If you’re looking for a change of scenery, check out this list of places in Florida that offer lots of natural beauty and regional charm.
The rest of the United States equates Florida to a pair of mouse ears or the crowded beaches in Miami, but Floridians know one of the best parts of living in the Sunshine State is that you never have to go far to find yourself immersed in the kind of easy living only the southernmost state could provide. We’re talking bountiful, natural beauty and unique, regional charm—the good stuff.
Here are 10 places in Florida where you can slow down and appreciate the little things that make each dot on the map so special.
This small town just one hour south of the SpaceX Launch and Landing Control Center in Cocoa Beach feels like some place time has forgotten. Sea turtles burrow into the golden sands of unspoiled beaches. Miles and miles of shoreline meet blue-green water deep enough for a quick dip without having to wade far. As secret as it’s kept, this area of the Treasure Coast only becomes crowded during snowbird season in the winter and spring.
Spend the day kayaking alongside dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon—the most biologically diverse estuary in North America—or take a pontoon boat tour from the Environmental Learning Center to Pelican Island, where snow-white pelicans mingle with bright-pink roseate spoonbills. Enjoy some takeout from the time-honored Ay! Jalisco Mexican restaurant at Riverview Park while the sun sets, and count the mullet you spot jumping out of the peaceful water.
Only 500 or so people call this town 35 miles southwest of Tallahassee home, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find another place with its unique local culture.
Take the boat out, go for a hike, and camp along the shores of the Ochlockonee River at Ochlockonee River State Park, or catch a show at the Sopchoppy Opry on a rainy day. You’ll want to plan your trip to include the second Saturday in April to attend the annual Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival. For two decades, Sopchoppy residents gather to celebrate worm grunting, a method of charming worms out of the soil to gather them as fishing bait using only a wooden rod and a strip of metal.
A spiritual community of mediums, teachers, and healers call this 57-acre unincorporated area home. In 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was established just 35 miles north of Orlando by a young Spiritualist from New York who was told during a séance that he would someday found a spiritual community in the South.
Today, around 55 certified mediums and spiritual healers live in a community of shared values and offer readings and healing services to visitors, often from the comforts of their own home. Be sure to book an appointment, though some walk-ups may be accepted.
Take US Route 441 just a few miles south from the bustling college town Gainesville to Micanopy, where picturesque Spanish moss blows in gentle breezes in front of brick and wooden buildings that retain their century-old charm.
The historic strip of Northeast Cholokka Boulevard hosts several points of interest: the Herlong Mansion Bed and Breakfast greets visitors with stately Corinthian columns evoking another era, the Micanopy Historical Society Museum and Archives recommends an affordable donation of $2, and a strip of antique and vintage shops is ready to sell you all the furniture, clothes, knick-knacks, and older forms of media you didn’t know you needed.
On your way out of town, stop by Pearl Country Store and Barbecue. Don’t let its convenience store appearance fool you—the ribs and banana pudding maintain legendary levels of acclaim.
Located 85 miles due west of Miami, this small town is all about getting in touch with the rich biodiversity of the Florida Everglades. Kayak through dense mangrove tunnels and camp on one of the Ten Thousand Islands that dot Florida’s southwestern coastline, or take a swamp buggy ride through a cypress forest. Big Cypress National Preserve contains a freshwater swamp whose existence is critical to the health of the Everglades, and is home to the endangered Florida panther. Rangers are on hand to lead visitors on a swamp tour or “canoe rendezvous.”
In this former-city-turned-unincorporated-community one hour north of Tampa, mermaids are real, and you can swim, paddle, or boat on some of the most pristine waters in the world, thanks to a deep, underground freshwater cave system.
At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, live mermaid shows are offered at least twice a day every day (weather permitting), as they have been since the site’s heyday in the 1960s when ABC built a theater to house the mermaids’ elaborate productions of popular works like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Snow White.” Nearby Buccaneer Bay boasts four massive water slides, two of which land sliders smack in the middle of Weeki Wachee Springs.
On the shores of the Apalachicola Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s Panhandle, you’ll find the oyster capital of the world that historically provided 10% of the nation’s oysters and a whopping 90% of Florida’s oysters. Though Florida officials voted to halt oyster harvesting in the bay for a couple years due to dwindling supply, you can still find plenty of quirky, local shops to peruse, as well as excellent local restaurants to satiate your seafood cravings. The Hole in the Wall Raw Bar is known for its delicious grub paired with salty service that makes you feel like you’re already a part of the family.
This village encompassing six of the Florida Keys is home to a host of tourist attractions—The Theater of the Sea puts you up close and personal with dolphins, and the History of Diving Museum has a real treasure chest from the 16th century. Yet, the real thrill of this area comes from exploring far off the beaten path.
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is covered in hardwood hammock, a tropical ecosystem of closed canopy forests. Book a seat on a tour boat, take the ferry, or kayak to this unspoiled habitat. Indian Key Historic State Park is a tiny island with a big history. Once the seat of Dade County and the center for a thriving industry salvaging cargo from ships that ran aground on nearby coral reefs, now this mostly deserted island is only accessible by boat and welcomes visitors to explore the vestiges of a town from the early 1800s. Climb up to the top of the observation tower to view the forgotten community in its entirety.
Get a taste for old Florida living in this small town just an hour outside Orlando where locals gather year-round at countless festivals and events. Renninger’s Flea Market and Antique Center is a must-see, with 200 vendor booths on an average day, and many, many more during its Antique and Collector’s Extravaganzas, held each January, February, and November. Other popular festivals include the annual Cycle Mount Dora, which draws road cyclists from all over the country, and Light Up Mount Dora, a Christmastime celebration during which nearly 2 million lights make Donnelly Park glitter in the night.
This area on the Gulf Coast due north of Clearwater is full of quaint mom-and-pop businesses to support, like Cotherman Distilling Company, which gives tours of its inner workings. Afterwards, try the distillery’s small-batch pepper vodka in a Bloody Mary.
Happy’s Bayou Bites serves Cajun specialties like muffuletta, gumbo, and gator tail in rustic, timber digs. Bon Appétit Restaurant provides chef-curated menus and waterfront views for a fine dining experience made even more special from July to September, thanks to Lobsterfest. Nearby Honeymoon Island offers a three-mile trail through one of the world’s only remaining virgin slash pine forests, a peaceful habitat where ospreys nest.