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From Orlando to Miami, Florida’s most popular vacation destinations boast sun-soaked beaches and world-class attractions. What many don’t know is that the Sunshine State is also home a range of lesser-known cities where you’ll find beautiful landscapes, family-friendly activities, and outdoor adventures – without the crowds or the hefty price tag. Get out of the tourist traps and head to one of these hidden gem areas of the Sunshine State to find some of the best low-cost Florida vacations.
A great alternative to the more lively beach cities, New Smyrna is a family-friendly beach town just an hour’s drive from Orlando. Known locally as NSB, visitors who come here will be delighted to find sidewalk cafes and charming bed and breakfast accommodations. Perfect for a vacation filled with sunbathing, fishing, sailing, this beach is also great for first-timers that want to try their hand at surfing a wave or kitesurfing.
From the Ocala National Forest to Silver Glen Springs, Ocala is filled with outdoor adventures. Lush forests sit next to beautiful horse farms, where visitors can explore a different side of Florida. Whether you spend a day in Silver Springs State Park where boat rides, horseback riding, and wildlife watching are popular or prefer to hike through the untamed nature in the largest sand pine forest in the world, nature enthusiasts will find the area’s freshwater streams and rolling hills to be an appealing escape from the big city.
Just a 30-minute drive outside of Tampa, St. Petersburg offers a variety of family-friendly activities within an arm’s reach. St. Pete Beach is the perfect place to relax, while The Dali Museum offers culture vultures an exploration into impressive Surrealist artwork. Head to nearby Caladesi Island for a look at unspoiled landscapes, or marvel at the colorful displays of flowers at the Florida Botanical Gardens. Take the kids to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, or spend a day at the famous Clearwater Beach to catch a sunset celebration at Pier 60.
Much quieter than its South Florida counterparts, Pensacola is famous for its postcard-perfect beaches and combination of rich history and natural beauty. Beachgoers will find it tough to break away from the sugar white sands and emerald waters of Pensacola Beach, but they’d be amiss to not explore the restored aircraft and Blue Angels practice space at the Naval Aviation Museum or a day of hiking, crabbing and fishing at Perdido Key State Park. For a quiet day of soaking in your surroundings, walk along the Pensacola Beach Pier and indulge in fresh seafood served at the array of charming, beachside eateries.
Home of St. George Island State Park, St. George Island offers unspoiled natural beauty without the throngs of tourists. Nestled against the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida, here visitors will find 17 miles of scenic bike paths, over 300 types of migrating birds, and one of the best beaches in the state. One of the last preserved barrier islands in Florida, its soft sugary sands pair well with the area’s lovely waterfront cafes, perfect for days spent out on the water in a kayak or sunset cruise.
One of the most quintessential experiences to have in Florida, exploring the Everglades National Park can be done on a budget. It’s here that you’ll find the state’s wildlife in their natural habitat, where most visitors take a thrilling airboat ride, kayak or boat trip through the swampy grasslands. The park is home to an array of other outdoor adventures, such as the well-trodden Anhinga Trail, the Shark Valley footpath, Mahogany Hammock boardwalk and backcountry campsites to stay overnight.
Offering a low-key vacation compared to nearby Key West, Big Pine Key is located 100 miles south of Miami. The perfect place for water enthusiasts, visitors can spend their vacation boating, fishing, and scuba diving through the idyllic waters and soaking in the sunshine. Don’t forget to visit Bahia Honda State Park, where you’ll find beautiful white sand beaches and some of the best snorkeling in the state. For something truly unique, head to the National Key Deer Rescue to spot tiny wild deer that are the size of a large dog.
Home to Blue Springs State Park and Family Fun Town, Orange City is a family-friendly destination perfect for families who want to have a lot of fun without the hefty price tag. Visitors can swim, boat or fish in St. Johns River’s biggest spring in Blue Springs State Park, where its forested banks and pale blue waters offer the perfect combination for a summer getaway. Head to Deland’s Museum of Florida Art for Florida-based artwork, go swimming and snorkeling through Wekiwa Springs State Park, or visit endangered animals in the Central Flordia Zoo & Botanical Gardens just 20 minutes away.
Boasting some of the best beaches in Florida’s Panhandle, Fort Walton Beach is located on the Emerald Coast. Offering a range of family-friendly attractions and 24 miles of easy-going coastline, this city is the perfect budget-friendly destination. Ideal for a day out with the kids, visit the historic Air Force Armament Museum, observe marine life at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and explore hands-on exhibits at the Emerald Coast Science Center. Unwind from a day of adventure at nearby Santa Rosa Beach, or meander past the colorful cottages and Hemingway-style wooden homes in Grayton Beach.
An underrated vacation destination, Sarasota packs a lot of punch for its small size. With eight islands tucked away on the Gulf coast of Florida, visitors will find plenty of attractions to fill an itinerary. Explore the unique circus memorabilia at John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, view colorful displays at Marie Selby Botanical Garden or observe marine life at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. Outdoor enthusiasts won’t want to pass up a day at Siesta Key Beach or Lido Key, while Myakka River State Park offers abundant wildlife viewing.
Situated along Florida’s Space Coast, Melbourne offers a wide variety of low-cost activities the entire family can enjoy. One of the cities biggest attractions is Sebastian Inlet State Park. A beautiful stretch of barrier island, the park is perfect for surfing, swimming, snorkeling and fishing. Wander through the Historic Downtown Melbourne to find shopping and restaurants, while visitors here are also a short drive from the loggerhead turtles nesting area at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and NASA’s launch complex at Kennedy Space Center.
Speeds never exceed 35 mph hour on this tranquil island, as life is never rushed on Anna Maria Island. A beautiful 7-mile barrier island where time stands still, escape the crowds here and enjoy a vacation of solitude, where the biggest buzz is watching cyclists cruise the area and soaking in the turquoise water views. Perfect for budget travelers looking for a peaceful ambiance, enjoy the area’s sandy beaches and warm seas with a day of fishing or kayaking, dine on local delicacies at Gulf view restaurants, visit an art gallery, or browse the quaint galleries and boutiques that offer handmade crafts and souvenirs.
A town with one of Florida’s most quirky attractions, Weeki Wachee is home to the world-famous underwater mermaid show. More than just kitschy nostalgia, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is also the perfect place to enjoy refreshing year-round 72-degree crystal clear waters, where a day of snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking will leave the entire family feeling refreshed. The kids will delight in sliding down the flume rides at the on-site Buccaneer Bay, and if you time your vacation right, you can also go scalloping in the summer at nearby Homosassa
Considered a small town with a big heart, Port St. Joe is an off-the-beaten-path destination with an abundance of natural beauty. An easily walkable town lined antique shops, browse for souvenirs at the Historic Downtown Shopping District or visit one of the cities beautiful beaches. Explore St. Joseph Peninsula State Park for 9.5 miles of untouched natural beauty without the tourist crowds, where swimming, sunbathing and bird watching are pleasant daytime activities.
Amelia Island and nearby Fernandina Beach are two of Florida’s most beloved destination getaways, perfect for travelers looking for a quiet time to reflect. Days are spent lounging on the white sandy beaches and browsing the charming shops that line the historic downtown area. Take a guided horseback ride during sunset or indulge in the area’s abundance of water-based activities, as the 4,000 years of history and heritage might lead you to a drink at Florida’s longest operating saloon or a search for shark teeth along the shores.