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Lifestyle

The Best Places to Vacation in Florida That Aren’t Miami

When it’s freezing outside and the snow just keeps falling, you’re probably dreaming of the white sandy beaches of Miami’s South Beach, amirite? When I was growing up in the Sunshine State, I never really appreciated it. It wasn’t until I was living in New York City for 12 years and experiencing the cold every single winter that I began to long for the year-round warm weather. But although I spent a good chunk of my childhood growing up in Miami, I now know that there are so many more fun things to see and do around the the state (which also happens to have some serious meaning for Hispanic heritage).

One of my all-time favorite places to visit in Florida happens to be the city just north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale. It’s a wonderful town with some fun, cultural institutions and great food. There is also a beach, of course, since most of the state is surrounded by water and thus there are beaches almost everywhere. But going just above Miami isn’t the only thing you can do. There’s plenty more beauty, sunshine, and warm weather all around. From Tampa to Saint Augustine, here are 12 wonderful places to visit in Florida that aren’t Miami.

1. Saint Augustine

Supposedly the oldest city in the U.S., Saint Augustine is on the northeast coast of Florida and boasts absolutely AH-mazing historic sights. Start by visiting the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument for a dose of history, then head to St. George Street for some antiquing. Don’t miss out on the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum or the Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. For nature, don’t forget to head to St. Augustine Beach and the St. Augustine Wild Reserve.

2. Naples

The city of Naples (and nearby Fort Myers) is a quiet little gem on the southwest coast of Florida. Although it was recently hit by Hurricane Irma, the area is bouncing back quickly and boasts lots of pretty beaches and areas to go year-round. Start at the Naples Zoo or Naples Botanical Garden, then head to the 5th Avenue South for shopping and finally to the Naples Pier during sunset. You can also check out the Baker Museum for some great art after a day at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park for one of the prettiest beaches in the area.

3. Tampa

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This busy city on the west coast of Florida, right in the center of the state, has a lot to offer. The first thing you will probably want to check out when visiting is Busch Gardens, which is one of the best theme parks in the state. You can also have a fun day going to the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center, the Big Cat Rescue and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Finally, check out the Henry B. Plant Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry to complete your already great day.

4. Amelia Island

Amelia Island is located just off of the coast of Florida, near Jacksonville. It is a memorable little island full of unique and beautiful views, such as the Amelia Island Historic District and many gorgeous beaches. The really great thing about this small place is that there are plenty of luxe and less fancy hotels, great restaurants, and lots of festivals during the year. There are opportunities for eco-tourism and touring haunted houses, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

5. Key West

Key West is one of those places where you can go simply for the great food and fantastic drinks, but then you might be missing out on some of the more charming things about the last Florida key. You won’t want to miss visiting the Hemingway House (where you can still meet and greet the descendants of his six-toed cat) or the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S. You’ll also want to walk down to Mallory Square for plenty of outdoor entertainment… After you have visited the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the Key West Cemetery, and the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, that is.

6. Everglades National Park

If you’re into nature, then you definitely cannot miss a visit to the Everglades National Park during your Florida visit. Located in the middle of the state, basically in between Miami and Naples, it is actually the largest park in the lower 48 states and has plenty of activities for all ages. There is biking, bird watching, boating, plenty of tours, camping, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, geocatching and paddlesports. Oh, and did we mention that there is plenty of wildlife to observe during your trip?

7. Orlando

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You’re probably most familiar with Orlando, besides Miami, and there’s good reason: The middle-of-Florida city is home to Walt Disney World and Universal theme parks. They’re fantastic, honestly, and you could probably spend an entire week just riding roller coasters the whole time. But the city has plenty more to offer, such as the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Harry P. Leu Gardens, and more. Head to Winter Park for fun offerings, then check out the Orlando Brewing Company or some of the excellent wine bars. You can also find fantastic golfing and even better spas.

8. Tallahassee

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In case you didn’t know, Tallahassee is actually the capital of the Sunshine State. The city has more to offer than just politics, though, including the beautiful campus of Florida State University and gorgeous views of all of the Spanish moss that seems to grow on every single tree. There’s also the Tallahassee Museum and the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (definitely a must!), and the Museum of Florida History. You also won’t want to miss the Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum if you love cars and their history.

9. Mount Dora

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This central Florida city is known for the phenomenal antiquing year-round, and the several antique shows that happen throughout the year. If you’re at all into antiques, then this one is a MUST on your visit list. Start your day at Renninger’s Vintage Antique Center and Farmer’s Flea Market. You’ll probably be able to easily spend an entire day here, honestly, but you also won’t want to miss the many other shops around town. Other than antiquing, there is Lake Dora and some wonderful nature tours around.

10. Fort Lauderdale

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Fort Lauderdale is just above Miami, so you might wonder why you should go there. Well, let me tell you: Fort Lauderdale has a whole of a lot to offer. Not only are there absolutely gorgeous beaches (such as Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Fort Lauderdale Beach) but there are also some really great cultural institutions such as the NSU Art Museum of Fort Lauderdale, the Museum of Science and Discovery, and the Bonnet House. Make sure you also check out Las Olas Boulevard for delish eats and a fun night out.

11. Pensacola

Pensacola is a really unique city on the Florida panhandle, and a must-visit place for sure. You’ll want to first start with the Pensacola Lighthouse and some of those glorious white sand beaches before heading to the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Pensacola Naval Air Station. But really, you’ll likely want to spend all of your time at Johnson Beach, Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands, or Perdido Key State Park. There’s so much natural beauty to see here that you’ll spend the entire time outdoors.

12. The Space Coast

The Space Coast, the area around Cape Canaveral where there is still a NASA base, is a wonderful place to visit for those that want some nature along with their science. You’ll obviously want to start with the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, then head to the Kennedy Space Center, U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum and the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum. Then there is the Brevard Zoo and the Canaveral National Seashore or Cocoa Beach and Lori Wilson Park. Between the incredible nature and all of the super cool space stuff, you’ll be entertained for days.