The Sunshine State is well-known for stunning beaches and the home of a very famous mouse, but that’s just the tip of this Southern peninsula.
Truth is, there’s a lot more to Florida than initially meets the eye. It’s a state ripe for outdoor exploration, diversity and culture — a juxtaposition between traditional Southern traditions and modern appeal.
And while you can order shells from the beach online and even enjoy Florida orange juice without ever traveling to the Sunshine State, consider these 15 awesome places and activities that can be only be found and experienced in Florida.
Bradfordville Blues Club
An old-school juke joint and the only spot in the state on the National Blues Trail, the Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee has hosted nationally renowned blues and jazz acts including Bobby Blue Bland, Bobby Rush and Big Jack Johnson. Situated well off the beaten path in Florida’s capital city and housed in a one-room cinderblock structure, stop by on any given Friday or Saturday night for live music, a roaring bonfire and Miss Ernestine’s fresh catfish, mullet, fries and red velvet cake.
No other place on Earth boasts a habitat so accommodating to wildlife that alligators and crocodiles can exist in harmony. The Florida Everglades are a swampy sight to behold – 1.5 million acres of wetlands replete with hundreds of different animal and plant species. Hike it. Airboat it. Kayak it. Canoe it. The possibilities for exploration are seemingly endless.
Salvador Dali is synonymous with the surreal and the museum dedicated to him in St. Petersburg is a testament to that. The largest collection of Dali’s work that exists outside of Europe, guests are greeted by an intricate glass structure that wraps around the building, Dali-style, and a huge spiral staircase inside.
Cape Canaveral is situated on Florida’s aptly named “Space Coast” and is the spot from which most U.S. spacecraft are launched. Kennedy Space Center is nearby as is a bustling port. Watching a shuttle reach for the heavens from Cape Canaveral is a uniquely Florida experience.
The charming village atmosphere, museums and monuments galore and a towering old lighthouse are all attributes that make St. Augustine worthy of a visit. The fact that it’s the oldest city in the country makes it worthy of inclusion on a list of awesome things only found in Florida.
Gulf and Atlantic Beaches
Florida is the only state in the continental U.S. that has coasts along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, in Key West, you can take Duval Street from one coast to the other. Each has its own characteristics; Gulf beaches serve up sugary white sand and docile shores, while the Atlantic offers world-class surfing and more shark sightings than one would want to envision in their lifetime.
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory
If you feel drawn to Florida, there’s a reason. Tallahassee is home to the largest and most high-powered magnet lab in the world. The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the only facility of its kind in the country and draws scientists from around the globe.
If it’s pirates you want, Tampa provides them in spades. From the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to the Mardi Gras-like Gasparilla festival, to bonafide pirate boat adventures just about any time of year, if you’re looking for a concentration of authentic pirate lore, you’re guaranteed to find it here.
World’s Smallest Police Station
The World’s Smallest Police Station lingers in the small north Florida fishing village of Carrabelle. Housed in a phone booth, the phone inside used to be a working line until visitors persisted in making long-distance calls at the expense of the township. While the “police station” is still standing, the phone inside no longer works.
Beautiful beaches may be a Florida trademark, but some stand out from the rest. Amelia Island, about a half hour’s drive from Jacksonville, is just such a destination. It’s the kind of island where bikes or scooters are preferred over cars, and the quaint shopping district is just begging to be explored for unique trinkets and treasures. And not only can you comb the beach for, and actually find, shark teeth here, but it is the only U.S. territory to have served under eight different flags.
The land of sun, surf, margaritas and Jimmy Buffet make it easy to live by the credo that “It’s 5:00 somewhere”. This island chain is as diverse as the ocean life surrounding it. Key West offers up fresh key lime pie and the “Southernmost Tip of the Continental United States” buoy, while Key Largo enjoys its distinction as the diving capital of the world.
One of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, Wakulla Springs is an old Florida gem located about 14 miles south of Tallahassee. Its stately and sophisticated lodge boasts some of the best fried chicken in the south as well as an old-fashioned soda fountain. The bones of a mastodon were found at the bottom of the springs and a kayaking adventure up the river affords you a potential opportunity to come face-to-face with a manatee.
Floridians know a secret to which the rest of the world may not be privy: Mermaids are real. At least at Spring Hill’s Weeki Wachee Springs, they are. Replete with glittering, colorful mermaid/merman tails and underwater breathing skills worthy of an Olympic medal, this crystal clear spring is billed as the “only live city of mermaids”.
Swampy the Christmas Gator
Tallahassee may have been the site of the country’s first Christmas celebration, but about four hours south in the actual town of Christmas, visitors can experience something that has nothing to do with the actual holiday. Rather, the town boasts an entire building shaped like an alligator. It spans 200 feet and houses a gift shop, office space and a ticket counter.
No list of awesome Florida places or activities would be complete without including the House of Mouse. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s expensive. But, Disney World remains one of the most magical places on Earth, at least for children. Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom. Epcot. Hollywood Studios. Princesses. Mickey. Donald. Goofy. Need we say more?