Florida is a magical state full of hidden gems the average visitor – or even resident, for that matter – knows exist. Everyone knows about Walt Disney World and the glistening sands of South Beach, but for every well-known destination in the Sunshine State there exists at least one under-the-radar spot worth visiting. Join us on this tour of some of the amazing hidden gems in Florida that you should absolutely check out.
There's no shortage of beauty on display at Palatka's Ravine Gardens State Park. The park's namesake ravines can be viewed from suspension bridges – a ripe opportunity for photos. And if you're visiting between December and March, you're in for a real treat: it's blooming season for the hundreds of azaleas, washing the gardens with a dazzling colorscape.
Florida isn't exactly known for its caves. After all, most of the state is barely above sea level. And yet we have Florida Caverns State Park, a series of large, connected caverns beckoning visitors to explore. Take a guided tour to experience the chilly underground air, sounds of dripping water, jagged stalactites, and wildlife like bats in these otherworldly depths.
Nestled among rolling hills of citrus stands Bok Tower Gardens, a true hidden gem in Central Florida. The titular Singing Tower looms over the gardens and houses one of the world's finest carillons, a percussion instrument consisting of 23 bronze bells in fixed suspension. Performances can be heard ringing throughout the garden daily, adding to the overall contemplative atmosphere.
Beyond the Singing Tower, the park is home to one of the state's most impressive landscape gardens. As you meander through the garden, you'll encounter acres of blooming foliage, lush ferns, palms, and oaks, and even natural Floridian wildlife like threatened gopher tortoises and endangered eastern indigo snakes.
Here's another one to file under "Things You Didn't Know Florida Had" – waterfalls! Sink Hole Trail leads through huge trees to Falling Waters Sink, a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide cylindrical pit. A small stream drops water 70+ feet into the bottom of the sink, creating the picturesque waterfall. The park even has a bit of a spooky factor: no one truly knows where the water goes once it reaches the bottom of the sink.
This peaceful barrier island sanctuary is home to the largest Anastasia limestone deposit on the Atlantic coast. High tides and storms cause the sea to fling itself against the rocks, forcing plumes of saltwater as high as 50 feet into the air. It's a sight unlike anything else.
While the previous entries on this list have been parks and preserves, this entry is an entire city! Located just over an hour south of Gainesville, Cedar Key is a small island city in the Gulf of Mexico. The quaint and quiet town offers a refreshing break from city life both in its city-by-the-sea vibes and the amazing Cedar Key Museum State Park. As a vacation spot, it's under the radar but perfect for a quiet getaway.
Weeki Wachee Springs has something no other hidden gem in Florida does: live mermaids! These dazzling sisters of the sea perform classic shows and other underwater feats for captivated audiences each week (though attendance is limited during the pandemic).
Once you've seen the mermaids, enjoy a serene journey into nature with a kayak ride down the spring. Kids will love splashing in the waters of the onsite Buccaneer Bay waterpark, too!
Ocala National Forest attracts plenty of visitors, but outside of locals, the park's praises aren't sung enough. Anything you want to do, you'll find space for it at Ocala National Forest. Go hiking across miles of trails. Kayak or swim in remarkably cool springs. Camp overnight under the twinkling stars. All your outdoors dreams converge here.