Things to do in Florida
Antique Row/Ivanhoe Row
Scour the half-mile stretch of thrift stores and antique marts near Lake Ivanhoe for restored furniture, estate jewelry, and kitschy-cool collectibles. It's also home to Rock & Roll Heaven, a temple for vintage vinyl and jukebox 45s.
With its new Aquatica, SeaWorld wows the water park crowd with live underwater creatures. Commerson’s dolphins frolic as visitors slide through enclosed tubes. While meandering along the lazy river called Loggerhead Lane, guests spot exotic fish swimming by. The attraction has cabanas, a kiddie area, and wave pools.
Sarasota is home to several artists’ colonies, but the best is Towles Court where moss-draped oaks tower over colorful little cottages that house working studios and galleries. Shop for original artwork, and, if time permits, visit nearby Palm Avenue, another arts’ district just off Main Street.
Astronaut Memorial Planetarium & Observatory
Come on Friday and Saturday nights from sunset until 10:15pm for serious stargazing. Florida’s largest public telescope magnifies planets, fuzzy nebula, galaxies, and star clusters.
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Alligators, river otters, white-tailed deer, and the elusive Florida panther lurk among the sanctuary's 11,000 acres of marshes, cypress forests, and pine uplands; it's also home to the endangered ghost orchid, the floral star of Susan Orlean's best-selling book, The Orchid Thief. Alas adventurers, visitors must stick to the raised 2.25-mile boardwalk trail. Open daily except during violent weather; October 1 to April 10, 7am-5:30pm; April 11 to September 30, 7am-7:30pm; last admission one hour before closing.
Audubon House and Gardens
Once a sea captain's home, legendary naturalist/artist John James Audubon used the grounds to sketch birds in 1832; several first-edition Audubon works are on display here and in the on-site gallery. Brick pathways wind through nearly an acre of tropical gardens with hundreds of orchids and carefully labeled flora.
Bahia Honda State Park
For some quality beach bumming, take a short drive from Marathon to Bahia Honda. The park touts one of the few natural beaches in the Keys, with crystal-clear waters can be waded into (a huge plus that outshines the seaweed that collects on the shoreline). The park is ideal for campers (cabin rentals are also available) and snorkelers, and it offers kayak rentals at rates that are some 50 percent less than many other outfitters.
Bal Harbour Shops
With 500,000 square feet harboring two stories worth of chichi retailers and several fine-dining restaurants, this is the gold standard for Platinum-Card consumerism.
This museum shows off its impressive permanent collection of 15th-century art, including works by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. There are also world-class rotating exhibits (past programs have featured work by superstars like Annie Leibovitz).
Biscayne National Park
Scuba enthusiasts should beeline for off-the-beaten path Biscayne National Park (not on Key Biscayne) to see first-rate coral formations without Keys-size crowds; boat trips with stops for snorkeling are offered daily (scuba diving takes place on the weekends only).
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
A tranquil escape from beach traffic, this art-filled 1920 plantation home blends indoor/outdoor living space on 35 acres of lush grounds. Guided tours available.
Brevard Museum of History & Natural Science
See artifacts from Florida’s pioneer days – a powder horn, early 20th century weaponry, and replicas of 7,000-year-old Indian pottery and weavings in this heritage museum.
Where else can you kayak through zoo exhibits, paddling past giraffes and rhinoceros? More than 500 animals dwell in this grassroots triumph, which came about in 1992 thanks to 20,000 volunteers.
Broward Performing Arts Center
The city's self-professed "cultural embassy" and anchor of the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District, the BPAC is one of the most visited theaters in the country, which continues to catalyze downtown's exciting rebirth by hosting a jam-packed schedule of various year-round events including ballets, operas, concerts, theater performances (by award-winning local troupes as well as Broadway's best shows).
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Disney has the brand recognition, but this African-style theme park delivers heart-pumping coaster thrills, family-friendly animal attractions, and beer tasting for those over 21.
Almost 1,000 free-flying butterflies and birds call these botanical gardens just fifteen minutes north of Fort Lauderdale home. For $7, you can even take a cocoon home with you and watch your own butterfly emerge and spread its wings.
Canaveral National Seashore
Sea turtles, the park’s highlight, star in a visitor center video – watch it before hitting the beach, one of Florida's most blissfully undeveloped. Reserve in May to take one of the popular summer turtle tours.
Captain Tony’s Saloon
Drink in local flavor at the joint that housed Sloppy Joe's in the early '30s. Renamed in 1958 for its then-owner, the late Tony Tarracino (bootlegger, gambler, Key West character), it's decorated with business cards, abandoned bras, and a tree growing through its ceiling.
Carrie B Harbor Tours
Cruise the canals of "the Venice of America" and marvel at the high-dollar real estate, a true hodgepodge of architectural styles.
Castillo de San Marcos
This massive 17th-century limestone fort – the oldest of its kind in North America – anchors St. Augustine, the nation's first city.
Characters in Flight
Want to see all of Disney World at once? On the West Side, you can board Characters in Flight, a hot air balloon operated by Aérophile that is tethered to land while passengers rise up 400 feet. You’ll see as much as 10 miles away while up in the air. The balloon itself is 72 feet in diameter. Up to 29 people can participate at a time.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
This museum is renowned for its collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) glass, including mosaics, lamps, pottery, and jewelry from every period in his life. Highlights: the Daffodil Terrace with glass daffodils atop 11-foot marble columns, and the Tiffany Chapel from the1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with its 16 mosaic columns and a 10-foot by 8-foot chandelier.
Charter a Yacht
Renting a yacht is an unforgettable way to experience the flashy Miami Vice lifestyle, if only for a day. Channel Don Johnson as you slip into a pair of docksiders and light a cigar on the deck of your private chartered yacht. Take the helm as captain or hire a full service crew to navigate the turquoise Biscayne Bay while you kick back and relax, cold beverage of choice in hand.
Instead of mouse ears, take home an original painting from a local artist at the Kiene/Quigley Community Gallery, or a landscape from Bret J. Donnelly Photography. This 20,000-square-foot visual and performing arts space also hosts free exhibitions within its multiple galleries and an artsy espresso bar.
Cocoa Beach Pier
Visit this 800-foot, character-packed pier for restaurants, bars, and sports activities like fishing or surfing. It’s also a prime viewing location for sunrises and space shuttle launches.
South Beach's stylish Art Deco enclave still packs an evening wallop. Dress to impress and sashay among the high-end hotel bars (Delano, Shore Club) before hitting the clubs.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
This grassroots organization puts an emphasis on education; its Discovery Center teaches lessons about wild Florida with a sea-life touch tank and simulated panther habitat. A birding trail, kayak rentals, and electric boat rides on the Gordon River entice grown-up explorers.
The Coral Castle consists of turrets, fountains, a rocking chair, even a revolving nine-ton door you can push open with a finger – all built out of coral over a 28-year period using nothing but hand tools.
Touted as the world's most comprehensive collection of art from the late Spanish surrealist, the Dali Museum offers free docent-led tours that offer fascinating insights into Dali's multilayered works.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
A mile of Naples's famous white sand runs through this Gulf Coast park, which is good for swimming, snorkeling, shelling, and picnics. Fishermen cast their lines at Wiggins Pass, which is off-limits to swimmers; parking area 2 is closest to the offshore reef where scuba diving is permitted; a tower at the north end provides great coastal views. Open daily, 8am to sundown.
Swim with dolphins, wade in a lagoon filled with rays, snorkel on a coral reef, and hand-feed birds at Discovery Cove, a 30-acre tropical park that promotes wildlife conservation. Admission includes all wildlife encounters, breakfast, lunch, snacks, parking, and snorkel gear. Reserve one to three months in advance (attendance is limited to 1,000 people per day).
Dolphin Cove Research and Educational Center
Dolphin Cove offers visitors a chance to be a dolphin trainer for a day, or experience snorkeling and structured swims with dolphins in a natural lagoon. Get up close and personal with these friendly mammals during the Dolphin Wade Encounter - they even give out handshakes and kisses.
Dolphin Research Center
The entire family can enjoy the narrated educational sessions offered at the Dolphin Research Center, providing a glimpse into the life of a dolphin. The center also offers interactive programs like "Trainer for a Day" or "Dolphin Encounter" which invite visitors to swim and play with the dolphins.
Downtown Disney Marketplace
This “village” of massive stores sells all the Disney themed merchandise you can find in the parks, but there’s more of it since entire stores are dedicated to, say, pins or apparel. In addition to the requisite World of Disney Store, there are shops specializing in stuff for Christmas, pets, sporting enthusiasts, culinary types, and collectors of “Disneyana” art.
Downtown Disney West Side
Located near the 24-screen movie theater (with full bar), West Side has not only restaurants but also interesting boutiques including a cigar shop, a candy haven, a magnet specialty center, magic tricks, and Hoypoloi and PoP Gallery featuring whimsical gift and home décor items.
Need more cowbell? Every Sunday night, Sarasota’s Key West-style salute to the setting sun brings out the community’s drummers, belly dancers, and street performers, and yes, even cowbell shakers. The free-for-all (anyone can participate) attracts hundreds and begins an hour before sundown. Arrive early and picnic on the sand.
El Sol Cigars
Dating to 1929, Tampa’s oldest cigar shop is still family run. Purchase cigars in various shapes and sizes as well as humidors and ashtrays.
Epcot's World Showcase Pavilions
Kimonos in Japan, Steiff toys in Germany, maple candy in Canada – each of the 11World Showcase pavilions features extensive shopping choices for items indigenous to the respective country.
Ernest Hemingway House
See the Spanish Colonial home where Hemingway cranked out many of his novels and short stories in the 1930s, when he wasn't fishing or throwing one back at Sloppy Joe's Bar. European antiques and African animal skins from his travels adorn the property and descendants of his famous six-toed cats still roam about.
Everglades Holiday Park
Take an airboat through the Everglades and experience the “River of Grass,” where sawgrass yields to reveal the shallow waters beneath. Alligators and 16 species of wading birds call the park home.
Everglades National Park
Infiltrate the largest subtropical wilderness in the country via tram tour, airboat tour, canoe trail, or footpath for natural encounters with alligators, American crocodiles, and over 20 species of wading birds.
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
When Animal Kingdom added a roller coaster, it spared no expense giving the thriller an all-out theme and riders a big fun scare. Board the train, which moves forward and backward, and you’ll pass yeti, Asian props (most were imported), and dozens of Southeast Asian trees before the finale: plummeting 80 feet. Height Requirement: 44 inches. FastPass accepted.
Explore St. Petersburg
Over 50 museums and galleries – including a celebrated collection of Salvador Dali works – and frequent festivals give the sun-drenched bayside city center an artsy edge.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
A favorite local sanctuary, this 83-acre garden devoted to tropical plant conservation overflows with palms, cycads and flowering trees. Special displays include a butterfly garden, tropical fruit pavilion and a two-acre rainforest. Walking is the ideal way to explore, but guided open-air tram tours are also offered year-round. From December through May, major sculptural installations by artists such as Dale Chihuly and Roy Lichtenstein are incorporated into the grounds.
Creatures from the state's inlets, sawgrass marshes, and coral reefs reside in the 200,000-square-foot space; hands-on tanks and an outdoor playground ratchet up the kid appeal.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Gain a greater understanding of the local ecology at this free, child-friendly science center operated by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This educational look at the Keys' (land- and sea-based flora and fauna features a mock-up of the Sanctuary's Aquarius underwater ocean lab which is deployed 9 miles south of Key Largo), habitat exhibits, and a short, well-made nature documentary.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Explore a kaleidoscope of tropical fish and coral in warm, protected waters. Dive Key West leads scuba trips to local wrecks and reefs; certification courses are also available.
Fort DeSoto Park
Spanning five islands, this historic 1,136-acre park contains remnants of its namesake fort, jaw-dropping views of the Gulf, and one of the best white-sand beaches in the U.S.
Fort Lauderdale Beach
This palm-fringed stretch of warm sand is the reason the city landed on the vacation map. A brick-lined beachfront promenade encourages strolling and rollerblading.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Key West isn't known for its beaches, but this one is a gem. Tour the fortress completed in 1866 or skip to the sands at the southern end for snorkeling, picnic tables, and a snack bar. Two short nature trails loop through the tropical vegetation.
Kids won’t even know they’re learning when they explore the interactive exhibits and special displays providing hands-on education at G.Wiz. With nearly 100 diversions, the museum will easily keep your young ones busy most of the day.
Gas Plant Antique Arcade
About 150 vendors ply their period wares on four floors in this hub of Central Avenue's 13-block antiques district.
Get acquainted with Florida's largest reptiles at this 110-acre park, which also houses an alligator wrestling show, a petting zoo, birds, and a gator-free splash zone for kids. In fall 2010, Gatorland added a 1,200-foot Eco Zip Line that soars (safely) above the alligator breeding marsh and jumping Cuban crocodiles.
This funky artistic enclave on Boca Ciega Bay unites multiple galleries within a few blocks; art walks are held on the first Friday and third Saturday of the month.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Acres of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, rose and butterfly gardens, and sweet smelling magnolia groves centered on a pretty lake, make this park one of downtown Orlando’s hidden jewels. Live concerts and outdoor movie screenings are staged here throughout the year (check the website for dates and times). A springtime stroll will show you Orlando at its natural best.
Henry B. Plant Museum
The railroad resort (now museum) that Henry Bradley Plant established in 1891 has been restored to its original Moorish revival splendor, complete with antique European furniture and botanical gardens.
Hyde Park Village
A mixture of chain offerings like Anthropologie and Talbots cozy up with specialty boutiques in this charming open-air shopping district dotted with London-style red telephone boxes.
Fifty tons of ice went into constructing one of this Nordic-themed nightspot's two lounges, from the sculptures and seating to the bar itself. Timed entries allow for 45 minutes of photo ops and vodka drinks in the icy bar (capes and gloves provided); the adjoining Fire Lounge relegates ice to cocktails only. It’s more a novelty stop than an all-night hangout.
John and Mable Ringling Circus Museums
The kids probably won’t appreciate the art museum or the grandness of the Ringlings’ winter home, but they will love the circus and clown museums that document a century of the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
The 325-acre park's prime barrier island position translates into nearly two miles of beaches, prime kayaking through mangrove forests, and snorkeling just off shore. Visit a loggerhead turtle in the nature center or stroll a pair of woodsy trails. In June and July rangers lead nighttime turtle walks to observe nesting rituals. Park open daily, 8am to sundown; Nature Center open daily, 9am-5pm.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Known as "America's First Undersea Park," some of the best snorkeling in the Keys can be found here. In addition to boat rentals, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat tours, there are 47 full-facility campsites, nature trails, picnic areas, a small aquarium, and two man-made beaches. Near the shore of Canon Beach rests the remains of an early Spanish shipwreck.
Kayoga with Sculptured Bodies Fitness Studio
Combine a private three-hour kayak trip around the local barrier islands with yoga on a secluded beach for the ultimate in chill-out eco-touring.
Kennedy Space Center
One of Florida’s top attractions since Neil Armstrong rocketed into space in 1969, the center houses fascinating exhibits including rockets, artworks and a shuttle thrill ride, new in 2007.
Key Largo Fishing Adventures
A trip to Key Largo wouldn't be complete without a "big fish story" to tell when you return home. Bring the family on a guided fishing charter with knowledgeable anglers for a chance at catching mahi-mahi, tuna, snapper, barracuda, and more. Typical tours range from 5 to 8 hours in length and can accommodate up to six people.
Key Largo Parasail
Strap yourself into a giant parachute for a bird's-eye view of it all. Key Largo Parasail offers some of the most attractive rates for 8- to 10-minute rides from 600 to 1,000 feet in the air. All ages can participate, making it a great family activity as well. Mention their website when paying cash on a 1,000-foot ride and save $20.
Key West Aquarium
SeaWorld it’s not, but kids still love the indigenous nurse sharks, turtles, stingrays, and tarpon fish, as well as the hands-on interaction that touch tanks provide with creatures like sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, and hermit crabs. Visit during one of the four daily tours to see the shark feedings.
Key West Museum of Art & History
Visit the imposing red-brick 1891 Custom House (once a post office, later a government center) with its dramatically steep gables. Folk art from early 20th-century painter Mario Sanchez, possessions belonging to Hemingway, and other exhibits showcase Key West's heritage. Whimsical outdoor sculptures make for great photo ops.
A three-week safari in 20 minutes, Animal Kingdom’s signature attraction features an incredible array of animals, all living freely (almost) on an African savannah. FastPass accepted.
Created exclusively for this venue, this eye-popping Cirque du Soleil show is more like the Vegas Cirque shows than the touring productions (90 minutes sans intermission, two shows nightly) with a few more clowns and a little less flesh.
Loch Haven Park
Culture connoisseurs can get a fix at the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello Museum of American Folk Art, and the Orlando Science Center, conveniently packaged in a scenic 45-acre park. Nestled between three lakes, with green spaces for lounging, it's also home to the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre and Philharmonic Orchestra.
Yup – that Margaritaville. Although touristy, it's always fun to be able to say you paid a visit to the restaurant/bar opened by the famous singer Jimmy Buffett.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Like the Ringling estate, Marie Selby’s former winter home offers a glimpse inside the high-society lifestyle of early 20th-century Sarasota. The 9-acre estate is revered for its 20,000 tropical plants – orchids, bromeliads, and banyans among them – and vistas of Sarasota Bay.
Like the town in which it resides, Celebration’s klutch of one-of-a-kind shops and galleries along brick-paved Market Street mimic a kinder, gentler era. Shop for children'swear at the Lollipop Cottage and adult apparel at Unique Boutique and Soft as a Grape.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Cruise the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a six-mile loop full of bird life, stroll the Boardwalk Trail, or the longer Oak Hammock, Palm Hammock or Cruikshank trails.
Recognize the building? It was the backdrop for the movie Flipper. Dolphins, manatees, sea lions, and Lolita the killer whale, entertain the whole family; kids love feeding the seals.
A delightful and impressive 3-D film in which Donald Duck finds himself plopped into scenes from The Little Mermaid, Fantasia, Peter Pan, and other Disney classics. FastPass accepted.
Morning Star Sailing Charters
There are few better ways to experience the quiet essence of the Keys than on a sunset cruise. A number of places offer daily sailings, but for a truly intimate experience, Morning Star charters up to six people maximum to ensure a peaceful voyage. In fact, couples can even tie the knot at sea and celebrate with a bottle of champagne. Snorkeling charters can also be arranged; the crew will select the reefs based on the daily weather conditions.
This diverse estuary provides refuge for more birdlife than anywhere else in Florida. Rent a kayak from Village Outfitters to fish for red drum as you paddle past Indian Mounds.
Want to know what lurks in the water? This marine biology lab introduces visitors to the creatures that inhabit Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico: dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and even sharks. Splurge on the combination ticket for entry into the aquarium and an eco-tour of Sarasota Bay, which includes a touch tank the kids will love.
Museum of Art – Fort Lauderdale
Besides an ever-changing menu of exhibits highlighting an eclectic mix of internationally renowned, contemporary artists (like Banksy and Norman Rockwell), the Edward Larrabee Barnes-built museum features an active social calendar of weekly events, ranging from jazz concerts to wine tastings to art classes for all skill levels - packing lots of cultural punch into a not so very large (by modern museum standards) space.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Architect Charles Gwathmey melded New York chutzpah with Miami whimsy in his colorful 1996 building design for MoCA. The cubist construction turned a parking lot into an urban art park, where exhibitions featuring well-known artists (Salvador Dalí, Yoko Ono) and rising local stars (Pablo Cano, Hernan Bas) feel equally at home. Free outdoor jazz concerts are held on the last Friday of the month.
Museum of Discovery and Science
Get hair-raisingly close to sharks, bats, and iguanas; view the largest living Atlantic coral reef in captivity; and chill out in the Blockbuster IMAX Theater.
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Although small in size, the tropical garden setting and added attractions included with admission, like a 20-minute boat ride around islands populated with monkeys and lemurs, make this eco-minded local zoo a pleasant surprise. Don't miss the alligator and tiger feedings and the only chance to see Madagascar's largest mammalian predator, the fosa, in the southeastern United States. Open daily, 9am-5pm, last ticket sold at 4pm.
The first in what is now a jet-setting chain that stretches from Cabo San Lucas to Saint-Tropez sprawls along the oceanfront at the southern end of South Beach's sands. Lounge by day in a private cabana with VIP bottle service or sashay after dark into 0-1 (One Ocean) on the second floor. A seafood restaurant and raw bar provide sustenance to the fashionable, international crowd.
Norton Museum of Art
Founded in 1941 and now expanded to 122,500 square feet, the Norton's first-rate permanent collection puts an emphasis on Europe, America, China, contemporary art, and photography. Big names like Monet, Degas, Matisse, Pollock, Warhol, and O'Keeffe are definitely in the house. Rotating exhibitions are equally noteworthy. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 1-5pm.
Orlando Premium Outlets
This open-air outlet mall stands out in the city's crowded field, with over 140 discounted shops from high-end brands. Bargain-hunt for designer duds and accessories at Ralph Lauren, Barneys New York, Diesel, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Dooney & Bourke, Tumi, and more. A sister Premium Outlets at the northern tip of I-Drive features Last Call, Off-Fifth, St. John, and dozens of other outlets.
Palm Beach Zoo
A charming, if small, zoo set amid 23 tropical acres; it's like taking a walk in a park with wildlife added to the mix. More than 1,500 animals, including Florida panthers and black bears, which are rarely seen in the wild, call the zoo home. An interactive fountain and old-fashioned carousel up the kid appeal. Daily 9am-5pm.
Local boutiques (Thread, Jacobson's) rub elbows with national chains like Restoration Hardware along Winter Park’s main thoroughfare, a lovely brick street dating to 1887. Sidewalk cafes and a nearby park dotted with century-old oaks enhance the outdoor browsing experience.
Created in 1918 during the excavation for Lake Worth Inlet, the 80-acre isle is now a tropical public park with good swimming beaches, a snorkeling lagoon, fishing pier, and 20-site tent campground. It's also home to JFK's fallout shelter, built during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pack a picnic; food isn't sold on the island.
Peter Pan's Flight
It may be short and a bit creaky, but who can resist soaring over London in an enchanted pirate ship on this classic attraction? FastPass accepted.
Philharmonic Center for the Arts
"The Phil," as it's locally known, unites the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and the three-story, 15-gallery Naples Museum of Art, which focuses on modern and contemporary works (Jackson Pollock, Marsden Hartley, and Alexander Calder are in the house), in one 120,000-square-foot complex. A 1,425-seat theater, a black-box space, and two sculpture gardens complete this artsy playground.
Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf
Mini golf courses are as prevalent as full-size links in Orlando and this is one of the best. Hilly terrain and water features keep players on their toes, and the courses are nicely landscaped. Interesting pieces of pirate history accompany each hole, making for a fun and educational outing.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The classic that spawned the movie franchise now incorporates the elements from the films, including a robotic Johnny Depp as fey as the original.
Most of the true Islamorada action centers around Robbie's, where you can rent kayaks, hop on a boat ride to the reefs for some snorkeling, take off on a sportfishing excursion, set out on a leisurely sunset cruise, or feed one of the many tarpons that linger around the marina. Local art vendors hock their wares here daily.
Rockin' Roller Coaster
Go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat as your “limo” flies through Los Angeles to the sounds of Aerosmith. Height Requirement: 48 inches. FastPass accepted.
Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation
Housed in a 45,000-square-foot former Drug Enforcement Agency warehouse in the blossoming Wynwood Arts District, this pioneering institution is a must-see for lovers of edgy, contemporary art. Works from the 1960s to the present, from such luminaries as Damien Hirst, Keith Haring, Anselm Kiefer, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Koons, are showcased in 27 galleries. The privately owned collection launches a new exhibition each year for Art Basel Miami Beach in early December, which then stays up through May. (It's closed from late May to early December.)
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
This 70-year-old zoo gives visitors the chance to eye gators and crocs up-close and even feed flamingos. There are daily reptile and bird shows and a kiddy play area with a tree house.
Scuba-do Dive Company
Explore the coral reefs and shipwrecks surrounding Key Largo with no more then 10 other divers. Some of the dive sites offered by this popular company include to a British steel freighter, known as the Benwood Wreck, as well as to the 15-acre Molasses Reef.
Watch orcas and dolphins defy gravity, feed a sea lion, and meet the beluga whales of the Wild Arctic. A trio of hair-raising coasters accompany the aquatic exhibits: The floorless Kraken, the thundering Journey to Atlantis, and the Manta, which holds riders face down to replicate a ray flying through the sea. Hours vary daily; check website for exact times.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sitting on a narrow stretch of barrier island, Sebastian is a Mecca for surfers and fishermen. One of the best surf breaks on the entire East Coast is located just off the jetty. You can also snorkel around a sunken Spanish galleon just off the beach.
Made famous as a Hemingway hangout, the cavernous flag-bestrewn room offers up different music acts every night.
Dip, swoop, and glide over a massive movie screen showing aerial footage of California. Height Requirement: 40 inches. FastPass accepted.
South Florida Art Center
Not only can you buy the wares of local artists here, you can also watch them at work in their ateliers.
Space Walk Hall of Fame
Learn about the Mercury and Gemini space programs and browse space paraphernalia at the riverwalk museum. Outside, see the bronzed handprints of your favorite astronaut heroes.
You will get wet on this plummeting flume ride with story elements from Song of the South. Height Requirement: 40 inches. FastPass accepted.
With new construction in high gear, it's refreshing to see that the city's oldest home, built as a trading post for settlers and Seminoles in 1913, remains unchanged.
This tranquil, 100-year-old botanical hideaway, an explosion of tropical plants tucked into four downtown acres, houses a butterfly garden and exotic birds.
Swan Boat Rentals at Lake Eola Park
Orlando kitsch was never so fun – hire a giant plastic swan boat and pedal your way around downtown Orlando’s centerpiece waterway, Lake Eola. Make it a goal to pedal out to the floating fountain in the middle before heading back to shore to grab lunch at the water’s edge at one of the lakeside cafes. Call 407-246-4485 for rental information. Electric swan boats will be available soon. Boats are available for rent between 12-6pm Monday-Friday; 10am-8pm Saturday-Sunday.
Built in 1926, this opulent city landmark hosts classic movies, concerts, special events like the Halloween gargoyle hunt, and backstage tours. Live organ music still opens most films.
The American Adventure
An American history lesson hosted by Ben Franklin and Mark Twain, this multi-media show manages to entertain and educate using a massive cast of “animatronic” robots. The film montage finale has been known to evoke tears.
Follow in the footsteps of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers with dinner, a spa day, or an overnight stay at Florida's legendary century-old luxury resort, set on 140 acres of prime oceanfront.
The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass
The country's largest outlet mall now boasts this high-end, open-air shopping plaza with a growing number of designer discount houses; think Burberry, Kate Spade, and Neiman Marcus.
The Florida Keys History of Diving Museum
For those with a passion for unraveling the mysteries of the deep, this not-for-profit museum is dedicated to collecting and preserving diving related antiques and artifacts. The informative exhibits take you back in diving history from ancient Greece to the modern treasure hunters of South Florida, plus there are plenty of hands-on and visual activities for the kids.
The Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida
Minimal opening hours and a nondescript strip mall location make this worthwhile museum easy to overlook. What began as a seventh-grade class project grew into a collection that includes over 300 Holocaust armbands, photos, and other artifacts, plus a WWII boxcar used to transport Jewish victims to the Nazi concentration camps. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1-4pm.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
The circus came to town in the 1920s when the Ringlings started wintering in Sarasota. The 66-acre estate along Sarasota Bay is home to a 21-gallery art museum with an impressive collection of Old Masters’ paintings, a museum devoted to circus memorabilia, the 18th-century Asolo Theater, and gilded Cà d’Zan Mansion, the Ringlings’ over-the-top and slightly ostentatious winter abode.
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Observe up to 60 types of butterflies, including the conservatory's signature iridescent Blue Morpho, fluttering freely through a lush, climate-controlled glass habitat filled with tropical foliage and water features. The butterflies range in size from a two-inch in wingspan (heliconias) up to a dramatic 11 inches (Owl butterflies).
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Tranquil and unexpected, the Morikami brings Japanese garden designs from the eighth to 20th centuries together with a permanent exhibit highlighting the Yamato Colony, a Japanese farming community based in South Florida a century ago. The garden-side, pan-Asian Cornell Café is an excellent lunch spot. Check the website for special cultural festivals and monthly tea ceremonies. Tues-Sun 10am-5pm.
The Nighttime Spectacles
Disney’s after-dark shows include “Spectromagic,” a parade of sparkling lights; “Fantasmic!,” a show combining actors, pyrotechnics and animation; and “Illuminations” and “Wishes,” two eye-popping fireworks displays.
This extreme water sports equipment supplier offers private beginner and intermediate kiteboarding lessons. The instructors are PASA (Professional Air Sports Association) certified and each have over 10 years experience. Although these activities carry a hefty price tag, the company offers a satisfaction guarantee - or your money back.
The Turtle Hospital
For a truly heartwarming experience and a chance to view sea turtles up close, a visit to the Turtle Hospital is a must. The staff here rescues and treats endangered turtles that have been injured from boats and fishing nets - after rehabilitation, the turtles are released back into the wild. Visitors receive a guided tour and a chance to feed the hard-shelled patients.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Check into a haunted hotel, step onto the service elevator and, with a flash of lightning and the snap of a cable, plunge 13 stories as fast as gravity takes you. Height Requirement: 40 inches. FastPass accepted.
This quirky museum houses design, furniture, and artwork relating to 20th- and late-19th-century social movements in the U.S. and Europe. The 1927 Mediterranean Revival building is a sight in itself.
Theater of the Sea
This marine mammal adventure park grants visitors a chance to swim with sting rays, dolphins, and sea lions (you might even steal a kiss from the latter), and watch the animals perform amazing feats during live shows. There are 17 acres of tropical gardens and animal enclosures filled with exotic fish, crocodiles, sea turtles, and parrots. Admission also includes guided tours and a bottomless boat cruise through the natural saltwater lagoon.
Theme-park showmanship meets adult nightlife in this 30-acre entertainment complex at the entrance to the Universal parks. Sip martinis at the Red Coconut Club, get wasted away in Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, listen to karaoke at Rising Star, or catch a concert at Hard Rock Live. Feeling low-key? There's a 20-screen cineplex, too.
Universal Orlando encompasses two theme parks, a dining/shopping/entertainment area called CityWalk, two Loews hotels, and a Hard Rock hotel. Islands of Adventure combines its adult-size coaster thrills with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (opened June 2010), a mini-park within the park; browse the Hogsmeade shops, drink butterbeer, and accompany Harry on his adventures courtesy of two coasters and a jaw-dropping ride that fuses film and never-before-used robotic technology. Visit sister park Universal Studios for movie- and TV-themed attractions and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, a roller coaster that lets you select the song for your run. Hours vary daily; check website for exact times.
Valiant Air Command Warbird Air Museum
Explore military aviation history – see a functioning C-47 from the D-Day invasions, an F-14 Tomcat, a supersonic Crusader, and the last Huey helicopter to make it out of Vietnam.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Broadway blockbusters headline at the Van Wezel, a lavender-hued landmark along Sarasota Bay. The venue mixes in comedy, dance, and musical performances that range from orchestral to pop.
Visit an animal park
Find feathered friends like Cockatoos and African Queens out in force at this elaborate island animal park, as well as critters like orangutans, crocodiles, giant snakes, and land tortoises.
Business mogul James Deering's early 20th-century take on a grand, Italianate, renaissance palazzo draws brides, debutantes, and tourists for photo ops in its lush formal gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Walt Disney World
The fantasy of the Magic Kingdom and the safari style of Animal Kingdom are ideal for young children, while the movie-making attractions of Disney's Hollywood Studios and the global and futuristic themes at Epcot skew toward older tastes. Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks help beat the Central Florida heat. Hours vary daily; check website for exact times. For more information, see our Walt Disney World Travel Guide.
Walt Disney World
Indulge in fantasy at Magic Kingdom, globetrotting flair at Epcot Center, wildlife encounters at Animal Kingdom, cinematic themes at Disney-MGM Studios, and aquatic thrills at WDW's two water parks.
Whitehall Flagler Museum
The opulence of Palm Beach's Gilded Age still radiates at Whitehall, the 55-room, 60,000-square-foot former residence of Florida railroad magnate Henry Flagler. Tour the marble-columned 1902 estate-turned-museum and a Beaux Arts pavilion containing Flagler's private railcar. During high season, historical exhibitions are featured and the onsite café serves afternoon tea. Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 12-5pm.
Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
When you want a low-key yet active escape from the bustling parks, hit the greens at these twin humorously themed putt-putt courses, both a tribute to Santa taking a detour and giving his elves an off-season home. Holiday tunes play as you aim for holes in one. Props include Santa in his swim trunks and Squirty the Snowman.
Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice
If you’re cruising solo, get a roommate: certain lines, like Holland America, will match you up with a cabin-mate.
Laura Motta Director, Deals Publishing
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