If you’re looking for a vacation getaway without having to break the bank, then look no further than the Sunshine State. From state parks to top museums and beach adventures, Florida is home to a long list of affordable holiday destinations. These cities offer budget-friendly accommodation choices, family-friendly activities for the kids and the chance to soak in the state’s glorious sunshine without the hefty price tag. From Pensacola to Naples, here are the best Florida vacations on a budget.
Amelia Island (Hotel Prices & Photos)
A part of the barrier islands located off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Island is known for its beautiful beaches and quaint, small-town charm. Head to Fort Clinch State Park to explore a well preserved Civil War-era fort surrounded by a 3-mile strand of protected beaches, or visit one of Florida’s most unusual beach landscapes at “Boneyard Beach” on Big Talbot Island State Park. For a day of budget-friendly fun, walk along the brick streets of Fernandina Beach, stop by the Palace Saloon for a cold drink at Florida’s longest-operating saloon, or hunt for seashells and sharks teeth along the white-sand beaches.
Ocala (Hotel Prices & Photos)
If you’re on a budget and looking for a place to experience some of Florida’s natural landscapes, Ocala is the place to be. From the Ocala National Forest to Silver Glen Springs, this city is where you can see a different side of Florida that most tourists miss out on. Go horseback riding at Silver Springs State Park, paddle across the wetlands in Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area, or hike along the Belleview-Santos Trail. When you need a break from the outdoor adventures, spend a day exploring the fine art at the Appleton Museum of Art or see a collection of famous dragsters and classic cars at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
Sarasota (Hotel Prices & Photos)
One of Florida’s most underrated vacation destinations, Sarasota is filled with an abundance of budget-friendly attractions. Tucked away on the Gulf Coast of Florida, outdoor adventures are found at every corner here, from the unspoiled shoreline of Siesta Key, Crescent Beach, and Turtle Beach to the unique wildlife viewing at Myakka River State Park. Kids can cool off in the Children’s Fountain in Bay Front Park or get creative with the fun exhibits at the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy, while visitors ready to get off-the-beaten path can see unique circus memorabilia at the John Ringling Museum of Art or join the Sunday Community Drum Circle at Siesta Key Beach.
Fort Walton Beach (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Lined with picturesque landscapes, Fort Walton Beach on Florida’s Emerald Coast is world famous for its combination of white sand beaches and emerald green waters. With 24-miles of peaceful shoreline, this budget-friendly destination offers plenty of kid-friendly attractions to enjoy. Discover the culture and rich history of the area through interactive exhibits at the historic Air Force Armament Museum, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, and Emerald Coast Science Center. Take a peek at the colorful cottages and Hemingway-style wooden homes in nearby Grayton Beach, catch your dinner along the Okaloosa Island Pier, or stop by the Indian Temple Mound Museum for a look at fascinating artifacts and a prehistoric temple that dates back to 800 A.D.
New Smyrna Beach (Hotel Prices & Photos)
A low-key destination just an hour’s drive from Orlando on the Atlantic Coast, New Smyrna Beach is home to 13 miles of wide, white-sand beaches and lined with mom and pop restaurants, sidewalk cafes and charming bed and breakfast accommodations. Fishing and golf are popular here, while its long stretch of golden-hued sand offers a quiet respite from the more crowded beach areas. Take an eco-tour of the Indian River Lagoon, visit the Marine Discovery Center to learn about the area’s wildlife, or walk along the scenic trails in the 124-acre Lake Ashby Park. If you prefer to get a dose of culture, cool off in the air-conditioning at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, TaDa gallery or Black Heritage Museum.
Clearwater Beach (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Renowned for its white-sand beaches, Clearwater Beach is one of the most famous beach areas’s in the state. Despite its popularity, it remains an affordable destination due to its abundance of inexpensive or free activities, ranging from nightly sunset celebrations with musicians and street performers to shelling along the shore. Nature enthusiasts will revel in the number of outdoor adventures at their fingertips, not only with the tranquil waters of Clearwater Beach but at the pristine paradise island vibes at nearby Caladesi Island, Pass-a-Grille Beach and Fort De Soto Park. Get your dose of culture in downtown St. Petersburg at the Dali Museum, visit the family-friendly Morean Arts Center, or take a trip to see local wildlife at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
Fort Myers (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Boasting the perfect combination of sun-kissed beaches and historic landmarks, Fort Myers is an ideal destination for vacation-goers not looking to spend a fortune. History enthusiasts will revel in the chance to explore the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford winter estates, the kids will love a visit to the interactive exhibits at the Imaginarium Science Center, while visitors of all ages will enjoy a day of digging their toes in the pristine sands of Lovers Key State Park. If you visit during manatee season, make sure to stop by the Lee County Manatee Park for a day of seeing Florida’s famous gentle giants, while the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium is a year-round attraction where you can see bald eagles, alligators, hawks, and owls.
Jacksonville (Hotel Prices & Photos)
The largest city in Florida by area, Jacksonville offers plenty of activities to cater to all budgets. After spending time on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, you can appreciate the fine art collections at the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens, see full-scale skeletons and life-size dinosaurs at MOSH! The Museum of Science and History, or soak in the wetlands, salt marshes and local wildlife views at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Animal lovers can see rescued, rehabilitated and endangered big cats at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, while those in search of handcrafted jewelry and local art can shop for treasures at Riverside Arts Market.
Sanibel Island (Hotel Prices & Photos)
One of Florida’s most beloved family-friendly areas, Sanibel Island is the perfect place for a laid-back vacation of soaking in the tranquil ambiance. World-renown for its vibrant shelling opportunities, the biggest attraction here is scouring places like Bowman’s Beach for tiny washed up treasures. Sanibel’s small-town layout make visiting nearby JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge a breeze, while nearby Captiva Island and Lovers Key State Park offers visitors a chance to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in Florida. Take a peek at the historic Sanibel Island Lighthouse, and if you’re really curious about the island’s biggest celebrities, visit the Baily-Matthews Shell Museum to see shells from around the globe.
Dunedin (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Often overlooked by nearby Tampa and Clearwater, Dunedin holds its own with its quaint downtown area and lively annual festivals. A waterfront community lined with antique shops and art galleries, you’re just an arm’s length away from some of Florida’s most beautiful outdoor areas. From the splendors of Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park to being the home of the Toronto Blue Jays spring training, this laid-back vacation destination offers recreational activities for all ages. Explore the area’s history at the Dunedin Historical Museum, grab a cold pint at the Dunedin Brewery, and if you’re around the area in spring, make sure not to miss the famous Scottish traditions at the annual Dunedin Highland Games & Festival.
Naples (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Considered nature lovers paradise with its long list of idyllic Florida landscapes and nature viewing opportunities, Naples is nestled along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Head to the family-friendly Lowdermilk Beach area for a day of fun in the sun, take a stroll along the Naples Pier to watch dolphin pods along the Gulf, or take a dip in the waters around Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park for some underwater marine life viewing. Take the family to see the vibrant displays of flora and fauna at the Naples Botanical Garden or go on a thrilling water slide at Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, while the Baker Museum offers art enthusiasts plenty to explore with its 15 galleries of modern and contemporary art collections.
Pensacola (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Famous for its postcard-worthy beaches and rich history, Pensacola is the perfect place to relax on sugar white sands and emerald waters. A fantastic family-friendly destination, here you can do everything from watching the Blue Angels practice at the Naval Aviation Museum to hiking, crabbing, and fishing at nearby Perdido Key State Park. Walk along the Pensacola Beach Pier for fresh seafood, go birding along the Florida Great Birding and Wildlife Trail, or take a stroll through the weekend Palafox Market for your pick of local products, art, and music. For a day of exploring off-the-beaten-track attractions, browse the 200 local artists on display at Quayside Art or take a look at the unique sea life and coastal ecology along the Pensacola Beach Eco-Trail.