The ultimate Florida guide

  • Post last modified:January 23, 2023
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Bringing warm joy year round, the state of Florida is a shining paradise for vacationers. Splash in the Atlantic Ocean, feel the Gulf of Mexico’s breeze and laugh until you cry at big-ticket theme parks. Florida is vacation, and vacation is Florida.

But have in mind that Florida is a huge US state. That’s where this ultimate Florida guide comes in handy. It makes it easy to plan your best Sunshine State trip.

Florida travel guide

Florida regions

Have you realized that Florida is so big that it could be a country? From Key West in the Florida Keys to Pensacola Beach in the Florida Panhandle it’s a 13-hour drive, if you avoid Miami and Orlando rush hours that is.

  • Southeast Florida – Florida’s biggest hub, Miami, blends the United States and Latin America in a way no other city does. Sprawling Miami resorts, offering easy access to nightlife, line up on the Atlantic Ocean. If you want it quieter, just trace Southeast Florida’s coastline in any direction.
  • Southwest Florida – Southwest Florida presents another shade of the Sunshine State. The destinations here, including Marco Island and Naples, feel more away from it all. Life on the Gulf of Mexico, where you relax in the sun without any distractions, is refreshingly laid back.
  • Florida Keys – At mainland Florida’s end, the unique island world of the Florida Keys begins. Connecting large parts of the region, the Overseas Highway runs from island to island for a jaw-dropping 113 miles. Picking just one favorite key is a tough job, but Key West is the region’s buzzing capital.
  • Central Florida – Millions of visitors head to Orlando each year to enjoy Disney World. The magical world of Disney is as big as San Francisco or two Manhattans. Although the fun never ends here, remember that there’s more beyond Disney in Central Florida.
  • Florida Panhandle – Bordering Alabama and Georgia, Northwest Florida stands out for its proud southern culture. It’s an enchanting mix of the American South and sugar-white beaches. Say hello to the endless Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach dunes.
  • Northeast Florida – Hidden where Florida’s Atlantic coastline transforms into Georgia, many visitors miss out on Northeast Florida. But if you come here, fascinating history awaits. St. Augustine and Amelia Island are gems for beachgoers and history buffs alike.
The sugar-white Siesta Key Beach, Florida
The sugar-white Siesta Key.

Best things to do in Florida

You might want to spend your entire Florida vacation on the beach, maybe with a constant stream of cold drinks arriving. However, rest assured that the best things to do in Florida add several additional dimensions to that appreciated beach life.

  • Meet and greet at Disney – There are theme parks, and then there’s Disney World in Orlando. Its never-ending offering of roller coasters and simulators are spectacular. Still that photograph with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck could be the most cherished treasure.
  • Dance away on Ocean Drive – Miami is made up of a bunch of colorful neighborhoods. Its prime nightlife district is South Beach, where Ocean Drive vibratingly traces the coastline. Framed by Art Deco buildings, palm trees and exclusive cars, this is a movie-like Florida spot for a night out.
  • Tour Fort Pickens – Proudly standing since 1834, Fort Pickens marks the western end of the Florida Panhandle’s Santa Rosa Island. Built with more than 21 million bricks, the fort guards some of the most pristine coastline in Florida. Tour Fort Pickens all the way to its depth, and then tip your feet in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico.
  • Relax on South Marco – Hanging out on the beach is a cornerstone of the Florida lifestyle. Therefore no list of the best things to do in Florida is complete without at least one dreamy beach. A lovely representative for all the world-class beaches in Florida is South Marco Beach. It’s huge, it’s white and it delivers year round.
  • Airboat the Everglades – Do you want to encounter relatives to dinosaurs on your Florida vacation? The vast Everglades, covering a large portion of South Florida, is just packed with alligators. Cruising through the Everglades on an airboat ride, you get to see Florida’s most untamed part.
  • Pick a favorite mural in Wynwood – A stimulating contrast to South Beach’s glamour, Wynwood is a Miami hub of creativity. Home to a seemingly endless array of vivid murals, this neighborhood literally adds color to your Florida vacation. For its many cool photo opportunities, it’s also a Florida spot for the influencer in you.
  • Shop on Fifth Avenue South – Colossal outlet malls are great if you want to score bargain deals. A much different experience is the upscale vibe on Fifth Avenue South in Naples. Whether you actually make purchases or just window shop, checking the exclusive Old Naples street out is a delight.
  • Sightsee the Southernmost Point – Key West is the southernmost point of the continental USA. Down in Florida Keys, where US Route 1 concludes, you find a surprising amount of things to do. But if you only can pick one, capture the Southernmost Point monument to prove to your friends that you made it all the way to the end of the road.
Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach,FL
Tour Fort Pickens in Northwest Florida.

Where to stay in Florida

The many appealing places to stay in Florida can seem overwhelming. But don’t despair, our where to stay guides narrow down the best places to stay in each area.

  • Stay in Southeast Florida – As the biggest city in Florida, Miami presents an array of neighborhoods. South Beach is world-famous for its nightlife scene, while adjacent Mid Beach and North Beach offer more sheltered hotels and resorts. Further north the city of Fort Lauderdale is a quieter alternative popular for families.
  • Stay in Southwest Florida – There’s an appreciated old-Florida charm about Southwest Florida. Marco Island, Sanibel Island and Siesta Key are all laid-back places to stay perfect for families and couples looking for a relaxing time. For a more upscale setting, and more things to do, don’t miss out on Naples.
  • Stay in Florida Keys – From north to south five connected areas make up the Florida Keys: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys and Key West. Although each part offers signature seclusion and accommodations, Key West lure visitors in with an unrivaled selection of things to do. Within steps from your delightful Key West hotel you find uncountable sights, shops, eateries and bars.
  • Stay in Central Florida – Are you Disney bound? Spellbinding visitors of all ages, Lake Buena Vista gives you prime access to Disney’s impressive theme parks. A different experience is the excitement of International Drive, Orlando’s vibrating main strip lined by establishments of all types. If you prefer a beach location, the white dunes of Cocoa Beach and Clearwater Beach appeal.
  • Stay in Florida Panhandle – Showcasing a remarkable stretch of sand, the beach towns of the Florida Panhandle provide spectacular lodging opportunities. Here Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach rightfully so are popular destinations. But for something more off the beaten path, check out the much lesser-known St. George Island.
  • Stay in Northeast Florida – A stay on Florida’s northern Atlantic coast blends beaches and history. St. Augustine, founded already in 1565, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. Fernandina Beach, home to 50 blocks from the late 1800s and early 1900s, appears to have frozen in time. Both are gorgeous locations for recharging getaways under the soothing Florida sun.
Key West, anyone?

Best Florida hotels

There are thousands and thousands of hotels in Florida. Just one from each Florida region, this is a sweet sample of our recommended Florida hotels.

  • Avalon Hotel – South Beach is the quintessential Miami neighborhood, and the Avalon Hotel is one of its most iconic hotels. Located where in Miami it happens, this is a Florida hotel for nightlife lovers.
  • Marriott Marco Island – A beach escape far away from it all, with top amenities, awaits at Marriott Marco Island. Guests ask themselves: Is the beachfront location or the 3 outdoor pools the best feature?
  • Almond Tree Inn – If you plan a couple’s trip to Florida Keys, don’t look past Almond Tree Inn. Hidden in the walkable heart of Key West, it’s a convenient yet incredibly tranquil place to stay.
  • Swan Reserve – To all the Disney fans out there, your moment has come. Disney World Swan Reserve offers effortless access to the parks. EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are so close that you can walk.
  • Portofino Island Resort – Right at the beginning of Gulf Islands National Seashore, invitingly untouched, Portofino Island Resort is a jaw-dropping place to bed down. Pensacola locals love this spot for its sandy scenery and seclusion.
  • Amelia’s Hampton Inn & Suites – Taking full advantage of Amelia Island’s historic charm, Hampton Inn & Suites is surrounded by the best of Fernandina Beach. Here you park your car only steps from stores, restaurants and taverns.
Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney at Disney World
Welcome to Orlando.

Florida cities

Are you up for a Florida city vacation? The Sunshine State is home to both major cities and those smaller but as least as delightful beach towns.

  • Miami – Many fall in love with Miami’s diverse neighborhoods, from the party animal South Beach to the creative inspiration Wynwood. But vibrating day and night, Miami is a city where the pace constantly is high. So if you want a quiet Florida vacation, aim at other destinations.
  • Naples – Mixing the laid-back Gulf Coast with extravagancy, Naples is a unique Florida destination. Its Fifth Avenue South is a luxurious jewel for shopping, dining and drinking. When strolling down the street on your Florida vacation, you don’t doubt that this is one of the US cities with most millionaires per capita.
  • Orlando – Let the fun times begin. Home to Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando is America’s ruling theme park capital. Completing the experience, action-filled International Drive makes sure that there’s something for everyone in O-town.
  • Tampa – Like glue holding the powdery shoreline together, Tampa Bay is the Gulf coast’s heart. Families flock to Busch Gardens, a thrilling amusement park, while Ybor City, a historic neighborhood with a cuban story to tell, offers both sightseeing and nightlife. If you rather hit the beach, just make it over to Clearwater Beach or St. Pete Beach.
  • Pensacola – Having been ruled by five different governments over the years, Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle is the “City of Five Flags”. Downtown Pensacola is eclectic with an appreciated range of eateries and bars to choose from. However, the biggest magnet is undoubtedly the pristine, and seemingly never ending, Pensacola Beach.
Orange fire hydrant in front of colorful mural in Wynwood, Miami
Wynwood street art.

Islands in Florida

Imagine sugar-white islands dotted with rising palm-trees and fringed by blue water. Floating off the coast of Florida, these islands are like balsam for your soul.

  • Santa Rosa Island – Tickling visitors with its white sand, the vastness of Santa Rosa Island sucks you right in. Extending for 40 miles, it’s always easy to find peace here. Although some areas, especially in Pensacola Beach, get busy, Gulf Islands National Seashore ensures that Santa Rosa Island remains largely undeveloped.
  • Siesta Key – There are several reasons to visit Siesta Key in Southwest Florida. The most reflecting of them is undeniably Siesta’s quartz sand, which is incredibly white, soft and cool. For its beauty, Siesta Beach has been ranked as the best beach in the United States several times.
  • Amelia Island – Imagine New England but with long beaches, palm trees and warm climate. Floating off Florida’s northern Atlantic coast, Amelia Island often surprises visitors. Most of all its historic heart, Fernandina Beach, is filled with buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, appearing like a cute New England town.
  • Marco Island – You know what you get when you head to Southwest Florida’s Marco Island: impressive beach, check, warm year-round climate, check, and laid-back setting, check. As a bonus Naples, for shopping, and the Everglades, for wilderness, are within easy reach.
  • Upper Matecumbe Key – Islamorada, located between Miami and Key West, is widely known for its secluded resorts. One of these gateways to a world far away from everyday life is the Islander Resort, which is located on Upper Matecumbe Key. Are you ready to kick back and relax?
  • Key West – Every complete Florida guide is bound to include Key West. The island city, located deep into the Florida Keys, is not where you go primarily for beaches. Yet its interesting attractions and quirky vibe, or just the fact that it’s the southernmost point of the continental USA, makes Key West a bucket list destination.

Related: There are many more islands in Florida. Check out all the best Florida islands.

Beach day on Pensacola Beach, FL
The alluring Santa Rosa Island.

Florida national parks

Florida has three beautiful members of the national park system: Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas. The Everglades is easily accessible, while Biscayne and Dry Tortugas demand more planning.

  • Everglades National Park – Storied around the globe, Everglades is Florida’s most visited national park. The iconic wetland covers more than 1.5 million acres and is easily reached from popular South Florida destinations, including Miami, Naples and Marco Island. Because the Everglades is so vast, it has not one but five different visitor centers spread out across the park.
  • Biscayne National Park – Living a life in the shadow of the famed Everglades, you don’t hear a lot about Biscayne National Park. Located south of Miami, it’s a water-based adventure where boating, diving and fishing are popular activities. To fully take Biscayne in, guided boat tours depart from Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead.
  • Dry Tortugas National Park – Do you want to escape far away from the mainland’s hustle and bustle? At the end of the Florida Keys, almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West, the untouched islands in Dry Tortugas National Park cast a spell on you. On top of tropical scenery this is the home to Fort Jefferson, a historic red-brick military fort.
Gator in the Everglades
A Florida gator.

Road trip Florida

From the Florida Keys to Northwest Florida, the open roads are there to be explored. When roadtripping Florida, you can explore several regions in one spectacular palm-dotted trip.

  • Orlando to Miami – The Orlando to Miami road trip connects Disney World with South Beach. Although the east coast route is quicker, a western approach lets you discover the Gulf Coast too. This one, loaded with several top Florida beaches, is one of the best US road trips for beach bums.
  • Orlando to Key West – What could possibly be better than a road trip between Orlando and Miami? Well, you could extend the drive to also include the gorgeous Florida Keys. The Orlando to Key West road trip literally takes you to the end of the road.
  • Miami to Key West – A bucket-list drive taking visitors from mainland Florida to Key West, the Overseas Highway is a road trip that makes jaws drop. For 113 miles, the length of the whole stretch from Key Largo to Key West, you travel from island to island. Take in the water views, soak up the sun and of course see what the peaceful keys along the way have in store for you.
Art Deco Avalon Hotel on Ocean Road in Miami, FL
Are the Florida roads calling?

Tips for visiting Florida

Florida is a playground for vacationgoers. Still these tips can make your Florida trip even better.

  • Be sun smart – Florida is rightfully so called the Sunshine State. Make sure to not let those lovely sun rays get the better of you, no matter what time of the year you travel to the Florida.
  • Keep the size in mind – If you don’t have weeks, preferably months, available, Florida isn’t just one trip. Although it’s not one of the biggest US states area wise, Florida’s shape makes the distances long. Driving from Key West to Pensacola takes roughly 13 hours.
  • Plan the Everglades – Florida’s untamed interior is a much different cup of tea than the state’s sprawling coastline. But to fully understand Florida, the Everglades is a must on your itinerary.
  • Bookmark us – Don’t forget about all the great things to do in Florida. Bookmark this Florida guide so that you effortlessly can get back here at any time.
Pelican soaking up the Florida sun
Plan an epic Florida trip.

When to visit Florida

Florida is beautiful around the year. But if you’re flexible, each season offers unique characteristics.

  • Spring – If you like the idea of warm and sunny days, raise your hand. Spring hits a weather sweet spot and is a lovely time to visit Florida. But if it’s not your thing, watch out for those wild spring break gatherings.
  • Summer – Florida’s summer is hot and humid. Even though afternoon thunderstorms cool you down a little bit, outdoor activities are more demanding now. Prepare to take it easy, especially around midday.
  • Fall – A trip to Florida in fall beats the crowds and offers comfy temperatures. Just have in mind that this is the culmination of the hurricane season, which officially lasts from June 1 until November 30.
  • Winter – Florida has a warm climate, but winter reveals significant variations between the Florida regions. South Florida, famous for its endless summer, offers warm beach days even in winter, while North Florida gets too cool for most beach bums.
Seaplane in Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
The summer is endless in Florida Keys.

Visit Florida FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Florida.

What is the nicest part of Florida to vacation?

South Florida stands out in the way that the region offers warm climate year-round. So if you plan a Florida vacation in winter and want warm weather, South Florida is your best bet.

The Florida Keys, reaching out from mainland Florida’s southern tip, is a unique extension. Down here it’s generally quiet and balmy, but Key West offers some welcome liveliness.

Central Florida is Florida’s holy theme park land. Orlando in particular draws crowds from far and wide with its Disney World and Universal attractions.

North Florida is more off the beaten path. But although most Florida visitors fly into South and Central Florida, rest assured that the beaches up here are at least as pretty as down south.

What is the #1 vacation spot in Florida?

Orlando is Florida’s undisputed entertainment capital. Disney World has a line up of four fun-filled theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Other highlights include Universal’s thrilling pair: Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

But fringed by powdery white sand and dotted with palm trees, Florida’s tropical setting is to many the biggest reason to visit. Florida is vacation, and vacation is Florida.

How many days in Florida is enough?

You can spend several weeks in Florida without running out of things to see and do. So how many days in Florida that’s enough depends on how much of the state you want to see. If you only have a few days available, target a smaller area like Florida Keys, Miami or Orlando.

What is the best month to visit Florida?

Florida is a year-round destination. However, if your schedule allows it, there’s one period of the year that stands out a little bit extra.

March, April and May are generally warm, but not sweltering, months. This time of the year is also comfortably outside Florida’s hurricane season, which runs from June to November.

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