When it’s time for vacation, people all over the world picture sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze and color schemes that gently scream “tropical paradise.” Few people are lucky enough to live in Florida, where they can choose a destination that fits this exact description and can get there in under three hours.
#1: St. Augustine
Time’s Money.com rated St. Augustine No. 1 Best in Travel on its Best U.S. Destinations 2017. The old Spanish city is the oldest city in North America and there are several historical sites to discover. The Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish fort that is more than 315 years old, and the Colonial Quarter give visitors a feel for St. Augustine’s rich Spanish history. Another popular landmark is the wooden schoolhouse, which is the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country. In addition to family-friendly activities, such as the Pirate & Treasure Museum, tourists can enjoy the city’s several museums, outdoor activities and beaches.
#2: Jacksonville Beach
The main attraction at Jacksonville Beach is the beach, but the area has much more to offer in outdoor adventure. For a different type of water fun, visit Shipwreck Island Waterpark, a family-friendly park with slides, waterfalls and more. Near Oceanfront Park is the University of North Florida’s Seaside Sculpture Park, a free park full of sculptures created by UNF students. Castaway Island Preserve is another adventure. This intercoastal preserve offers an afternoon of fun with an observation deck, education center, boardwalk and butterfly garden. If you need a break from the sun, try the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center or take a quick 20-minute drive to downtown Jacksonville to cool off.
#3: Cedar Key
Take a step back and relax at Cedar Key for the day. The quaint, old-fashioned town is full of beaches and natural preserves that showcase wild Florida. Relax by throwing a line out at one of Cedar Key’s great fishing locations. To learn more about the history surrounding this part of Florida, visit Cedar Key Museum State Park. According to VisitFlorida.com, “It’s easy to find a tasty clam chowder and a cold brew in Cedar Key. The people smile and wave and the police drive spiffed-up golf carts.”
#4: Amelia Island
Amelia Island consistently ranks among the top 10 U.S. Islands on Condé Nast’s Reader’s Choice Awards. Visit Fernandina Beach for some fun in the sun and air conditioning. Take a stroll through the beach’s various galleries and boutiques and end the trip with a drink from the oldest bar in Florida, the Palace Saloon. Looking for some educational fun? Check out the Civil War reenactments and other live interpretations of life in the 1860s at Fort Clinch State Park. Amelia Island State Park is another great destination. The park offers shelling, kayaking, fishing and guided horseback riding along the shore. End the day with one of the island’s sunset sails.
The Florida state capitol is bursting with things to do. Start with a visit to the Florida Historic Capitol Museum to learn about the state’s legislature. For an interactive experience, visit the Tallahassee Museum. Ranked as one of Florida’s top museums, it sits on 52 acres of land. The museum is renowned for its living exhibits of Florida wildlife and its Tree to Tree Adventures courses. Other nature adventures include the Florida Caverns State Park and jungle cruises at Wakulla Springs. The city also has a strong art culture. Take a stroll through Railroad Square Art Park, Tallahassee’s creative district, to experience the work of some of the city’s most artistic minds.
#6: St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, Florida, currently holds the title of “most consecutive days with sunshine” at 768 days. In addition to the multitude of sunny days, the city is known for its art culture. One of the most popular art museums in St. Petersburg is the Salvador Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of Spain. The city is home to several other art centers such as the Chihuly Collection and the Morean Arts Center. St. Pete also has a lively beer culture. A craft beer trail with more than 30 craft breweries extends from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. The area also offers praised beaches, like Fort De Soto Park. Covering more than 1,136 acres on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, visitors can enjoy paddling, fishing, nature trails, a historic fort and museum.
#7: Weeki Wachee
An unusual sight can be found in Weeki Wachee: an underwater mermaid (and merman) show. The Weeki Wachee Springs State Park hosts the show in a theatre tank filled with 20 feet of water. Human mermaids have been performing at Weeki Wachee, also known as “The Only City with Live Mermaids,” for more than 63 years. The water is so clear that limestone walls 100 feet away from the theatre’s glass windows are easily visible. In addition to a one-of-a-kind show, the springs offer river boat cruises, kayaking, paddle boarding and camps for both adults and children.
Hollywood has used Ocala’s beautiful freshwater streams and rolling hills in movie productions. Close to Ocala is the Silver Springs State Park, one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered. Known for its glass bottom boat rides, the park also offers swimming, kayaking, canoeing and special event productions. Try Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours to get your adrenaline pumping as you zip past countless oak trees. With more than a mile of zip lines, the tours can take two to three hours. For a less fast-paced adventure, catch a double feature at Ocala’s Drive-In Theater, one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the country.
There is a reason Orlando is a popular choice for vacations: there’s so much to do. The city is home to several amusement parks including Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando Resort. Orlando also offers a great art culture scene, pristine, challenging golf courses, kid-friendly activities such as Madame Tussauds Orlando and the Orlando Science Center, an incredible view of the city from the 400-foot Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, an exciting night life with spots like ICEBAR Orlando and several parks and lakes that showcase natural Florida.
#10: Cumberland Island, Georgia
Those who love outdoor adventures should visit this barrier island off the southeast coast of Georgia. A trip to Cumberland Island begins with a relaxing ferry ride from St. Marys, Georgia. With a variety of activities to choose from, exploring Cumberland Island can be fast or slow paced. Rent one of the island’s bikes and travel the grounds, or enjoy a walk on the beach while you go shelling. Some of the island’s sightseeing opportunities include the Dungeness Ruins, which are the remains of a mansion built by Thomas Carnegie; the First African Baptist Church, where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married; and Plum Orchard, the only Carnegie mansion open to public tours. Visitors are also allowed to camp on the island, which features wild horses that roam freely.