5 unexpected Florida vacations to take this year

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes, Jan 2020

Florida beach vacation

Think all Florida vacations are about Walt Disney WorldŽ and the South Beach club scene? Think again. Florida's home to exciting sports events, rich history and incredible natural beauty. Exploring beyond the usual big cities and theme parks and checking out some of Florida's other wonders opens endless avenues for adventure, whether you're a solo traveler or taking the whole family.

To help you plan your next trip to the Sunshine State, here are five outside-the-box Florida vacations to consider.

1. Miami Open and Artsy Wynwood

Besides the Grand Slam events in New York, France, England and Australia, there's maybe no professional tennis tournament more elite than the Miami Open. Nearly four hundred thousand people attend the Miami Open every year to catch a glimpse of their favorite players and bask in the sunny rays that characterize springtime in Florida. The world-class tournament features nearly 14,000 main stadium seats, 29 competition and practice courts, impressive art and wall murals, a musical showcase with DJs and the largest video board in the tennis world.

And while you're checking out the sports scene in the area, a stop in nearby Wynwood, Miami's famed arts district, is a must. Filled with galleries, chic cafes, jazz clubs and wall murals, this former industrial neighborhood is one of the most popular areas in the Magic City. Strolling Wynwood to take in street graffiti, snack at a taco stall, poke around art shows in old warehouses and then sip a craft beer is an afternoon well spent.

Key west Florida Usa

Get lost in the wonders of Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S.

2. Historic Key West

Head southwest on U.S. Route 1 leaving Miami and you'll end up traversing the narrow set of small islands called the Florida Keys, which end in the southernmost point in the contiguous U.S.: Key West. The historic town is filled with charming pastel-painted, conch-style homes with lovely gardens and hidden courtyards.

To learn its history, take a walking tour through town and visit Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, a shrine to one of Key West's most famous residents. Many of the cats that prowl the grounds are descendants of Hemingway's original six-toed kitty, Snow White. Check out Smathers Beach, a sandy stretch with calm waters ideal for the littlest waders. Shopping's more your scene? Find stores that specialize in cigars, hot sauce, authentic Panama hats and more on and around Duval Street.

3. Relaxing Sanibel Island

If you love the idea of combing the beach for beautiful shells, laid-back Sanibel Island is a can't-miss spot: It's covered in them! About a 25-mile drive from Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, this family-friendly locale is famous for the so-called Sanibel stoop, the pose that visitors and natives strike when they bend over to pick up a pearly conch, scallop or whelk shell.

After a morning of beach combing, head over to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge for a short hike or a 90-minute tram ride to spot marsh rabbits, shorebirds, raccoon, alligators and otters. Getting around Sanibel Island easy thanks to its numerous bike paths; be sure to pedal the ones that lead to Periwinkle Way, the island's main drag for shops, galleries and restaurants.

4. Energetic Tampa

Lots of fun walking (or biking) can also be had in Tampa, located on Florida's Gulf coast, thanks to the 2.5-mile Riverwalk trail that'll take you by restaurants, green spaces and all kinds of shopping. If you stick to this pedestrian path, you'll also be close to the Florida Aquarium and its huge collection of 14,000 marine residents, including moray eels, sea turtles and jellyfish. The aquarium's interior is a cool respite from the sun, and if kids are in your party, the 2-acre Splash Pad is an ideal way to burn off energy while prancing through water sprays and bucket dumps.

Speed demons will want to reserve at least a half day for the famous roller coasters at Busch Gardens, but equally exciting live shows and games, plus exhibits with thousands of exotic animals will appeal to all ages. If you're more of a history and architecture buff, pop into the Henry B. Plant Museum on the University of Tampa campus for an hour or so and learn about the life and times of this railroad tycoon.

Happy friends diving from sailing boat into the sea - Young people jumping inside ocean in summer excursion day - Vacation, youth and fun concept - Soft focus on left man - Fisheye lens distortion

Jump into fun in Destin's emerald waters on the Florida panhandle.

5. Scenic Destin

Destin, a city on Florida's panhandle, is known for its pretty beaches and emerald waters, but many also flock here to take a boat tour, visit a state park or hit the links. If you've got your sea legs, consider an outing to glimpse a pod of dolphins, jump into the warm ocean for some snorkeling or take a quiet sunset sail on one of Destin's many charter boats. Families may try a pirate-themed adventure, which includes sailing on an actual pirate replica, hearing tales of swashbuckling and then participating in a treasure hunt.

Grayton Beach and Henderson Beach are Destin's two state parks that sport numerous walking trails through the dunes, past towering pine trees and along the sandy shore. Golfers will thrill to visit the courses in the Destin area, including Kelly Plantation, located on the water and designed by the legendary Fred Couples, as well as ones at Emerald Bay and the Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club.

Natural beauty and abundant sunshine are the pride and joy of Florida. And for those who like to head in less-traveled directions, adventure and good times are at the ready. Take your friends and family on one of these trips and get to know the Sunshine State even better.

Get your unique adventure started and book your Florida vacation today!

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