5 Ways to Explore Florida Without the Beach
Rinse off that beach bum and enjoys these other Florida activities.
Millions of tourists flock to Florida every year for sunshine, sunburns and sand. And while the state’s reputation as a beachgoer’s paradise is well-earned, a Florida vacation doesn’t have to stop and end at the surf. For travelers willing to delve a little deeper than the sand under their beach chair, a world of outdoor adventure opportunities awaits.
Florida and mountains might sound like a dichotomy, but the sunshine state is actually loaded with fast-flowing single track for mountain bikers. True, you’re not going to bomb down the spine of sandstone ridge Moab-style, but you will be flying down twisting, turning swamp trails with the lingering prospect of a basking alligator around each corner—and nothing says excitement like the possibility of becoming a snack.
Single Tracks has a list of dozens of mountain bike trails in Florida. Options abound from Miami to Tallahassee. Spider Berm, the Drunken Monkey, Helter Skelter and Pepper Ranch are just a few of the highlights. Don’t have a bike? Several parks, like Broward County’s Quiet Waters Park offer bike rentals for peanuts.
Swimming With Manatees
Recently taken off the endangered species list, the West Indian manatee makes its home in the sunshine state’s warm, freshwater rivers. Each year, hundreds of manatees converge on the town of Crystal Springs, just north of Tampa. There, in the transparent confines of the (aptly named) Crystal River, you can hitch a ride on a tour and swim with the sea cows. The Crystal River is one of the only locations in Florida where you can legally interact with manatees face-to-face.
Though manatees can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and reach 10 feet in length, they are not generally dangerous to humans, and tours start at under $50.
Florida offers some of the best fishing in North America. The state spends millions of dollars each year on sport fishing conservation, education and habitat restoration, and the results show in the quantity and quality of fish that make a home off of its coasts each year. Marlin and sailfish conjure iconic images of thrashing, saltwater giants flying out of the sea miles from land. Closer to shore, world-class snook and red fish await anglers who stay within sight of shore. And fishermen across the globe worship the silver-scaled tarpon, so precious that they’re illegal to lift out of the water.
However, the state has top-notch freshwater fisheries, too.
In South Florida, anglers can hit the canals in search of an exotic invader: the beautiful peacock bass. Farther north, the state’s lakes give largemouth bass anglers a chance to catch a personal record, with eight-pound-and-up bass coming regularly from the vibrant waters.
Whether you’re looking for a casual day trip to the lake or an all-out offshore adventure, Florida is a fisherman’s paradise. Florida is home to thousands of fishing guides, like Pensacola’s Captain Chris Williams, who have spent a lifetime on the water teaching travelers how to catch fish. Websites like Fisher Guiding make it easy to find a fishing guide that’s right for your trip.
Historic Sight Seeing
Some of the earliest European settlements in North America are located in Florida. On the east coast, the city of St. Augustine, founded in 1565, lays claim to being the oldest city in the United States, and many of its most historic structures remain. The 161-foot St. Augustine Light Station (pictured) is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S., but Florida also hosts more than two dozen other lighthouses, many of which are also historic.
Looking for historic highlights? Head for the Ybor City Historic District in Tampa, the Art Deco Historic District in Miami, Pensacola Historic District in the Panhandle and Cold War-heavy Kennedy Space Center on the Atlantic coast.
With average summer temperatures in the mid-80s and winter time lows in the 60s, Florida is a perfect playground for kayakers no matter the time of year. You’ll find no shortage of outfitters renting kayaks along the state’s coast, though bringing your own boat can open up a world of neighbor-free adventure. Paddle through the mangrove forests of Rookery Bay near Naples, riverine jungles on the Indian River near Sebastian or one of the original sets for Tarzan at Wakulla Springs.
Venturing further south? While the Florida Keys are a hot destination for thousands of beachgoers each year, there’s more to the Conch Republic than sunsets and margaritas. The Keys are quietly one of the best places to kayak in the United States.
With easy access to both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, shallow, warm waters and hundreds of secluded islands to explore, Florida is a kayaker’s dream. Launch from Curry Hammock State Park (pictured), Long Key State Park, Bahia Honda State Park or Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for easy, affordable access to the water.