Roomkey’s Guide to Visiting Florida

There’s a reason why Florida is one of the most visited states in the country. Take the latest estimate of 124 million visitors in 2018 as evidence. With abundant sunshine, picturesque beaches, and iconic theme parks, the list of things to do and places to see in Florida is extensive. Here is our wide-ranging Travel Guide to Visiting Florida which includes a list of the best places to visit, highlights trendy restaurants to dine at, and describes how to travel to seven of the best areas Florida has to offer.

A view of downtown Orlando at night

Visiting Orlando, Florida

Places to Visit

Between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios/Island of Adventure, the focus in Orlando seems to be theme parks. But, let’s step outside the box. There is also plenty to do from an arts and science perspective. 

The Orlando Science Center and the Orlando Museum of Art are popular places to visit. Other attractions are geared toward film and food lovers, like Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition and the World of Chocolate Museum. Stay outdoors and catch a ride on a Florida Everglades airboat tour or take a peek at central Florida wildlife at the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve. If you’re into sports, ESPN’s Wide World of Sports is an expansive athletic complex that hosts various sporting events. If you’re up for a drive, and space travel is more your style, Kennedy Space Center is just an hour away. 

Top Places to Eat

Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk host an exhaustive and impressive list of dining options. Epcot may be your best bet if you’re going to eat in one of the parks. Outside of those options, snack on Italian fare at Prato, grab a brisket chili cheese dog or Florida shrimp roll at Swine & Sons, or get dinner at Linda’s La Cantina for a steak that won’t force you to tap into your retirement fund. 

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Patience is required to navigate Orlando International Airport, the 10th-busiest airport in the U.S. As an alternative, Daytona Beach International Airport is an hour away from Orlando. A ride from the theme parks to downtown Orlando can take more than a half-hour in traffic, so it pays to rent a car. Or just hop on the SunRail, a rail system that covers 49 miles across 16 stations in central Florida.

A directional sign in the Florida Keys

Visiting the Florida Keys

Places to Visit

Although Key West is small in stature (it’s only a mile wide), it doesn’t mean it’s short on attractions or things to do. Duval Street is home to shops, art galleries, and various eateries. When the sun sets, it can turn into Florida’s Bourbon Street with its eclectic nightlife. The Key West Aquarium is also a popular attraction, especially for families with kids. 

Sightseeing and history are king here. Check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum or Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo offers a glimpse of marine life via glass-bottom boat tours or snorkeling, while the Dolphin Research Center in Grass Key is home to dolphins and sea lions.

Top Places to Eat

Break up the drive from Miami to Key West with a pit stop at the Key Largo Conch House for Key lime macadamia pancakes or one of their famous conch fritters. Save room for the Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory, a famous dessert destination for many travelers. In Key West, beat the traffic to Pepe’s, an iconic establishment serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Key West International Airport is the main travel hub. If time permits, rent a convertible from Miami and make the three-plus hour trek down Overseas Highway as you pass through Key Largo, Islamorada, and the rest of the Florida Keys. You won’t regret it.

A nighttime view of the beach in the Florida Panhandle

Visiting the Florida Panhandle

Top Places to Visit

The Florida Panhandle is a vast land of beaches, ranging from the Alabama-Florida border down to the Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee. Destin, Pensacola, and Panama City Beach are arguably the three most popular destinations. 

The white sand and tropical setting in Destin make it a top Gulf of Mexico beach destination. The warm, clear waters welcome snorkeling and fishing. If you’re going to spend time near the water, Crab Island (a popular sand bar where boaters flock to party) is a can’t-miss spot.

An hour drive west takes you to Pensacola, a city often referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation.” Naval Air Station Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels, a popular traveling air show. When they aren’t on the road, you can double dip with a show and a stop at the National Naval Aviation Museum. Make sure you save time to view the museum’s display of more than 150 restored aircraft. 

Farther down the panhandle is Panama City Beach, which has a reputation as a destination for spring breakers. However, it’s not all about partying. Head to nearby Panama City and its historic downtown area, or take in the scenes of St. Andrews State Park to explore the waters with canoeing or kayaking.

Travelers in search of a more secluded beach experience can check out Grayton Beach, Miramar Beach, Rosemary Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, and Seaside. These quaint beach towns are perfect for sightseeing thanks to luxury hotel and residential properties. Be sure to stop by Grayton Beach State Park, a 2,000-acre outdoor oasis that mixes pristine views with traditional outdoor activities like hiking and biking.

Places to Eat

Go to Flora-Bama simply for the experience. This bar and oyster lounge sits on the beach and straddles the Alabama-Florida border. They are known for live music and “The Bushwacker,” an alcoholic frozen milkshake-type drink. Further down the Panhandle, hit up Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer in Destin for seafood, or the Chanticleer Eatery in Santa Rosa Beach for a gastropub vibe that mixes Southern, Cajun, and Creole cuisines. For more seafood, check out the Grand Marlin in Pensacola for their key lime grilled lobster tail.

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Pensacola International Airport is the largest and easiest place to fly into. If you’re looking for other airport options, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport sits 18 miles from Panama City and the Mobile Regional Airport is an option if you are staying on the Alabama side of the beach, although it’s a 90-minute drive to Gulf Shores/Orange Beach. 

Some of the beaches, especially Destin and Rosemary Beach, are within 10 miles of each other. This makes biking a worthwhile option, but a car is your best bet to cover more ground. We recommend a ride on Florida Highway 30A, a scenic beach road that runs east of Destin to Panama City Beach.

A view of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at night

Visiting Fort Lauderdale & West Palm Beach, Florida

Top Places to Visit

The Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District in downtown Fort Lauderdale mixes concerts, dining, and events. Just south of Fort Lauderdale is Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino, home of the Florida Derby, a prestigious American thoroughbred horse race held before the Kentucky Derby. Wildlife enthusiasts should check out Flamingo Gardens, a 60-acre botanical garden, or the Wakodahactchee Wetlands in Palm Beach County. On any given morning, these wetlands are filled with amateur and professional photographers looking for anything from birds and ducks to alligators. 

Depending on the month, hundreds of manatees will swim to the Manatee Lagoon in search of the warm water outflows from the Florida Power and Light Company. Stop by the visitor’s center to view the sea cows or stay for a free tour. In Delray Beach, walk down Atlantic Avenue during the evening hours when foodies flock to the many eateries that line the road. In West Palm Beach, CityPlace is a New Urbanism mixed-use center with more than 60 restaurants and stores. Before dinner, hop in the car and cruise around Palm Beach Island, one of the wealthiest places in the country, and enjoy mansion after mansion. 

Top Places to Eat

El Camino in Delray Beach is an open-air Mexican soul food spot that sports a wallet-saving happy hour. Bo’s Beach in Fort Lauderdale is geared toward a casual experience, while DUNE is tailored to a more sophisticated palate. Trattoria Romana in Boca Raton boasts some of the best Italian food in the area. Ever had Ethiopian food? If not, take a dive into Queen of Sheeba in West Palm Beach.

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Fly into Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport or West Palm Beach Airport. Interstates are designed for quicker travel, but the more scenic approach is on State Road A1A, a two-lane beach roadway that stretches from Miami north to Jacksonville. The ride from Boca Raton through Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, and West Palm Beach is worth your time.

A lion at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida

Visiting Jacksonville, Florida

Top Places to Visit

Jacksonville is Florida’s most populous city with more than 800,000 residents. Home to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, the city has an extensive mix of its own exotic cats just north of town at the Catty Shack Ranch. This endangered sanctuary features cougars, leopards, lions, and tigers you can tour. To the northeast, Little Talbot Island and Big Talbot Island, two of the many undeveloped barrier islands near Jacksonville, are ideal for bird-watching and nature study. If wildlife and nature aren’t your thing and you’d rather take mom on a shopping spree, head a few miles southeast of the city to St. Johns Town Center. This area is prime for anything shopping related with 150 shops and restaurants. 

The historic Florida Theatre, which opened in 1927, hosts more than 200 annual events ranging from ballet to blues concerts. Nearby, Ponte Vedra Beach is home to the TPC Sawgrass, one of golf’s first stadium courses. Golf fans flock to the area each March for THE PLAYERS Championship, often referred to as golf’s fifth major. Venture farther outside of the city limits to St. Augustine, where you’ll find Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. The fortress served Florida when it was part of the Spanish Empire. 

Top Places to Eat

Jacksonville’s food scene is on the rise. Try The Bearded Pig for barbecue, Gilbert’s Social for smoked fried chicken biscuits and strawberry watermelon salad, or Town Hall for pork cheeks with duck fat cornbread. If you’re not down with the heavy American cuisine that may require a new belt, head to DOMU, a Ramen/Asian fusion spot.

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Flights into the area go through Jacksonville International Airport. On the ground, the St. Johns River can make walking difficult but the Jacksonville River Taxi is one way to get around, especially for sunset views. The Skyway, Jacksonville’s above-ground train, is free and has eight stations on the Northbank and Southbank.

South Beach in Miami, Florida

Visiting Miami, Florida

Top Places to Visit

Miami Beach is about as close to Caribbean waters your toes will touch without leaving the country. The white sandy beaches and bluish-green waters make for a postcard moment. Midbeach is mainly home to condos and high-rises, like the Fountainebleau, where stars and celebrities typically unite. South Beach and the Art Deco Historic District are more for sightseeing (popular fashion designer Gianni Versace once lived on Ocean Drive). 

Spend a day at the beaches—or a hotspot like Nikki Beach, where the music thumps each afternoon—and enjoy the festive nightlife when the sun goes down. Across the water, Brickell is a budding district just south of downtown with plenty of rooftop bars and trendy boutiques. To the north, Wynwood is home to an expansive art district boosted by recent gentrification. The area features colorful graffiti on buildings, with the Wynwood Walls serving as the star. Massive eye-catching murals line warehouse buildings in this open-air art spectacle. 

To take a break from the beach, head inland to Zoo Miami, Florida’s largest and oldest zoo. For sports gurus, check out a game with either the NBA’s Miami Heat, the NHL’s Florida Panthers, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, or the MLB’s Miami Marlins.

Top Places to Eat

Start at Sweet Liberty, a charming South Beach dive with $1 oysters during happy hour. Oh, and they have rosé on tap for $5. Save up a paycheck or two and dine in South Beach at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, where you can eat croquettes out of a glass slipper. For simpler times, devour an authentic Cuban sandwich at Las Olas Cafe

If you want a unique take on tortilla chips, hit up Taquiza Tacos. Instead of frying tortillas to serve with salsa, they drop fresh masa into the fryer for an out-of-body taste bud experience. Make your way up to Wynwood to dine at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar and eat outside to marvel the urban art, highlighted by a 20-foot-by-11-foot mural.

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Miami International Airport is your best bet, although nearby Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport may be a cheaper alternative. The Tri-Rail runs from West Palm Beach to Miami’s airport, and the recently built Brightline is a high-speed option with stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. The track will soon expand to Orlando.

In Miami, parking fees are sometimes more expensive than a fancy cocktail, especially if you valet. Instead, ride-hailing service may be the smartest choice. Miami Beach—mainly South Beach—is more of a walking spot than downtown Miami and the surrounding areas. Many of the hotels will offer complimentary bike rentals as part of the resort fee, which makes for scenic early-morning rides along the beach path.

A photo of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida.

Visiting Tampa, Florida

Top Places to Visit

Located on the Gulf Coast, Tampa provides a different vibe than the typical Atlantic Ocean experience. Outside of Disney properties and select Six Flags parks, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is one of the busier amusement parks in the country. Busch Gardens has nine roller coasters and an adjacent water park, Adventure Island. 

The Florida Aquarium is ideal for families and kids, thanks to a splash pad and 4-D theater. Or try ZooTampa at Lowry Park with a mix of animals from Africa, Asia, and Australia. Tampa matches Miami’s sports interest with three teams of its own—the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, and the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays. Feel free to branch out to the surrounding areas like St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, or Sarasota—all within an hour of Tampa.

Places to Eat

For local cuisine like seafood, check out Shells Seafood or Oystercatchers. Branch out with international cuisine at Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple at the Sunday Market, which some foodies describe as a cultural experience, or Happy Fish, a Peruvian fusion establishment. For an adventurous change-up, take a chance on the Rooster & The Till, an evolving eatery that ventures outside the box with dishes like chicken-fried grouper cheeks and throats or sea bass belly with crab salad and coconut chutney. 

How to Get There & Getting Around 

Tampa International Airport is the main hub for air travelers and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is an option for Allegiant Air passengers. Tampa is two hours from Orlando via Interstate 4 and four hours to Miami via Interstate 75. There isn’t much of an urban hub in Tampa, so you’ll probably either need a pair of trusty walking shoes or a car to get around. You can move around downtown Tampa fairly easily by walking or by hopping on one of the trolley cars.

Now that you’ve fully digested this guide, let us help you book your next hotel in Florida. We compare low loyalty rates from our hotel partners around to make it easy for you to save money on hotel stays. When you see a hotel or resort you like, we’ll take you right to the hotel’s website to complete the booking process. Now all that’s left is to pack your swimsuit and head to Florida!