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Lonely Planet Florida

Lonely Planet Florida

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Lonely Planet Florida

1,531 pagine
15 ore
Jan 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Florida is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Kayak the Everglades, snorkel the coral reefs of Biscayne National park, and experience Miami's mix of cultures from across the Americas -all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Florida and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Florida:

  • Color maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - cuisine, people, culture, history, literature, cinema, television, music, architecture, landscapes, wildlife.
  • Free, convenient pull-out Miami map (included in print version), plus over 20 color maps
  • Covers Miami, the Keys, the Everglades, Orlando, the Atlantic Coast, the Tampa Bay Area, the Panhandle and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Florida, our most comprehensive guide to Florida, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for Floridian road trip ideas? Check out Lonely Planet Florida & the South's Best Trips.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and phrasebooks for 120 languages, and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, 12 international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more, enabling you to explore every day. Lonely Planet enables the curious to experience the world fully and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves, near or far from home.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves, it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Jan 1, 2018

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Top citazioni

  • Every Florida spring has prime snorkeling. At times the clarity of the water is disconcerting, as if you were floating on air; every creature and school of fish all the way to the bottom feels just out of reach.

  • Candlelight tours ($3; May to September) are a treat.

Anteprima del libro

Lonely Planet Florida - Adam Karlin



Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Florida

Florida's Top 15

Need to Know

What's New

If You Like

Month by Month


Theme Park Trip Planner

Outdoor Activities

Eat & Drink Like a Local

Travel with Children

Regions at a Glance

On The Road




Courses & Tours

Festivals & Events



Drinking & Nightlife




Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Art-Deco Miami

The Everglades

Everglades National Park

Tamiami Trail

Southern Everglades

Biscayne National Park

Florida Keys & Key West

Upper Keys

Key Largo & Tavernier


Middle Keys

Grassy Key


Lower Keys

Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda Key & Looe Key

Sugarloaf Key & Boca Chica Key

Key West

Dry Tortugas National Park

Southeast Florida


Dania Beach

Fort Lauderdale


Deerfield Beach

Boca Raton

Delray Beach

Lake Worth

Palm Beach

West Palm Beach

Jupiter & Jupiter Island


Fort Pierce

Sebastian Inlet

Vero Beach

Orlando & Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom


Animal Kingdom

Hollywood Studios

Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach

Disney's BoardWalk

Disney Springs

The Space Coast

Merritt Island

Cocoa Beach

Cape Canaveral

Cocoa Village




Northeast Florida

Daytona Beach

Flagler Beach

St Augustine


Jacksonville Area Beaches

Amelia Island


Talbot Island & Fort George Island




Ocala National Forest


High Springs


Tampa Bay & Southwest Florida


St Petersburg

St Pete Beach & Barrier Island Beaches

Clearwater & Clearwater Beach


Honeymoon Island & Caladesi Island

Weeki Wachee Springs

Homosassa Springs

Crystal River

Tarpon Springs


Sarasota Keys


Fort Myers

Fort Myers Beach

Sanibel Island

Captiva Island


Gasparilla Island

Marco Island

Pine Island

The Panhandle


Pensacola Beach

Perdido Key

Fort Walton Beach


South Walton & 30A Beaches

Panama City Beach

Cape San Blas & Port St Joe


St George Island



Cedar Key

Apalachicola National Forest



Understand Florida

Florida Today


People & Culture

The Arts

Landscape & Wildlife


Directory AZ


Discount Cards


Embassies & Consulates

Emergency & Important Numbers




Internet Access

Legal Matters

LGBT Travelers



Opening Hours


Public Holidays


Taxes & Refunds




Tourist Information

Travelers with Disabilities



Women Travelers



Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to Florida

A hundred worlds – from magic kingdoms and Latin American and Caribbean capitals to mangrove islands, wild wetlands and artist colonies – are all contained within this flat peninsula.

Seaside Fantasy

Maybe there's no mystery to what makes the Florida peninsula so intoxicating. Beaches as fine and sweet as powdered sugar, warm waters, rustling mangroves: all conspire to melt our workaday selves. We come to Florida to let go – of worries and winter, of inhibitions and reality. Some desire a beachy getaway of swimming, seafood and sunsets. Others seek the hedonism of South Beach, spring break and Key West. Still more hope to lose themselves within the phantasmagorical realms of Walt Disney World® and Orlando's theme parks.

Sexy Swamps

Within Florida's semitropical wilderness, alligators prowl the waterways, herons strut through ponds, manatees winter in springs and sea turtles nest in summer. Osprey and eagles, dolphins and tarpon, coral-reef forests, oceans of saw grass: despite the best efforts of 21st-century humans, overwhelming portions of Florida remain untamed. In a nation where natural beauty is often measured by topography, flat Florida is underappreciated by outdoors fanatics, but here you can paddle a kayak over the back of a sleeping Jurassic-era alligator, and meet loggerheads and manatees underwater, eye to eye.

Tropical Mosaic

While many know Florida for beaches and theme parks, few understand that this is one of the most populous states in the country, a bellwether for the American experiment. And that experiment – and this state – is more diverse than ever. From rural hunters and trappers in the geographically northern, culturally Southern climes, to Jewish transplants sitting side by side with Latin arrivals from every Spanish-speaking nation in the world, it's hard to beat Florida when it comes to experiencing the human tapestry at its most colorful and vibrant.

Culture By the Coast

Tan, tropical Florida is smarter and more culturally savvy than its appearance suggests. This state, particularly South Florida, has a reputation for attracting eccentrics and idiosyncratic types from across the US, Latin America and Europe. Many of these folks, and their descendants, have gone on to create or provide patronage for the arts, as evidenced by enormous concert spaces in Miami, a glut of museums on the Gulf Coast, and a long, literary tradition – Florida has produced more than its fair share of great American authors.

Why I Love Florida

By Adam Karlin, Writer

I was raised on wetlands and I'm drawn to wetlands, and I can't think of a state that better combines that favored biome with some of my other great travel loves – good food, ethnic entrepôts, warm weather and nice beaches. What can I say? Give me the ocean on one hand, swamps on the other and some fried conch and iced tea for lunch and I'm happy as a clam (which are great fried at a dockside restaurant, by the way).

Florida's Top 15

Capital of the Americas

Many Latin Americans resent it when citizens of the USA call themselves, simply, 'Americans.' 'Are we not citizens of the Americas too?' they ask. Yes, and in this vein, Miami is the capital of America, North and South. No other city blends the Anglo attitude of North America with the Latin energy of South America and the Caribbean. Throw in an African American heritage, gastronomic edge, pounding nightlife, a skyline plucked from a patrician's dream and miles of gorgeous sand, and say hello to the Magic City.

Jeff Greenberg / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

The Magic of Disney

Want to set the bar of expectations high? Call yourself 'The Happiest Place on Earth.' Walt Disney World® does, and then pulls out all the stops to deliver the exhilarating sensation that you are the most important character in the show. Despite all the frantic rides, entertainment and nostalgia, the magic is watching a child swell with belief after they have made Goofy laugh, been curtsied to by Cinderella, guarded the galaxy with Buzz Lightyear and battled Darth Maul like a Jedi knight.

stephen searle / Alamy Stock Photo ©

Top Experiences

Kayaking the Everglades

The Everglades are unnerving. They don't reach majestically skyward or fill your heart with the aching beauty of a glacier-carved valley. They ooze, flat and watery; a river of grass mottled by hammocks, cypress domes and mangroves. You can't hike them, not really. To properly explore the Everglades – and meet its prehistoric residents up close – you must leave the safety of land. You must push a canoe or kayak off a muddy bank, tamp down your fear and explore the shallow waterways on the Everglades' own, unforgettable terms.

mariakraynova / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

The Conch Republic

Florida has always been a realm of self-imposed exile, but sometimes even the exiles want to be, well, self-exiled. Enter the 'Conchs' (natives) of Key West, a separate island untethered from the nation, the state and even the rest of the island chain, except by a flimsy bridge one hurricane away from being swallowed by the Gulf. A bring-on-the-night crazy party atmosphere animates Mallory Sq and Duval St nightly, part drunken cabal and part authentic tolerance for the self-expression of every impolite, nonconformist impulse known to humanity.

Romrodphoto / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Canaveral National Seashore

If you've been to Florida's Atlantic Coast before, you know it is one extremely built-up and crowded stretch of sand. This is partly why the 24 miles of Canaveral National Seashore's unspoiled barrier island are so special. Here, virtually in the shadow of Kennedy's shuttle launchpad, the dunes, lagoons and white-sand beaches look much as they did 500 years ago when the Spaniards landed. Kayak among the mangroves with bottlenose dolphins and manatees, observe nesting sea turtles, swim on pristine beaches and camp in solitude.

dosecreative / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Coral Reef Symphony

Florida's most breathtaking scenery is underwater. The bowl of the peninsula's spoon is edged by more coral reefs than anywhere else in North America, and their quality and diversity rival Hawaii and the Caribbean. The prime protected areas are Biscayne National Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Looe Key. Not only can you see the reefs and their rainbow-hued denizens by glass-bottom boat, snorkeling and diving, but you can also spend the night with the fishes (at John Pennekamp) if you just can't bear to surface.

Off Axis Production / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

St Augustine: Fun with History

According to legend, the USA's oldest city possesses Ponce de León's elusive fountain of youth. Though apocryphal, this anecdote indicates the breadth of the historic legacy so lovingly and atmospherically preserved along St Augustine's cobblestoned streets. Tour magnificent Spanish cathedrals and forts, and Henry Flagler's ludicrously ornate resorts; take spooky ghost tours and join scurvy-dog pirate invasions. Watch costumed reenactors demonstrate blacksmithing, cannon firing, and how to shackle and chain prisoners. Then sip a cup of eternal youth, 'cause you never know.

Sean Pavone / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Culture-Clash St Petersburg

It's all too easy to overuse the adjective 'surreal' when discussing Florida. In the case of the Salvador Dalí Museum, surreal is exactly right. Dalí has no connection to Florida whatsoever; this magnificent collection of 96 oil paintings and an overwhelming slew of ephemera landed in St Petersburg almost by chance. But then, all sorts of cultural offerings are flowering across 'St Pete,' from fine dining to live music to excellent art museums. Here is proof the Gulf Coast can be as cerebral as it is relaxing.

Sean Pavone / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Sanibel Island: 'Stooping' to Shell

Gorgeous Sanibel Island is famous for the bounty of colorful and exotic shells that wash up along its beaches; the 'Sanibel stoop' is the name for the distinctive profile of avid shellers (who these days save their backs with long-handled scoops). But the dirty little secret is this: like fishing and golf, shelling is just an excuse to do nothing but let the mind wander the paths of its own reckoning. Yet delightfully, when you awake, you're rewarded with a handful of spiral calcium treasures.

Justin Foulkes / lonely planet ©

Top Experiences

Kennedy Space Center

Within this 140,000-acre campus, the dreams of some of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century took flight all the way to the moon and back...and then were defunded and grounded on earth. But the sense of potential that always informed Kennedy Space Center – indeed, that still pushes NASA to reach out for Mars and beyond – remains palpable in this location, one of the most visited spots in Florida. Learn about the rigors of space exploration training and, of course, try the astronaut ice cream.

Robert Hoetink | SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Near Pensacola, the Panhandle's barrier islands occupy about as much real estate as a string bikini, particularly the sensual stretches that form the Gulf Islands National Seashore. While the region is well known for its activity-fueled beach towns, these are quickly left behind along the park's almost-pure-white quartz-sand beaches, gleaming like new snow. If you really need an activity, tour the moody, crumbling wreckage of historic Fort Pickens or hike the sand-floored woods, but really, isn't this why you came, to nap and tan in paradise?

Colin D. Young / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Hiking the Ocala National Forest

We love the Everglades. There are moments in the subtropical forests, cypress stands, sinkholes and crystal springs of the Ocala National Forest and its adjacent state parks that are just as otherworldly and strange. You can get lost for weeks along hundreds of miles of forested trails and among countless lakes, while hopping between dozens of campgrounds and soaking up Old Florida atmosphere. It's easy enough to dabble, but for dedicated outdoor enthusiasts, draw a big circle around Florida's heart and come here.


Top Experiences

Universal Orlando Resort

We're not trying to overload you on theme parks, but this is Florida, after all. And Universal Orlando Resort is something else. The theming, the creativity of the rides, the ease of the Express Pass system, the adrenaline rushes, the silly fun – it’s the smart and sassy class clown to Disney’s teacher’s pet. With some smart but simple planning you can enjoy attractions like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (one of the greatest artificial worlds ever created) without waiting hours to get in or for the rides.

Peter Etchells / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences


Apalachicola is more than a pretty seaside town, although it is, indeed, a very pretty seaside – well, Gulfside – town. It's an experience and an introduction to the laid-back folkways and crusty exterior of 'Cracker' Florida. No cartoon mice or Latin superstars can be seen; the only things that blaze across this town are rich orange sunsets. With its preserved historical core, plentiful shade trees and tourism amenities, 'Apalach' feels welcoming to guests while retaining a distinctive sense of place.

cate_89 / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences


If local boy Tom Petty and transplant Bo Diddley are the patron saints of Gainesville's rock-music scene, the University of Florida – the nation's second-largest university – is the engine that keeps it going strong. But it's not just about the music here. Gainesville buzzes with intellectual energy, carefree student attitudes and a general pleasant atmosphere in its well-groomed, shady residential neighborhoods. There are great restaurants and bars to discover in this university town, but they're not as expensive or hectic as spots you'll find elsewhere in Florida.

Sean Pavone / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Need to Know


US dollars ($)


English, also Spanish in Tampa, Miami and South Florida and Haitian Creole in South Florida


Nationals qualifying for the Visa Waiver Program are allowed a 90-day stay without a visa; all others need a visa.


ATMs are widely available everywhere.

Cell Phones

Europe and Asia's GSM 900/1800 standard is incompatible with USA's cell-phone systems. Confirm your phone can be used before arriving.


East of the Apalachicola River, Florida is in the US Eastern Time Zone (GMT/UTC minus five hours). West of the Apalachicola is US Central Time (GMT/UTC minus six hours).

When to Go

High Season (Mar–Aug)

A South Florida beaches peak with spring break.

A Panhandle and northern beaches peak in summer.

A Orlando theme parks are busiest in summer.

A Summer wet season is hot and humid (May to September).

Shoulder (Feb & Sep)

A In South Florida, February has ideal dry weather, but no spring-break craziness.

A With school in September, northern beaches/theme parks less crowded, still hot.

A Prices drop from peak by 20% to 30%.

Low Season (Oct–Dec)

A Beach towns quiet until winter snowbirds arrive.

A Hotel prices can drop from peak by 50%.

A November-to-April dry season is best time to hike/camp.

A Holidays spike with peak rates.

Useful Websites

Visit Florida ( Official state tourism website.

My Florida ( Portal to state government.

Miami Herald ( Main daily newspaper for metro Miami-Dade.

Tampa Bay Times ( News and views for the Gulf Coast.

Florida State Parks ( Primary resource for state parks.

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, hotel bookings, traveler forum and more.

Important Numbers

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than $140

A Dorm beds/camping: $30–50

A Supermarket self-catering per day: $20

A Beaches: free

A Bicycle hire per day: $24–35

Midrange: $140–250

A Hotels: $100–200

A In-room meals and dining out: $50

A Theme park pass: $40–100

A Rental car per day: $40–50

Top End: More than $250

A High-season beach hotel/resort: $250–400

A Miami gourmet dinner (for two): $150–300

A All-inclusive, four- to seven-day theme-park blowout: $1500–4000

Opening Hours

Standard business hours are as follows:

Banks 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Thursday, to 5:30pm Friday; sometimes 9am to 12:30pm Saturday.

Bars Most bars 5pm to midnight; to 2am Friday and Saturday.

Businesses 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Post offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; sometimes 9am to noon Saturday.

Restaurants Breakfast 7am to 10:30am Monday to Friday; brunch 9am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday; lunch 11:30am to 2:30pm Monday to Friday; dinner 5pm to 9:30pm, later Friday and Saturday.

Shops 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 5pm Sunday; shopping malls keep extended hours.

Arriving in Florida

Miami International Airport Metrobus ($2.25) runs every 30 minutes, 6am to 11pm, to Miami Beach, 35 minutes. Shuttle vans cost around $22 to South Beach. A taxi to South Beach is $35.

Orlando International Airport Lynx buses ($2) run from 6am to midnight. Public bus 11 services downtown Orlando (40 minutes), 42 services International Dr (one hour) and 111 services SeaWorld (45 minutes). Complimentary luggage handling and airport transport for guests staying at a Walt Disney World® Resort (Disney’s Magical Express). Shuttle vans cost $20 to $30. Taxi costs: Disney area, $65; International Dr and Universal Orlando Resort, $48; downtown Orlando, $42; Winter Park, $50.

Getting Around

Transport in Florida revolves around the car.

Car The most common means of transport. Car-hire offices can be found in almost every town. Drive on the right.

Bus Greyhound and Megabus are cheap, if slow, and serve larger cities.

Train Amtrak's Silver Service/Palmetto runs between Miami and Tampa, and from there connects to a nationwide network. The Auto Train runs from the Washington, DC area to Sanford, near Orlando.

Cycling Flat Florida is good for cycling, although hot weather and a lack of highway bike lanes are hindrances.

What's New

Volcano Bay Erupts

Universal Studios is adding an entire sun- and slide-soaked water park experience to its slate of attractions: Volcano Bay, the third Universal theme park, will be built around a 200ft tall artificial volcano. If that seems a little over the top – well, welcome to Florida. There will be 18 attractions splayed over this aquatic wonderland, aimed at both families and hard-core thrill seekers.

Everglades Allure

The admission price for the Everglades National Park has gone up, but there are now loads of free activities organized by the park, including canoe and bike trips, night walks and marshy wetland slogs.


Really, we only need three words to describe this theme park, with its fantastic rides, innovative attractions, Ninjago World and Heartlake City: everything is awesome!

Panhandle Hiking

Protected areas like Tarkiln Bayou Preserve and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park provide a glimpse of the rough wilderness that fronts the Panhandle's Gulf Coast and sprawls across its flat interior.

Microbrews in the Keys

New microbreweries in the Keys are also changing the beer landscape of South Florida. In Islamorada, the excellent, locally owned Florida Keys Brewing Co makes some of the best microbrews in the state.

Science and High Design

The high-tech Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science opened to much fanfare in 2017 in a breathtaking 250,000-sq-ft space on the waterfront in downtown Miami.

Walking Mural Tours in St Pete

This fabulous new Saturday morning walking tour introduces visitors to more than 30 vibrant murals that grace the walls of downtown St Pete, rivaling Miami's Wynwood Walls.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

However you may feel about Disney purchasing the rights to the Star Wars franchise, you knew the company was going to create some enormous spectacle with the brand, and this awesome fireworks show is a good example.

Brew Bus in Tampa

Craft breweries are everywhere in the Tampa Bay area, and finally someone had the good sense to transport people around to them on a boozy bus. The 'terminal' is also a brewery in Seminole Heights.

Heroes & Legends and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center

The newest exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center opened in 2017 to celebrate the pioneers of NASA's early space program and includes a 360-degree film on the lives of astronauts, impressive interactive exhibits and the recently relocated and revamped U.S. Astronauts Hall of Fame.

If You Like…

Secluded Islands

The Florida peninsula is ringed with barrier islands and mangrove-fringed keys. Many are accessible by causeways and bridges, but to really leave the crowds behind, go by boat. That’s the only way to get to these beauties.

Cayo Costa Island Undeveloped and majestic; for real solitude, book a cabin or campsite and spend the night.

Caladesi Island A 20-minute ferry ride to three miles of sugary, seashell-strewn goodness.

St Vincent Island Just off the Panhandle coastline, with great hikes, wildlife and beaches.

Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge Cedar Key is like a frontier town, with kayaking among dozens of tiny wildernesses.

Dry Tortugas Far off Key West in the middle of the sea: camp, stargaze, snorkel coral reefs and barter beers with fishers for lobster.

Roadside Attractions

Florida boasts mermaids, Hogwarts, Haitian botanicas (shops that deal in herbs and charms) and at least three alleged fountains of youth, making the state a roadside-attraction hall of fame. For these, you needn’t travel north of I-75.

Coral Castle In Homestead, this monument to unrequited love defies explanation and belief.

Robert Is Here Also in Homestead, it’s just a farm stand with a petting zoo, but feels like…an event.

Skunk Ape Research Headquarters Apparently, Bigfoot’s relatives live in the swamp, and they don’t smell too good.

Ochopee Post Office Not just the tiniest post office in the USA – also the world’s most patient postal worker.


Flat, warm and did we mention flat? Florida can be a cyclist's dream, although it may be a bore to mountain bikers (which isn't quite fair, as there are some nice off-road paths out there).

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail Ride alongside the shoulder of the road above the teal horizons of the ocean and Florida Bay.

Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail Think Florida has nothing for mountain bikers? You'll think again after pounding the scrub on this 22-mile ride through Ocala National Forest.

West Orange Trail This 24-mile trail passes through about 10 miles of lovely horse country just west of theme-park-studded Orlando.

Sanibel Island This calm little refuge, with its distinct lack of highway development, is laced with dozens of bicycle paths.

Legacy Trail Explore the countryside around Sarasota on this lovely 20-mile bike ride, which runs through forests, over bridges and behind backyards.

Nature Walks

Florida's backyard is an American original – slash pine, clear springs, snowy sands and miles of reptile-rich wetlands bordered by a hairy fringe of spidery mangroves. The following spots get deep in the subtropical mix.

Grayton Beach State Park Traverse a broad mix of biomes, from scrub forest to wetlands to exceedingly rare coastal dune lakes, which can be found nowhere else in the USA.

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park Boardwalks and trails wind through a Panhandle wilderness of flatwoods and marshlands peppered with carnivorous pitcher plants.

Egan's Creek Greenway More than 300 acres of grassy paths run by the forests, clear streams and diverse wildlife of Amelia Island.

Canaveral National Seashore With 24 miles of wilderness beaches, this is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline on the eastern Florida seaboard.

Wekiwa Springs State Park Hop on the boardwalk and take in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers–designated Wekiva River.

The mojito is the unofficial signature drink of Miami | Justin Foulkes/lonely planet ©

Coral Castle, a roadside attraction in Homestead, built and designed by Edward Leedskalnin | BorisVetshev/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


There are few states that can boast Florida's wealth of kayaking and canoeing opportunities. No matter how developed an area is, a quick paddle will often plunge travelers into otherworldly waterscapes.

The Everglades This expansive wilderness of flooded prairies, swamps and coastal islands cannot truly be explored without a boat.

Amelia Island This marshy barrier island conceals a wealth of coastal wilderness that is best appreciated from a kayak or canoe.

Islamorada The mangrove islands of the Florida Keys contains thousands of isolated, watery channels and tributaries.

Dr Von D. Mizell-Eula Park An old bootlegger's smuggling route is now a magnificent, mangrove-lined kayaking experience.

Fort Lauderdale The Middle River Loop allows you to kayak into the heart of this burgeoning South Florida metropolis.

Live Music

From gator-swamp rockabilly to sweaty blues to Caribbean street parades, Florida’s northern cities flex their Southern roots. The state has a rich, diverse musical heritage, with lots of great venues.

Gainesville Tom Petty’s hometown has a first-rate and extensive college-music scene, including some fantastic punk clubs.

Skipper's Smokehouse Head to Tampa and rock out at this excellent open-air venue while the stars spin above your head.

Bradfordville Blues Club Tallahassee is known for an energetic blues scene; head for this local legend.

Naples Philharmonic An unexpected gem of a regional orchestra.

Ball & Chain Classic Cuban music and contemporary Latin sounds make the rounds at this Miami club.

Foodie Finds

As Florida’s food scene continues to flourish, menus balance between locavore dishes and the international influence of a huge immigrant population. In the meantime, Florida continues to attract accomplished chefs passionate about using products that reflect the Sunshine State's seasonal bounty.

Būccan Small plates take diners on a gastronomic trip around the world down in Palm Beach.

Havana Cafe If you thought you couldn't find top Floridian cuisine in the Everglades, come here and have your mind changed.

Ulele This excellent Tampa eatery serves up brilliant dishes influenced by Floridian Native American culinary traditions.

27 Restaurant Creative dishes, international influences from far and wide, and a lovely old Miami Beach home all come together here.

Cress Amazing, cutting-edge seasonal cuisine in...DeLand? Damn right. One of the state's culinary gems.


Major League Baseball’s spring training – with almost daily exhibition games – is a long-standing Florida tradition drawing hordes of fans. The ‘grapefruit league’ ( has 15 pro teams, and two stay when the season starts: the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins.

St Petersburg The Tampa Bay Rays play the regular season at Tropicana Field.

Tampa The New York Yankees have spring training at Steinbrenner Field.

Fort Myers Both the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins hold spring training here.

Jupiter The St Louis Cardinals have spring training at Roger Dean Stadium, and then the Marlins’ minor-league team plays.

Orlando The Atlanta Braves play within Walt Disney World®, and the Houston Astros hold court in nearby Kissimmee.

Miami Catch a Miami Marlins game amid the South Florida swelter.


Florida was one of the first places Europeans settled in the continental USA, a state that has been Spanish, English, American, Confederate and American again.

St Augustine The oldest contiguously settled town in the continental United States is centered on an enormous, romantic historical district.

Key West This former smugglers' port and pirates' den is full of gorgeous historical architecture and elegant homes.

Mission San Luis This former Spanish mission, located in Tallahassee, takes families on a living history tour of frontier Florida.

Historic Pensacola Another example of early Florida history coming alive via live, costumed interpreters.

Gay Nightlife

As much as Manhattan, San Francisco and LA, Florida is a destination for gay travelers. It hosts some of the wildest parties and has some of the best-organized gay communities in the country.

Key West The Conch Republic is all about letting your flag fly proud (as long as it's a tolerant one). How established is gay life here? There’s even a gay trolley tour.

Miami In South Beach especially, gay nightlife is almost synonymous with ‘nightlife.’ Be as out as you like among the fashionistas and celebrities.

Fort Lauderdale The Lauderdale scene is less snooty patootie than South Beach, and welcomes hordes of sun-seeking gay travelers to its B&Bs and bars.

West Palm Beach Palm Beach’s hipper sister has a notable and noticeable gay scene.

Orlando Orlando is gay-friendly year-round, but everyone comes out for Gay Days in early June.

Pensacola Surprise! Attend Pensacola’s Memorial Day party, and you might not recognize the Panhandle.

Dry Tortugas National Park, a secluded island far off Key West | Matt Munro/lonely planet ©

Craft Drinks

Florida's drinking profile has increased a fair bit since the early-21st-century heyday of the mighty mojito. Be they muddled, shaken, stirred or strained, craft booze is appearing with delicious, inebriating frequency in bars across the state.

Broken Shaker Miami Beach throws its hat in the fancy cocktail ring with this excellent outdoor outpost.

Stache Craft drinks and beautiful Fort Lauderdale clientele fill this spot.

Hanson’s Shoe Repair Sure, it's a themed flapper-style speakeasy, but this is Orlando. Own the cheesiness and get a good cocktail.

Vagabond Pool Bar Get your cocktail on in pure Miami style (ie surrounded by beautiful people on floaties) at this hip hotel.

The Dime Good pours, smart bartenders and a professorial crowd hang at this Gainesville bar.

Wreck Diving

Skrrriiiitch! What was that sound? Just another oceangoing vessel striking reef and going down off Florida’s coast. A few are even shallow enough for snorkelers to access.

Panama City Beach The ‘Wreck Capital of the South’ boasts over a dozen boats, barges and tugs, plus a WWII Liberty ship and natural reefs.

Pensacola Dive a 900ft-long aircraft carrier, the Oriskany, deliberately sunk in 2006.

Fort Pierce Snorkel a Spanish galleon, the Urca de Lima, under only 10ft to 15ft of water.

Fort Lauderdale Freighters, steamers, tugs and barges litter the sea floor near Fort Lauderdale.

Biscayne National Park The Maritime Heritage Trail has six ships, and a two-masted schooner is shallow enough for snorkelers.

Month by Month

Top Events

Carnaval Miami, March

SunFest, May

Gay Days, June

Goombay Festival, June or July

Fantasy Fest, October


3 College Football Bowl Games

On January 1, Floridians go insane for college football. Major bowls are played in Orlando (Capital One Bowl), Tampa (Outback Bowl) and Jacksonville (Gator Bowl), while Miami's Orange Bowl (January 3) often crowns the collegiate champion (

z Gasparilla Pirate Festival

On the last Saturday of the month, the city of Tampa basically becomes a big pirate party.


Ideal month for less-crowded South Florida beaches; high season ramps up. Still too cool for tourists up north.

3 Art Wynwood

Contemporary art and hip galleries rule the roost in Miami's bohemian Wynwood district in the middle of the month.

z Edison Festival of Light

For two weeks, Fort Myers celebrates the great inventor Thomas Edison with a block party, concerts and a huge science fair. February 11, Edison's birthday, culminates in an incredible Parade of Light.

z Florida State Fair

Over a century old, Tampa's Florida State Fair is classic Americana: two mid-February weeks of livestock shows, greasy food, loud music and old-fashioned carnival rides.

z Street Painting Festival

You'll never see the streets of Lake Worth quite the same after this festival, which kicks off in late February. The art that is produced isn't just chalk on asphalt; veritable curbside Sistine Chapels blanket Lake Worth's urban landscape.

5 South Beach Wine & Food Festival

No paper-plate grub-fest, this late-February event is a Food Network–sponsored culinary celebration of food, drink and celebrity chefs.

z Mardi Gras

Whether it falls in late February or early March, Fat Tuesday inspires parties statewide. Pensacola Beach, closest to New Orleans, hosts Florida's best (


Beach resort high season all over, due to spring break. Modest temps and dry weather make for an ideal time to hike and camp. Last hurrah for manatees.

z Spring Break

Throughout March to mid-April, American colleges release students for one-week 'spring breaks.' Coeds pack Florida beaches for debaucherous drunken binges. The biggies? Panama City Beach, Pensacola, Daytona and Fort Lauderdale.

3 Baseball Spring Training

Through March, Florida hosts Major League Baseball's spring training 'Grapefruit League' ( 15 pro teams train and play exhibition games in the Orlando area, the Tampa Bay area and the Southeast.

z Carnaval Miami

Miami's premier Latin festival ( takes over for nine days in early March: there's a Latin drag-queen show, in-line-skate competition, domino tournament, the immense Calle Ocho street festival, Miss Carnaval Miami and more.

z Captain Robert Searle's Raid

St Augustine re-creates Robert Searle's infamous 1668 pillaging of the town in March ( Local pirates dress up again in June for Sir Francis Drake's Raid. Volunteers are welcome!

3 Winter Music Conference

For five days in late March, DJs, musicians, promoters and music-industry execs converge on Miami to party, strike deals, listen to new dance music and coo over the latest technology.


As spring-break madness fades, prices drop. It's the end of the winter dry season.

3 Florida Film Festival

Held in Winter Park, near Orlando, this celebration of independent films is fast becoming one of the largest in the southeast. Sometimes held in late March.

z Interstate Mullet Toss

In late April on Perdido Key, near Pensacola, locals are famous for their annual ritual of tossing dead fish over the Florida–Alabama state line. Distance beats style, but some have lots of style.

z Conch Republic Independence Celebration

Honor the (pseudo) independence of the (pseudo) republic of Key West with crazy parties and (pseudo) elections for (pseudo) office.


Summer 'wet' season begins: rain, humidity, bugs all increase with temps. Northern beach season ramps up; southern beaches enter off-season.

z Sea Turtle Nesting

Beginning in May and extending through October, sea turtles nest on Florida beaches; after two months (from midsummer through fall), hatchling runs see the kids totter back to sea.

5 Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival

On May's first weekend, Amelia Island celebrates shrimp, art and pirates, with an invasion and lots of scurvy pirate talk – aaarrrr!

3 SunFest

Over five days in early May, West Palm Beach holds South Florida's largest waterfront music and arts festival.

6 Memorial Day Circuit Party

For late May's Memorial Day weekend, Pensacola becomes one massive three-day gay party, with lots of DJs, dancing and drinking.

5 Palatka Blue Crab Festival

For four late-May days, Palatka celebrates the blue crab and hosts the state championship for chowder and gumbo. That's some serious bragging rights.

A Tribute to The Golden Girls by Erik Greenawalt and Lori Hughes, Street Painting Festival | Photograph by Robert Dreverman JR ©

Sea turtles nest on Florida beaches from May through October | JohnHancockPhoto/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Oh my it's getting hot. It's also the start of hurricane season, which peaks in September/October. School's out for summer, so theme parks become insanely crowded.

z Gay Days

Starting on the first Saturday of June, and going for a week, upwards of 40,000 members of the LGBT community descend on the Magic Kingdom and other Orlando theme parks, hotels and clubs. Wear red.

z Miami Fashion Week

Miami: so hot right now. Actually, it's hot all the time, in every sense of the word, but especially so during the city's Fashion Week.


Northern-beach and theme-park high season continues. Swamp trails are unbearably muggy and buggy; stick to crystal springs and coastlines.

z Fourth of July

America's Independence Day is cause for parades and fireworks, large and small, across the state. Miami draws the biggest crowd for the best fireworks and laser show.

5 Steinhatchee Scallop Season

The opening day of scallop season in Steinhatchee can draw a thousand folks, who take to the waters to harvest this delectable bivalve by hand. Anyone can join the following two-month-long treasure hunt (

z Goombay Festival

In Miami's Coconut Grove, this massive street party draws well over 300,000 to celebrate the city's Bahamian culture with music, dancing and parades; it's one of America's largest black-culture festivals.


Floridians do nothing but crank the A/C inside while foolish tourists swelter and burn on the beaches – and run from afternoon thundershowers.

5 Miami Spice

Miami's restaurants join together in August to offer prix-fixe lunches and dinners in an attempt to draw city residents from their apartments.


z Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

At Disney World on select evenings over two months (starting in September), kids can trick or treat in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle, with costumed Disney favorites and a Halloween-themed parade.

z Fantasy Fest

Key West pulls out all the stops for this week-long costumed extravaganza culminating in Halloween. Everyone's even crazier than usual, and Key West's own Goombay Festival competes for attention the same week.

3 MoonFest

West Palm Beach throws a rockin', riotous block party for Halloween, October 31. Guests are encouraged to come in costume, and dozens of the best local bands play for free (

z 'Ding' Darling Days

Celebrate Sanibel's favorite wildlife refuge at this week-long festival for nature and conservation.

z Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

Magnificently spooky haunted houses, gory thrills and over-the-top Halloween shows. Watch for goblins, monsters and mummies roaming the streets and creeping up behind you. And remember, this is Universal, not Disney: parents should think carefully before bringing children 13 and under.


Florida's 'dry' winter season begins. Northern 'snowbirds' start flocking to their Florida condos. It's safe to hike again. Thanksgiving holidays spike tourism for a week.

z Tampa Cigar Heritage Festival

Tampa's Ybor City has a long history as the cigar-making capital of the US. That heritage, and the cigars themselves, are celebrated in this one-day festival (

z St Arrrgustine Pirate Gathering

Put on an eye patch and dust off your pirate lingo for this hokey celebration of scurvy dogs and seafaring rascals in St Augustine for three days in November.

3 White Party

A raucous gay and lesbian celebration (and HIV/AIDS fundraiser), the White Party is actually a series of parties and nightclub events in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale over a week in late November. And yes, wear white.

3 Frank Brown International Songwriters' Festival

Singer-songwriters play in venues across the Gulf Coast, including Pensacola and Perdido Key.


High season begins for South Florida beaches. Manatees arrive in warm-water springs.

3 Art Basel Miami Beach

Very simply, early December sees one of the biggest international art shows in the world, with more than 150 art galleries represented and four days of parties.

z Victorian Christmas Stroll

The landmark 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel (now a museum) celebrates Christmas, Victorian-style, for three weeks in December, with folks in period costume acting out fairy tales (

z King Mango Strut

Miami's Coconut Grove rings in the New Year with this wacky, freak-alicious, after-Christmas parade, which spoofs current events and local politics.


Iconic Florida

7 Days

For sheer iconic box-ticking, you can't do better than spending a week taking in Miami, the Everglades and the Florida Keys.

First off, explore Miami for three solid days (more if you can). South Beach's pastel art-deco hotels and hedonistic beach culture? Check. Cuban sandwiches, Haitian botanicas, modern art? Check. Charming the velvet ropes, Latin hip-hop, mojitos? Hey, we're doing good.

Then take one day and visit the sunning alligators (check) of Everglades National Park. On the way, Homestead has prime Florida roadside attractions (Coral Castle, Robert Is Here – check and check!), and the Flamingo visitor center offers opportunities to kayak among the mangroves (check).

Now spend three days (or more) in the Florida Keys. Stop first in Key Largo, for key lime pie, conch fritters and jaw-dropping coral reefs (check x3). Enjoy tarpon fishing in Islamorada – check – beach napping at Bahia Honda State Park – check – and, finally, hit Key West to ogle the Mallory Sq freak show (check) and raise a libation as the tangerine sun drops into an endless ocean – salut!


A1A: The southern Atlantic coast

3 Weeks

Florida's southern Atlantic Coast is a symphony of beaches and barrier islands, of mangroves and sea turtles, of nostalgic Old Florida and nipped-and-tucked celebrity Florida, of the wealthy and the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me obscenely rich. Three driving routes can be mixed and matched (I-95, Hwy 1 and A1A), but scenic, two-lane A1A knits the islands together and edges the sands as much as any road can.

A1A starts in Miami Beach, within the art-deco historic district. Naturally you'll want to spend three days or so soaking up all that Miami offers. Then rent a convertible, don your Oakley sunglasses and nest a Dior scarf around your neck: it's time to road trip.

Whoops! There already? First stop is Fort Lauderdale. Preen along the promenade among the skating goddesses and be-thonged gay men, ride a romantic gondola in the canals, and enjoy fine art and gourmet cuisine: it's a suite of pleasures the Gold Coast specializes in.

After two or three days, stagger on. Pause for a quiet interlude on the gorgeous beaches of Boca Raton, then repeat your Lauderdale experience in Palm Beach. Ogle the uberwealthy as they glide between mansion and Bentley and beach, stop by the Flagler Museum to understand how this all got started, and each day decamp to West Palm Beach, the hipper, more happening sister city.

After several days, it's time to detox. Heading north, the Treasure Coast is known for unspoiled nature, not condos and cosmopolitans. Stop first in Jupiter; among its pretty parks, don't miss the seaside geyser at Blowing Rocks Preserve.

Even better, spend several days in Stuart. From here you can kayak the Loxahatchee River, book a fishing charter, snorkel the reefs at St Lucie Inlet, and escape the crowds on nearby Hutchinson Island beaches.

If you only have two weeks, then you may have to skip the next offerings. At Fort Pierce, admire manatees in winter and snorkel a Spanish galleon. Surfers should pause at Sebastian Inlet State Park, and birders detour to the nation's first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island. We've come a long way from Miami, yes?


Gulf Coast swing

3 Weeks

Many prefer Florida's Gulf Coast: the beaches aren't as built up, soporifically warm waters lap blindingly white sand, and the sun sets (rather than rises) over the sea. Plus, it's easy to mix urban sophistication with seaside getaways and swampy adventures – just like around Miami, only even more family- (and budget-) friendly.

On this trip, spend your first three to four days in Tampa and St Petersburg. Stroll the museums and parks along Tampa's sparkling Riverwalk, and spend a day enjoying historic Ybor City's Spanish cuisine, cigars and nightclubs. St Pete offers similar city fun, but above all, don't miss its Salvador Dalí Museum.

Now head west for the barrier islands. Take their full measure by spending one day on unspoiled Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands, then enjoy the hyper, activity-fueled atmosphere of St Pete Beach.

Next, drive down to Sarasota for three days. You'll need that long to take in the magnificent Ringling Museum Complex, the orchid-rich Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, perhaps catch the opera and still allow plenty of time to build sandcastles on the amazing white-sand beaches of Siesta Key. If you have extra time, visit Myakka River State Park and kayak among the alligators.

Then skip down to Fort Myers for two days of regional exploring. Take the ferry to Cayo Costa Island for a beach of unforgettable solitude, or go the party route and hit the crowded strands of Fort Myers Beach.

You need to save at least two days for Sanibel Island. World famous for its shelling, it's also a bike-friendly island stocked with great eats and wildlife-filled bays ripe for kayaking.

Finally end with two to three days in Naples, the quintessence of Gulf Coast beach towns: upscale, artistic and welcoming of every age demographic, with perhaps Florida's most pristine city beach. You can eat and shop to your heart's content, and, no question, fit in a day trip to the Everglades. It's easy – zip along the Tamiami Trail to Shark Valley, and take a tram tour or bike ride among the sawgrass plains and sometimes countless alligators.


North Florida backroads

3 Weeks

North Florida appeals to outdoor-lovers who prefer that days be filled with forests and springs and rivers and fishing, and that evenings be spent reliving these adventures around campfires.

Fly into Jacksonville, and spend the first day embracing the Atlantic Ocean on Jax beaches. For a full dose of Florida's Southern personality, have dinner at Southern Charm, then sink a few beers in the Little Five Points neighborhood.

Drive south to small-town DeLand and explore De Leon Springs State Park, with its crystal-springs kayaking. The big daddy down here is the Ocala National Forest, with epic hiking and biking through Florida's fascinating limestone karst terrain. While it may be tough to spot local wildlife, you're in a wilderness that is rife with alligators, foxes, coyotes and black bears: keep your eyes peeled.

Next, scoot over to Ocala, a veritable center for Florida agriculture and Old Florida vibe. Here the classic glass-bottom boat tours of Silver Springs and high-revving dragster energy of the Don Garlits Museums beckon. Then go north to Micanopy, 'the town that time forgot,' for more eerie hikes at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and a taste of Cracker history at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, named for the author of The Yearling, the classic tale of growing up barefoot and poor in the Depression-era South.

For the next two to four days, string together the following outdoor highlights: drive to Cedar Key, where you can kayak among seabirds and unspoiled mangrove-fringed islands; then head further north to Ichetucknee Springs State Park, which warrants a half-day of tubing amid its cool blue springs. Save at least a day for a river trip along the Suwannee River, a muddy-brown moss-draped meander that's North Florida all over. Reserve ahead for a multiday river-camping trip, and visit the Stephen Foster State Folk Cultural Center to learn about the folkways of the 'Cracker' (rural white) cultural roots of the region.

Nothing personal, but it's clean-up time. Drive back to Jacksonville, and spend a final day or three on Amelia Island. Spoil yourself with a Victorian B&B and some gourmet seafood, or hit the outdoors again with a paddle around the barrier islands.


Mickey to manatees

1 Week

The kids want Disney, but Mom and Dad want beach time, a good meal and some culture. Oh, and you've only got a week.

Presto change-o – here you go! For the first three or four days, stay in Orlando. Rather than give in entirely to Walt Disney World®, spend two days there and another day at Universal Orlando Resort, particularly if you've read any of those Harry Potter books.

For the next three or four days, hit Tampa Bay. On one day in Tampa choose between its tremendous zoo and aquarium and its fantastic museums, then end in historic Ybor City for Spanish cuisine with a side of flamenco. In St Petersburg even kids will find the Salvador Dalí Museum intriguing. Then squeeze in a day trip north for the mermaid shows at Weeki Wachee and the manatees of Homosassa Springs. Everybody's happy!


City to seashells

1 Week

Geez, you really don't want to miss sexy, high-energy Miami, but if you don't get some sandy, leave-me-alone-with-my-novel downtime you'll never make it when you return to work in [insert name of major metropolis here]. Oh, and you've only got a week.

Presto change-o – here you go! Spend the first three days in Miami and have a party. Tour the art-deco-district hotels, enjoy the sophisticated art museums, shop for tailored shirts and racy designer dresses, and prance past the velvet ropes to celebrity-spot and dance all night to Latin hip-hop.

Next, spend one day peering at alligators through dark sunglasses in the Everglades, just so everyone back home won't be all 'What? You went to Florida and didn't even go?'

For the last three days, chill on Sanibel Island. Get a hotel on a private stretch of beach and do nothing but sun, sleep, read and collect handfuls of beautiful seashells as you kick along. Maybe take a bike ride and have a gourmet dinner. But each night, dig your toes in the sand and enjoy the setting sun in romantic solitude.


Redneck riviera

10 Days

Sure, Florida's Panhandle gets rowdy, yet there's family-friendly warmth and unexpected sophistication along with its spectacular bone-white beaches.

Start your tour with a few days in Pensacola. Relax on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and enjoy Pensacola's historic village and its naval aviation history. The Blue Angels may even put on a show.

Spend another two days in the tourist towns of Destin and Fort Walton Beach, and don't miss the world-class sand of Grayton Beach State Park. If you have kids, a day among the hyperactive boardwalk amusements of Panama City Beach is virtually a must.

Afterward shuffle along to the secluded wilderness of Cape San Blas and quaint Apalachicola, whose romantic historic sweats as heavy as a hot Florida day.

St George and St Vincent Islands provide more secluded getaways, but if time is short, spend your last day around Tallahassee – admittedly located off the Gulf. Unwind and get a little rowdy in some local live-music joints.


Summer Farewell

10 Days

Let's say you want the warmest weather but the fewest people. Hello, September! This trip is good anytime, but Florida's north is particularly sweet as school starts and summer fades.

Fly into Jacksonville, but don't hesitate: go straight to Amelia Island for several days of romantic B&Bs, luscious food and pretty sand. The good vibes continue as you kayak and explore the undeveloped beaches of Talbot and Fort George Islands, just south.

Then spend two to three days in St Augustine. America's oldest city preserves its heritage very well, with plenty of pirate tales enlivening the Spanish forts and basilicas.

When you've had enough of fine dining and costumed reenactors, head to Cassadaga, a town of spiritualists and New Age wisdom in the middle of the backwoods (because Florida!), and have your fortune told.

At this point, you've filled a week, but a few more days means more kayaking in Canaveral National Seashore, and perhaps a day or two in the theme parks of Orlando. Where aren't the kids when they are in school? In line.

Plan Your Trip

Theme Park Trip Planner

Every year Walt Disney World®, Universal Orlando Resort and Legoland draw millions of visitors to Orlando, the theme-park capital of the world, and there are a handful of lesser-known parks beyond their gates. Here’s the bottom line on what’s what and how to tackle them.

Kumba roller coaster, Busch Gardens | cristianl/Getty Images ©

When to Go

Peak Periods

Crowds and prices soar during US school vacations, including summer (June through August), spring break (March through mid-April), Thanksgiving weekend and, especially, the week between Christmas and New Years'. If at all possible, do not visit during these high seasons.

Slow Times

The slowest times are mid-January through February, September through mid-October, the first half of May, and the few weeks in between Thanksgiving weekend and mid-December.

Special Events

Some events worth planning for are the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (late September through early November), Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (November to mid-December) and Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights (October).

Florida's Theme Parks

Walt Disney World®

Walt Disney World® encompasses 40 sq miles and includes four completely separate and distinct theme parks, each with rides and shows: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. There are also two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach; more than 20 hotels; almost 140 restaurants; and two shopping and nightlife districts, Disney Springs and Disney's BoardWalk; as well as four golf courses, two miniature-golf courses, lagoons with water sports, and a spectator-sports complex, all connected by a system of free buses, boats and monorails.

For classic Disney at its best, head to the iconic Magic Kingdom, home to Cinderella's Castle, fairy-tale rides and quintessential Disney parades, shows and fireworks. Garden-filled Epcot is another favorite: one half is themed around technology and the future, and the other features re-created countries of the world spread along a small lake. Hollywood Studios offers some don't-miss Disney highlights, but they're peppered among filler and fluff and muffled by Hannah Montana and American Idol–style energy. Africa-inspired Animal Kingdom fuses rides and shows with zoo encounters, animal conservation and, oddly, a dash of dinosaur. This is where you'll find Finding Nemo: The Musical, one of Disney's best live performances.

Epcot, Walt Disney World | Katja Kreder/Getty Images ©

Universal Orlando Resort

In contrast to WDW, Universal Orlando Resort is a more intimate and walkable complex, with two excellent theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, and one water park, Volcano Bay, plus four first-rate resorts and a carnival-like restaurant and nightlife district, CityWalk, all connected by garden paths and a quiet wooden boat shuttle.

Universal's theme parks offer shamelessly silly, laugh-out-loud 'wow' for the whole family, with some of Orlando's best thrills, incredibly designed simulated experiences and water rides that leave you soaked.

At Islands of Adventure, each section has its own distinct tone and vibe. Seuss Landing surrounds visitors with the characters and landscapes of the books and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade has proven a well-deserved runaway hit.

Universal Studios, just next door, has primarily movie- and TV-themed rides and scheduled shows, emphasizing comic-book superheroes and contemporary favorites like Despicable Me and The Simpsons, but it also has a sweet Barney Show, an excellent kids' play area, and Diagon Alley, an expansion of the park's enormously successful Potter-themed attractions. Guests with tickets for both theme parks can ride the Hogwarts Express through the ‘British’ countryside between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.

Volcano Bay was just opening at the time of writing. The water park is structured as an artificial Pacific island, centered on its own 200ft high eponymous volcano. Some 18 attractions, ranging from family-friendly lazy rivers to adrenaline-pumping waterslides, beckon visitors to the park.


Wonderful Legoland is as awesome and innovative as your favorite beloved Lego set, except this one is enormous and you can play on it for days.

Tampa Bay Area

Busch Gardens African-themed wildlife encounters, various shows and musical entertainment, and some of the state's wildest roller coasters.

Adventure Island Top-notch water park adjacent to and owned by Busch Gardens.

Weeki Wachee Springs One hour north of Tampa, this Old Florida original is world-famous for its spangly-tailed, long-haired mermaid shows. Plus there's a small spring-fed water park, animal presentations and river canoeing.


At Disney and Universal, per-day theme-park admission costs plummet the more days you buy; go to park websites for details on current specials, accommodation packages and dining plans that can save loads.

You do not need admission to enter the resort complexes themselves. Admission tickets are only required to get into the theme and water parks, and there are all kinds of entertainment and activities beyond theme-park gates (especially at WDW).

Staying in the Resorts

Disney and Universal provide great perks for their hotel guests and both offer budget accommodations, so if you'll be spending several days exploring their parks, there's no compelling reason not to stay on site.

If, however, you choose to stay off site, resorts and national chains surround the parks, and many offer theme-park packages. Convenient locations to Disney parks are Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee and the town of Celebration. International Drive is more convenient for Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld. Most hotels offer shuttles to some or all of the theme parks, but be warned that they can be a pain. They leave at prearranged times, make lots of stops, often require advance booking, and, for Disney in particular, you may need to take additional Disney transportation once the hotel shuttle drops you off. Always ask for precise details about shuttle logistics.

Disney and Universal hotel rates vary wildly by season and demand, as do hotel rates in Orlando in general, and prices can change dramatically (as in hundreds of dollars) within 24 hours. Stay flexible, be persistent and always ask about packages and specials. Most hotels sleep at least four at no extra charge and several have bunk beds, suites and villas to accommodate larger parties.

Fire-spewing dragon at Gringotts Bank, Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Craig Russell/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Walt Disney World® Resort Hotels

With over

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