7 Unforgettable Things To Do In Florida (and none of them are in Orlando)


The beautiful state of Florida continues to grow in popularity with tourists and the reasons are obvious. Not only are the people friendly and the weather great…especially in South Florida where it’s gorgeous year around, but there is so much to do, too. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking Disney World and Universal Studio. Sure, those are great attractions, but there’s so much else to do in Florida that visitors need not ever visit Orlando to have the adventure of a life time.

Here are seven unforgettable things to do in Florida on your next trip:

1. SCUBA Diving at WeekiWachee Springs

WeekiWachee Springs is home to the deepest freshwater spring in the US. This crystal-clear spring is so deep that no one has ever discovered its bottom. It’s also the spring where the movie, Neptune’s Daughter and Mr.Peobody and The Mermaid was filmed.

Florida has the largest number of freshwater springs in the world… more than 700 of which are located in state parks. WeekiWachee Springs is one of the most recently established state partks (2008) in the state. You can SCUBA dive here as long as you are on a tour managed by a one of the park’s registered dive shops. (Info on diving here: http://www.weekiwachee.com/index.php/diving.)

The WeekiWachee Spring park itself is more than 60 years old and at one time used to have pretty ladies come from as far away as Japan to apply to become mermaids and swim in its daily mermaid shows. You can also take a riverboat tour up the WeekiWachee River or paddle it among the Cypress Knees in a canoe. (below)

A canoe on the river at WeekiWachee

2. Shelling on Captiva Island

Sea shells have captivated people for centuries. In fact they were once used as money. People come from all over the US to look for over 400 species which can be found on the twin islands of Sanibel and Captiva located just off the Florida coast from Ft.Myers. These islands boast some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

According to no less an authority than Travel and Leisure magazine, the twin islands of Sanibel and Captiva offer the best ‘shelling’ in the US. Sea shell hunters will find tulips, olives, Conch, Junonia, Scallops, Murex, Tulip, Olive, Coquina and sometimes the rarest of the all, the brown speckled Junonia.

The shelling is always great on these islands, but the best time is right after a storm. Crashing waves stir up the shells buried in the sand at the water’s edge and cast them on the shore, ripe for collecting.

Miles o

Miles of Shells: Photo by ellenm1

3. Drive the Overseas Highway from S.Florida to Key West

The Overseas Highway (AKA: Highway 1) is one of America’s most beautiful road trips. It extends officially for 127 miles between Florida City and Key West, Florida and is included on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is also one of 30 “All American Roads.”

You’ll traverse 42 bridges and twice as many causeways with water on two sides if you drive the full length of the highway. The drive from the mainland to Key West is just about 3 hours, but that’s rushing it a little if you really want to soak in the beauty all all you can see along the way and perhaps stop a few places to take some pictures or get a fish sandwich.

Take at least 48 hours so you’ll have time to buy some souvenirs, take some pictures and enjoy a few of the classic roadside cafes and other stops along the way. You might want to stay overnight at one of the pretty little motels and the Pigeon Key Museum is well worth the trip. The island served as housing for the railroad workers who built the Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s – the railroad finally reached Key West in 1912 and served travellers until a horrendous hurricane in 1935 wiped out much of the railway, taking hundreds of lives with it. The first Overseas Highway was completed a few years later on the old railbed.

7 mile bridge

4. Catch a Shark! Or Your Dinner!

Florida is probably best known for its fantastic fishing. The Florida Keys is world famous for fishing of all kinds. In fact, many US and world-famous figures have highly prized the time they spent fishing in the Florida Keys…including Ernest Hemingway whose Key West home is still a popular tourist destination – and more than a few U.S. presidents.

It makes no difference whether you’re a total beginner at fishing or are an experienced angler. You’ll find plenty of big fish and little fish either out in the deeper water offshore or closer in to shore in the flats. You can rent boats, kayaks and fishing gear almost anywhere in the Keys and you’ll have your choice of solo expeditions, guided solo tours or going out in well-equipped, private charter boats with a group of other excited people.

Many of the fish you catch will be edible and you can even cook them yourself in many of the places where you’ll be staying. Of course, if you’re camping at any of the excellent camping grounds in Key West or elsewhere in the Keys, you’ll be able to do all the cooking you want. And yes, you can catch some types of shark too … now, that makes for an exciting fight! For many anglers, catching a shark is the ultimate thrill – and the hammerhead caught by thius young man and captured on video provides the thrill of a lifetime:


More information on fishing in Key West: Charter Boat Row offers more than 35 charters, captains and guides.

5. Experience the Wild Life of Southernmost City in the continental US: Key West.

Follow the Overseas Highway to its end and you’ll find historic and friendly Key West, Florida, home of many famous pirates of old, sea farers, and wreckers, who made their living off the ships who foundered in the Florida Straits in the days begfore lighthouses were placed along the coastline. Key West has several fun festivals during the year, the biggest of which is Fantasy Fest.

Fantasy Fest was originally conceived as the Southernmost version of Mardi Gras for the purpose of bring people down to the city during their slow time of the year. Today, it’s the city’s busiest and most rollicking festival of the year – there are parties and masquerades and street fairs covering a 10 day period that coincides with Halloween back on the mainland. There are theme parties galore – one for tutus, one for togas and one for plaid – think girls in short plaid skirts and little else – a homemade bikini contest, a pet masquerade, the headdress ball, the Zombie bike ride, the Royal Coronation of the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest and non-stop craziness, all culminating in the Saturday night Fantasy Fest Parade.

If you want a traditional Halloween experience, the haunting of Fort Zachary Taylor, a civil war fort is for you. Here’s a complete list of the madness: http://www.fantasyfest.com/schedule.cfm.

It’s wild and fun and usually a little on the risqué side – airbrushed painted nudity is acceptable in the “Fantasy Zone” during the celebrations. Every year has a theme; for 2013 it’s Super Heroes, Villains… & Beyond! Most locals have costumes for every event – including the local’s parade on Friday – everyone in costume can participate in that!

Zombie at Fantasy Fest

6. Visit Outer Space via the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral

Every American takes pride in US space accomplishments and it’s all chronicled at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral Florida. With two stunning IMAX movies, you can learn what it’s like living in a space station and also marvel at images from the Hubble telescope. You also can walk through an interesting exhibit showing the training involved in becoming an astronaut. Truly a walk on the wild side!

There are so many ways to explore man’s epic adventure into space here that one could easily spend a your whole vacation here and never get bored. Space nerds will geek out in the Rocket Garden, and a bus tour of the actual sites of the Launchpad and the Saturn V rockets can make the most jaded adult feel like a wide-eyed 10 year old. You can explore an actual Atlantis space shuttle to get a real sense of what an astronaut experienced – minus the G-forces, of course. There are interactive exhibits including simulators that let you experience a space walk and operate a moon landing. There are do-overs if you crash! And for Trekkies – yep, there’s a Star Trek Exhibit, too.  More info and tickets: Kennedy Space Center.

Star Trek space ship

7. Make friends with an Alligator or a Native American in the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is truly one of the most remarkable, and ecosystems in the US and it is unique in the world. Although not quite as large as the Brazilian rainforest, it is still equally beautiful and wild. On US Highway 41, in the bustling metropolis of Coopertown (8 official residents), you can eat frog’s legs, observe both alligators and crocodiles (that’s right…Florida has both!), and take a world famous airboat tour out into the vast, wild stretches of the living, breathing ecosystem of the Florida Everglades.

You’ll also have a chance to meet real Seminole Indians, the only native American Indian tribe that never totally made a peace treaty with the US government. When you watch one of the wranglers wrestle with a ‘gator you get a sense of the innate bravery of these Native Americans.

There are many ways to explore the Everglades, but one of my favorites is to take the monthly Full Moon Bike Ride at Shark Valley 15 mile loop. It’s cooler in the evening, and the wildlife is more active. You’re very likely to see lots of alligators, and more than a few birds – egrets, spoonbills, and anhinghas, at the very least. You can also take a tram tour of the loop during the day.

These are just a few things you can do in the sunny state of Florida. Be sure and plan on taking lots of pictures because you’ll find a life’s worth of experiences in even the shortest vacation in this vacation paradise.

American Alligator at Shark Valley

The author, M.-J. Taylor, grew up in Miami and now lives in Key West. Her passions include anything on the water, writing, dancing and enjoying the wildlife of Florida.

Featured images:

By M.-J. Taylor

The author, M.-J. Taylor, was raised in South Florida and now lives in Key West. She loves the paradise that is the Florida Keys – the warm weather, the laid back lifestyle and the many things to do in the water.

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