Sunshine State Bucket List: 14 Best Things To Do in Florida Outdoors

Things to do in Florida

Known for its golden beaches and thrilling theme parks, the “Sunshine State” brings in millions of visitors every year. That said, the best things to do in Florida go beyond suntanning and roller coaster riding (but don’t get us wrong – those are loads of fun too). From spelunking to snorkeling to sponging, here are 14 of the best things to do in Florida.

1. Check Out the Everglades

Airboat in Everglades Florida

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First up, are the Everglades, of course! Officially known as Everglades National Park, this wetland habitat is known for its unique landscape and the animals that live in it.

By far, the best way to experience Everglades National Park is on a boat tour. Thanks to your guide’s expertise, you’ll get to see all sorts of animals, like alligators, manatees, and (maybe) even Florida panthers. Everglades Swamp Tours and Everglades Nature Tours are two tour companies that are sure to take your Everglades expedition to the next level.

That said, if you’re committed to venturing out on your own, there are options to do that as well. Kayak, bike or slough slog (the name for off-trail hiking in swampy waters) your way through the famous wetlands instead.

2. Hit the Beach on the Gulf Coast

siesta key beach florida

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Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches are some of the most amazing shorelines in the U.S. From Panama City Beach to Clearwater Beach to Siesta Key, these beaches are graced with sparkling white sand, picture-perfect turquoise waters, and sunny skies. In other words, all of the things you need for a perfect day at the beach!

Depending on which specific beach you go to, the best activities can vary a little bit. But on the whole, Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches are great for swimming, suntanning, and shelling. The adventurer in you might even get to enjoy some watersports, like kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, and windsurfing at these incredible spots.

3. Suntan on Canaveral National Seashore

Canaveral National Seashore

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While Florida’s Gulf Coast is known for some pretty beautiful beaches, the Atlantic Coast has quite a few stunning shorelines as well, including Canaveral National Seashore.

This national seashore is known for its 24 miles of untouched coastline, complete with golden sand and bright blue water. It’s a fantastic place for swimming, suntanning, and wildlife watching to your heart’s content.

But if there’s just one thing that you have to do, it’s go shelling. There, you’ll find everything from bright purple calico scallop shells to spiraled Atlantic augers to bivalved coquina clams.

4. Swim in a Picture-Perfect Spring

devils den florida

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Most visitors associate Florida with sunny beaches, but the crystal clear springs are just as amazing. As a matter of fact, no list of the best things to do in Florida would be complete without these jaw-dropping natural pools.

The first thing that will likely catch your eye about any Florida spring is the color of the water. The translucent light turquoise color is definitely unique, and it makes you just want to dive right in! Luckily, many springs allow you to swim, dive, kayak, and even tube in them.

As for the best Florida springs to visit, you’ll have a few options. Devil’s Den is a diver’s dream, reaching up to 54 feet deep! Weeki Wachee takes the magic of Florida springs to the next level with the help of a few mermaids. And Blue Spring State Park is a hotspot for manatees in the colder months (although you’ll have to be content with watching them from land, since swimming isn’t allowed when the manatees are around). 

5. Explore the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs

sponges tarpon springs

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Tarpon Springs is, without a doubt, one of the coolest places to visit in Florida. It should be on everybody’s Florida bucket list. Simply put, it’s like a little piece of Greece popped up on Florida’s Gulf Coast! Take in the iconic blue and white buildings, catch a whiff of baking baklava, and listen to the locals speak Greek as they walk through the streets.

While the Greek influence is the main draw of Tarpon Springs, this Florida town is known for one other thing: sponging! Dubbed the “Sponge Capital of the World,” Tarpon Springs is home to a naturally thriving sponge population and, consequently, a successful sponging industry.

As you walk through the Greek-inspired streets, you’ll see shops filled to the brim with thousands of natural sponges – perfect for a souvenir or a new loofah!

6. Experience As Many Theme Parks As Possible

themepark rollercoaster florida

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No list of the best things to do in Florida would be complete without mentioning the ubiquitous theme parks. After all, these theme parks bring in over 70 million visitors every single year! 

With Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Legoland all boasting parks in the Sunshine State, there are lots of options. For the classic theme park experience, Magic Kingdom (complete with Cinderella’s Castle) is the place to go.

If thrilling roller coasters are what you’re hoping for, Universal and Busch Gardens won’t disappoint. And for animal-focused adventures, SeaWorld and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are sure to please.

7. Snorkel at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

christ abyss statue

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If you want to dive below the surface and take a peek at Florida’s sea life, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is arguably the best place to do it.

Situated on Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first ever undersea park in the United States. And with a claim like that, it should come as no surprise to find out that the underwater world at this state park is absolutely incredible.

Once you dive beneath the surface (ideally after taking a boat ride a little further out), you’ll find all sorts of sea creatures milling about. Lobsters, sea urchins, starfish, and sea anemones are just the beginning!

As if that weren’t enough, this Florida state park is also home to the iconic Christ of the Abyss Statue. This nine-foot-tall bronze Jesus statue was purposefully sunken in 1965, and since then, this coral-covered sculpture has become a sort of unintentional man-made reef. 

8. Hike Through Ocala National Forest

ocala national forest

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Florida doesn’t have a whole lot of elevation. As a matter of fact, the highest point in the entire state is just 345 feet high. That means it can be difficult to find cool hikes in the Sunshine State, but that’s where Ocala National Forest can help fill in the gap.

Located in Central Florida, Ocala National Forest is home to lakes, springs, and loads of thriving green trees. Hike the family-friendly Eaton Trail, the riverfront St. Francis Trail, or the lengthy Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs hike. Regardless of which path you choose, there’s lots of Florida greenery and wildlife to see.

If you visit Alexander Springs, be sure to take time to check out the cute lakeside town of Mount Dora! It’s only about 40 minutes away.

9. Stop and Smell the Flowers at Naples Botanical Garden

naples botanical garden

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If you find yourself on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Naples Botanical Garden simply has to be on your bucket list. This 170-acre botanical garden is filled with blooming flowers and towering trees that’ll just make your jaw drop. Tropical palm trees, colorful orchids, and floating lotus flowers are just the beginning.

10. Dive Below the Surface at Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

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About 45 minutes outside of Miami lies Biscayne National Park. This particular national park is 95% water, so it’s a fantastic spot for a picturesque kayak ride or sea creature-filled snorkel. Regardless of your method of exploration, keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of wildlife, including dolphins, lobsters, and manatees.

For the best experience at Biscayne National Park, you’ll want to make the Biscayne National Park Institute your first stop. There, you’ll be able to rent gear (like kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards), book a tour, or get some information tidbits. Then, you can set out on your water-filled, adventure-focused day.

11. Take a Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

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While the rest of the best things to do in Florida are pretty easy to access, the same can’t be said for Dry Tortugas National Park. That said, this incredible slice of paradise is more than worth the effort it takes to get there.

Located at the very end of the Florida Keys – even further than the famed Key West – Dry Tortugas National Park requires visitors to take a boat or a seaplane to get there. But once you reach the park, you’ll understand why it’s worth it.

First off, history buffs will love a visit to the park’s historic Fort Jefferson. But the main highlight of Dry Tortugas National Park is nature. Snorkel with turtles, paddle your way around the crystal clear waters, or walk around the entire island of Bush Key.

If you’d like to extend your stay, why not camp at Dry Tortugas National Park for a few nights? After all, you have to go on quite the journey to get to the park in the first place, so sticking around for a couple of extra days is a great idea to make the most of your time.

12. Pick All the Berries You Can Dream Of

blueberry picking

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Most people don’t know this, but Florida is jam-packed with local farms! And not just the orange farms you might be thinking of – these farms grow everything from pomelos to peaches. But surprisingly berries are some of the most popular crops, especially if you’re hoping to pick these tasty fruits yourself.

All across Florida, you can find u-pick berry farms growing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries galore. At most of them, all you have to do is grab a bucket and start picking.

Then, once you give them a wash, you can turn them into a delicious dessert, add them to your pancakes, or eat them by themselves as a snack.

13. Pay a Visit to Bok Tower Gardens

bok tower gardens

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There are two highlights to the lovely Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. First, there are the gardens. Filled with thousands of thriving plant species, you can easily spend hours just strolling along the trails and snapping pictures. And since many of the flowers are seasonal, the gardens will look a little bit different every time you visit.

The second highlight of Bok Tower Gardens is the Singing Tower. This 150-foot tall structure plays enchanting music that you can hear from every corner of the garden. And the coolest part? The music is actually played by a musician in the tower, who controls a whopping 60 different bells!

14. Head Underground at Florida Caverns State Park

florida caverns state park

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So far, we’ve listed a lot of above-ground Florida adventures. But did you know that the Sunshine State also has a subterranean collection of caves known as Florida Caverns State Park?

Located in the Florida Panhandle, Florida Caverns State Park is the perfect place for an adventure. On a guided tour, you can wind your way through stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and flowstones. But be sure to arrive early, because tour tickets get snatched up quickly.

Discover the Magic: Best Things To Do in Florida

Siesta Key Beach, Florida

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From wetlands to beaches to gardens, the Sunshine State has a lot going for it. It’s safe to say that this list of the best things to do in Florida has something everyone can enjoy. So what are you waiting for? Start packing your bags for your next Florida vacation!

Where indicated, some images courtesy of Depositphotos.com.

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Sarah Etinas

Sarah Etinas is a full-time travel writer and avid adventurer. She has written for dozens of renowned publications, including Time Out, Insider, Honolulu Magazine, and TripAdvisor. When she's not writing, Sarah practices what she preaches by traveling to new destinations, hiking to beautiful waterfalls, and exploring her home. You can find more of her professional work on her portfolio website and follow her adventures on her Hawaii travel website.