Florida is the perfect vacation destination for anyone who loves sunshine, beaches, theme parks, Everglades, or all of the above!
With tons of beautiful wildlife and scenic ocean views, Florida is an oasis.
Do you want to plan a trip to Florida but don't know where to start?
These are my top 5 favorite cities in Florida!
I include tons of helpful tips and tricks to help you navigate each city, have fun, and save money!
1. Sanibel Island, FL
If you have read my budget guide to Sanibel Island, you probably could have guessed that this would make the list.
I adore Sanibel.
It is a small, quiet (at least during their off-season, which is summer) island with tons of outdoor activities to keep you busy.
There are plenty of beach front hotels in Sanibel, FL, but the cool thing is that none of them are high-rises!
Buildings are not allowed to be built any higher than the tallest palm tree, which is really cool. It gives the island a nice rural vibe.
During the off-season, Sanibel has some reasonably priced hotels and vacation rentals.
Granted, they probably don't overlook the ocean, but that's okay when you're ballin' on a budget, right?!
If you can't find any hotels that you like, try looking on vacation rental websites.
I have found that Airbnb has a lot of great options for Sanibel.
There are quite a few condos on the island that people rent out.
Just make sure that when you're looking, you take into consideration how close the public beach is to you (that is unless the condo you're staying in has access to a private beach).
Bowman's Beach is a nice, quiet public beach. Blind Pass condos are located nearby so you might want to check them out.
There are tons of outdoor activities in Sanibel.
One of my personal favorites is the beach!
I mean, honestly, it's an island! You have to spend time at the beach!
Unlike some of the other cities on this list, Sanibel has some of the most quiet beaches I have ever been to.
There isn't a sea of people you have to walk through to get to the ocean.
It's perfectly relaxing.
The beaches and waterways on the island are perfect for fishing! So, don't forget your fishing pole!
Plus, with a local fishing shop on the island, you don't have to worry about catching your own bait or bringing it from the mainland!
If you're not sure where to cast your line, ask one of the men working at the bait shop. They know all of the best spots!
J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge
While you're there, you need to check out the J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge.
To understand why it's a must-see, check out my previous blog post.
Kayaking and Other Water Sports
While you're there, you can rent kayaks, paddle boards, and other water sports equipment! There were a couple of businesses that offered rentals on the island. The rates are about the same at both places, so it'll most likely come down to location when you are deciding who to rent from.
We went kayaking while we were there and had a blast! It was toasty outside, so make sure you bring water and sunscreen with you on your excursions!
If you'd like to enjoy some A.C. for a while, the island has a bunch of cute shops you can peruse through. Plus, it's always nice to support local business!
If you're a book fanatic (or if you just enjoy them), definitely check out Gene's Books; you won't be disappointed! There are three buildings that are filled with books. Literally! Books are stacked (some one shelves and some in front of shelves) from floor to ceiling.
One of my favorite activities was biking. There were bike paths and racks everywhere! It was the perfect way to explore the island. But if you go in the summer time, I would definitely recommend starting early in the day because the sun is brutal and the short trees on the island don't offer much shade in the afternoon heat.
Don't worry, if you don't want to strap your bikes to the back of your car, you can rent them when you get there!
There are tons of delicious places to eat on Sanibel.
Some of my favorites are
- Island Cow
- Over Easy Cafe
- The Mucky Duck
Want to learn more about these restaurants? Check out my guide to Sanibel here.
Sanibel Island at a Glance
There are plenty of hotels to choose from. However, you may find that vacation rentals give you more bang for your buck!
The beach (of course), fishing, J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, Kayaking (and other water sports), Shopping, and Biking.
Island Cow, Over Easy Cafe (perfect breakfast spot!), and The Mucky Duck.
2. Sarasota, FL
Sarasota is lovely. My boyfriend and I stayed there for a couple of nights during spring break a couple of years ago.
It certainly isn't a crazy spring break destination, which was perfect for us, since that's not what we wanted.
Downtown Sarasota was honestly incredibly quiet at night when we were out discovering what the city had to offer. However, it definitely seemed to be busier during the day.
We stayed in downtown Sarasota at Aloft.
The hotel was modern and comfortable. The room we stayed in was perfect and beautiful.
The hotel had a rooftop pool and hot tub, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
There are plenty of other hotel accommodations in Sarasota.
You should also check out vacation rental websites.
You might be able to find a nice house for either your family or a group of friends to stay at during your trip, and maybe you can even find one that is close to the beach!
Seriously, this is where my boyfriend and I spend most of our time in Sarasota.
There are multiple keys that you can access, and they all have different beaches.
We spent time on one of Siesta Key's beaches (Siesta Beach), which was incredibly busy.
We were there close to sunset, which may have contributed to why it was so busy.
But honestly, it was just a really nice, popular beach.
The amount of parking that was available to the public suggests just how much traffic this particular beach sees on a regular basis.
But don't let that discourage you from at least checking it out!
If you don't typically like crowded beaches, perhaps I can convince you that it's worth your time by informing you that the sand was white and practically power.
It was some of the softest sand I have ever felt.
We also spend some time at Turtle Beach.
This beach was being dredged at the time, so there was a huge pipe laying on the sand.
It's not really a big deal and doesn't take away much from the beach, but it can cut down on the usable portion.
Honestly, I'm not sure why I am even mentioning it because they are almost definitely done with that project now...
Anyway, trying to find a parking space at Turtle Beach was much more difficult than parking at Siesta Beach because there were fewer parking spots.
Since we were in a Mini Cooper, we actually made up our own spot!
It was out of the way and didn't block anybody, so we weren't being jerks or anything.
There just wasn't enough room for a regularly sized car to fit there, but the Mini was able to take advantage of the unused space! 😂
Pro-tip: drive a small car to Turtle Beach if possible or visit at a less popular time. If you're traveling with a big group, you might want to ignore the tip of taking a small car and opt for a big one that will seat everyone in your group. That way you are looking for only one parking space instead of two!
I try not to let crowds dictate what I do. After all, if it's popular, it could be cool!
Still, not being able to park is annoying. Just keep the limited parking in mind when visiting!
Wow. I keep going off on semi important tangents that aren't all that important.
At Turtle Beach, we got out our beach chairs and found a spot, which honestly seemed less busy than the one on Siesta Key despite the issue of parking.
There, we sat, talked, and held hands while we watched the sun melt into the water.
It was incredibly romantic. 10/10, would recommend.
Just keep in mind that the sand on this beach is less fine that the sand at Siesta Beach, so if you have sensitive feet make sure to wear water shoes!
We spent our evenings exploring Downtown Sarasota.
We would wander around and look for something yummy to eat.
Speaking of food, definitely be prepared to spend some money if you're interested in eating in Downtown Sarasota.
It isn't cheap.
There are some inexpensive places; you just won't find them in the heart of downtown.
We also biked around Downtown Sarasota during the day, which was nice.
Our hotel wasn't too far away from a park that was right on the water.
It was nice to be able to just explore.
John Ringling, one of the owners of the Ringling Circus, built a house in Sarasota, which is now a museum and an art gallery.
The house is stunning, and John's collection of art is certainly impressive.
If you're in Sarasota, you absolutely must stop by!
And bring your camera because you'll want to take pictures!
Sarasota at a Glance
Aloft was a fabulous hotel right at the heart of Downtown Sarasota. However, there are plenty of other great hotels around. You should also check for vacation rentals if you’re on a budget!
The beach (Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach), Downtown, and The Ringling.
3. Orlando, FL
As a Disney and Universal lover, Orlando had to make it onto this list!
But there are other things to do in Orlando...I think.
There are so many hotels in Orlando!
Like, oh my goodness, so many!
You can absolutely find inexpensive rooms.
You may not want to stay in the cheapest rooms, but it is certainly an option!
Location is always important. But, it is especially when you're trying to book a hotel in a large city with varying attractions sprinkled throughout.
Make sure that your hotel is close to whatever attraction or theme park you're there to see.
Orlando is huge, and you probably don't want to stay 30 minutes away from the theme park (or other attraction) you'll be driving to everyday.
More importantly, you don't want to top off a long, fun, tiring day at the theme park (or other attraction) with a 30 minute drive back to your hotel!
That's just annoying.
Some hotels offer shuttle services to theme parks, which can save you $20 or more day on parking!
Make sure you call to inquire about shuttle services before you book the hotel.
Check to see if the shuttle schedule will work for you.
Obviously, the hotels with the best shuttle services to the parks are the ones owned by the theme parks. Disney's hotels offer shuttles about every10 minutes! Their shuttles will take you to any of their theme parks, water parks, and even Disney Springs!
Also, Disney's shuttles run from the parks a while after they close, meaning that you can enjoy every last magical minute without worrying about missing your shuttle back to the hotel.
Universal Studio's hotels offer a shuttle service that is just as convenient as Disney's! With shuttles arriving and leaving every 5-10 minutes, you're never late.
Universal's shuttles run until around 2 am, which means that after a long day of park hopping, you can enjoy some drinks at the one of the bars in City Walk and catch a shuttle back to your hotel!
Naturally, the Disney and Universal hotels can be more expensive, but some of the features might make it worth it!
Both Disney and Universal have less expensive hotels that are still magical!
I adore Disney World! All four parks are phenomenal. All though each has their strengths and weaknesses, which I will be discussing in a future blog post.
Of course, tickets to these parks can be costly. But if you are going to Orlando with the intention to visit these parks, they are well worth the money.
Here are some things to remember to help make your trip more enjoyable:
- You will be hot! Most of the year can be unbearably hot in Florida. So make sure you dress appropriately.
- Bring sunscreen! The sun will be out and you will be in it.
- Remember to drink tons of water! Coca-Cola is great and should be enjoyed with a meal if you so desire, but remember to drink plenty of water too. You will notice that bottled water is insanely overpriced (like most items in theme parks) but--pro tip--you can actually ask for a cup of water at any restaurant or food stand that has a soda fountain. They are required by law to give you one free of charge!
- There will be a lot of people, and they will be in your way! This is important to understand because getting grumpy with people can totally ruin your trip. So just accept it.
- People will be in your personal space! This is similar to the last one, but I think this one is different enough to stand on its own. People will be touching you, not on purpose, at least once during your visit. They don't mean to, so let it go.
- Watch your wallets and phones! While you may be at the happiest place on earth, there are still going to be mean people with sticky fingers lurking around, waiting for an opportunity, so don't give it to them!
- Decide where you want to eat for lunch before lunch time! If you decide you want to eat at Bell's Castle, you will need to wait in a pretty long line, so do yourself a favor and get in the line before you are withering away. Eating at Cinderella's Castle takes a reservation way in advanced, but if you've never done it, I would definitely recommend it, especially if you have a little girl who loves princesses.
If you keep these things in mind, you will have a much more enjoyable trip to the theme park of your choice!
However, if you read those tips and the things you will likely be subjected to sounded like pure torture, then perhaps you should vacation elsewhere! Maybe you would enjoy Sanibel more?
No matter what, you will likely experience some form of irritation when you're visiting an amusement park.
Just take a deep breath, have a drink (not before you ride a crazy coaster), and relax! After all, you are on VACATION! 🙂
I have tons of posts on Disney! And by tons, I mean I have 5.
Other than Disney, there is Universal Studios, which has Harry Potter world in it, and it's amazing!
I definitely recommend that you check that out at some point.
You should remember the tips above because they apply at Universal Studios as well!
Sorry, I don't have a bazillion blog posts about Universal Studios
If you want to take a break from all of the theme parks, you can also go shopping at one of the outlet malls in Orlando!
I love outlet malls! And the ones in Orlando are massive!
Seriously, one of the malls even has an outlet Victoria's Secret, which is actually a dream-come-true.
If you don't want to go to Disney, but still want some magic in your trip to Orlando, you should definitely go to Disney Springs! There are tons of delicious and unique restaurants and plenty of cute shops. It's fun to wander around and enjoy the Disney magic, but it's also incredibly busy, so just keep that in mind.
Check out Disney Spring's Instagram page here. You'll discover how many neat treats and adorable merchandise they have to offer!
When you visit, make sure to check their Instagram feed to see if there are any special offers or events!
Universal's City Walk
You should also check out Universal's City Walk. There are tons of delicious restaurants and a few shops to look around.
They have one restaurant in particular that might peak your interest: a Willy Wonka restaurant.
Yes, you read that correctly!
And yes, in addition to real food, they have candy.
They also have MILKSHAKES! These milkshakes are crazy looking too! I haven't had one yet, but I am definitely excited to try one!
I have tried some of their chocolate, and it was definitely delicious. They have a bunch of interesting candy items that you may not find anywhere else.
As for any of the food on their menu, I haven't tried it. There was a 3 hour wait when I was there last... Clearly, I didn't have the time (or patience) for that, but I did enjoy walking around their chocolate shop!
You can literally get any type of food that you want in Orlando. You might have to drive a bit for it, but if you're staying near a theme park, you probably won't have to go far.
It might seem odd, but my family and I enjoy going to O'Charley's for dinner after a long day at a theme park.
They have a huge menu, so everyone in your group will find something they like!
Plus, they have PIE! And on Wednesdays, you get a free slice! (Just in case you didn't get enough sweet treats during your trip to the theme park!
If you don't know where to eat, just Google it. Seriously.
Orlando at a Glance
There a tons of hotels in Orlando. You can stay on Disney Property, Universal Studios Property, or any where else in the city! There are also plenty of budget hotels to choose from.
Disney World, Universal Studios, Shopping, Disney Springs, and Universal’s City Walk.
There are plenty famous restaurants located at Disney Springs and Universal’s City Walk. However, if you want something more laid back, you can find just about anything in Orlando. My personal favorite is O’Charley’s.
4. Key West, FL
Want to visit Key West? Make sure you check out this guide for a short trip to Key West.
When it comes to accommodations in Key West, you only have so many options since it's an island and all.
I found that most of the hotels were incredibly expensive.
Granted, I was looking for a hotel over a super popular weekend (the 4th of July).
There are a couple of hostels in Key West, which we considered.
One didn't have great reviews and the other was booked.
We also looked for vacation rentals, but we couldn't find any available for a reasonable price.
So, instead, we booked a room at the Blue Marlin Motel.
Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised.
The room was nice and spacious. Plus, there was an epic pool where they served a complimentary breakfast each morning.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to take advantage of the breakfast because we kept staying up too late and sleeping through it.
But, it was nice to know it was an option!
We got our room for a little more than $100 per night, which was a great deal considering the other prices I was seeing.
The best part of the motel had to be the location though.
It was within walking distance of Duval Street, so we didn't have to worry about having a designated driver.
Suffice to say, I highly recommend the Blue Marlin Motel.
You can check out the Blue Marlin Motel on Booking.com.
(Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Booking.com. As such, I receive compensation if you book a hotel through my link at no cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products and services that I love and trust!)
First of all, you can carry open containers of alcohol on Duval Street! Hell, yeah! When we (my friends and I) learned that, we got so excited!
As young adults, we had never been anywhere where that is allowed. It was a liberating and neat experience. Loved it.
Of course, there is more to Duval Street than just the ability to openly carry alcohol! There are also tons of bars! That way you can purchase the alcohol you want to walk around with! 😉
Seriously though, most of the bars on Duval Street were poppin'! We went to three different ones (read this post to get the deets) and loved each one.
Okay, okay. I'll stop talking about alcohol for a bit.
Duval Street is absolutely adorable and quaint.
There are tons a small, local shops selling quirky items. There are people on the sidewalk selling their artwork. And there are tons of art galleries that are definitely worth checking out!
While you're on Duval Street, you definitely need to stop by Margaritaville and have a margarita! (I only promised to stop talking about alcohol for a bit!)
My personal favorite is the "Perfect Margarita." But keep in mind that this is strong and you definitely need to like margaritas in order to enjoy it!
I wouldn't recommend going to Key West for the beaches because they aren't that great. But we enjoyed snorkeling in Ft. Zachery!
The current was incredibly strong, which made it a challenging swim, but it was totally worth it!
We saw tons of fish.
We didn't get to see too much of the reef because the current was churning up the water pretty good.
There are tons of great snorkeling spots throughout the keys. So when you're driving down to Key West, you should definitely pick some snorkeling spots to stop at!
Other Neat Attractions
I wanted to go tour Hemingway's house and see Rodger, the doll that inspired Chucky, but we didn't have time.
So if you have done either of those things, let me know in the comments below!
I have heard awesome things about both!
There is no shortage of good food in Key West.
My favorite restaurants were
- Jack Flat's
- Caroline's Cafe
- Mr. Z's
Want more information on these awesome restaurants?
Of course you do!
I give you all of the details in this post on Key West.
Definitely check out the Blue Marlin Motel! Also, look into hostels and vacation rentals; you never know what you’ll find!
Walk around Duval Street, visit Margaritaville, Visit Art Galleries, Go Snorkeling, and Tour Hemingway’s House
You should check out Jack Flat’s, Caroline’s Cafe, and Mr. Z’s.
5. Miami, FL
Technically, when I was in Miami, I stayed in Miami Beach.
There were a lot of high-end shops and restaurants in certain sections.
Then there were parts that were a bit more affordable but also not quite as nice...even a little bit sketchy.
There are tons of hostels in Miami!
And forget about that super gory horror movie named Hostel (if that even came to your mind).
My experience was nothing like that, which is why can be here writing this. 😂
The hostel we stayed at, which was called HI Hostel, was nice.
There were 5 of us, so we rented out a 6 bed room (they accidentally gave us an 8 bed room at no additional charge--score!), which was nice because we didn't have to bunk with strangers!
Pro-tip: The hostel gave us each one towel to use after our showers. So, if you choose to stay in a hostel, make sure you bring your own towel for the beach!
We also didn't have a mat to step on when we came back from the beach, so the tile floors in our room quickly became incredibly slippery and sandy.
If you can plan for that and bring an extra towel, it will likely improve your experience.
I would encourage you to rinse off and dry off before even entering your room if you can. Just be aware that the showers at the beach (even to rinse off your feet) have huge lines! Maybe it was just the part of the beach we were at, but don't assume you will be able to rinse off.
If you are a solo female traveler, Miami actually has female only hostels! So, you don't need to worry about possibly being the only girl sleeping in a room full of men if that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable.
Okay, I know you've definitely sensed a theme throughout most of this list. (I mean, it's Florida. What do you want from me?)
But seriously, if you go to Miami, you definitely need to visit the beach, even if it's only once!
Warning: the beaches were crowded. But, wow, were they beautiful?!
There were hotels and condos lining the beach, which isn't uncommon in Florida, but there was something about this place that was prettier. Maybe it was the was the superior water and sand. Or maybe the architecture was just prettier. I can't quite put my finger on it...
On the beach, you had the option to rent beach chairs and umbrellas, which is super nice when you're traveling. If you already own beach chairs and an umbrella, you may feel like this is a rip off, but most of the time you won't have room in your car to bring them with you.
The water was warm (it was July after all) and pretty clear for it being the Atlantic Ocean.
You could see the fish swimming around you!
I can't lie, when I'm not wearing my snorkeling gear, this kind of freaks me out because it's difficult to tell what exactly is swimming around you when you're looking down into the water.
Still, we had a great time!
Check out my list of 5 products you need for your next beach vacation here!
I used all of those products when I was in Miami. They made such a huge difference!
The waterproof lanyard was my favorite! I didn't want to leave my credit card and ID on the beach while we were swimming, and since we wanted to eat lunch before we swam and drink afterwards, I couldn't leave my card in the room. So it definitely helped me a lot!
We didn't go to any bars per se.
But we did drink at a restaurant! (Forgive me because I can't remember the name! I failed to make note of it and then had a little much to drink...)
But don't worry!
There are tons of places to get ridiculously large drinks in Miami.
I would definitely recommend getting a 32 oz margarita and taking a picture with it!
You won't regret it! Well, you might, but the picture is worth it!
While the drinks may seem expensive, you should try to find a place that offers two for one drinks. Just make sure you plan this out with friends, as two 32 oz margaritas should put you on your ass...just saying.
We spent about 7 hours at this restaurant drinking 2 for 1 drinks... I'm thinking you can guess the ending to that night!
I will say that the highlight of the trip was meeting a couple from Europe. The man didn't speak English but his girlfriend spoke multiple languages (including English). We had such a great time talking to them and drinking with them!
Pro-tip: Make friends! You never know who you're sitting next to! If you're an introvert like me, one of those 32 oz margaritas should loosen you up a bit! 😉 But seriously, no matter what, make sure that you make good decisions! Meeting people is awesome, but remember that you don't know them! So don't necessarily trust them!
Definitely look into HI Hostel because we had such a great experience there and the price and location were unbeatable. There are plenty of other hostels and hotels to choose from though, so make sure you compare prices.
You absolute must visit the beach and take a walk along iconic Ocean Drive! Then, you should stop by a restaurant for an ridiculously large adult beverage because why not?! Also, make sure you check with your hostel or hotel about awesome activities happening around town. They may even offer discounts!
Sanibel is a quite vacation destination during the summer. You can partake in many outdoor activities, so if you love sunshine and beaches, Sanibel might just be the perfect destination for you!
Sarasota is a laid back city with a romantic vibe. You can watch the sunset at the beach and then enjoy a lovely dinner at a fine restaurant in downtown. But don’t think that Sarasota is only for couples! It’s a great family and group destination as well!
Orlando is where the magic happens. You can make your dreams come true at Disney World, or go on an adventure at Universal Studios. Orlando has grown into a large, thriving city, so if you want to skip the theme parks, there’s still tons of awesome things to do!
Everyone dreams of Key West. Hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere right? Yeah, in Margaritaville! In fact, I’m pretty sure Jimmy Buffet says it’s always 5 in Margaritaville! You can enjoy tons of awesome art created by local artists and even go snorkeling. Key West is the perfect destination for anyone just looking to relax.
Miami is a lively city with no shortage of parties to attend (if you’re into that sort of thing). You can also just spend your days laying in the warm sand and clear waters. Miami is best for couples and groups, but there’s some fun activities for families too!
Well, that's it guys! My top 5 Vacation Destinations in Florida!
I hope you enjoyed reading about them. For more information on my experiences in these destinations, make sure to check out my other posts!
Let me know in the comments below if you have been to any of these place or if you plan to visit!
Until next time,