Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, adventurer or thrill-seeker, Florida has something for you. The southernmost U.S state is home to the mysterious Everglades National Park, pristine waterways harbouring unique wildlife and some of the coolest attractions in the world. With this in mind, we’ve designed you a Florida bucket list, so you can try to fit in everything the Sunshine State has to offer on your next holiday.
Swim with manatees
To see the charming manatee, it’s best to head to the aptly named Crystal River. This coastal city is home to Kings Bay and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Here, Florida manatees and West Indian manatees wade through the beautifully blue water. The Federal Government allows people to observe the manatees safely in Kings Bay, meaning you can get up close to these unusual yet gentle creatures. To get the best out of your experience, and to learn more about these amazing animals, it’s recommended that you book a tour. Escorted tours with companies like Plantation on Crystal River and Riverventures allow you to kayak or paddleboard to experience the river and search for manatees in their natural habitat, before swimming freely with them in the bay.
Explore the Everglades
Home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the Everglades National Park is an exciting and somewhat intimidating patch of wilderness. Not to be underestimated, the Everglades cover 1.5 million acres on the southern tip of Florida, providing a safe haven for many species, from alligators and crocodiles to endangered leatherback turtles and manatees. There are plenty of ways you can fulfil your bucket list dream of seeing the Everglades, from kayaking and hiking through the trails to flying through the wetlands on a tour boat. Take a look at Everglades Safari Park for airboat tours and Everglades Kayak Company to start your adventure.
Eat a slice of Key lime pie
Recognised as an important symbol of Florida, Key lime pie is perhaps the most iconic Floridian dish. Made with juice of authentic Key limes, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk, this irresistible dessert absolutely deserves a place on your Florida bucket list. Fortunately you can find this classic sweet treat almost anywhere in the state, but Key West is perhaps the most famous area to try this traditional pie.
Kayak the Great Calusa Blueway
Adventurous travellers won’t want to miss out on kayaking Florida’s stunning Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail. Stretching for 190 miles across the coastal waters and inland tributaries of Lee County, this route is perfect for both novice and experienced kayakers. As you make your way through the mangrove tunnels, look out for some of the area’s native wildlife. Manatees, dolphins and pelicans call these waters home, so be sure to have your camera ready. It’s possible to enjoy sections of the trail if you only have a day, or camp along the way if you have the time. The city of Fort Myers is close by if you’re looking for a base from which to explore the trail.
Pay homage to Ernest Hemingway
Tucked away in the heart of Key West’s old town is the former home of Ernest Hemingway. The admired author lived and wrote here for more than 10 years. The Hemingway Home, as it is known, has been perfectly preserved, giving you the opportunity to walk in his footsteps through the relatively untouched home. Insightful tour guides will lead you through the historic property and entertain you with stories of Hemingway’s time in Key West. Dave Gonzales, media director at the Hemingway House, told us more about what you can expect at this popular attraction:
“The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the number one tour attraction on the island of Key West! From this site Hemingway wrote 70% of his lifetime works in the 1930s. We are also home to over 50 of the world-famous polydactyl (six-toed) cats. Our National Historic Landmark home was built in 1851 and is listed in the National Library of Congress for its importance in American history. The museum is open 365 days a year from 9-5 and conducts 30-minute guided tours every 10-15 minutes.”
Relax on a white sand beach
With 663 miles of beaches, you’re sure to find a private space to while away an afternoon in the Sunshine State. Many areas of Florida see an average of 260 predominantly sunny days a year, so you stand a high chance of visiting during a spell of good weather on your holiday.
If you’re looking for those pristine white sand beaches (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), you’ll find the crème de la crème in Northwest Florida. Much of the sand on Florida’s beaches is made up of quartz crystals, which, according to Visit Florida, is produced by the “weathering of continental land masses like the Appalachian mountains”. The quartz is washed down the rivers into the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, before returning to the beaches in the waves.
Florida’s panhandle beaches are considered to be some of the most spectacular, with seemingly endless soft white sand to dig your toes into. Check out St Andrew’s State Park, Navarre Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Pensacola Beach and Destin Beaches. Further south, the beaches around Tampa Bay are also worth visiting, including Clearwater Beach, Longboat Key, Fort Myers Beach and Caladesi Island.
Visit one of Florida’s epic theme parks
It’s no secret that Florida is famous for its numerous theme parks. From the jaw-dropping rides and spectacular safari at Busch Gardens, to the magical Walt Disney World, you really are spoiled for choice. If you’re planning a Florida holiday with your family, it’s well worth taking a few days to explore one or two of the state’s best parks. For film fanatics, there’s Universal Studios, for wildlife enthusiasts there’s Discovery Cove, and the Disney parks have something for everyone.
Tour Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center is one of ten NASA field centres. Since 1968, it has been NASA’s primary launch centre for human spaceflight, and carried out launch operations for the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs. For any budding scientist or space enthusiast, a visit to Kennedy Space Center should definitely be on your Florida bucket list. Located close to Orlando, it’s fairly easy to get to the complex, which hugs the coast near Titusville, north of Cocoa Beach. The centre is organised into mission zones, where attractions and tours lead you on a journey of space exploration. Learn about NASA’s first space programs and go behind the gates to access historic launch sites. You’ll even get insider information on where they’re planning to go next.
Visit Florida’s oyster capital
Florida’s most popular oysters can be found in the small city of Apalachicola, an hour north of the state capital, Tallahassee. Thriving in the shallow waters of Apalachicola Bay, Apalachicola oysters are said to be one of the most exquisite in the world. Seafood experts describe the taste as sweet and non-gritty, and fortunately for you, there are plenty of authentic restaurants serving the freshest oysters in Franklin County. Papa Joe’s, Boss Oyster and Up the Creek Raw Bar are all excellent choices.
Solve a crime on the Murder Mystery Dinner Train
Board the Murder Mystery Dinner Train in Fort Myers for one of the most unique experiences of your life. Enjoy a live murder mystery show while you enjoy a five-course dinner, all the while journeying across the Caloosahatchee River. This incredible attraction opened in the early 1990s and follows a section of the railway track running from North Naples to Arcadia. Using four refurbished vintage sleeper coaches, the Murder Mystery Dinner Train covers a 40-mile round trip, and hosts a range of shows to keep things exciting. Such care and attention has gone into making this one of the most eccentric experiences you’ll ever have. So it’s well worth adding to your Florida bucket list.
Walk along Cocoa Beach Pier
Many people visit Cocoa Beach to ride the waves. After all, it is the home of world-famous surfer Kelly Slater. However its beautiful pier, stretching 800 metres into the Atlantic Ocean, deserves a place on your bucket list. If surfing isn’t your thing and you’d rather just take in the view, Cocoa Beach Pier has plenty of restaurants serving seafood and classic North American dishes, as well as refreshing cocktails. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy watching surfers take off on waves at the foot of the pier. All the restaurants have unbeatable views of the coast. Pelican’s Bar & Grill serves the freshest seafood, Rikki Tiki Tavern is the place to go for speciality drinks and Keith’s Oyster Bar offers an open-air restaurant for perfect sunny days. You can even indulge in a spot of retail therapy on this historic pier.
Grab a bargain at Webster Westside Flea Market
Antique enthusiasts and bargain hunters should not miss out on a visit to Webster Westside Flea Market. For more than 50 years, this has been the open-air market of choice for anyone who can’t resist a beautiful antique, or a boutique item. The market can be found 50 miles west of Orlando and as well as providing a unique shopping opportunity via 300 undercover booths and 600 outdoor booths, there are restaurants and street food vendors to keep you going.