Florida is the most southeast state in the US, bordered on the east by the Atlantic and on the west by the Gulf of Mexico. As such, it boasts hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, wildlife preserves, and sunny, lively cities that are rich in Latin American and Caribbean cultures. While many people visit Florida for classic attractions like Miami or Disney World, there are many secluded beaches, nature attractions and parks outside the cities that are beautiful and not as well-known as Orlando or Fort Lauderdale. Pack up your sunscreen and camera, and get ready to explore the hidden gems of Florida. There are so many of these little treasures that you’ll never be bored.
Check out our list of the best hidden gems in Florida and start planning your next getaway!
1. Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park
Located in the Florida Keys, Bahia State Park is off mile marker 37 and spans over 500 acres of lush land. Featuring a beautiful bridge and offshore island, this state park is an ideal beach destination, complete with fantastic snorkeling or some of the best beachcombing in the state. Head out to the island paradise for a few days and enjoy a getaway!
Rent a kayak and explore the coastline on your own, or take a boat tour out to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary enclosed in the park. Visit the historic bridge and soak in some sun along their gorgeous beaches. Rent a cabin and spend a few nights here, or stay at the campgrounds if you’re a fan of beach camping and want to get to know this seaside park a little better.
2. Caladesi Island
Caladesi Island State Park is located on the island by the same name in the Gulf of Mexico. Either take a passenger ferry or rent your own private boat from the dock at Honeymoon Island to reach this magical place. Or, if you find yourself on the other end at Clearwater Beach, simply walk all the way out to Caladesi Island, as it technically connected to the mainland at this point at a narrow juncture.
Once you’re inside the state park, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a different world. Formed in a hurricane in 1921, sand and earth formed a beautiful beach that boasts a 3 mile nature trail, marina, pavilions and concession stand. There are also ample opportunities to go birding or view other diverse kinds of wildlife, or go fishing, snorkeling, kayaking or swimming. Enjoy some time at this true Florida gem, showing that beauty can be created from storms.
3. Santa Rosa Beach
Santa Rosa Beach
Santa Rosa Beach is an unincorporated community on the Florida panhandle in Walton County, and one of the genuine hidden gems of Florida. Head out to enjoy a vacation spot beloved by so many Florida residents. You’ll fall in love with the white sand beaches and blue waters and extend your stay just a little longer.
The community has charmingly fused the old with the new here: visit historic Eden Gardens State Park and then go for dinner at a modern restaurant like The Bay. Vacation rentals abound for you to choose from: large beach houses and cozy beachfront cottages, enhanced by a friendly beach community awaiting your visit with open arms.
4. Gasparilla Island
Boca Grande Lighthouse
Gasparilla Island State Park is separated from the Florida Mainland by Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. This Gulf Coast barrier island is a great destination for any beach or nature lover. When you head out here, remember to bring your sunglasses and sunscreen to avoid sunburns since you’ll be out under the sun all day!
Make sure to see Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890 and still standing to this day. Shelling is popular on Gasparilla Island during the winter months, and there are plenty of other activities to interest you any time of year. You can go swimming, fishing, snorkeling or study the nature of the island; it is full of diverse wildlife. Gasparilla Island is a lovely little piece of the Florida Gulf Coast barrier islands and a genuine Florida gem.
5. Blowing Rocks Preserve
Blowing Rocks at Jupiter Island
An environmental preserve on Jupiter Island, Blowing Rocks Preserve is home to the largest Anastasia limestone outcropping on the east coast of Florida. Stop by to check out the unique rock formations along the beach and to appreciate the wildlife and diverse landscape on the preserve. Bring your camera because you’ll want to capture the unique allure of the beach.
As the waves break against the limestone rock on the beach, water sprays through erosion holes in the rock, creating a breathtaking sight, although it could be slightly hazardous for those disinclined to get wet. Explore the beach dunes and mangrove wetlands, and learn more about the local ecosystem at the Hawley Environmental Center. You can also follow the signs at the Indian River Lagoon boardwalk to learn more about the nature that calls Blowing Rocks Preserve home.
6. Pine Island
Pine Island is the largest island off the Gulf coast of Florida and located just 30 minutes from Fort Myers. Take a trip out here to appreciate the quiet, laid-back vibes and lush nature. Check out Pine Island Sound for some of the best fishing in the state or stay back to relax in this small town haven.
Matlacha Pass waterways offer excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities, or you can head off to explore the mangroves or palms that stretch for acres. Pine Island is also home to three aquatic preserves, providing ample day trips or activities for nature enthusiasts. Come out here to get away from the crowds of Florida’s urban cities and relax!
7. Cedar Key
Located about an hour south of Gainesville, the small town of Cedar Key is a quaint throwback to old fashioned times. Filled with good fishing spots, spectacular natural preserves and lush beaches, Cedar Key might be a small town, but it is a much-loved getaway destination for Floridians. You’ll see why as soon as you arrive.
Come put your feet up here and get away from the stress of big city life. Everything moves at a relaxed pace – the police even drive around in golf carts instead of cruisers! Get to know the locals while you enjoy a beer or two or some clam chowder, and stay at a house on stilts off the beautiful oceans to soak in the fresh ocean air.
8. Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee, derived from the Seminole name, means “Little Spring” or “Winding River”, is a spring located on the Weeki Wachee River. In 1947, it was converted into a sort of natural aquarium, and a waterpark was added nearby to make this place a water adventure destination. Performances are still offered, and real-live “mermaids”, professional swimmers using fins, continue to delight guests.
Stop by if you’ve always been a mermaid fan and see a show at the submerged theatre, or to take a few rides at the Buccaneer water park. There are also stunning natural attractions to interest outdoors lovers. There are also boats tours offered or kayaks available for rent, should you wish to explore the river. Relax on the beach and nap before heading out to enjoy the chance to relax.
9. Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is located on the Gulf of Mexico, west of Key West, and is comprised of 7 of the most isolated islands in the Florida Keys. It is a great destination for marine biology enthusiasts and is filled with abundant sea life, coral reefs, and tropical birds. Fort Jefferson is also a part of the national park, a massive coastal stone fortress that was never completed. Designated as a national park by President Franklin Roosevelt, this incredible destination is only accessible via seaplane or boat, preserving its nature and isolation.
Head out here to be truly impressed by the colorful coral reefs and diverse wildlife, coupled with curious tales of shipwrecks and treasure. Explore the area around Fort Jefferson. Snorkeling and scuba diving are absolute musts if you visit, as well as fishing or kayaking along the emerald and aqua waters. Camp out to continue appreciating this desolate and gorgeous state park. Being so far removed from the mainland can be a good experience from time to time.
10. Molasses Reef
Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Molasses Reef is a popular coral reef destination for scuba divers. The area is filled with artifacts and remnants of ships that ran aground here, making it a visually interesting dive experience filled with lots to see.
This is a perfect diving expedition for trained scuba divers. The area is home to many diverse types of coral, like brain or star coral. There are also shallow areas ideal for snorkeling at Elkhorn and Boulder Corals. Respect the environment and enjoy the proximity to the diverse sea life, like the eels, parrotfish, angelfish and nurse sharks, but do your part to continue preserving the environment by not touching the coral or compromising the ecosystem. You need to leave something for future visitors to appreciate!
11. Ocala National Forest
Juniper Spring Mill
Ocala National Forest spans over 600 square miles of northern Florida, and is bursting with activities for any time of year. Whether you are stopping for the day or making an entire trip out of it, there is plenty to do to keep you entertained in this natural paradise. The forests boast versatile and diverse terrain, from palm-filled oases to sand pine flatlands and prairie wetlands.
Have a refreshing swim at Juniper Springs or Alexander Springs, both popular in the summer with locals and in the winter with manatees! You can snorkel at both springs, or paddle along the Salt Springs Run that ends in Lake George. If you prefer to stay on land, hike the Florida Scenic Trail and spend the night – there are several campsites in Ocala National Forest.
12. Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens is a National Historic Landmark located in Lake Wales, Florida. Encompassing more than 200 acres, this garden also features the “Singing Tower”, a 205 foot structure built on Iron Mountain, one of the highest points on the Florida Peninsula. It is open to the public all year round, so don’t miss out when you are in the area!
Originally founded as a bird sanctuary, the founders, a Dutch couple called Edward and Marie Bok, began cultivating a botanical garden paradise to create a habitat for birds, and is now home to over 100 species of birds. The Singing Tower was constructed next to a reflection pool and is surrounded by a koi pond moat. Top off your relaxing visit with a stroll along the Pine Ridge Trail to fully appreciate this magical place, and don’t forget your camera.
13. Crystal River State Park
Crystal River State Park
Crystal River State Park is a large preserve that runs along 20 miles of the Gulf Coast and is so large that the area is divided into temperate and sub-tropical climate zones. Boasting inlets, islands, forests, and backwaters, this state park is a perfect place to explore Florida’s rural side!
Stop in at the visitor center to learn about the wildlife here or to check out their aquariums, snake exhibits or the diamondback terrapin enclosure. Go birding to see if you can spot the wild turkeys or neo-tropical birds. There are plenty of biking or hiking trails to keep you active, or you can also explore the waterways on a canoe. After a few hours, you’ll also appreciate this little hidden gem.
14. Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs is the fourth largest spring in Florida, and has been popular with inhabitants long before the Europeans arrived – people have been visiting this park for thousands of years. Open every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the off season Rainbow Springs is only accessible on the weekends. Come out for a day trip of watersports and hiking, or bring your camping gear to spend a few days in this paradise.
Rent canoes at the headsprings to strike off on your own expedition, or swim in the designated areas. Head further down the Rainbow River to go tubing, and bring your hiking shoes to hit the trails, or your bike if you are a cyclist. Reserve your spot at the campground in advance to make sure you have a place and enjoy the refreshing outdoors.
15. Winter Park
Situated just north of Orlando is the charming small city of Winter Park. An excellent destination during the winter months, Winter Park is filled with arts and culture – explore the downtown area yourself for some fun. It is filled with nature and home to 70 parks which host festivals and events year round!
While you are here, be sure to check out the local farmers market, or explore the waterways on a scenic boat tour. Spend an afternoon at their Central Park or Rollins College, and be sure to admire the beauty of Mead Garden. Enjoy the relaxed pace and some good food while here.
16. Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Natural Art
Located in Winter Park is one of the most unexpected but entertaining hidden gems of Central Florida. Founded by Jeannette McKean in 1942, she built this now impressive collection over a period of 50 years – prepare to be dazzled as you stroll through the museum galleries.
Spend some time getting to know the works of American designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany – this museum boasts the world’s most comprehensive collection of his art. You can also see a restored Byzantine-Romanesque chapel that was also designed by Tiffany himself for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Among other exhibits are American art pottery and early 2th century American paintings and graphics. Add a touch of culture to your next trip to Florida!
17. Falling Waters State Park
Source: floridastateparks / Patricia Lyday
Falling Waters State Park
Located just south of Chipley, Washington County, Falling Waters State Park encompasses 171 acres and is home to the highest waterfall in the state. Stop by to see some breathtaking nature and appreciate the history of the area. The park contains several sinkholes which were used as hideouts by Native Americans who fought Andrew Jackson in the Seminole Wars; archeological digs have also revealed Native American artifacts dating back over a thousand years.
Donated to the state in 1962, Falling Waters is a great nature retreat. Visit what might be the only cave painting in Florida, and enjoy the waterfalls at the Falling Waters Sink, where the water cascades down into a 100ft sinkhole. The springs provide excellent swimming opportunities, as well as hiking, fishing and camping. Explore the trails and go to a campfire circle, where the rangers give talks and put on a slide slow. You’ll walk away with more knowledge of the area and some great pictures of the waterfalls.
18. Swap Shop Flea Market and Drive-in Theatre
Swap Shop Flea Market and Drive-in Theatre
Located in Ft. Lauderdale, this flea market and theatre offer you a unique shopping and entertainment experience the next time you are in the area. The Swap Shop stretches over 180,000 square feet, so why not make this a whole day shopping and outing extravaganza?
At the flea market, choose from 2,000 vendors selling bargain items, and have a delicious meal at one of the many international restaurants located on-site. Check out their amusement rides and farmers market as well, or catch a film on one of the largest drive-in movie theatres in the state!
19. The French Pantry, Jacksonville
The French Pantry, Jacksonville
A popular eatery in Jacksonville, eat like a local at this cozy location that has been a long-time local favorite French bistro. Located on Powers Avenue, the quality of the bread is so good that The French Pantry also supplies to other local eateries.
Snag a table (if you can) and settle in for a delicious dining experience – seating is in high demand!. Try one of their variations on bruschetta or the sandwiches served on their fresh bread. The desserts are especially scrumptious, especially the cheesecake! Make this a nice afternoon coffee and snack break the next time you’re in Jacksonville!
20. Tigertail Beach
In the heart of the Everglades and mangrove islands lies the remote, wild Tigertail Beach. Located on Marco Island, a relatively developed suburban community, Tigertail has remained preserved and natural as a Collier County park. It was recently created in the last several years by the strong Hurricane Wilma winds.
Head out to the lagoon and cross it to find 3 miles of white sand beach and shells, with dolphins frolicking in the water. You need to walk across the muddy lagoon and through some water to reach the beach, but it is so worth it. The blue-green water stretches out before you in relative quiet and isolation in a paradise seemingly created just for you. Relax and enjoy this untouched stretch of beach.
21. Ravine Gardens State Park
Ravine Gardens State Park
Ravine Gardens State park is located in Palatka, Florida and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stretching 59 acres, it was constructed by the Works Progress Administration and boasts cypress buildings, rock gardens and fieldstone terraces.
If you’re here in March, go to their annual Florida Azalea Festival, right around when 100,000 plants begin to bloom! Have a relaxing picnic here surrounded by nature, or go jogging, hiking or biking along the gardens to cover more ground. It’s open from 8AM to sundown every day, and is beautiful in the early morning when the birds are awake and chirping, filling this gem of a park with their songs.
22. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Cape Florida Lighthouse
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park extends over approximately a third of Key Biscayne Island and is home to a remarkably beautiful beach. It was named after the editor of the Miami News, Bill Baggs, who worked at the paper from 1957-1969. Also a major environmental protectionist, he worked to protect the key and preserve some of its natural state, such as the land of Bill Baggs State Park.
Learn a little more about history here: some of the land that is now the state park was formerly part of the Underground Railroad network that helped many fugitive slaves to escape to the Bahamas to freedom. Thinking of this gives you something to appreciate while out on the mile of Atlantic beach. You can snorkel or swim or tour the Cape Florida Light, the oldest standing structure in Greater Miami. Bring your sunblock and prepare for a whole day of fun in the sun!
23. Cafe La Buca, Pompano Beach
Cafe La Buca, Pompano Beach
Located on Pompano Beach, this unpretentious restaurant is tucked right next to a barber shop, and feels like you’ve just stepped into your grandmother’s house. It is a tiny hole-in-the-wall local secret that only has six tables in the dining room, where its Napolitano owners eagerly await their customers.
Come here for authentic Italian cuisine, pastas and entrees inspired by the owners’ home country. The menu changes frequently, but there are always delicious antipasti, entrees and pastas offered that will delight any diner. Bring your own bottle of wine (there is no corkage fee) and be sure to make reservations in advance to be sure that you don’t miss out on this dining experience.
24. Secret Woods Nature Center
Secret Woods Nature Center
It’s easy to miss this Florida gem, hidden under a canopy of mangroves and off the junction of I-95 with I-595. Secret Woods preserves and protects over 50 acres of lush greenery, and was the first designated urban wilderness area back in 1978. Stop by next time you are in the area to appreciate the diverse wildlife.
Walk the mile of interpretive trail and watch out for the land crabs that might be crossing the road! Cormorants flutter over you in the mangroves, along with many other extensive types of birds. Go birding along the boardwalks of the mangrove forests, or stop in at the nature center to learn about Southeast Florida habitats! It’s a great, family-friendly outing!
25. The Goblin Market, Mt Dora
The Goblin Market, Mt Dora
This eclectic bistro located in Mount Dora has been captivating diners for over 20 years, and offers a refined, international menu and unique dining experience. Pairing a quaint ambiance with innovative meal offerings, we recommend dinner reservations if you are planning on stopping by.
Settle into the lovely courtyard and get ready for some original food options. There are three cozy dining rooms lined with books, or a lush, green courtyard and patio. Come by for a quick lunch or to take advantage of their full bar and gourmet dinner fare. Either way, the kitchen will work its magic and delight you.
26. Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are located west of Delray Beach in Palm Beach County. A center for Japanese arts and culture, the grounds are named after George Morikami, a Japanese man who donated his farm to the county to be converted into a park. He was the only member of the Yamato Colony, a small community of Japanese farmers, to stay in the area after World War II, and the compound was created in his honor.
There are two museum buildings, the original looks like a Japanese villa and is built on its own island, serene and beautiful surrounded by the Zen-like gardens. Follow the mile long path through the gardens, and learn more about them with the accompanying audio guide. Stop by in January for the Oshogatsu Festival, in April for the Hatsume Fair, or in October for their Lantern Festival. Be sure to also grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, Cornell Cafe, which was featured on the Food Network!
27. Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Caverns State Park is located three miles north of Marianna on State Road 166, and is a great camping and day trip destination. It is a true gem, boasting gorgeous hikes, a swimming hole, and campsites for those eager to stay overnight!
Home to the only air-filled caves open to the public in Florida, be sure to explore and take a cave tour to see the stunning limestone formations, soda straws and draperies. Call to reserve your spot as these tours are very popular. Cool off later with a dip at the Blue Hole Spring, or go for a hike. Bring comfortable shoes and be prepared for a day of explore the caves and appreciate natures.
28. Coral Castle
Coral Castle is a limestone structure located in Homestead, Florida. It was created by a Latvian-American, Edward Leedskalnin, and is comprised of numerous megalithic stones, limestone made from coral. A curious structure built by an even more curious man, the craftsmanship is so detailed and the setup of the estate really is a marvel for one man to achieve on his own.
Edward Leedskalnin, according to legend, arrived in the U.S. after being left at the altar. He claimed that magnets had helped heal him from tuberculosis, and spend over 28 years building the Coral Castle. No one knows how he moved the stones, as he allowed no one to watch him work (there were rumors he had learned how to manipulate magnetic fields). He lived in the second story of the castle tower and gave private tours until his death, never disclosing his construction techniques. Come visit to see if you can figure out how he managed to move these tons of rock, or simply to enjoy the curious features of the property: a sundial, stone furniture, obelisk and fountain.
29. Cayo Costa Island State Park
Cayo Costa Island State Park
Cayo Costa State Park is located south of Boca Grande, and is only accessible via boat, ferry or helicopter. Founded by Spaniards who came to the New World, they founded fishing ranches out on islands like Cayo Costa, which was settled by Tervio Padilla in the 1870s until the government claimed his land.
Now a state park, there is a wide array of wildlife to be found here, such as sea turtles, manatees and dolphins! Visit to see the wildlife or to rent a boat and enjoy the ocean. There are camping cabins onsite and beaches, boat slips and hiking trails. Whether you’re just here for a day or want to stay longer, the beauty of the ocean and the recreational activities will keep you entertained.
30. Bob’s River Place
Bob’s River Place
Located in the middle of the pine woods on the Suwannee, in Dixie County, is what many locals call “the best swimming hole” in Florida: Bob’s River Place. It is run by Bob Hawkins, who originally started the swimming hole for his children and later retired and began managing it as more and more children heard of his fantastic rope swings and river access.
Now children and adults in the area alike come out here on hot summer days. A weekend can see up to 400 people! Children love the swing ropes and waterslides, or taking a raft out on the river. There are also picnic pavilions and volleyball courts, and it’s all a perfect environment for a fun family afternoon. Grab a rope and get ready to plunge into the water and enjoy some good old-fashioned fun at this swimming hole.
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