The Florida Keys are perfect for any type of winter escape: romantic getaways, bachelorette parties, and even family vacations. You can explore the various Keys, or plant yourself in Key West for a knockout Mallory Square Sunset Celebration (cocktail in hand, of course) and other delights. Key West offers a cool juxtaposition of Victorian architecture and rocking nightlife, but if you want to enjoy the quieter side of town head to Petronia Street and the Bahama Village neighborhood. We also have a soft spot for the six-toed cats at The Hemingway Home and Museum.
Key Largo’s sunsets are just as beautiful as those in Key West, of course, and the Key lime pie here is justly renowned. Grab yourself a slice!
The coast of Big Pine Key is great for kayaking. The Overseas Highway that connects the Keys is a destination unto itself, with jaw-dropping views and the feeling that you’re truly experiencing one of America’s “extremes” as you head toward Key West, home to mile marker zero.
South Florida, home to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and nearby Everglades National Park sizzles with beaches, nightlife, Art Deco style, and the annual Art Basel Miami, not to mention upscale comfort food such as ropa vieja (shredded beef) and a vibrant Cuban-American cultural scene. There’s no place quite like Miami for Latin-tropical style. South Beach boasts more than 20 blocks of pastel-colored hotspots that will deliver your fix of Mid-Century Modern and then some.
Want to escape the winter blahs? The South Florida area delivers an average annual temperature of 75 degrees! We’re especially fond of Fort Lauderdale, home to luxe hotels but also one of the most affordable Florida cities to fly in and out of (with round-trip airfare often under $200), with a lovely coast and laid-back vibe.
Courtesy Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel
Everglades National Park, an easy drive from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, is a place where you can pretty much guarantee a close encounter of the wild kind, with alligators and crocodiles on display, more than 350 species of birds, and the opportunity to explore on foot or by boat tour.
Peter W. Cross and Patrick Farrell
Orlando is theme park paradise! And with affordable, family-friendly hotels and an up-and-coming foodie scene, this is a winter vacation everyone must take at least once (though, to tell the truth, once you’ve been to Orlando you’ll almost certainly want to return). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is a magnet for those who want to explore a real-life Diagon Alley and grab a bite at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant.
Courtesy Universal Orlando Resort
Walt Disney World is always evolving, having in recent years rolled out an entirely reimagined Fantasyland (including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), a Frozen singalong, and a new interactive component while waiting on line for the super-popular Peter Pan’s Flight ride.
Orlando invites you to jump in! The city boasts endless affordable lodgings and, when you’ve worked up an appetite in the water or on the theme park route, a truly mouth-watering food scene that includes an international array of eating options along I-Drive, like the acclaimed Ethiopian restaurant Nile 07, Indian fare at Aashirwad, Italian at Ciao Italia, and the new I-Drive 360’s Shake Shack.
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is a beach-goers must on the Gulf Coast, with amazingly fresh seafood and a bit of surprising culture in the form of the Salvador Dalí Museum. Clearwater Beach will dazzle with its expansive Gulf vistas and retro-chic motels making use of Mad Men-era bright citrus colors. Take our Find Your Florida Quiz to find your perfect Florida!
The list of knockout beaches in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area are amazing: Honeymoon Island State Park offers a cool nature center plus undeveloped stretches of sand; Caladesi Island is reachable only by ferry or private boat, so you’re guaranteed a level of seclusion; Clearwater Beach, with its promenade, shops, and beach and water sports is the place to be if you’re looking for a lively scene; St. Pete Beach tops TripAdvisor’s list of U.S. beach destinations and mingles a small-town feel with great resorts and restaurants.
Get as active or as laid-back as you please at Fort De Soto Park, just south of St. Pete Beach. There’s a little something for everyone.
Cocoa Beach is perfect for families looking for reliable hotels, cute souvenir shops, and colorful neon! Grownups will love the Mai Tiki Bar on the pier, and the kitschy “Welcome to Cocoa Beach” sign. You’ll fall asleep with the sound of the ocean outside your window and start your morning with a stretch of white sand before you.
You may spend all your time in Cocoa Beach literally on the beach (the pelicans do!), but when you’re hungry, you can’t go wrong by grabbing a Cuban sandwich with a side of black beans.
Cocoa Beach is home to several renowned surf competitions (it’s where Kelly Slater got his start) and also offers surfer-chic shopping at Ron Jon Surf Shop and Cocoa Beach Surf Company (which may have a slight edge for the little ones in your brood because of its legendary 5,600-gallon fish tank, including black tip sharks!).
St. Augustine is perfect for hip history buffs! America’s oldest city boats Spanish forts up and down the coast and some spooky “ghost tours” to boot. An hour’s drive from Jacksonville, on Florida’s northeast coast, the city also gives you the opportunity to zip-line over alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park!
Visitors to St. Augustine are amazed at its long history, dating back to Spanish Colonial times, best personified by the Castillo de San Marcos (built in 1672) and the Colonial Quarter. Explore the fort and even see cannon-firing demonstrations, and enjoy the living history of the Colonial Quarter’s musket demonstrations, blacksmith shop, and dizzying watchtower (the views are unbeatable).
St. Augustine offers all the fun and style of a big-city getaway and a beach town combined. Don’t forget to get your pirate on at Pat Croce’s St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum (it was moved lock, stock, and barrel from Key West a few years back), with pirate artifacts, original Jolly Roger flags, and the journal of Captain Kidd’s final voyage.
The Fort Myers/Sanibel Island area is the ultimate for kicking back without the crowds! There aren’t many places in the U.S. that manage to combine the convenience of an urban center with a small-town vibe and one of America’s most beautiful stretches of beach.
Fort Myers Beach, one of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns in America 2015, is a gateway to the Everglades where you’re always a quick walk from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Sanibel Island is as close to your own private island as you’re likely to get these days, and the opportunity to do absolutely nothing but bask in Florida’s warm winter sun is enticing, no? When you can drag yourself out of your beach chair, take your pick of cycling Sanibel’s outstanding trails, kayaking or canoeing, or even try your hand at water-skiing! Budget Travelers especially love the fish stew at Sweet Melissa’s Café.
Courtesy The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Central Florida encompasses a bunch of cool destinations including Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, LEGOLAND, and more. Looking for the world’s best clam chowder? You’ll be surprised to learn it may not be in New England but a drive up the Central Gulf Coast from Tampa, where Tony’s Seafood Restaurant of Cedar Key has won top honors in the Great Chowder Cook-Off (in Rhode Island, no less!).
LEGOLAND’s new hotel was designed by Lego engineers so that the colorful world of Lego bricks come to life in the form of furniture and architectural details. And it’s all a quick walk to the LEGOLAND theme park, where hotel guests get early admittance. It's also one of Budget Travel's favorite playful escapes.
The scenic Safety Harbor Pier on Old Tampa Bay is just one of Central Florida’s iconic sights. This region’s offerings range from incredible seafood to a theme-park scene that’s second only to Orlando’s, including thrill rides at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay that are consistently ranked as the most terrifying in the world!
Pensacola is literally outstanding, situated on Florida’s Panhandle not far from Alabama (in fact, it is in the Central Time Zone). It’s also an amazing beach town bargain that delivers as beautiful and stylish a vacation as any of Florida’s pricier destinations. Come for the sugary white-sand beaches, cobalt-blue water, and dunes where wild grasses grow!
Get ready to dive into Pensacola’s Gulf Coast culture, which may remind you more of New Orleans than Miami, including the shrimp dish Grits a Ya Ya (pictured), wrought-iron balconies, a family-friendly Mardi Gras, and a nice touch of joie de vivre.
Pensacola is so beautiful, we consider its exceptional prices just a side benefit. The secret? It’s not a resort town but a legitimate we-live-here-and-love-it kind of destination, with historical sites such as the 19th-century Fort Pickens. Even much of the coastline is off-limits to development, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Panama City Beach has 27 miles of white-sand beaches, making it an ideal place for a family to rent a vacation home and relax. Parents and kids alike will love the mazes and fishing opportunities, while grownups may want to strike out on their own to enjoy spa treatments and fine dining. Don’t miss Shell Island, a seven-mile-long stretch of undeveloped land that is one of the most popular places to get off the beaten path to explore dunes, scrub forests, beach birds, and even turtles!
Renting a beach condo? Bring home the catch of the day and cook it up in your own kitchen overlooking the Gulf. Local seafood includes grouper, shrimp, crab, and oysters.
Ever celebrate Mardi Gras on the beach? Panama City Beach will host a celebration this winter featuring food, fireworks, a parade, and even pirates! Go to VisitFlorida.com for more fun ideas and to plan the perfect Florida trip. Which part of Florida should you visit first? Take our quiz!
From the dazzling sunsets and party-hearty atmosphere of Key West all the way up to the historic (and historically haunted!) streets of St. Augustine, the Sunshine State offers a winter vacation to suit every personality.