Florida isn’t exactly an unsung hero in the tourism department: the U.S. Census department has declared Florida the Number 2 U.S. tourist destination twice in a row (both times it came in behind California). It’s no surprise to anyone who has ever lived in or taken a trip to Florida either. Florida boasts vast coastlines and weather that’s wonderful even during the winter, and Disney World (and its associated theme parks), Key West, and Miami alone could single-handedly net Florida on a Top 10 Tourist Destination list.
But Florida has plenty more to offer tourists than the hectic hub-bub of its fancy beach-side resorts and expensive theme park-adjacent hotels. To help you see that, let me recommend 5 unusual Florida destinations:
1. Key West. Hold on, you’re probably thinking. You just told me that you were going to talk about some unsung heroes, but Key West is far from unsung. To highlight the whole unsung idea, I’m going to start with something underrated at a popular tourist destination. Stay at a low-key bed and breakfast, get off the beaten path, and enjoy the rest of the island. Rent a bike and visit the African Cemetery, Ernest Hemingway’s famed home, and then mosey down the street to Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill, and Brewery.
This just goes to show that you can find some amazing destinations beyond the busy and crowded sites that make a vacation destination popular.
2. Kelly Park. Apopka, Florida boasts one of the most delightful water parks ever. It’s not like theme park water parks because it’s more nature preserve than theme park. The babbling spring meanders back and forth and one can spend the whole day between lazing down the river, taking in all the sights and sounds of the park proper, and then sitting down for a quiet picnic. (The trip down the river takes about a half hour, but there are board walks throughout the course for you to use if you want to leave early, or more likely go back to the beginning for another go-around.)
3. Homestead. I’m not sure how many people even know that the city of Homestead, Florida even exists. Exist it does, and it has plenty to offer. It’s close enough to Miami so that if you want to go back on the beaten path, you can without difficulty. It’s also close enough to the Everglades that you can easily take a trip out to the Everglades and see the U.S.’s only subtropical preserve. It’s also close to Butterfly World, which is exactly what it sounds like (a home for 5,000+ butterflies of over 80 different species). Within Homestead itself, however, you can see one of my favorite travel sites ever: the Coral Castle. The whole stone garden was built by a single man, Edward Leedskalnin over a 28-year period (1923-1951). Supposedly, he built that massive, sprawling park in order to get over a lost love, but you’ll find yourself falling in love with the park when you realize that this one man somehow managed to build the site using over 1,100 tons of rock—by himself.
4. Jules’ Undersea Lodge. Named for author Jules Verne, Jules’ Undersea Lodge was constructed as a research facility (specifically to study the continental shelf) but has since become the world’s first underwater hotel. You’ll need to dive 20 feet to get to the lobby, but if you’re not a certified scuba diver, you can receive training—easily enough training to make it inside. Each room boasts a 3.5 foot window that opens up to ocean life-like anemones, sponges, oysters, and exotic fish like angelfish, parrot fish, and barracuda. If you spring for a more expensive package, a chef will dive down to the hotel to fix you a fancy meal.
5. St. Augustine. Thanks to this city’s lengthy and varied history first as a Spanish colonial site and then through successive Anglo-American influences, St. Augustine has an especially large variety of sites, even for a Florida site. There’s the Nombre de Dios Spanish Catholic mission (and a 204 ft. tall cross to mark the site), the Avero House (which despite having a distinctly Spanish name marks the first colony of Greek immigrants to America with a museum and a shrine), and the Castle Warden (which houses the Oldest of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museums). My favorite site in St. Augustine, however, has to be the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Not only does it house all 23 species of crocodilians (including gharial, crocodilians native to the Indian subcontinent and not widely known here in America), but also it has a number of mammals and a huge rookery that sees native birds like egrets, wood storks, and herons quite often.
There you have it, 5 unsung heroes of Florida tourism. Personally, I wouldn’t so much pick between them as pick the order in which I see each and every one of them. Happy travels!
Author Bio: Drew Kobb, in addition to studying civil law, loves long distance running and considers himself a health and fitness enthusiast. His interests range all over the medical field, and Drew highlights that range on his blog, Dr. Ouch.