With an average of 237 days of sun every year, the state’s charm is clear with eternal sunshine, an exciting theme park, unique wildlife variety, and miles of sandy beaches. One of Florida’s main attractions is the diversity of its cities.
The Sunshine State provides a variety of metropolitan experiences from historic European settlements to lazy beach towns to vibrant shopping destinations. Instant smile magnets are the luminous streets of Key West, whilst the bustle of art deco in Miami shouts for photography. Sarasota is full of cultural wealth, while Naples tastes high. Told you that the cities of Florida have been diverse.
Even in one (or several more) of the major cities of the Sunshine State, no matter what type of vacation you are looking for. The only problem is who will hit first. Fortunately, our list of Florida’s best cities can help you decide where to start.
In Miami, you can’t get bored. Famous for its pastel-filled Art Deco buildings along the Ocean Drive and South Beach sand, which are always packed. Miami attracts worldwide visitors.
For those who love to shop, eat and enjoy, Coconut Grove is an absolute must. Look at it closely and a manatee can be seen along the shore.
Do you want to crave more culture? Go to Little Havana’s sultry streets. This funky Hispanic center offers Latin music, cuisine, and art lovers a short walk from the center. Groove the beats from Cuba, play the dominos at the park, or enjoy a cortado in a custom coffeehouse.
Read more: Top Attractions & Things to do in Miami
Orlando is one of Florida’s most popular tourist cities. Theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios cover large parts of the city, their steep towers, and giant roller coasters dot the skyline, while the nighttime fireworks light up the sky.
Other popular attractions in Orlando include SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, both of which allow visitors to get up close and personal with some of the biggest stars in the area: whales, dolphins, manta rays, and sea lions. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill and magic of these adrenaline boosters while visiting this hot spot.
Missing out on Orlando’s lovely downtown core, though, would be a shame. Quiet tree-lined streets, boutique shops, eclectic galleries, and award-winning restaurants reward those willing to take a break from busier (and louder) amusements.
Tampa, the unofficial capital of the west coast of Florida, offers a perfect balance between picturesque destinations and the lively metropolis. There really is nobody who decides to visit Tampa’s glitterier counterparts (we are seeing you, Miami).
Fashionable palms dot the busy streets of the city complementing the high-rise to the sunny skies. One of the best places for families to visit, Tampa offers non-stop entertainment for at least one week. It’s like a fun park and a zoo had a baby. Busch Gardens is unmissable.
The Florida Aquarium, Tampa Zoo, Science and Industry Museum, and Glazer Kids’ Museum are other must-see attractions.
Make sure you hit Ybor City, the liveliest neighborhood in Tampa, north-eastern downtown during your downtime. It’s the place to be, whether you’re expecting shopping, dining, or dancing.
4. Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale was the spring break revelers’ destination once. Today, it offers a layered and high-brow traveler and makes this one of the best places for couples to visit. Although Fort Lauderdale still provides plenty of spots for dancing at night, jazz music is more common than the ringing remains of a nearby rave.
The visitors can relax by board walking on the beautiful Fort Lauderdale beach. For those that want to have a slow pace, Las Olas Beach is a close second.
There’s plenty of museums, shops, restaurants, and a host of impressive harbor yachts in Fort Lauderdale. Take a boat cruise and take advantage of the luxury that is spread through the river. Or pack a picnic in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and enjoy an afternoon.
5. Key West
Key West, home to the southernmost point in the continental United States, is the Florida Keys’ most popular city. Visitors to this funky Bohemian town are greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors, while live music serves as a soundtrack for their wanderings.
Guests spend the majority of their time relaxing on the beach, but there are plenty of other activities to keep them occupied. One of them is a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. For more than 10 years, the famous author lived in Key West, crafting many of his most prized works.
Duval Street provides a well-needed respite from the sun for weary travelers. Overheated people who spend time in the eclectic shops, tasty restaurants, and cafés are rewarded by air conditioning. This is also the place where live concerts and festivals can be found, some of which take place in Mallory Square.
Sarasota is a wonderful place to lounge on the warm, soft sand, and is home to one of Florida’s best beaches to families (Siesta Key, with Lido Key in seconds). This gem of the coast of the Gulf is probably best known because it was once winter home to the Ringling Brothers and the Ringling Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The Ringling is a popular attraction in Sarasota, particularly among children. This museum (the Circus Museum; Ca’d Zan and Ca’d’ Zan, the magnificent Gothic house of the Ringlings) is set on a luxurious plot with a lush, vibrant Bayfront Gardens, on the grounds of John and Mable Ringling’s prior home. Check out a show at the Historic Asolo Theater during your stay here.
The spectacular Marie Selby Botanical Gardens considered a “tropical urban oasis,” will also relax the most stressed visitors. Located on the shores of Sarasota Bay, the Nirvana has an unbelievable flower and a koi pond, mangrove forest, and wooden plunger.
Hit the water in a kayak to discover the best asset of Sarasota — its natural countryside. Pop in South Lido or Ted Sterling Parks on a Barrier Island offshore, both found on the Lido Key. These venues offer an opportunity to swim in mangrove forests and see the most beloved fauna of the state.
7. St. Augustine
One of Florida’s most romantic honeymoon destinations is St. Augustine, a beautiful spot for a holiday. Europe’s old-world charm flows through every gap, from winding paved roads to lovely cafés to an old wooden schoolhouse.
Take a ride past San Marcos Castle, visit a city museum, or hobnob of the people dressed in historical clothing and horseback riding. Take the trip. This unique setting is difficult not to love.
Another plus: St. Augustine’s coast is 42 miles from white sugar beaches. Don’t miss St. Augustine Beach family-friendly. Its lively pier, quiet azure waters, and pristine conditions make the beach one of Orlando’s top-ranking beaches. Climb up the picturesque Lighthouse of St. Augustine for unspectacular views.
8. St. Petersburg
St. Pete’s star is formed by a 26-acre triangular park on the waterfront. There is plenty to do at the refurbished St. Pete Pier that you won’t want to go ahead with a million-dollar children’s playground, boutique shops, a beach, various green areas, and The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center.
But you must move on because so much more is to be seen. This lower-key neighbor in Tampa is the place to remember, built for tourists and snowbirds. In the center, there are farmers’ markets, art galleries, delicious restaurants, and eclectic murals in the cozy metropolis.
In the inventive lens of surrealist master Salvador Dali, the Museum Dali gives visitors an insight in life. Take your children here if you have ever had trouble getting your children into a museum. They’re going to beg for longer to stay.
No other Florida town does Southern charm quite like Pensacola. Set near the border with Alabama, this beautiful city is located in the often overlooked Panhandle in Florida’s northwest. Its location explains the town’s proclivity for a Southern drawl, as well as the restaurants’ fondness for shrimp ‘n grits.
Throughout this small city’s streets, you will find European influences. The architecture of Spain harkens back to a time when the city was ruled by a different ruler (by five regimes to be exact). Tourists come here today to sunbathe on the white beaches, swim in the turquoise waves, and fish in the open water in the hopes of catching the best catch of the day.
Because of the nearby bases, there is a strong military presence. As a result, the attractions of Pensacola include the National Naval Aviation Museum, Fort Barrancas, and, along with its picturesque lighthouse and the Historic Pensacola Village, the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
10. West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach, Florida’s less flashy, less expensive city to the illustrious Palm Beach, has a burgeoning arts scene just across the Intracoastal Waterway. Despite its name, West Palm Beach does not have a beach. That doesn’t make it any less of a great vacation spot.
If you take them to the nearby Rapids Water Park, the kids will love you forever. Combine that with a visit to the South Florida Science Center, and you’ve just spent a day and a half doing something fun.
Another chart-topper in regards to the best things to do with families in West Palm Beach is the Palm Beach Zoo. And the Manatee Lagoon provides a wonderful opportunity to see Florida’s favorite sea cows up close.
Shop along Clematis Street, dine at the vibrant Rosemary Square’s trendy restaurant and make sure you’re enjoying a festival or two for added culture. There are a ton of options to choose from all year round, from seafood festivals to auto swap meetings to boat shows to craft and jewelry shows.
King of the North, this massive town spreads across three rivers (the largest size-wise in the United States). Jacksonville has the beautiful beaches that are needed for any vacation in Florida, but it is so much more than just a beach town.
Locals call Jax “Jax,” and it’s home to some of the state’s best restaurants, which can be found on streets lined with high-rises and those flanked by colorful historic structures. With excitement, your taste buds will scream over the dishes cooked within the borders of the town.
Jax’s plate overflows with museums (i.e. the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens), galleries, and theaters in cultural terms.
The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary and Fort George Island Cultural State Park are both great places to go for some outdoor fun in Jacksonville. Don’t miss a stroll through the San Marco and Five Points neighborhoods while you’re in town.
Destin is one of the best places to fish, the true gem of the Emerald Coast. It was actually dubbed by locals as “the luckiest fishing village in the world.” So grab your rod and reel, board a boat, and try your luck at landing a big one!
When visitors aren’t out at sea angling, they can relax on miles of soft, sandy beaches that hug the Gulf of Mexico. Other crowd-pleasers include golfing, shopping, and tucking into a fine meal.
This city, located on the northern side of the Panhandle, has a diverse mix of visitors. Everyone enjoys their time in Destin, from spring breakers to honeymooners to retirees and snowbirds.
13. Daytona Beach
In Daytona Beach, you can do almost anything. However, lounging at Daytona Beach is among the most popular activities. Visiting the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest lighthouse, and shopping at the Tanger Outlet Shops. Don’t forget to watch the international Daytona Speedway race.
The boardwalk of Daytona is more than a lovely place to walk. The epicenter of its beach is this slightly tacky pier. This fun place features concerts, a Ferris wheel, shops, and delicious delicacies for young and old travelers.
Daytona Beach, which hosts the Daytona 500 each February, is a motorcycle and car enthusiast’s dream vacation destination. After all, this was NASCAR’s birthplace. In March Bike Week is held and in October the Biketoberfest.
Naples is a popular vacation spot for the wealthy and famous. There are plenty of luxury hotels and excellent restaurants, as well as shops and golf courses. The impressive mansions, looking from behind palm-lined courtyards and clusters, lie a little back from the soft sandy beaches of Naples. Fortunately, this fashionable town isn’t elitist. Affordable restaurants and shops, even on fancy 5th Avenue South, are interspersed with high-end offerings. On 3rd Street South, which has a more casual vibe, those who prefer flip-flops to heels will lean towards spending time.
This northern metropolis is full of charm, even though Tallahassee feels more like a university town than the capital of the state. Southern hospitality (as well as menu items from the deep south) abound in this laid-back spot due to its proximity to Georgia.
The two universities of Tallahassee, Florida State, and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical, help animate the region, boosting its arts and food scenes. Without them, this lovely town (think oak-tree-canopied roads, stately buildings, and rolling hills) would be a little too laid-back.
The 22-storey’ new’ Capitol building marks the center of the city. This concrete skyscraper, which is a bit of an eyesore, is saved by the lovely historic Capitol building that stands in front of it.
The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Antique Car Museum in Tallahassee, and the Tallahassee Museum are other popular attractions.