Exploring the Sunshine State: Florida Travel Highlights
Florida is truly worth a trip, and two to three weeks is a good amount of time to get a taste of this sunny state in the southern US. If you’re looking to find the best Florida travel highlights, you’ve come to the right place.
From exploring the theme parks in Orlando to swimming with manatees, beach hopping and checking out the best that Miami has to offer, keep reading for a summary of my favorite Florida highlights.
Here is an overview:
Florida highlights: Which destinations to add to your Florida itinerary
Ready to explore the Sunshine State? Check out our post on airports in Florida for the best way to get there.
Also check out 10 Best Family Resorts in Florida and Best Spa Hotels & Wellness Retreats in Florida.
Let’s start in Orlando.
You should know: It is the stronghold of consumption, commerce and artificiality.
All the big theme parks are located here. In Orlando, the Americans really let it rip. Both in terms of price and the famous evening fireworks around the royal castle in the Magic Kingdom.
Unfortunately, the entrance fees to Disney Parks and Universal Studios are completely overpriced, the queues at the attractions are exorbitantly long, often more than 120 minutes, and the standard of the attractions is far behind the level we know from European theme parks.
If you still like to go to some of the parks, Disney’s Magic Kingdom with its impressive fireworks, Disney’s Animal Kingdom with real safari feeling and Sea World with cool rides, less waiting time, great shows and special sea animals are the most recommended.
You can visit these parks, but you don’t have to.
What you should definitely put on your experience list, on the other hand, are the Kennedy Space Center and the Titanic exhibition. Both have real foundations, are based on real historical events and thus generate strong emotions.
My goosebumps were not only from the air conditioners there 😉
Related read: Tips When Visiting Universal Studios Orlando, Florida
Impressions on the topic of sustainability and the environment
Americans are open and incredibly communicative people.
However, I, a European traveler, was very surprised by what I saw: How little thought is given to the issue of sustainability in many places. Plastic cups, unnecessary packaging, straws, and fruit wrapped in plastic are everywhere.
It would also be energy-saving not to turn down the air-conditioning to freezer level for a change. 😉
There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of our environment.
Related read: Eco-Friendly Gifts Ideas for Eco-Conscious Travelers
Swimming with manatees
For those who want to experience the people, landscape and wildlife of Florida up close after arriving in Orlando, I heartily recommend Christal River in the northwest. It is the home of the manatees or more precisely the “Caribbean manatee“, whose closest relative is the elephant.
Isn’t he cute?
In November, manatees swim out of the ocean to the warmer freshwater springs in Christal River to spend the winter. Starting in April, they migrate back out to the Gulf of Mexico.
But travelers still have a chance to encounter a few of the gentle sea giants afterward, lingering a bit longer in the waters around Christal River with their children.
There are many providers of the famous Manatee snorkeling trips. We were out early in the morning with Tom and Brandon from Captain Mike`s (swimmingwiththemanatees.com).
It was incredibly great!
I always opt for a private tour because I can feel moments more intensely when I don’t have to share them with tourists. Because not everyone who travels these days is a real traveler who gets involved with skin and hair and a lot of respect in everything they can experience there. I didn’t want to get out of the water at all and kept going in at different places when we encountered more manatees.
It was magical with snorkel equipment and carried by a swimming noodle, to float almost motionless next to these wonderful creatures in the water. I was able to experience how they sleep, eat and swirl with their cute faces vacuum cleaner-like over the sea grass on the bottom, chew contentedly, always come up snorting to catch my breath and continue to “graze”.
Time stands still as a baby Manatee swims alongside its mama, happily completing a few turns and then being suckled by her.
Christal River – Food and Drink
Christal River, although these manatee tours are a real highlight, is not very touristy.
To find accommodation, I recommend Airbnb.
The food at Cody’s is very authentically American. There is everything your heart desires, and if you choose salad as a side dish, the large silver salad bowl is placed in front of you, from which you can scoop endlessly.
Very idyllic and authentic is also the Waterfront Social in the evening, especially in the front area directly on the water.
Only ladies traveling alone should beware of the local gentlemen, who may have had one drink too many. Except for them, it is very chill and the image of the boats on the calm waters of the river, the view of Banana Island, behind which the sun is slowly setting, is incredibly idyllic.
St. Pete Beach
Another highlight on our tour through Florida and in retrospect one of the most beautiful beaches is St. Pete Beach. White, soft sand makes every sea lover’s heart beat faster.
St. Petersburg is a very cultural city with many galleries, museums, theater performances and a highly recommended glass art exhibition.
Hotel Don Cesar
A clock rock among hotels is the famous Don Cesar. A simple glance at this stately pink Mediterranean-Moorish style hotel tells whole stories.
Built in 1928, it was popular with presidents and movie stars and was a hospital convalescent place for soldiers during World War II.
Walking on the beach, besides this imposing building in the middle of small houses on the beach, the variety of shells is fascinating. I have never seen so many and so diverse looking shells on a beach in my life.
Marco Island and Naples
There are certainly a few cities on the west coast that are worth a stop.
We were taken directly to Marco Island, an offshore island south of Naples with the sea running through it. Here you can choose a hotel on the beach or a house in the middle of the canals.
My personal highlight was the bike ride to the beach, because if you grew up with the Nintendo games of the late 80s like I did, you surely know “Paperboy.”
So you drive like Paperboy past the mailboxes in front, the meticulously mowed grassy areas and front yards of the colorful American houses, and there’s something very idyllic about that.
It is a very well-kept island. So well-kept that it feels like you are woken up every morning by one of the lawnmowers. 😉
By bike or car, you can go directly to Tigertail Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Marco Island. To get there, you can either wade through the lagoon that lies beyond or walk around it to this pristine stretch of beach lined with grasses.
Especially in the early evening and until sunset it is a paradise spot.
The beach is so infinitely wide and wonderful that it is pure joy to walk along it and look at the sea.
One of the best things to do from Marco Island is definitely a trip to the Everglades.
You can do these tours from Miami or from Everglades City.
We chose a vendor in Everglades City and booked the private mangrove tour here as well.
For friendliness, the team of Jungle Erv will certainly not receive a prize, but Marcus, who “flew” with us through the mangroves, was wonderful. He grew up there and knew felt every tree, so we sped through the mangroves with such confidence that it was a pure joy.
The play of lights from the sun on the water was breathtakingly beautiful. And seeing the alligators there in their natural habitat is simply impressive.
Of course, with all the typical “tourist” attractions, it’s important to reflect on whether it feels appropriate.
As an alternative to the airboat tours, there are also kayak eco-tours through the Everglades. Here everyone can see for themselves what is right for him.
The alligator shows with hug-an-alligator option, which can often be booked in addition, are of course mega-touristically exploited.
The first time I was in Florida, I was 13 years old and can still remember the feeling of holding a baby alligator in my hands. I was especially fascinated by the soft skin under the chin, so I just wanted to repeat it. But even that is not a must.
Alligators are plentiful there, so of course they are hunted.
If you go to the Island Café in Everglades City, you can even sample alligator burgers and alligator wraps.
I can’t believe how delicious it tastes – like a mix of chicken and seafood and highly recommended for meat lovers.
Welcome in Miami
It’s a wild, wide, colorful, hip, vibrant, slightly dangerous and multi-layered city. There are many people who avoid Miami, but I like this city.
This is where life pulsates. Here, the young, stylish people show themselves and present their steeled and shaped bodies in a wide variety of skimpy outfits.
When you walk along the promenade of Miami Beach, it’s as if you’ve landed in the middle of a movie set from one moment to the next. The cool guy rides by on his chrome bicycle, glittering everywhere and playing music, the ladies in their chic bikinis with only a little fishnet dress over them vie for the men’s attention, and they look back diligently behind their thick sunglasses.
My personal highlight is the Wynwood Walls.
The whole neighborhood really comes to life, especially on Saturday night.
It is a place of art, creativity, inspiration, culture and community.
In large wall graffiti paintings different artists express themselves and it looks like a colorful kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Impressive works of art are also exhibited in the rooms – the entrance is definitely worth it.
On weekends, the Smorgasburg open air food market takes place right next door. On Saturdays and Sundays between 12 and 19 o’clock there are delicacies from all over the world, delicious drinks, music and a relaxed atmosphere.
If you drive back to Miami Beach from here, you will pass through the Design District with its numerous designer stores. Driving through is quite enough.
A boat tour past the mansions of the stars, with imposing backdrop of downtown Miami with its skyscrapers is relaxing and beautiful.
Many boats leave here during the day directly from the Bayside. There are also stores and restaurants here, as well as tour company booths where you can book a ride right on the spot.
The way to the Bayside is very busy, so you can end up quite in a traffic jam on the way there. If you have booked a boat trip via internet at a certain time and want to be on time, you should plan some extra time for the arrival.
Little Havana, the neighborhood of the Cubans is a real grab bag.
Here you feel as if you had landed directly on the island. The restaurants and bars are already well attended in the afternoon and live music resounds from all corners.
Here you can experience the Cuban way of life in the middle of an American metropolis.
Related tour: Little Havana Walking Food Tour with Lunch
If you want to experience Miami Beach in the evening, you should stroll along Ocean Drive or Washington Avenue. Especially between 16th Street and Lincoln Road there is a lot going on.
What a multicultural city!
In addition to people from all over the world, one meets an infinite number of South Americans here. Therefore, as in Orlando, it is also valuable here to be able to communicate in Spanish.
Miami has so much more in store and you can easily spend more than 2 days here. Next time. 😉
No matter how much you have discovered, something still remains open. And that is good. Because traveling with the feeling of wanting to come back shows that you have enjoyed it – what could be better.
I say goodbye with my most heard phrase of the entire trip:
„Have a good one.“