Nestled along the southeastern coastline of the United States, Florida boasts an unrivaled allure with its sugar-sand beaches and a treasure trove of world-famous theme parks. For decades, it has been a premier destination for tourists nationwide, drawing thousands of families each year to iconic spots like Disney World, the vibrant Miami Beach, and lively Panama City, where sun-kissed days are as common as cheerful cartoon characters. Yet, it’s time to uncover the hidden gems that Florida has been keeping up its sleeve, beyond the well-trodden paths and crowded attractions.

Beneath the surface of the Sunshine State lies a wealth of unique destinations that are bound to ignite your wanderlust and beckon to be added to your travel bucket list. From serene natural wonders to captivating historic sites and vibrant cultural experiences, Florida offers a diverse array of places to explore and discover. So, fasten your seatbelt and get your bucket list ready, as we embark on a journey to uncover the nine unforgettable destinations in Florida that truly belong on your must-visit list.

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

Situated on Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in the state, Bok Tower Gardens offers an outdoor experience like none other. The gardens began in 1929 as the vision of humanitarian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok, who desired to create a place that would “touch the soul with its beauty and quiet.” Today, visitors can wander 250 acres of beautifully-designed gardens, explore numerous nature trails that offer expansive views of the surrounding bluffs, and tour a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion that has been on-property since the early 30s. The main event, however, lies at the center of the gardens: a 205-feet tall Gothic-Art Deco tower fitted with a 60-bell carillon that plays concerts every afternoon at 1 and 3 PM. The enchanting concerts can be heard almost anywhere on the grounds, but the best place to experience them is by the Reflection Pool, which was specifically designed to offer the most picturesque view of the tower.  Combining man-made and natural beauty, Bok Tower Gardens is the perfect destination for art enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Dry Tortugas National Park

If you think you’ve seen eeeeverything in Florida, think again. 70 miles off the coast of Key West lies what is perhaps the nation’s most remote and least-visited national park. Comprising no more than seven tiny islands and a handful of beautiful, protected reefs discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, Dry Tortugas National Park is for those who truly want to get away from it all. The main attraction of the park is Fort Jefferson, a Civil War fortress on Garden Key that once housed union deserters and traitors, including one Doctor Mudd who was accused of aiding John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Lincoln. On Loggerhead Key, visitors can find a remote lighthouse and sight numerous sea turtles. Loggerhead Reef is the final resting place of the 1875 ship Windjammer, and is a popular dive spot. Dry Tortugas’ remoteness makes it a great option for the adventurous (it can only be accessed by boat or seaplane), and its history and natural beauty makes the trek more than worth it.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Truly a hidden gem on the Treasure Coast, Morikami is a thriving center of Japanese culture and art. In the early 1900s, a group of innovative Japanese farmers arrived in what is now northern Boca Raton and began Yamato Colony, where they hoped to revolutionize the agricultural industry with their experiments. The project failed, but in the mid-70s one of the last remaining settlers, George Sukeji Morikami, donated his land to the county in the hope that it would become a testament to the erstwhile colony he helped build. Today,  property houses an elegant museum filled with thousands of pieces of Japanese art (including a 500-piece tea ceremony collection) and serves as the grounds for six individually-styled gardens. Morikami frequently hosts exciting cultural events and workshops, including an annual springtime Hatsume Fair, taiko drumming shows, and monthly tea ceremony.

Devil’s Den

Central Florida is famous for its natural springs, but Devil’s Den is certainly the most unique in that it’s housed in an underground dry cave. Shafts of sunlight reach the cave from an overhead chimney opening, revealing an otherworldly, enclosed natural pool with limestone walls and sapphire-blue water. Free-swimming is not permitted, but Devil’s Den is a haven for divers and snorkelers. Explore the deeper underwater caves, or strap on a mask and view the fish and ancient fossil beds that abound in the spring.

Kennedy Space Center

Nestled on the east coast, just a stone’s throw away from Orlando, this place is like Disney World for science enthusiasts. Imagine standing in the footsteps of astronauts, feeling the rumble of a rocket launch, and getting up close and personal with actual space shuttles. It’s not just a destination; it’s a journey beyond our earthly confines. Meander through the Rocket Garden, surrounded by towering rockets that once defied gravity. You can even touch a moon rock – yup, you read that right! From mind-blowing IMAX experiences to meeting real-life astronauts, the Kennedy Space Center is where your fascination with the cosmos takes off. So, grab your inner astronaut by the hand and get ready for a stellar adventure that’s out of this world!

Torreya State Park

Located in the Panhandle, Torreya stands out among Florida’s numerous parks not only for its high plateaus and spectacular views of the Apalachicola River, but also for its extremely rare species of Torreya tree that can only be found on the river’s bluffs. Thanks to its abundance of hardwood trees, Torreya is also one of the few places in Florida where you can see autumn foliage.  The park also features the historic Gregory Plantation House, which is open for tours. There are also abundant hiking and camping facilities, and bird watching is a popular Torreya activity, as over 100 species have been spotted in the park.
Cbarlow, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Caladesi Island State Park

Tucked away just off the bustling city vibes of Clearwater, this pristine paradise is like a breath of fresh sea breeze. Imagine powdery white sands stretching as far as the eye can see, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and a sense of serenity that instantly washes over you. It’s not just an island; it’s a sanctuary for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. Picture yourself strolling along untouched shorelines, collecting seashells, and maybe even catching a glimpse of the playful dolphins that frequent these waters. Caladesi Island is a haven for wildlife, from wading shorebirds to nesting sea turtles. Whether you’re kayaking through mangrove tunnels or simply soaking up the sun, this secluded slice of paradise offers a getaway that feels like a well-kept secret.

The Dali Museum

Looking for a mind-blowing experience on the West Coast? Head down to St. Petersburg and check out the Dali Museum, the largest collection of Surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s works outside of his native Spain. Here you can view some his most famous, brain-bending works and enjoy the equally surreal architecture of the museum itself, which includes a flowing central spiral staircase and massive bubble-like skylights. The museum also frequently hosts exhibitions of similar artists including Andy Warhol and Picasso.

St. Augustine

Step back in time and immerse yourself in the historic charm of Saint Augustine, the oldest city in the United States! Nestled on Florida’s northeast coast, this enchanting destination is a living, breathing time capsule. Cobblestone streets wind through centuries-old architecture, with Spanish moss-draped trees creating a romantic atmosphere that transports you to another era. Saint Augustine isn’t just a city; it’s a journey through colonial history. Explore the cobbled lanes of the Old City, lined with charming shops, art galleries, and inviting cafes. From the iconic Castillo de San Marcos fortress to the ancient allure of the Lightner Museum, every corner tells a story. Take a leisurely stroll down St. George Street, where the past and present seamlessly blend in a tapestry of culture. With horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping along, Saint Augustine invites you to savor its rich heritage. So, grab your sense of wonder and embark on a stroll through time in the heart of this historic gem!