Choosing the best places to visit in Florida is like a florist painstakingly selecting the most perfect flowers for a wedding bouquet.

That’s because all of Florida is equally beautiful in different ways. From sunny, white sand beaches, groves filled with colorful orange trees, and untamed subtropical mangrove forests, to theme parks packed with excited kids, and bustling space centers, this peninsular paradise is one gigantic fantasyland.

Whether you’re slipping away on a romantic sojourn, or busily making family memories, here's a list of the places you simply shouldn’t miss.

1. Miami, the "Magic City"

Best for parties and robust nightlife

With pastel-colored art deco buildings trimming sparkling azure waters, Miami screams tropics. One of America’s most-visited cities, this bustling metropolis scores big with urban see-and-be-seen types. Crowd-lovers bask in South Beach’s iconic energy, slathering on sunscreen to soak up scorching rays, and indulging in the best people-watching opportunities the planet offers. And, for those who energize after dark, Miami’s packed, world-renowned clubs epitomize wicked all-nighters. Miami scores big with foodies too, who savor its tasty cuisines enhanced with strong Cuban and Caribbean flavors.

Detour: A world apart, yet only 50 miles away, the Everglades offer a very different kind of wildness. Airboat, camp or take scenic drives to see gators and other exotic wildlife.

2. Vero Beach

Best for calm, romantic getaways

For a more sedate experience, visit the skyscraper-less beach of this under-the-radar jewel, just 150 miles north of Miami. There’s little in the way of nightlife, but many find it a delightful reprieve. Embrace each new day with meditative yoga, digging your toes into warm sand, as the sun rises over the ocean at popstar Gloria Estefan’s Costa d’Este resort (non-guests welcome). Grab an award-winning burger at Casey’s Place, a throwback to outdoor burger shacks of the 1970s, and learn the juicy history of Florida oranges at the tiny Indian River Citrus Museum.

Detour: Visit A.E. Backus Museum and Florida Highwaymen Museum in nearby Fort Pierce and become instant fans of this famous Florida landscape artist and the talented African-American painters he inspired.

A water ride splashes down on a sunny day
There is endless family entertainment to be found in the theme parks of Orlando © Kamira / Shutterstock

3. Orlando

Best for family activities

A place where dreams come true, Orlando’s a cosmopolitan city sprinkled with pixie dust. Sure, there’s serious business going on here, but you wouldn’t know it basking inside a sun-kissed swan paddleboat on Lake Eola, surrounded by towering skyscrapers in the heart of downtown. The ultimate in family fun, Orlando offers Disney parksUniversalGatorland, and other nearby attractions that keep kids awake weeks before arriving. There’s also gator golf, a chocolate museum, a star-car museum, and, for when you really need a break from all the crowds and chaos (and you will!), Leu Gardens, a tranquil 50-acre botanical paradise.

Detour: See what it’s like to be an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour’s drive away.

4. St Augustine

Best for history and stunning architecture

Step back in time by wandering ancient cobblestone streets in St Augustine, America’s oldest city. Settled by Spaniards in 1565, the facades of Old Town buildings reflect the Spanish-Colonial and Spanish Renaissance Revival eras. Its main thoroughfare, St George Street, is packed with charming boutiques, tacky souvenir shops, and restaurants overlooking the glimmering waters of the Matanzas River. If museums, galleries, and churches are up your alley, there are plenty of those nearby as well.

Palm trees line a beach staffed with a small wooden lifeguard shelter on stilts
Looking to spend time on the beach in Florida? You'll find some beauties in Fort Lauderdale © Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock

5. Fort Lauderdale

Best for tantalizing beaches and boating

Blessed with an impressive stretch of white-sand beaches and seemingly endless canals, Fort Lauderdale is heralded as the yachting capital of the world and “The Venice of America”. Its annual boat show, held in October, is the world’s largest in-water boating show. Stroll the famous Riverwalk, stop for a beer at the legendary Elbo Room, watch mermaids perform at America’s only underwater burlesque show, or shop and dine along famous Las Olas Boulevard.

Detour: Take a narrated water taxi tour to Hollywood Beach’s lively Broadwalk, passing mansions of the rich and famous along your journey. Buy an express pass or a hop-on, hop-off day pass with eleven scenic stops to enjoy.

6. West Palm Beach

Best for shopping and bargain hunting

WPB’s palm-lined boulevards welcome visitors to some of Florida’s best shopping. At the heart of it all is The Square, a 72-acre shopping, dining, and entertainment complex featuring brand-name retailers and specialty boutiques. Fill your bags, then relax by the central fountain to enjoy free classic rock and country music concerts. Don’t miss the spectacular GreenMarket, a downtown farmers market with more than 110 vendors, every Saturday morning (October to April). Sixty additional flea market booths, leading up Clematis Street, certify it as a bargain hunter’s Shangri-La.

Detour: Hop on a 10-minute ferry to nearby Peanut Island, a snorkeler’s paradise, where crystal-clear waters create the world’s biggest aquarium. It’s so captivating, JFK kept a secret bunker here!

Cyclists peddle along a quiet palm-lined street of low-rise shops
Key West is laid-back by day with a party vibe at night © Peter Unger / Getty Images

7. Key West

Best for barhopping and snorkeling

Rows of pastel yellow, pink, and green conch island homes with gingerbread trim complement Key West’s crystal-clear turquoise waters, transporting you to a world immune from daily problems. It’s no wonder world traveler and celebrated author, Ernest Hemingway chose this Caribbean-style jewel to settle on during the 1930s (don’t miss the museum about his life). Laid-back by day, a festive party vibe dominates at night (some dive bars along Duval Street get rowdy, so avoid staying in Old Town if you want to sleep!)

Foodies take note: Key Lime Pie Co bakes up some of the country’s best, and Conch Republic Seafood Company serves killer conch fritters, another Key West delicacy.

Detour: Hop aboard a ferry or seaplane to the secluded island paradise of Dry Tortugas National Park to enjoy some of the world’s greatest snorkeling in shallow Florida Reef.

8. Fort Myers, "the City of Palms"

Best for local arts and fishing

Despite the devastation wrought upon Fort Myers Beach’s seven miles of stunning coastline by Hurricane Ian in 2022, the recovery is well underway – with Margaritaville Beach Resort leading the pack. Sadly, gone will be its signature cottage-y feel with quaint pubs and boardwalk taco stands as its blank canvas gets repainted a glossy chic.

But that doesn’t detract from the other riches this beautiful Gulf Coast area boasts. The bricked, palm-lined boulevards of downtown Fort Myers’s River District, enhanced with colorful murals and artistic sculptures, are dotted with bistros, cafes, galleries, museums, and theaters. Deep sea anglers reel in massive tarpon and swordfish nearby, while paddleboarders love navigating the Gulf Coast’s calm, clear waters.

Detours: Nearby Sanibel Island boasts a motherlode of almost 400 species of shells. Bonita Springs is a quiet enclave of cafes, microbreweries, and Benson’s, a grocery store concealing a 1930s speakeasy in the back. Also, don’t miss Wonder Gardens, a lush botanical garden and animal rescue facility that first opened in 1936, and is still a throwback to "Old Florida". (Fun fact: While attending a weight detox program at the town’s exquisite Shangri-La Springs, actor Jackie Gleason reputedly was caught sneaking out to buy hotdogs from what’s now a Circle K, across the street.)

9. Pensacola

Best place to learn to surf

With emerald-green waters kissing 18 miles of powdery, sugar-white sand, Pensacola’s spacious beaches are heaven to those seeking a secluded getaway. The unspoiled terrain of Gulf Islands National Seashore, America’s largest stretch of protected coastline, extends from both sides of Pensacola Beach, a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Its warm waters and gentle summer waves make it perfect for people learning to surf. The city itself feels like a cross between an urban hub and a chill beach town, with award-winning eateries and chic boutiques. The Seville Quarter is packed with busy bars and trendy restaurants, and Seville Square hosts many unique music, food, and art festivals throughout the year.

Detour: Dolphins regularly swarm the warm coastal waters off nearby Destin. Several local boat tour operators offer guided excursions to observe these splendid creatures from a safe distance within their natural environment.

This article was first published March 2018 and updated October 2023

Explore related stories

Aerial panoramic of man and woman floating in the turquoise sea near Pillar of Hercules, English Harbour, Antigua, Caribbean
pillar of hercules

Tips & Advice

The 8 best places to visit in the Caribbean

Nov 24, 2023 • 7 min read