Hello everybody! Guess what? It turns out that Florida has much more to offer than alligators and otherworldly news headlines— it’s actually full of hidden gems and secret spots, perfect for sneaky little day trips or weekend getaways!
You may know the Sunshine State for its theme parks and beautiful beaches (and you’re not wrong), but there are tons of other must-visit attractions off the beaten path. So save Harry Potter World for another day and check out my list of the best hidden gems in Florida!
1. Ocala National Forest
With over 600 lakes and rivers to swim, snorkel, and canoe in, the Ocala National Forest is a gorgeous spot for nature lovers. Sandwiched between Gainesville and Orlando, this forest is also home to rare plants, migratory birds, and even manatee!
There are plenty of recreation areas and campgrounds to stay in, surrounded by biking, equestrian, and hiking trails. I’d recommend taking a dip in Juniper Springs or Alexander Springs, since they both stay a comfortable 72 degrees all year long!
2. Crystal River State Park
If you’re looking for 27,500 acres of pristine, wild property, the Crystal River Preserve State Park is for you! It’s right on the Gulf Coast of Florida and open year round for biking, kayaking, fishing, birding, and more. You can even explore the park from the luxury of a boat tour or a sunset cruise.
This spot is ideal for wildlife enthusiasts, since this nearly untouched preserve is home to bald eagles, wood storks, diamondback terrapin turtles, and more. Check out some of my photography tips if you want to snap the best pics of this vast park!
3. Blowing Rocks Preserve
Another place for you to spot manatees at the right time of year, the Blowing Rocks Preserve is an oceanfront habitat nestled on the coast of Jupiter Island. Florida’s Nature Conservancy has worked hard to keep endangered plants and animals safe at Blowing Rocks, which is named for the plumes of water that shoot up its limestone shoreline during storms.
On one of the three main hiking trails, you can admire the mangroves, rock formations, dunes, and rare sea turtles. Do your best to visit at low tide, so you can see the full expanse of the limestone-adorned beaches!
4. Cedar Key
Fancy a quaint island town southwest of Gainesville? Cedar Key is floating about three miles into the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by beaches, fishing spots, and historical charm!
As the second oldest town in Florida, Cedar Key is full of cute cottages and fun little festivals like the October Seafood Festival and even a Pirate Festival. At the beach, you can rent paddle boards and kayaks for a day on the water, or admire your surroundings from an airbnb on stilts!
5. South Walton
Another option for the beach bums, South Walton is a sunny, white-sand beach that stretches 16 miles along the Florida panhandle. Take your pick of a range of coastal towns, from quaint to luxurious, or take off on a road trip along the scenic route of 30A!
There are tons of other attractions to visit, like the truly unique Underwater Museum of Art, where you can snorkel or scuba dive amongst underwater sculptures. Don’t forget to dine on some great seafood!
6. Secret Woods Nature Center
The aptly-named Secret Woods Nature Center is an urban wilderness area that’s a quick 30-minute drive north of Miami. Here, you’ll find boardwalks through a canopy of mangroves which are home to giant crabs and cormorants.
The nature trails around Secret Woods provide the perfect spot to stroll, run, or take the kids on an educational walk. You may hear a bit of interstate traffic nearby, but head deep enough on the trail with a picnic lunch and you’ll be able to enjoy this little oasis!
7. Florida Caverns State Park
Did you know Florida was home to an incredible, LED-lit cavern? I sure didn’t! Not until I found out about Florida Caverns State Park. Here, you can pop in for a day trip or even camp overnight (don’t forget to reserve a spot).
When you explore these caverns, you’ll see stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, draperies, and more on one of the tours—available Thursday through Monday. No matter the heat outside, the caves stay around 65 degrees, so bring a sweater, and watch out for bats!
8. Blue Hole Spring
Nestled in a corner of Ichetucknee State Park just north of Gainesville, Blue Hole Spring is a first magnitude spring that feeds the mighty Ichetucknee River. Perfect for snorkeling and diving, this spring opens into a cave system 40 feet under the surface.
Of course, you’ll need to be cave/cavern scuba certified to swim all the way down to the 600 feet of twisting cavern passages but snorkeling above offers awesome views as well. Once you’ve had your fill of the spring, you can explore the rest of the river and go canoeing, kayaking, or camping!
9. Dry Tortugas
Made up of some of the most isolated islands in the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas National Park is a 100 square-mile park of open water and small islands. You can only make it here by boat or seaplane, but it’s absolutely worth the visit.
Here, you’ll find the imposing Fort Jefferson, coral reefs and marine life, clear swim areas, and campsites. Grab a boat, go exploring, and you’ll feel like you got cast in Pirates of the Caribbean!
10. Devil’s Den Prehistoric Spring
South of Gainesville, Devil’s Den is a privately-owned underwater spring with a natural sunroof that illuminates the clear water with a stark beam of light. Both tent sites and RV spots are available while the pool itself is only open to scuba diving and snorkeling.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, that means it’s time to pack your bags and come on down to visit one of these hidden gems in Florida!