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Beneath the vibrant surface of Florida’s popular landmarks and destinations lies a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered by curious travelers. The well-known attractions, like the pristine beaches and fun-filled theme parks often steal the spotlight but there are lesser-known hidden gems in Florida that are equally enchanting. From secluded natural wonders to charming small towns, going off the beaten path will unveil some of Florida’s best hidden gems.
Dry Tortugas National Park
One of the most unique off the beaten path adventures in Florida is visiting the Dry Tortugas National Park. The park is located about 70 miles west of Key West making it one of the best islands to visit in Florida. The only way to reach the island is by boat or plane which makes this one of the more difficult hidden gems in Florida to get to. However, there is a ferry and a plane that you can book but be sure to book in advance since they can get booked up fast.
The highlight of the islands is Fort Jefferson, a large 19th-century coastal masonry fortress that represents the rich historical significance of the area. Surrounding the islands are crystal clear waters teeming with marine life and coral reefs that make it perfect for snorkeling and diving. It is also a sanctuary for birds and turtles which you will see plenty of as you explore the islands. These islands are one of the best places to visit in Key West.
Florida Caverns State Park
Buried deep under the ground, the caverns in Florida are truly hidden gems. The hidden world of the Florida Caverns State Park is a labyrinth of limestone caves showcasing an array of stalactites, stalagmites and draperies. While many of the underground caves in Florida are filled with water, including places like the stunning springs, these are some of the few caves in Florida that are air-filled.
The underground excursion to see the magnificent caves is not the only reason to visit the park. It is a popular destination for camping, swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating, and hiking, giving visitors plenty of activities that they can enjoy. The unique museum and visitor center, built from locally sourced materials, features exhibits that are self-guided.
Blowing Rocks Preserve
Among the many stunning beaches in Florida that boast the perfect tropical experience, this one comes as a surprise, but it is one of the best hidden gems in Florida. The rugged limestone coastline of this beach in Jupiter Florida creates a unique landscape that is not to be missed. The formations are composed mainly of shell and coral fragments, fossils and sand.
Along with every tide change and season the blowing rocks formations change as well. On some days the rocks are covered more by water creating spurts of water out of the holes sometimes up to 50 feet into the air which have given them their name. On other days, the water exposes more of the rock giving the opportunity to explore the small sea caves.
Swimming with dolphins is one of the most popular animal adventures in Florida but did you know you could swim with manatees in Florida too? Crystal River is known for the unique experience of swimming with the manatees. The stunning crystal clear natural springs are home to manatees year-round offering the gentle giants a peaceful sanctuary and visitors the chance to see them up close. In the winter months, the manatees are more abundant in the springs since the water stays around 70 degrees which keeps the manatees warm in the colder winter months.
To experience swimming with the manatees, you can book a tour which includes a tour guide, snorkel gear, and a boat ride taking you to the best place to see manatees. If you are not familiar with the area, this is the best way to experience the manatees, however, there is also the option of taking your own snorkel gear and exploring the springs on your own time.
Falling Waters State Park
There are a few natural waterfalls in Florida but the Falling Waters State Park waterfall is the tallest of them all. The small stream cascades down 73 feet into a 100-foot-deep and 20-foot-deep cylindrical pit. Following the Sinkhole Trail takes you to the observation deck over the waterfall where you can view the falls from a great viewpoint.
While the waterfall is definitely the highlight of this park, there are many more ways to spend your time there. From swimming in the lake to hiking the many trails, the park offers something to do for the whole family. For those who want to stay overnight, the park has full-facility campsites consisting of 24 sites, electric hookups, and bathrooms.
Bioluminescence is one of nature’s most mesmerizing phenomenon’s and it can be found right here in Florida. Although you can see it in many parts of the state, it shows up most prominently on the Space Coast of Florida. This blue-green glow is made when anything touches the bioluminescent dinoflagellates in the water.
The most popular way to experience this phenomenon is by taking a kayaking tour in the Indian River Lagoon and the surrounding area. As you glide through the water, it lights up all around creating one of the most magical experiences that you can have in Florida. If you’ve never experienced this spectacle be sure to put it on your Florida bucket list. The peak season is between July and September and the best nights to view it is during a new moon.
John Pennekemp State Park
Located off of the island of Key Largo in the Florida Keys, John Pennekemp State Park is the best place to go scuba diving and snorkeling in Florida. It is really a hidden underwater treasure and the deeper you go the more you will discover. This underwater world covers 70 nautical square miles and is teeming with plenty of marine life and colorful coral reefs. One of the most unique features of the park is the Christ of the Abyss statue 25 feet deep in the water.
With daily boat tours, opportunities for kayaking, and plenty of mangroves to explore, there are plenty of activities to keep everyone busy. If you happen to forget any gear, there are rentals available to make the experiences memorable. The Visitor Center is an opportunity to interact with the rangers and to see the impressive 30,000 gallon aquarium.
Hidden in one of Florida’s cave systems, the Devil’s Den is the one of the few caves in Florida that isn’t completely underwater. This creates a unique experience for visitors that can descend into this fascinating cave to explore. The whole diameter of the surface is 120 feet while the depth reaches 54 feet deep.
There are snorkeling and diving opportunities with equipment available for rent at the facilities. The water stays a nice 72 degrees year-round and is crystal-clear so you have the best chance to see all of the rock formations, stalactites, and possibly even fossils. There are more options for recreation and lodging including cabins, campgrounds, picnic tables, bathrooms, and even a heated swimming pool.
McKee Botanical Garden
In the charming city of Vero Beach, the McKee Botanical Garden is a hidden gem that transports visitors to a lush, tropical paradise. The history of the gardens dates back to the early 1900’s when two businessmen decided to purchase the land with the intention of transforming it into a citrus venture. However, after seeing the beauty of the land, they hired a landscape architect who designed the garden and it soon became one of Florida’s’ earliest and most popular attractions.
Today, the gardens aren’t as well-known as some of Florida’s other attractions but they remain one of the most beautiful gardens in Florida. With over 10,000 native and tropical plants, an impressive collection of water lilies, and many more unique features like the Hall of Giants and the stickwork structures, this botanical garden is worth a visit.
The Spanish Monastery is one of the oldest beautiful structures in the state of Florida which makes it one of the best hidden gems nestled in the busy city of Miami. The building has a long history dating all the way back to the year 1133 AD in northern Spain. This is because the building was first constructed there and used as a monastery until a social revolution. In 1925 the building was purchased by William Hearst, dismantled and shipped to the United States where it remained in a warehouse due to financial difficulties.
Several decades and millions of dollars later, it was finally moved to Florida where it now remains and serves as the parish Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux. With such a long history this is a stop not to miss if you’re traveling through Miami.
Cedar Key is one of the few towns in the state where you can still experience the old Florida charm. This small coastal town, located on an island far away from any major cities, has managed to maintain its unique character and remains an unspoiled haven for those seeking a more authentic Florida experience.
Being a fishing village, not only can you go fishing there for some great catches, but you can eat plenty of delicious seafood in one of its many restaurants, especially on Dock Street. Cedar Key also hosts its annual seafood festival in the fall which is one of the best times to visit this island.
Visiting the Ringling Museum is one of the best things to do in Sarasota. The Ringling Museum with the impressive collections of art, Ca’d’zan showcasing the stunning Venetian facade, and exquisitely manicured gardens are all a testament to the vision the founder John Ringling and his wife Mable had. The grounds offer visitors a glimpse into the vibrant past of the circus world and the effect it had on American culture.
On Mondays, access to the grounds and the art museum is free so it is the best time to explore the masterpieces. There are many works by renowned artists of the past and a smaller section dedicated to modern works. Taking the time to walk around the grounds and gardens and see the beautiful views of Sarasota Bay is one of the best ways to spend time at the Ringling.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
It might come as a surprise that you don’t need to go to the Midwest to see buffalo since these large animals can be found in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The park is home to many animals including the wild-roaming bison, horses, deer, alligators and many others. For bird enthusiasts, there are nearly 300 bird species that can be spotted while hiking any one of the park’s trails.
For a quick view of the park, the Observation Boardwalk offers a panoramic view with chances to see wildlife. For those who want to stay longer, there are plenty of things to do including boating, fishing, biking, and camping.
Want to feel like you’re in Europe with white-washed buildings and a beautiful coastline? Alys Beach has the same charming atmosphere for those who want a luxurious seaside getaway. This beach town is located on the 30A in Florida’s panhandle and offers the finest amenities. From shopping to dining, there are options for every style and taste.
The jewel of Alys Beach is, of course, the beach with stunning clear blue water and soft white sands of Florida’s Emerald Coast. The beachfront, along with miles of nature trails, offers the perfect place for relaxation and recreation.