Posted on 6/21/2023

7 Best Places to Visit in South Florida

South Florida is the southernmost region of the state of Florida. Sometimes known as SoFlo, this part of the US is incredibly diverse. From seemingly endless stretches of sandy beaches and rugged national parks to cosmopolitan cities and traditional towns, South Florida has it all.

Choosing where to go in SoFlo can be tricky and will mostly depend on what type of vacation you're looking for. To help with decision-making, here are the seven best places to visit in South Florida.

1. Anna Maria Island

Photo Credit: Karenl1

Anna Maria Island is a tranquil, laid-back island 20 minutes from the urban hub of Bradenton. Known for its seven-mile strip of white sand beaches, visitors flock here to soak up some sun and enjoy the clear blue Gulf of Mexico waters.

What makes Anna Maria Island special are the strict regulations that govern what types of buildings and businesses can open here. This creates a charming old-world feel which can be a welcome escape from South Florida's hyper-modern cities.

Dining is at the heart of any visit to Anna Maria Island, and seafood lovers will be spoiled for choice. Try The Waterfront Restaurant for a meal with an ocean view to remember.

2. Miami

Photo Credit: egd

Although there's a lot of competition, Miami is definitely one of the best cities to visit in the US. There's so much to see and do in Miami that visitors are spoiled for choice and will likely find that just one weekend isn't enough. 

Spend the morning shopping in Downtown Miami, or head to South Beach to mix with Miami's elite while enjoying powdery white sand between your toes. Miami Beach is another great way to spend a day.

Whatever you do, don't miss a trip to Little Havana. Stroll along Calle Ocho to see the area's famous colorful murals, try a Cubano sandwich washed down with some of the best mojitos in the US, then stroll to Domino Park to watch older Cuban folks playing dominos.

If you're short on time, check out this two-day itinerary that showcases the best of Miami in just 48 hours. This whistle stop tour takes in Wynwood walls, Little Havana, Key Biscayne, South Beach, and the Art Deco district to give you a taste of the best of Miami.

3. Orlando

Photo Credit: Songquan Deng

If you're planning a family visit to South Florida, Orlando is one of the best options. Many visitors don't realize that Orlando has so much more to it than Disney, but you'll find that there's enough to do here to keep kids and adults entertained without Walt's theme parks featuring at all.

Gatorland is a uniquely Floridian activity and is a great opportunity to (safely) get up close and personal with alligators. This 110-acre wildlife reserve has been in operation since 1949, and visitors can watch gators wrestle or view them from above on a hair-raising zip line.

ICON Park is another great Orlando day out. Here, you can experience unbeatable views from The Wheel, spot marine life at the SeaLife Aquarium, and meet your favorite celebs at Madame Tussauds.

4. Lake Wales

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone 

Lake Wales is a top pick if you're looking for a small city that offers great access to the best of South Florida.

This city is home to two beautiful gardens: Cypress Gardens and Bok Tower Gardens. Here, you can stroll among tropical plants and world-class architecture while enjoying SoFlo's famous sunny weather.

For something a little eerier, check out Spook Hill. Legend has it that an Indian Chief who was buried near Spook Hill protects the area by pushing visitors away. You can test this theory for yourself by driving to a specific point and putting your car in neutral — your vehicle will then appear to roll uphill by itself!

Lake Wales is also perfectly positioned for day trips to Tampa, Clearwater, Fort Myers, and West Palm Beach, so you can see the best of the Sunshine State while enjoying the tranquility of this peaceful city.

5. Sarasota

Photo Credit: Ruth Peterkin

Sarasota, Florida, is a fun-packed city with lots of activities on offer. If you're only planning on

spending a day here, the compactness of the city means you can still check out most of the best spots.

Start your day with a visit to Mixon Fruit Farms. Hop aboard the 45-minute tram ride to enjoy the Mixon Maze, butterfly garden, koi pond, and more. Then, choose from stocking up on goodies at the farm store or grabbing a bite at the on-site cafe. And be sure not to miss the ice cream — it really is some of the best in all of Florida.

Next, head to Ringling Museum for the region's best circus and art exhibitions. Visitors can see an incredible 40,000-piece miniature circus replica and several interactive displays here. There's also a stunning rose garden to stroll through and plenty of Venetian Gothic architecture to check out.

End your day at Smuggler's Cove Adventure Golf to test your skills on 18 holes with inventive obstacles. You can also visit the Educational American Alligator Exhibit and feed baby alligators here.

6. Panama City Beach

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Panama City Beach (PCB) is one of the best family-friendly beaches in all of Florida and is a highlight on any SoFlo itinerary.

There are 27 miles of beaches in PCB, and much of the coastline boasts shallow, calm waters that are ideal for children and unconfident swimmers. For guests who are more confident in the water, fishing charters, snorkeling trips, and jet ski hires are all available here. Dolphin cruises are not to be missed — aim to go at sunset for a chance to see these beautiful animals leaping from the water in PCB's beautiful golden light.

There's also plenty to do on dry land in PCB. Camp Helen State Park is an ecological haven offering multiple hiking trails, wild sand dunes, and some of the best beaches in the state. Pier Park is at the heart of PCB's shopping and entertainment, and there's plenty to do to keep visitors entertained all day (and all night). There are over 120 stores to splurge in, as well as a Grand IMAX movie theater, an arcade, and dozens of dining options.

7. Crystal River Springs

Photo Credit: Alisia Luther

If you want to kayak, swim, and hang out with manatees, Crystal River Springs is the place to do it. Crystal River is fed by several natural springs and flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the name, the water isn't as clear as you might hope, but this mixing of waters has become home to manatees and is one of the best places to swim with these majestic creatures legally.

Hunter Springs Park is among the best spots to hang out with manatees. Here, you'll find a designated swimming area, so there's no danger from passing power boats. There's also a beach and places to launch kayaks, and it's said to be one of the best places for interactions with friendly manatees.

Your Sunshine State Adventure Awaits

South Florida is like nowhere else in the US. It's arguably the best spot for beautiful beaches, wild nightlife, and endless entertainment.

Whether you're looking for a family-friendly day trip or a gulf coast adventure, you'll find all that and more here in South Florida.

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