Pavlo has been working as a travel writer for more than 8 years, and his work has been featured in CNN Travel, BBC Travel, Time Out and Fodor's, among others. Changing cities and continents is a lifestyle for Pavlo, he has been to more than 40 countries across the globe. He can’t get enough of exploring the world and loves to share this passion through travel writing.
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Florida is big, diverse, and looks in many ways like a tropical dream. The ocean waves caress beautiful beaches, the megapolises lure with an explosion of entertainment, the picturesque small towns have an easy-going surfing flair, and many nature parks invite a thrilling discovery. Budget-wise, it’s not always the most affordable, but there are places to go when you’re not looking to spend all the money in the world. Here are the best cheap weekend getaways in Florida to get a taste of the state’s pleasures and not worry about overspending.
Those searching for the unspoiled will scream with joy at St. George Island. It’s Florida Panhandle at its finest, with miles of pristine sandy beaches, a remote barrier island atmosphere, and seafood joints that won’t break your buck. Vacation rentals rule here, the landscape isn’t dominated by tall hotel chains, and the vibe is very low-key. Take your cheap weekend getaway in Florida to new romantic heights by camping in the fantastic Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, which takes you one-on-one with dunes and wildlife.
An icon of Florida’s Forgotten Coast, Perdido Key is perfect for an easy weekend break from Pensacola. Known for the long-running beachside restaurants like Flora-Bama oyster bar and white-sand beaches, it’s a laid-back vacation destination where the Gulf reigns supreme. The natural beauty reaches its crescendo at Perdido Key State Park, a must-visit area of emerald waters, unlimited scenic hiking, and birdwatching. A curious fact, you can actually walk into Alabama here – the town is situated right on the border.
West Coast Florida at its best, Dunedin doesn’t give you any other choice but to fall for the tropical charms. It’s the enticing melange of two worlds. On one hand, you’ve got a vibrant beach town with a plethora of eateries, cafes and bars, a lively boardwalk, hotel chains, and cool galleries. On the other, there are such natural gems as Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park, both offering a chunk of unspoiled Florida with unlimited fishing, kayaking, wildlife watching, swimming, and shell collecting. How can you resist such a mix?
Sometimes all you need is a beach. Hollywood’s deal is a long, wide sandy stretch that is ideal for a cheap family vacay. The Broadwalk next to it is a nostalgic restaurants-packed attraction in its own right that has options for every budget. Lacking the glamor and the price tags of its famous neighbor Miami, Hollywood offers the same sunny charms and works as a great cheap weekend getaway from Vice City and Fort Lauderdale. Outdoor recreation is represented by Anne Kolb Nature Center, a mangrove preserve with a variety of trails perfect for families.
Central Florida’s secrets are ready to be uncovered in Ocala, a comfortable, cheap weekend getaway from Orlando. It’s a great base for Horse Country exploration and also a very diverse and wallet-friendly place to visit. The historical district is quite large in Ocala, offering lots of pretty Victorian houses, cozy cafes, and restaurants with Florida cuisine. But it’s what’s outside that makes this region stand out on the map of the state. Three miles from Downtown, you find the magnificent Ocala National Forest with the largest sand pine scrub system in the world. Go south, and you’re entering Silver Springs State Park with famous glass bottom boat tours and a chance to kayak, canoe, or paddleboard.
Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island is your getaway to the best of Atlantic Florida. There’s history here, you can witness the grandeur of 19th-century Fort Clinch and see the old Amelia Lighthouse. Outdoor activities enthusiasts will be happy to explore superb Fort Clinch State Park and camp there too. The town itself has a traditional grid plan and plenty of spots to eat and drink with an easygoing atmosphere. And there’s the “Beach” in the name for a reason, you’ll find the spectacular Atlantic coast here as well as plenty of bed & breakfast options that are friendly for your budget.
Get ready for some of the most breathtaking sunsets in the Gulf, Anna Maria Island awaits you with open arms. Very nostalgic and vintage, it is a piece of undeveloped Florida with low buildings and easy access to the beaches of the whitest sands. This destination is all about savoring being outside with larger-than-life panoramas of the ocean and the sky. And as admiring nature is free, you won’t spend much profiting from excellent beaches here. Whether you’re starting from St. Petersburg, Sarasota, or Bradenton, the trip will take you less than an hour by car. All roads lead to Bean Point Beach, a stunning “end of the world” kind of location that is guaranteed to wow you.
It’s usually Florida by the ocean that gets all the attention but there’s another exciting side to discover, Florida by the river. The expansive waters of St. Johns River flow through Palatka, an affordable and historic destination in Putnam County. You can basically learn Florida’s architectural story here, Victorian, Art Deco, Colonial Revival, and Prairie School buildings line the breezy streets of this town. Add the developed natural trails, an abundance of outdoor activities, an airy Riverfront Park, annual Azalea Festival and you’re looking at one of the coolest cheap weekend getaways in Florida.
Florida’s Atlantic coast has something of a planetary significance. You can actually spot a rocket launch here, Cape Canaveral is a one-of-a-kind destination not only in the state but in the country. It’s an important hub for NASA and a gift that keeps on giving to all the space-obsessed enthusiasts. Being here, you can’t miss visiting the Kennedy Space Center, which will provide insight into the history of humans in space. But we’re in Florida, and it’s the coast. Apart from the interstellar sights, you also have miles of the finest beaches, a hassle-free atmosphere, and plenty of restaurants serving seafood. Hanging out in an oyster bar while there’s a rocket lunch nearby is the peak Sunshine State.
One of the best small towns in Florida, Micanopy is a short drive away from Gainesville. The Spanish moss is lazily swaying on the live oak trees, the roads have no traffic lights, and the time seems to freeze. Have a coffee accompanied by something sweet sitting on a patio of wooden Mosswood Farm Store and Bakehouse, pay a visit to the Gothic-looking old local cemetery and feel the wind on your face while horseriding Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It’s always a perfect weekend trip for the whole family in Micanopy.
The most populous city in the state is many things at once. The biggest urban park system in the U.S. makes Jacksonville the ultimate choice for a rewarding cheap weekend getaway in Florida. Numbers speak for themselves; you can discover more than 400 city parks, 7 state parks, and 3 national ones. All of it is either for free or for a small fee. Exploring the parks is a great way to stay connected to the outdoors by visiting the oceanside, the marches, and the woods. Apart from the natural primacy, Jacksonville is also one of Florida’s cultural hotspots with a rich agenda, vibrant St. Johns River promenade, and many interesting museums to check out.
Situated on mosaic-like islands of northwest Florida’s Gulf coast, Cedar Key is an ideal place to lay low and spend less. In other words, it’s the ultimate cheap weekend break offering gorgeous ocean vistas, down-to-earth restaurants, historical exploration, and that elusive Old Florida allure. Check out the picturesque Dock Street with wooden houses standing on the water, get a glimpse of the town’s past at Cedar Key State Park Museum, and spend a day kayaking.