Here are five of the best places to visit in Florida (in my opinion!)
Florida is known as the Sunshine State for good reason: being so close to the Equator line, it really does get a lot more sunlight than the rest of the USA. This wonderfully warm weather is one of the main reasons the state is such a popular holiday destination, along with the huge variety of different things to see and do along the coast and inland.
With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, there is one thing guaranteed: there are hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches and national parks offering a brilliant array of great places in Florida to visit. And one good thing for us visiting from Europe: you will find sun loungers on the beach for rent in most places (which isn’t so common in other USA states, for some reason).
With so much state to go around, there is something for everyone when it comes to the best tourist destinations in Florida. From the excitement of Miami and its great hotel scene, shopping and dining, to Orlando (which I have never visited but it is one of the main reasons for visiting the Sunshine State) and its theme parks, to nicer quieter areas which I have been discovering on recent trips.
I have been to Florida over 10 times (I do like the combination of great weather, lovely beaches, shopping and the Latin influence) – but 8 of these trips were mostly to the Miami Area. So whereas I am no expert on Florida travel advice in any way, I believe there is a lot of Florida to discover – but here are some of the best places to visit in Florida (in my opinion and experience!).
Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key, Gulf Keys
Our stay in the Sarasota area was one of the best surprises in my life – and the lesser-known ‘Gulf Keys’ were one of the few places in the world I actually considered wanting to buy a nice little stretch of beachfront property.
Anna Maria Island is as laid back as it gets, with a bit more excitement and a new hotel or two in Longboat Key. Whole Foods and Nordstrom deliver, so I would want for nothing. In my opinion, this is definitely one of the top places in Florida to visit.
The beach at Anna Maria is seven miles long, offering plenty of space to visitors who want to come and spend a day beside the water. It’s known for being one of the state’s best-kept secrets, making it a great one of Florida’s must-see places for tourists that prefer a quieter atmosphere when they visit somewhere new.
This part of the world is a celebrity favourite and when I first visited, I could see why. No one will disturb anyone, and it is simply stunning. I would happily return year after year and will come back every time I visit Florida.
Marathon, Florida Keys
Marathon in itself wasn’t really worth the trip – and I had never heard of this Florida Key island before I heard about Isla Bella Beach Resort (which ironically doesn’t really have a beach but it is a game-changer in terms of hospitality standards in the Florida Keys). The city is spread out over 13 islands in the Keys and is known as one of the best tourist places in Florida for its brilliant range of activities along the waterfront. From paddleboarding to deep-seas fishing, there’s something for everyone on offer.
Long Key is perhaps the best-known area in Marathon, particularly because it’s home to plenty of holiday accommodation. But each island has its own charm and all maintain the family-friendly atmosphere that the community in Marathon are famous for.
Marathon is considered the heart of the Florida Keys because of its position halfway (more or less) between the mainland and Key West. It has some good examples of the new style of Florida Keys hospitality (which was badly needed) which redeemed it as a location to us. There are a few other nice-looking new hotels in the area, and it is worth looking at private beachfront rentals too (something we would like to do on future trips).
One day we hope to visit Key West and the other Florida Keys properly.
Naples, Paradise Coast
Better known for its Silver Surfers and Snow Birds, Naples is undoubtedly one of the top tourist destinations in Florida. We had a nice time in the area and absolutely loved its pier. The beaches were also pristine and the real estate really was to die for.
Naples is one of the most popular places to visit in Florida and was a destination I thought I wouldn’t ‘fit in’. As a visitor however, I must say that I really enjoyed it. I did feel young (not to say I am old) and I thought it was a beautiful part of Florida.
There’s plenty more to visit in Naples, but we did not have time on this trip, which means we will return one day and I will update this blog post. Classic recommendations include spending time on one of the paradise beaches, sailing along the coastline, sampling the delicacies from the area’s restaurants, enjoying people-watching from the sidewalk cafes and visiting the range of galleries and shopping boutiques.
If you’d like to read more about one of Florida’s top places to visit, check out my dedicated blog post on Naples here.
North of Miami Beach and Surfside
This is where I normally choose to stay when in Miami – I prefer some peace and quiet and North Miami Beach, Surfside and Bal Harbor tend to be where we stay. I’d definitely recommend this as one of the top places to travel in Florida if you’re looking for somewhere to stay that’s not particularly touristy.
Miami is obviously on everyone’s list of the best tourist attractions in Florida, but staying to the north of the city gives you a little bit of a break from the noise and busyness of the city. It’s easy to head out to Miami Beach for dinner and elsewhere, but there are also lots of options nearby. And the shopping isn’t bad either!
Most visitors tend to stay in South Beach when they come to stay in Miami, but personally, we find it too busy. In all honesty, I am not travelling for the nightclubs anymore, so I get the same beach and more peace and quiet by standing a few blocks north. It’s a really nice place to visit in Florida because you get the same stunning coastline but enjoy a more peaceful and authentic atmosphere with a higher quality of accommodation, in my opinion.
Check out my dedicated blog post on Miami Beach, Florida here.
Sarasota, Gulf Coast
I had heard of Sarasota before we visited as it was the base of Courtney Cox’s show Cougar Town, but never intended to visit. I am so glad I had the chance to and I know many of my readers would too (and I see why so many of you already spend your holidays in the area year after year).
Situated about an hour down the coast from Tampa, Sarasota is another classic beach-filled destination that should definitely be on your list when planning to visit places in Florida. It’s a particularly good place to visit for families, with plenty of accommodation options and things to see and do.
The city prides itself in its cultural offering; there were gardens to enjoy, as well as some performing arts venues. I felt we only scratched the surface during our first visit, so will certainly be returning to explore more of what is one of Florida’s top places to visit.
We also ate really well – which is something I always value. I will never forget Sarasota as it was the first place in the USA where I was served a grilled sea bass on the bone! 20 years visiting and it never happened. I know it is becoming more of a thing and I am here for that!
The Gulf Keys were absolutely stunning (see Anna Maria Island write up above), and where I would seriously consider buying property one day. I visited the area with a friend and hope to return with my family one day.
Check out my dedicated blog post on Sarasota, Florida here.
By all means, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the best places to travel in Florida, but it is the list of places I have visited and thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you do too.
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