Florida: Best-Kept Secrets

Travel beyond Florida's best beaches and resorts. Go off the beaten path to find the spots that every traveler needs to visit the Sunshine State.

1. Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island
Robert Neff

An unspoiled gem, Caladesi Island has no paved roads, 3 miles of beaches, birding trails and plenty of fishing. Bring a picnic, or eat at the local café. The island is only accessible by ferry or private boat—the ferry departs from Honeymoon Island State Park in north Pinellas County.

2. Clewiston Sugar Festival/Hendry County

Clewiston Sugar Festival
Clewiston Chamber of Commerce

Satisfy your sweet tooth in Clewiston, FL, nicknamed “America’s Sweetest Town” because of the town’s long history of sugarcane cultivation. Each April, the town celebrates the end of the sugarcane harvest with a festival featuring sugarcane grinding, music, arts and crafts, and lots of sugary sweets. Located on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston is also home to some of the best freshwater fishing in the country.

3. Crystal River Manatees

Moment / Getty Images

Located in the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast, Crystal River is known for the manatees that flock to the area. It’s the only place in the US where visitors are legally allowed to swim with the creatures, and snorkeling tours will let you get up close.

4. Falling Waters State Park

Falling Waters State Park
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

The Falling Waters State Park is located between Tallahassee and Pensacola and features Florida’s highest waterfall, a stream that drops 67 feet into the sinkhole below. Visitors should also be sure to stop by the butterfly garden.

5. Florida Caverns State Park

Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Located in Marinna, FL, the Florida Caverns State Park offers cave tours to the public. When you’re done checking out the incredible rock formations, go for a hike, take a swim, go camping, or horseback-riding in the beautiful park.

6. Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show

Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show
Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Check out the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show to learn how to travel with serious style. In 2011, the show will be held October 27-31, and it will take up 3 million square feet of space over 5 locations. The show features exhibits from yacht builders and designers, and has every type of sea vessel imaginable—from canoes to super yachts.

7. Gatorland

Photodisc / Getty Images

As soon as you step through the open gator’s mouth entrance, you know you are in a whole other land—Gatorland, to be exact. The 110-acre theme park and wildlife refuge is home to thousands of crocodiles and alligators, a breeding marsh, reptile shows, a swamp walk and even a petting zoo!

8. Orange Blossom Festival

Orange Blossom Festival
Orange Blossom Festival

Gas up the RV and head down to the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, FL, for the annual Orange Blossom Jamboree. Held over a 3-day weekend in May, as many 30 different bands grace the stages, and the festival has attracted 5,000 attendees in the past. The ranch has large areas for tent camping, campsites for RVs and plenty of restrooms and showers.

9. Silver Springs Theme Park

I, IvoShandor [GFDL , CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a little something for everyone at the 350-acre Silver Springs Theme Park. Take a ride on one of the famous glass-bottom boats, explore the wildlife exhibits and botanical gardens, and take in some live music. The park is also home to the The World of Bears, the largest exhibit of its kind in the world.

10. St. Augustine/Lighthouse

St. Augustine Lighthouse
E+ / Getty Images

Visit St. Augustine, FL, for a taste of Spanish colonial charm. Stroll the cobblestone streets of the oldest city in America, and be sure to visit the lighthouse, which has long been rumored to be a site of paranormal activity.

11. Tubing at Rainbow River

Tubing on a River

Plop your bottom in an inner-tube and float down Florida’s Rainbow River, about 2 hours north of Tampa. Talk about a relaxing way to escape the heat! Bring your own tube with you or rent one at K.P. Hole Park in Dunnellon.

12. Tarpon-Fishing in Boca Grande

Tarpon Fishing

Every year people flock to Boca Grande to try to reel in (and release) a tarpon. The huge fish are known for the fight they put up, and many fishing tournaments throughout the year are held in celebration of the tarpon. Consider hiring a guide to take you out if you are inexperienced.

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