One of the world’s most visited tourist destinations, Florida has hundreds of weekend getaway possibilities. If you’re looking for phenomenal beaches and pristine wilderness areas, you’ll find a wealth of options in the Sunshine State.
Here are five weekend getaway suggestions that’ll immerse you in the natural beauty of Florida:
Panama City Beach
For the quintessential "Life’s a Beach" experience, head to Panama City Beach, in the Florida panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico. This location is known for its white sand beaches, turquoise green waters and fantastic deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and golf. Beyond the beaches, two great spots are St. Andrew’s State Park, which has a jetty and two fishing piers, and Shell Island, a pristine, wildlife sanctuary island only accessible by boat. For shopping, dining and entertainment, head to Pier Park, a sprawling, open-air complex with well-known restaurants like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Guy Harvey’s Island Grill.
Enveloped by moss-draped oak trees, cabbage palms, pines and rolling sand dunes dotted with sea oats, Amelia Island, 29 miles northeast of Jacksonville, is a well preserved ocean environment where visitors can enjoy superb beaches, golf on championship courses and hike or bicycle to their heart’s content. The 26-square-mile island features 13 miles of beaches, luxury golf and spa resorts, quaint bed and breakfast accommodations, historical attractions and Fernandina Beach, a charming Victorian seaport village. Eco-adventures are increasingly popular on the island; don’t miss bird watching hikes, river kayak trips and wildlife photo tours.
Ocala National Forest
Located approximately 80 miles north of Orlando between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers, this 383,000-acre national forest has the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest. Even though it’s situated predominately on high, dry, scrub ridges, it boasts more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Among the most popular activities in the park are fishing, deer hunting, camping, hiking, canoeing and horseback riding. Wildlife watching is extremely popular with regular sightings of Florida black bears, red-cockaded woodpeckers and Sherman’s fox squirrels.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Near Key Largo in the Florida Keys, this undersea park spans 178 nautical miles and is a wonderland of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. There are a variety of ways to enjoy the park, including snorkeling, scuba excursions or participating in a glass bottom boat tour. In addition, the state park offers camping for both tent and RV campers; fishing in designated areas; picnicking opportunities, with barbecue grills and pavilions for rent; and swimming on Canon Beach, where visitors can explore parts of an early Spanish shipwreck less than 100 feet offshore.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands, 15 miles west of Fort Myers, are heralded as the best Caribbean experience you can have without leaving Florida. The islands both offer pristine, isolated beaches as well as chic shops and restaurants. Some of the more popular pastimes on the islands include shell collecting at low tide, visiting the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, shopping for seashell jewelry and art along Periwinkle Way. For the chance to see alligators, otters and hundreds of birds, don’t miss canoeing or kayaking through the 6,000 acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies more than half of Sanibel Island.