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Boasting a collection of beautiful under-the-radar destinations with white sand beaches, historical landmarks, and natural beauty, North Florida is home to many of the Sunshine State’s best-kept secrets. From charming coastal cities to college football regions and stretching all the way to the Panhandle, escape the hoards of tourists and discover the best places to visit in North Florida.
The largest city by area in the continental United States, Jacksonville is a combination of stunning beaches and family-friendly attractions. Natural landscapes highlight the numerous outdoor adventures such as beachcombing, hiking, and fishing, while the area is lined by pleasant neighborhoods and a thriving arts community. Head to the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens for a look at blooming flowers, see fossils from around the world at MOSH! The Museum of Science and History, or visit Little Talbot Island State Park for a look at a unique collection of washed up trees. With calm enough waters for first-time visitors, Jacksonville Beach is also the perfect place to try your hand at surfing.
Pensacola is famous for its postcard-perfect beaches and its subtle mix of natural beauty and historic culture. It might be hard to break yourself away from its sugar-white sands and emerald green waters, but visitors would be amiss to not explore the area’s historic landmarks, from 19th-century homes to the Naval Museum and the impressive Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum. Whether you want to explore the underwater aquatic life or indulge in an array of fresh seafood from beachside eateries, Pensacola has a lot to offer. One of the best beaches in Florida, visitors are often content with a swim in the gentle waters of Pensacola Beach and spending the afternoon meandering down the Pensacola Beach Pier.
Known as the home of Florida State University, Tallahassee boasts a variety of attractions outside of the football stadium that is worthy of exploring. Learn about the city’s past and present at the Tallahassee Museum and Florida Historic Capitol Museum, or observe local wildlife and natural landscapes at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Those interested in cars shouldn’t pass up a tour of its collection of antique cars and the Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum, while the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is an oasis for the senses with beautifully landscaped gardens in addition to canoeing, fishing and hiking.
Lured in by its beautiful beaches, Destin is a popular vacation destination on Florida’s Emerald Coast. Jetty East Beach is perfect for a day of snorkeling, the Destin Harbor Boardwalk offers a bustling hub of activity, while Henderson Beach State Park offers 6,000 feet of shoreline to swim, sunbathe, and have a picnic. Visitors are spoiled for choice here, as you can soak in beach activities, visit award-winning golf courses, or cast a line off the pier. Crystal Beach is beloved for its charming vacation cottages and ivory sands, but if you really want to get away from it all, head to the Crab Island sandbar for a day of fun in the sun.
From lush forests to beautiful horse farms and interesting museums, Ocala offers visitors a chance to see a different side of Florida. The second biggest in the state, this city’s major attraction is the Ocala National Forest with over 383,000 acres of natural lakes and ponds as well as the alluring Silver Glen Springs. Silver Springs State Park is another local favorite, where recreational activities like boat rides, horseback riding, and wildlife watching are popular throughout the year. Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, hike through the Ocala section of the Florida Trail to find palmetto scrub, pine islands, and live oak hammocks. The heart of Florida horse country, explore this beautiful countryside before appreciating the outstanding artwork at the Silver River Museum.
Located on Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is known for its beautiful beaches, antique shopping, and top-notch golfing opportunities. A quaint area that has been a local favorite for multiple generations, here visitors will find world-class spas and upscale resorts that sit next to bed and breakfast accommodations and historic sites. Visit Fort Clinch State Park and see the Civil War-era fortress or head to Amelia Island Museum of History to learn about the island’s past. Stroll down the pedestrian-friendly Downtown Fernandina Beach to see a charming area peppered with boutique shops and locally-run restaurants or simply soak in the views of the clear, calm waters of Fernandina Beach.
Home to the University of Florida, Gainesville is known for its historic buildings, scenic state parks and abundance of outdoor activities. The giant sinkhole at Devils Millhopper is one of the city’s most fascinating attractions, while the nature trails at Paynes Prairie is where you might spot a buffalo, hawk, bison or deer if you’re lucky. Visit the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium for state-of-the-art planetarium projectors, or hop on a tube and float down the pristine waters of Ginnie Springs. The Devil’s Den is a short 30-minute drive away from Gainesville where a wondrous 60-foot prehistoric underground spring is lined with 33-million-year-old fossil beds, making it a fascinating place to go diving.
One of Florida’s most sought-after historic cities, St. Augustine was founded over 450 years ago and maintains its appealing small-town charm. From military forts to stately castles, visitors come here to watch historical re-enactments, explore scenic nature trails and relax on tranquil beaches. History buffs can visit the fort’s casements in the famous Castillo de San Marcos, see where criminals were held in the Old Jail, and watch cannon and musket firing demonstrations at the Colonial Quarter. Ghost tours are a popular activity in the area, as is a day of soaking in the sunshine at St. Augustine Beach and observing wildlife at St. Augustine Wild Reserve.
Fort Walton Beach
Located on the Emerald Coast, Fort Walton Beach sits in Florida’s Okaloosa County. With its range of family-friendly attractions, white sand beaches, and easy-going vibes, this city is a perfect spot for a vacation getaway. The city has plenty of beachfront access with 24 miles of coastline to enjoy, while Downtown Fort Walton Beach is a constant buzz of activity with its local eateries and points of interest. The kids will find engaging exhibits at Emerald Coast Science Center, history of aircraft at the Air Force Armament Museum, and marine life education at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. The Indian Temple and Mound Museum also offers over 12,000 years of Native American history through its rare artifacts.
Laid-back and easy-going, High Springs is a small town in north central Florida. While its art galleries and antique shops lure in plenty of visitors from around the state, it’s the natural attractions that are the crown jewel of this area. From cave diving to campsites, High Springs is an outdoor lovers dream. With the year-round 72-degree temperature waters, a visit to Ginnie Springs is a must so that you can see the clearest waters in the state for yourself. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is also nearby in Fort White, offering the perfect respite on a warm sunny day to indulge in anything from snorkeling to canoeing, swimming, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Home to 27 miles of sugar white beaches, Panama City has a variety of entertainment options on both land and water that will please every member of the family. From water sports to boat tours, golf courses and nightlife, there is a lot to discover in this city. While sunbathing on the undeveloped St. Andrews State Park beachfront and walking along the boardwalk are popular activities, visitors can also explore the Science and Discovery Center with the kids or cool off in the fun-filled Shipwreck Island Waterpark. Conservation Park is where to go to find scenic nature trails, and the Zoo World Zoological Conservatory offers private animal encounters, from the giraffe feeding tower to meeting a lemur.
Located in Flagler County, Palm Coast is perched between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. While many visitors come here to relax on the 19 miles of cinnamon-colored beaches for an afternoon of lounging or surfing, those who want to improve their swing can also play a round of golf at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course or try their hand at fishing along the Intracoastal Waterway. Luxury spas line the area if you’re looking for a day of rejuvenation, while the colorful gardens at Washington Oaks State Park are designed to appreciate the array of blooming beauties. Eco-tours are also a popular activity in the area, where you can explore the unique ecosystem comprised of marshlands and estuaries and see rare wildlife along the way.