 total). Kids' multiday passes are $75.33 per child, per day (three-day), $38.57 per child, per day (seven-day), and $30 per child, per day (10-day). All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.

You don't have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket's flexibility: Admission to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) is included. The Park Hopper pass adds an extra $35 to your base single-day, single-park ticket cost and an extra $57 if you purchased multiday, single-park passes.

For some Florida visitors, it's not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Disney's Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass, which adds an extra $57 per ticket to your base ticket cost.

Combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an extra $79 per ticket.

Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from "budget" to "luxury" within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.

With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings.


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South Beach, Miami, Florida

Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach's reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play "grown-up" during the day.

South Beach is home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony, Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you'd be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach's world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach's celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour ($20 plus fees) led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based "yoga from the heart" near the beach's lifeguard hut.

Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).



Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park in Florida is an adventure traveler's dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.

Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades' ecosystem is like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.

Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. There's some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.


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Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the "Venice of America" (for its vast system of canals) and the "Yachting Capital of the World" (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there's no disputing that Ft. Lauderdale is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.

But boaters aren't the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale's 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.


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Key West, Florida Keys, Florida

The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard's 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.

While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.

Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats—the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway's former home.


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Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando's Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.

Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal's Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida for $88 per adult ($82 for kids ages three to nine). Single-park, multiday tickets are priced as follows: $120 for two days ($110 for kids), $136 for three days ($124 for kids), and $146 for four days ($133 for kids). Multipark, single-day passes start at $123 ($117 for kids ages three to nine). Multipark, multiday options are as follows: $140 for two days ($130 for kids), $153 for three days ($141 for kids), and $160 for four days ($147 for kids).

You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. This ticketing option starts at an additional $20 for Universal Studios Florida, $30 for Universal's Islands of Adventure, and $36 for both parks. The same price applies to both single-day and multiday passes.

A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available from $180 ($170 for kids ages three to nine). Multiday options go up from that rate. Annual passes start at $190 (for non-Florida residents), though with select blackout dates. Season passes go as high as $400 for "red-carpet treatment."


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Sanibel Island, Florida

The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered the world over by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island's shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell "the Sanibel Stoop."

Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.

While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.


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St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn't nicknamed "Ancient City" for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819.

You can see much of that rich history infused into St. Augustine's architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)

St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.


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Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is the perfect setting. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.

Regularly priced single-park, single-day tickets cost $85 for adults and $77 for children ages three to nine. The ticket gets you admission and either a complimentary second visit to be used within seven days of your initial park visit or an all-day dining pass.

Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island single-day tickets cost $46 for adults and $42 for children ages three to nine. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.

Annual Busch Gardens single-park passes start at $149 for those ages three to 64. All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.


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Amelia Island, Florida

Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.

Amelia Island's seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline's playful dolphins and (if you're lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.

Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers' Choice Awards.


Read the Entire Story: 10 Best Places to Go in Florida

Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.


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Amelia Island Takes You Back in Time on a Dime

Posted October 29, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Amelia Once a Victorian seaport, Amelia Island has a fascinating past. Experience pieces of the island's history in the Fernandina Beach district, where you can stay in Florida's oldest operating hotel and drink at the state's longest-running bar. And when you get hungry, a funky restaurant will bring you back into the 21st century without charging too much inflation.

Florida House Inn: The Florida House Inn is the oldest surviving hotel in the state, and once housed famous guests like Ulysses S. Grant and comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. These days, the hotel hosts a slew of different activities, ranging from Carolina shag dance lessons to bluegrass jam sessions. Ten of the 22 rooms come with fireplaces. Prices start at $109 per night, and include breakfast and free scooter rentals.

The Palace Saloon: The Palace Saloon is not only the oldest continuously run bar in Florida, but it also holds the title as the first hard-liquor joint to serve Coca-Cola. Once the gathering place of sailors and captains docked along Fernandina's harbor, the Palace still welcomes patrons with a thirst for adventure. Pull up a stool and order a cocktail as you listen to the live entertainment that plays daily.

Cafe Karibo: This eclectic restaurant may not be the oldest in town, but its broad menu is one for the history books. You can support the island's thriving shrimp industry with a plate of shrimp and grits, or sample items ranging from turkey meatloaf to seared ahi tuna. Eat inside or under the large oak trees on the garden patio. Dinner entrees start at $14.

To search for flights and compare prices to Jacksonville, which is home to Amelia Islands’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)

Experience Paradise for Less in Key West

Posted September 1, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Key West As the southernmost point in the continental United States, Key West offers an escape from the everyday for anyone from great American authors to vacationers. In fact, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams once retreated to its colorful streets and lively atmosphere to write. Come see what all the fuss is about by participating in a nightly festival or staying in an author-themed B&B. You can then start your day off right with a flaky croissant, without worrying about the cost.

Sunset Celebration: With musicians, tight rope walkers, psychics, and silver men performing each night along the boardwalk near Mallory Square, you may think you've entered a circus rather than an outdoor pier. But there is no big top here and these entertainers' sole concern is to celebrate the sun setting over the Gulf waters. It's free to watch, but donations to your favorite performer are appreciated.

Authors of Key West: Just a few blocks from all the action of Duval Street, you'll find peace and quiet in the cozy Authors of Key West B&B. Each room is decorated for and named after a different writer or Key West enthusiast who once called this area home. Stay in the Ernest Hemingway cottage, for example, where you'll find a typewriter set among tribal African decor. Other noteworthy rooms include the Tennessee Williams, John James Audubon, and Harry Truman. The B&B offers breakfast each morning in the lush tropical garden. Rooms start at $100 per night.

Croissants de France: Though some say that man cannot live on bread alone, those people have never tried a buttery, flaky croissant from Croissants de France. Resembling a typical French Boulangerie, the bakery overflows with tantalizing pastries for all tastes, including tarts, brioches, and crepes. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch are served outside on the patio, or you can grab any of the scrumptious treats to go.

To search for flights and compare prices to Key West, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Len Kaufman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Explore Naples, Florida, on a Budget

Posted July 21, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Naples Located in Southwest Florida on the edge of the Everglades, Naples attracts people year-round to golf, shop, and play in the sand. However, Naples can also be an affordable alternative to pricier beach destinations. Here, you can shop for bargain designer clothes, eat at an Italian restaurant, and stay in a tropical inn without going broke.

Options Thrift Shoppe: Located along Naples' Treasure Trail, an area filled with antiques and secondhand stores, Options Thrift Shoppe overflows with designer items at discount prices. You'll find purses by brand names such as Kate Spade, Coach, and Gucci, Prada shoes (potentially, of course) and much more, all at very reasonable prices. On top of the racks of clothing and accessories, the store also sells an impressive range of home goods and furnishings. Plus, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

Naples Tomato Restaurant and Grocery: Get a taste of Naples, Italy, at this Naples, Florida, restaurant and grocer, which offers a fresh take on Italian food and wine. Naples Tomato has the state's first mozzarella bar and sells more than 300 different wines. Dinner entree prices tend to hover in the low $20s, but the real bargain is the two-course lunch for $9.99, where you can pick and choose from a range of pasta and salad options.

Lemon Tree Inn: When life gives you lemons, come stay at the Lemon Tree Inn, where the lemonade is always complimentary. Located just blocks from the shopping and nightlife of Fifth Avenue South, the city's oldest hotel features 34 rooms facing a central tropical courtyard. Rooms start at $89 per night, and include continental breakfast by the pool.

To search for flights and compare prices to Ft. Myers, which is home to Naples’ closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB)

Sunshine and Sunsets in Treasure Island

Posted June 16, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Treasure Island Treasure Island is a storybook island on Florida's Gulf Coast. With plenty of beaches and a boardwalk, this summertime destination is perfect for families and kids of all ages. Three beach areas offer plenty of space to spread out, and typical water activities such as deep-sea fishing, parasailing, and day cruises provide lots of entertainment.

Saturday Sunsets
: While gorgeous sunsets can be viewed every day of the week on Treasure Island, the first and third Saturdays in June, July, and August, and the first Saturday in September are truly special. Evening activities at the free event along the quarter-mile Treasure Island Beach Trail include live music, and street performers such as magicians, fire eaters, and break dancers. Of course, the main event happens as the sun dips below the horizon across the Gulf.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to St. Petersburg, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: crossfirecw via Flickr. CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/crossfirecw/)

Get Clammy in Cedar Key

Posted June 11, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Cedar Key Cedar Key, the heart of Florida's Nature Coast, is an island paradise in the Gulf of Mexico with plenty of recreational activities. The nation's oldest bird and wildlife refuges are located in this area, making the area a haven for naturalists as well. Visitors looking for an escape from hectic schedules and crowded theme parks can sit back and enjoy a slower pace in Cedar Key.

CLAMERICA: Cedar Key's annual CLAMERICA Celebration on July 4 is certainly one-of-a-kind. Free live music and fireworks celebrate Independence Day in a traditional way, but the clamfest kicks it up a notch with sweet and savory delicacies. Join in the "I dig clams" line dance every hour on the odd hour, or play one of the Clamania games, such as clam bag races or the chuck-a-mullet toss. Shrimp kabob, smoked mullet, red and white clam chowder, and clams on the half shell are guaranteed to give you your sea legs, but landlubbers won't go hungry here: Hamburgers, watermelon, and funnel cake are also included on the menu.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Gainesville, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: fuzzcat via Flickr. CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/fuzzcat/)

Party Under the Full Moon in Islamorada

Posted June 4, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Islamorada The six islands situated between Everglades National Park and the Florida Straits make up Islamorada, a dream location for fishermen and snorkelers. Known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, the area lives up to its name with opportunities to hook sailfish, bonefish, snook, redfish, and more in the crystal blue waters. And divers will benefit from the nearby coral reefs and sunken ships.Whatever your pleasure, Islamorada offers a laid-back, inviting atmosphere for travelers wanting to get away from it all.

Morada Bay Beach Cafe: During the full moon, head to Morada Bay Beach Cafe for the Full Moon Party. You can witness the spectacle from the comfort of your table, at either of the two bars, or you can bring your own blanket. Listen to music from flamenco guitar to electric reggae, watch a Bahamian junkaroo parade or fire breathers, or join in the fun by getting your face painted and dancing the night away. The parties are scheduled near monthly throughout the year. Cover charge is $15.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Miami, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

Photo: Cheeca Lodge

Marco Island is a Small Piece of Paradise

Posted May 12, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Marco Island Marco Island is the largest of the 10,000 islands off Florida's Paradise Coast, with six miles of white sand beaches tempting snow birds away from home. The off-peak summer season can be a good time to head south, since prices are lower and the Gulf of Mexico is just as beautiful. Relaxing beaches, tasty seafood, and friendly wildlife are just a few of the reasons visitors flock to this 25-square-mile piece of paradise.

The Artist Colony at the Esplanade: The island's first artist colony is located in three locations on the Esplanade, a recent addition of stores and restaurants on the waterfront. Browse among the offerings of seventeen different local artists, who specialize in different media such as photography, painting, concrete, sculpture, clay, and collage. Whether you want to purchase an artist's creation or commission your own interpretation of Marco Island, The Artist Colony at the Esplanade is the place to shop for unique souvenirs that you'll be proud to display at home.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Ft. Meyers, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: gojeffrey via Flickr. CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gojeffrey/)

Surf's Up in Cocoa Beach

Posted April 30, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Cocoa Beach At first glance, the city of Cocoa Beach may seem to be just another popular beach town, but in fact it has much more to offer. Located on a barrier island off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the six-mile-long island is also near the Kennedy Space Center. Visitors can enjoy the laid-back atmosphere at affordable prices, especially during Florida’s low season in summer.

Ron Jon Surf Shop: One of the most recognizable surf brands in the world makes its home along the shores of Cocoa Beach. Although Ron Jon Surf Shops can be found in other cities, the one-of-a-kind flagship store shouldn’t be missed. Browse through more than two acres of beach gear and accessories, no matter what time of day you want to shop. You can even rent surfboards, wetsuits, and kayaks to use in the Florida waters. Foam surfboard rentals start at $10 for four to eight hours.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Melbourne, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: palanza via Flickr. CC Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/palanza11/)

Drink in the Sun in Siesta Key

Posted April 19, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Siesta Key Pristine beaches, laid-back activities, and quiet waters bring visitors year-round to Siesta Key. The eight miles of sand have long attracted snowbirds, and have recently grown in popularity with spring breakers looking for an alternative to the raucous nights associated with destinations such as Daytona Beach. Whether you want to relax to the sound of waves on the shore or join in a game of sand volleyball, Siesta Key offers plenty to do on the beach. The village also provides entertainment for everyone, for instance the Sunday Drum Circle, where you can watch sword balancing belly dancers move to the beat of tribal drums.


The Daiquiri Deck: After a long day in the sun, relax at the Daiquiri Deck, which is open into the wee hours of the morning every day of the week. Sip on one of more than 30 flavors of daiquiris, from the classic Strawberry (made with fresh strawberries, dark and spiced rums) to the innovative Banana Slider (made with coconut rum, crème de banana, Irish cream, coconut milk, pineapple, and amaretto). And if you’re feeling wild, try the Deck Diesel, a concoction made from grain alcohol, vodka, and orange. The raw bar also serves up oysters to eat, although you can also try drinking an Apalachicola Oyster Shooter—the original comes with a freshly shucked oyster, chilled vodka, Bloody Mary mix, and fresh pepper. Save some cash by dropping in during happy hour (from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.), when small daiquiris are two-for-one.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Sarasota, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Kimberly Raterman)

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