Looking for hidden gems in Florida? Great you have come to the right place!
There are some great things to do in Florida, some that spring to mind straight away, like say Disneyworld, which is a “must-do” on everyone’s Florida bucket list, but there are also some awesome hidden gems in Florida, secret spots that only locals know about.
If you want to venture off the beaten path so to speak and discover some of Florida’s secret treasures – we have you covered.
Here we countdown the 15 best and beautiful hidden places in Florida that you should definitely add to any Florida vacation.
15 Hidden Gems in Florida you Must Do From a Local!
Shark Valley at Everglades National Park in Florida
The Everglades National Park offers some of the most unique experiences in Florida. Shark Valley, within the national park, offers the experience of a lifetime. The trail is paved and has a wide variety of options for people of any activity level. You can take a tram, walk, or bike around the 15-mile loop with an abundance of wildlife, from birds and fish to alligators.
A 65-foot observation tower approximately halfway through the loop allows you to observe the scenic views and meet “Grumpy” the gigantic alligator from afar, as he does live up to his name. The most exciting part about the Shark Valley Loop Trail is traveling past the numerous alligators along the loop. The alligators are most commonly seen along the sides of the loop.
They often reside partially in the water and partially on land. However, some alligators will sun themselves directly on the pavement. This offers a breath-taking opportunity to pass them at a closer distance. Park rangers are along the loop to ensure the safety of visitors. The fee for entering the park is $25.00 per vehicle, which is surprisingly affordable considering it includes entrance to the park for up to seven days.
If you have a National Park Pass, they will refund you the money you pay for admission to the park once you present your pass. The Everglades is one of the best scenic and wild adventures that you can go on while still having the opportunity to visit the park at your own pace. There are numerous other activities within the national park, but this was the highlight of the trip for my husband and me.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is a stunning place to visit for people of all ages. The island is approximately 70 miles from Key West and is only accessible by seaplane or boat. I traveled via the Yankee Freedom Ferry which is roughly a 2 1/2 hour trip each way, pun intended.
If they offer Dramamine, you will likely need it unless you are used to extremely rough waters. On my trip, approximately 1/3 of the passengers bought Dramamine on the way to the island. On the way back, about 90% of the passengers purchased it.
I highly recommend listening to the suggestions from the staff as it was a rough ride in January when I went. Better weather would make for a smoother ride. Once on shore, Dry Tortugas Island displays stunningly clear blue waters and the opportunity to explore Fort Jefferson and its history.
The moat surrounding Fort Jefferson is an incredible walk. It goes part way around the fort and allows you to view the fort, island, and gorgeous waters below. The ferry provides a morning snack, lunch, and showers so that people can snorkel and rinse off. The waters are stunningly clear and offer a fantastic first-time opportunity for snorkeling and a vast area for experienced snorkelers.
There are a host of ravishing views visible as you walk around the island and fort. You can see a wide variety of birdlife, coral reefs, and ocean life that are best seen when snorkeling but can also be viewed through the clear water without entering it.
3. Blue Springs State Park
Blue Spring State Park is the place to be if you want a stunning body of water where you can do a vast array of activities, including swimming, snorkeling, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, diving, and similar activities. It is definitely one of the best springs in Florida and a true hidden gem.
However, the park restricts water activities in the spring and spring run, which is effective through April of this year. Boat tours, canoe, and kayak rentals are still available during this time for use in the St. John’s River. On the bright side, Blue Springs State Park is not all about water activities. Manatee sightings are very common during Manatee season when water activities are restricted.
The park is open from 8:00 A.M. EST., until sundown, all year. The park reaches capacity quickly. When you arrive, there may be a line of vehicles already waiting. It is ideal to arrive as early as possible. Access is not guaranteed, and given the popularity of this destination, arriving several hours before opening is advisable.
Once you arrive, the fee is $6.00 per vehicle, and you can stay until sundown. In addition to the beautiful manatees, the park hosts a variety of other wildlife, including fish, birds, and other creatures. A 4 1/2 mile walk on Pine Island Trail allows for the sightings of these delightful animals. If you love nature, Blue Springs is the place to be. Show up early and stay late to enjoy all that the park offers.
4. Harry P. Leu Gardens
Harry P. Leu Gardens is a stunning Botanical Garden found in the heart of Central Florida. It is surprising to see such stunning sights right in the city of Orlando.
When you enter the Gardens, it feels like a whole different planet. The Gardens have a self-guided guest guide and map at the Welcome Center. It is easy to navigate the various areas of the garden, which are separated by name on the map. The self-guided tour can be taken structurally, going from one garden to the next. For example, starting at the “Garden House Welcome Center,” moving to the “Tropical Stream Garden,” and continuing to follow the map to the endpoint at the “Camellias.”
It can also be roamed freely, which I found to be the most exciting approach. Each turn was a brilliant surprise. The “Rose Garden” is central and you can spiral out from there. The “Rose Garden” was the most impressive sight for me by far. There is no rush, as the entire garden can be covered easily in one day.
It is recommended to go on a cooler summer day, to use sunscreen, and take a rest in the shaded areas to avoid sunburns. It is also recommended to check dates before going to the Gardens, as they sometimes close early on some dates or during certain events, such as tours and field trips.
The Gardens are open from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. daily, with no entrance after 4:00 P.M. EST. The entry fee ranges from $10.00 to $15.00 with a Military/Veteran discount. Additionally, there is a Plant Sale on March 12th and 13th, and entry is free for the weekend. Keep in mind this is a very busy time and it may be worth going another day if you do not plan to buy plants.
The Leu House Museum is inside the Welcome Center and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. EST. It is closed on Mondays, throughout the entire month of July, and on December 25th. The Gardens also offer numerous services. It serves as a terrific engagement photography area or wedding venue.
The wide variety of scenery makes this one of the top places to visit in Central Florida. If you are a gardener or anyone who enjoys the beauty of nature, Harry P. Leu Gardens should be at the top of your list when you visit Florida.
5. Lake Eola Park
Lake Eola Park is a spectacular location to enjoy quality time with loved ones or roam solo. It is located in the center of Orlando and is a popular attraction for many locals and tourists.
The park offers many activities, including swan boat rentals, concerts, movies, and plays in the Amphitheater. There is a 0.9-mile sidewalk that enables guests to stroll around the lake and view the swans, turtles, and abundance of life.
Stunning flower beds can are along the path and there are plenty of local restaurants. The park offers reservations for festivals, events, and weddings at different locations in the park. It presents an ample amount of activities including playgrounds, electric scooters and bikes, picnic tables for dining, and open space to enjoy the outdoors.
The park allows pets and is a marvelous place for walkers and joggers to exercise on the path. It has on-street parking, so be sure to factor that into your plans. The park is free and is open from 6:00 A.M. to 11:59 P.M. Swan Boat rentals are available on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. To ensure you get a chance to rent a swan boat, be sure to arrive earlier in the day.
6. St Augustine
The City of St. Augustine is known by many Floridians for its historical sights. It is a unique location in Florida that is ideal for history buffs and anybody who enjoys a beautiful city with various activities and sights.
The statue of Juan Ponce de Leon is located in downtown St. Augustine that is home to many historical monuments and memorials. To get the best experience in this historical area, tour the Braille Trail.
It is incredibly informative and ADA accessible. It is a great location to visit and a must-do experience if you are nearby to this area during your visit. A trail of statues, memorials, and monuments is in the downtown city of St. Augustine.
It depicts the beauty of art and describes the history associated with the city. Nearby to the trail is the “Nights of Lights.” A stunning display of lights is only minutes from the Lightner Museum. The “Nights of Lights” is open until 2:00 A.M. EST. and is a worthy adventure if you are a night-owl.
Overall, St. Augustine offers such an immense display of beauty and activity that has something for everyone.
7. Obloy Family Ranch/Romelia Farms
Obloy Family Ranch, now known as Romelia Farms, is the perfect destination for family vacations and couples adventures.
he ranch has a wildlife sanctuary, petting farm, horseback trail riding, and it serves as a venue for events. A horse-pulled wagon ride brings you near to the rear of the property that houses the wildlife sanctuary and petting farm. There are many unique animals, some of which are extremely friendly and playful during the guided petting zoo tour.
The ranchers are amusing, welcoming, and approachable. If you like animals, it is a guarantee that there will be some sort of creature there that you will love. It is recommended to ask questions about the variety of animals at the ranch.
The horses and ponies for the trail rides are in good condition and are very well-behaved. It is a fantastic adventure and you can feel safe knowing your children are on bomb-proof steads which are perfectly well behaved.
The property is located in Merritt Island, Florida, about one hour from Orlando. The prices are reasonable and discounts can be found on Groupon to make it even cheaper. You can expect a nice drive to the location and a great day-long adventure. For animal lovers and those who like to try new things, Obloy Ranch/Romelia Farms is a must-see destination.
8. Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures
Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures is the perfect place to get a great Florida feel. They are open seven days a week from 9:00 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. EST. They offer half-hour booked tours and accept walk-ins. Private rides are available for 30 or 60 minutes, and this is where you can get a customized experience.
The airboats are extremely loud. Be aware if you have small children or individuals sensitive to hearing. They provide earmuffs and inform you when to use them. However, you should bring sunglasses or something to shield your eyes. The adventurous ride goes fast and makes a lot of sharp turns, which throw water all over the boat.
The seats in the front of the airboat will drench you with swampy water. It is ideal to bring an extra set of clothes and towels if you plan on exploring more or dining at Boggy Bottom BBQ. The BBQ is delectable and very convenient after an exhilarating airboat ride.
The prices at the BBQ are fair, and the airboat ride fees range depending on age, time, and season. It is $30.00 for adults and $25.00 for children for a half-hour time slot, and for one hour, it is $50.00 for adults and $45.00 for children.
A half-hour tour gives you plenty of time to enjoy the wild ride and see alligators. It gets cold when you are speeding and soaked, so it was an ideal time slot for my husband and me. It is best to go during warmer months to avoid feeling too chilly when the water fills the boat. It is located in Kissimmee and is a moderate trip from downtown Orlando. Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures offers a wild adventure and additional activities suited to children, so it is a worthwhile place to visit for anybody.
- See more Everglades Airboat Tours to compare prices
9. Lake Monroe
Lake Monroe is a charming lake that can be accessed from Sanford, DeBary, and Deltona. The Lake Monroe Boat Ramp area in Deltona has a small clearing with the boat launch, as well as picnic tables and benches to observe nature’s beauty.
It is a great place to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a low-key afternoon in the sun. If you own or rent a boat, you can also travel the waters and encounter the wildlife.
On land, there are often birds and forms of wildlife to observe. This peaceful location is great for families, couples, and singles to enjoy the lake and take in the scenery. It is a free access location with a lovely view of the lake.
The Deltona access point is near Edgewater Condominiums and it is typically not very busy other than residents who come to enjoy a morning coffee or enjoy the sunshine near the water. It is a great location to visit from any of the areas.
However, near the boat launch is the quietest location. It is not something that the traditional tourist might go to, but it offers a peaceful environment that allows visitors to take a rest from the hustle and bustle of the tourist locations.
Pop it in your convenient map system and it will bring you right there. Parking is just across from the boat ramp. This location cannot be beat when it comes to a peaceful place to birdwatch, have lunch, and enjoy the Florida sunshine.
10. Carnival Cruise from Port Canaveral
The Carnival Cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida is a great side-trip when visiting Florida. The unique experience allows you to enjoy all of the perks of a medium-sized cruise ship.
The ideal place to be is on the top deck of the ship, where they have one of several bars and offer rum buckets and a full bar. The top deck is a fabulous place to soak in the sunshine and enjoy a cold beverage. In addition, due to Florida law, gambling is illegal.
However, this cruise gives you the freedom to gamble in international waters. A great perk of the onboard casino is that it offers a variety of chances to try your hand at poker and the slot machines while being served free beverages as long as you are inside.
A tip for those who are frugal and like their drinks is to sit down at a slot machine and put in a few dollars and await your free drink. You can then take your drink to the upper or lower deck and enjoy the sunshine again, as it is cold inside the casino part of the ship.
Sitting atop the cruise ship presents stunning views of the ocean, wildlife, and if you look closely you may be able to observe basking sharks and other marine life. This cruise is perfect for those who are visiting Florida and want a little extra time to enjoy the warm weather and the stunning ocean.
11. Alligators & Wildlife Discovery Center
The Alligators & Wildlife Discovery Center is a fantastic place to visit and is one of the top tourist destinations in Florida. It is located by the waterfront at John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach.
It is a great experience for animal lovers, kids, and anybody to learn more about endangered animals because it is geared towards educating people and helping rehabilitate animals that are unable to be safely released into the wild. An interesting opportunity there that is good for a thrill is the “Kiss A Gator” booth.
It helps to fundraise for the animals and is a unique experience, to say the least. They have numerous animals to view and learn about, such as baby alligators, turtles, tortoises, lizards, and other marine life.
Show off to your friends with a picture holding an alligator. You do not have to kiss it because holding it can be scary enough. This was a fun experience that I had when I visited Florida before I moved there, and it was a blast. The prices were reasonable, and the staff was super knowledgeable and friendly.
12. Green Springs – one of the best hidden places in Florida
Green Springs is a popular location for locals in Volusia County, Florida. It is a small spring with stunning green water as the name suggests. Many locals can be found jumping into the water from the large overhanging trees.
However, the water is not clear enough to see the bottom, and many signs warn against swimming or jumping into the water due to the risk of alligators and snakes.
The best way to enjoy the beauty of the springs is to bring a lunch and sit down on a bench or picnic table, wear bug spray and take in the sights and sounds of nature. It is a wonderful spot for visitors because it is not a high-traffic tourist area.
It is best to avoid going in the evening because that is the time that most of the kids come to jump in and sometimes smoke. The morning or early afternoon is ideal to enjoy Green Springs, the connected walking/biking trails, and all that it has to offer. It is also much less buggy earlier in the day, so instead of having to use as much bug spray, you may want sunblock and a lot of water.
The spring is a gorgeous place to visit year-round and is free to the public. The spring can easily be accessed from near the Lake Monroe Boat Launch.
13. Rent a House Boat in Cow Key
Rent a House Boat in Cow Key, one of the best secret getaways in Florida. Cow Key is an offshoot from Key West and is an amazing place to try something new. Houseboats can be found for rent on many popular rental websites.
Cow Key is a quiet destination at night, allowing you to listen to the ocean as you relax in your houseboat. No matter the size, the houseboats are an incredibly unique experience, and they enable you to listen to the ocean waves and marine life as you rest.
The mornings are beautiful, and from the houseboat, I could eat my breakfast while watching the pelicans eat theirs. Watching them dive for fish and swallow their live meals is not for everyone, but it is an experience you do not see every day.
Cow Key is a quick drive into the more popular areas of Key West, and there are almost unlimited activities. You can enjoy the local seafood restaurants, try Hogfish, rent jet skis and kayaks, and enjoy the shops and other experiences and views near or in Key West. I spent a lot of my time on the boat enjoying the scenery. If you love the ocean and marine life, this is the experience of a lifetime.
Gatorland is a park that houses thousands of animals, including birds, wild cats, snakes, tortoises, crocodiles, and of course, alligators.
It is considered by many Floridians to be the alligator capital of the world. Gatorland has numerous activities that take place throughout the day.
Gatorland allows you to walk through the park and observe all of the critters that live there. There are Albino Alligators who are unable to survive in the wild that are unique to see. Gatorland also sells alligator snacks that enable you to feed the alligators.
Be careful, the fences are high, but the alligators can jump incredibly high when they want to. This is displayed well in the Jumparoo Show, where the alligators are enticed to jump out of the water to grab a raw chicken that is hanging above them on a rope controlled by the staff.
Two staff members compete to get their alligator to jump the highest as the crowd cheers them on. It is a wild experience to watch them jump so high using the strength of their tails. There are numerous other activities, including the gator zip lines, adventure hour where you get up close and personal with the alligators, and other shows where you can see the alligator wrangler catch and control an alligator, holding its jaw up with his chin.
They also show different animals during the Up-Close Encounters show, in which they have all types of scary creatures. If you have a phobia of spiders, DO NOT VOLUNTEER. They will ask the crowd for volunteers and have a few guests close their eyes while they place a creepy creature beside them or in their hands.
One of those happens to be a tarantula. I was relieved that I was not selected to volunteer and that the poor woman near us did not throw the spider as I would have done. Overall, Gatorland is nothing short of incredible and you can remain safe while exploring the land and visiting the enclosures that are filled with such dangerous beasts. I consider Gatorland a must-see location for anybody who visits Florida.
15. Visit Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida
Not really a hidden gem in Florida but no Florida list is complete without a mention of Universal Studios!
Universal Studios in Florida is a thriving and active place to go for family fun. It is also a thrilling place for an adventurous date.
Universal Studios is comprised of themed areas, rides, and experiences. The park is based on movies such as The Simpsons, Spongebob, Minions, Scooby-Doo, Spiderman, and more. There are endless exciting encounters and opportunities to keep the entire family excited.
If you are a fan of the Harry Potter Series, the Harry Potter portion of the park is a must-see experience. It is rich with detail and has buildings designed after locations in the movies, such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Diagon Alley.
There is a Despicable Me-themed area to enjoy your own mayhem with the Minions and the park and the park has plenty of themed adventures that are exceedingly entertaining and there is something for everyone.
The park offers express passes that can be purchased online. The park offers passes with a discount for Florida residents and a discount if you buy annual passes too. Universal Studios is a great adventure if you enjoy an exciting environment and want to have a fun-filled day with constant activities to do.
When to visit Florida?
Florida is a thriving state with a wide array of activities for all levels. Based on the temperature you prefer, you can select the ideal time of year to visit. Florida has temperatures ranging from the high 20s to the low 100s (Fahrenheit) at its most common extremes.
The prime months to visit Florida, generally suggested by many Floridians, are March, April, and May, because the weather is not too high or low.
The worst of the rainfall typically hits during the hottest months of the year: June, July, and August. In addition, October, November, and December are lovely months to visit due to the lowering temperatures. During these months, be prepared to bring a rain jacket and umbrella because the rain can be fierce.