Here are just a handful of can’t-miss experiences that prove Florida’s ‘wow’ factor.
There are some experiences that perfectly capture Florida’s charm—that unique mix of awe-inspiring nature and adrenaline-soaked adventure that encourages locals to stay put and visitors to return in droves. From hair-raising encounters with The Everglades’ larger-than-life inhabitants to wrestling dinner onto your boat in the middle of the ocean to kayaking alongside gentle manatees in a picturesque, crystal-blue spring, here are eight activities to add to your bucket list of must-do activities in The Sunshine State.
Sky dive over Florida
What better way to experience Florida’s unique topography than from 10,000 feet in the air? Sky dive centers across the Sunshine State welcome thrill seekers of all skill levels to float above breathtaking displays of comingling land and sea. Skydive Sebastian, about 100 miles southeast of Orlando on the Atlantic coast, offers skydivers views of the Sebastian Inlet, the Atlantic Ocean and coastal palm and oak hammock. Opt for the bucket list tandem skydiving package, which includes 60 seconds of pure freefall over the coast, as well as video footage and photos capturing your exhilarating experience.
Dark sky gaze and camp at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Florida received its first designation from the International Dark Sky Association in 2016 when Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park was named a Dark Sky Park. To view these unpolluted skies, you must either be a Florida State Parks family annual passholder or reserve a campsite or astronomy pad site. After you settle in for the night, you’ll get the rare opportunity to see Jupiter, Saturn, and, if the time is right, the International Space Station orbiting past, or even a NASA or SpaceX spacecraft launching from nearby Kennedy Space Center.
Paddle with manatees in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Just 80 miles north of Tampa, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is a winter haven for endangered Florida manatees who hunker down in this sanctuary each November through March to enjoy the 70-degree waters experienced year-round in this cluster of natural springs. Before you softly paddle a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard alongside the gentle giants, brush up on your manatee manners: keep at least two kayak lengths from manatees, and never paddle over a manatee. If you’d like to dive in to get a closer look, practice passive observation from a distance, and avoid inserting yourself between a mother and her calf, as the calf may die if separated from their mother without first learning survival skills.
Cut through The Everglades in an airboat
Visiting the Florida Everglades, a unique wetland combining nine distinct ecosystems including mangrove, cypress, and hardwood hammock, is an adventure best experienced aboard a vessel. Float on a river of grass and maybe spot endangered species like the American Crocodile on an airboat tour—Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston offers live exhibits in their visitor’s center, so you’re guaranteed at least one reptile sighting while you’re there.
Swim in a Florida natural spring
Swimming in the churning, turquoise waters of the Atlantic and floating in the Gulf of Mexico’s warm tides are quintessential Florida experiences, but neither can compare to swimming in a Florida natural spring. From the swimming hole and caves of Madison Blue Springs State Park east of Tallahassee to the massive, natural swimming pool at Lithia Springs Conservation Park 20 miles east of Tampa, Florida’s 700 natural springs boast crystal-clear water so fresh Nestle pumps it for their bottled water. Grab a snorkel and fins to greet the fish, turtles, otters, (and at times, alligators and snakes) that call these headspring sites home.
Fuel up and drive south to the Keys
You’d be surprised to learn just how many Floridians—even those born and raised in the Sunshine State—haven’t experienced the magic of the Florida Keys. Sure, it can take over five hours to trek less than 200 miles from the heart of Miami to Key West, but the traffic jams are worth it when you reach your destination. It’s a rite of passage to visit the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A., a concrete, anchored buoy that serves as Key West’s most iconic historical landmark. Veer off the beaten path by taking a ferry or boat ride to Lignumvitae Key, an island just off of the coast of Islamorada that boasts some of Florida’s last remaining virgin tropical hardwood hammock forest. Wildlife buffs will spot some of the rare creatures that call this unspoiled habitat home, like the brilliantly colored Liguus tree snail and the aptly named Florida purplewing butterfly.
Take a deep-sea, chartered fishing trip
No matter if you’re a seasoned fisher or you’ve never held a rod, fishing charter companies across the Sunshine State can turn you into a pro on the high seas as you try your hand at reeling in speedy swimmers like barracudas and kingfish or jumpers like tarpon and mahi. Fishing Headquarters in Fort Lauderdale offers an air-conditioned, 85-foot, chartered fishing boat full of refreshments each morning, afternoon, and night.
Visit a Florida theme park
There’s probably no bucket list-worthy activity more synonymous with the Sunshine State than visiting a theme park. You’re likely familiar with Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, so why not opt for an equally thrilling adventure at one of Florida’s lesser-known theme parks? For example, Legoland Florida Resort in Winter Haven, just southeast of Lakeland, houses more than 50 rides and attractions including Miniland, U.S.A., a collection of models of American landmarks created with more than 32 million Legos.