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Natural beauty, unforgettable adventures and fascinating pursuits await for for summer travel fun.
Florida is more than most people know. The Sunshine State’s rich diversity creates an abundance of exciting and carefree activities.
With summer travel season beginning, we’re highlighting Florida’s natural beauty, unforgettable adventures and fascinating pursuits to stir your imagination.
Explore the great outdoors
There’s life beyond Florida’s busy cities and towns. Immerse yourself in the experience of a national or state park, or a beautiful beach.
BISCAYNE: Emerald islands, aquamarine water and colorful coral reefs combine history (presidents, pirates, shipwrecks) and activity (boating, snorkeling, camping) for unforgettable experiences.
Near Miami (South)
DRY TORTUGAS: Sitting nearly 70 miles west of Key West, this island park is accessible by boat or seaplane. Fort Jefferson, an 1800s federal garrison, is now occupied by rangers who protect the waters, reefs and wildlife.
Near Key West (South)
EVERGLADES: Preserving the state’s massive-but-fragile wetlands ecosystem, this 2,400-square-mile park provides refuge to diverse wildlife—and a glimpse into more than 10,000 years of history.
Near Homestead (South)
FLORIDA CAVERNS: Go deep and escape from the sun. Guided tours of the dry (air-filled) caves showcase eye-popping formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites and draperies—and 65-degree temperatures year-round. Don’t miss the natural rock gardens.
MYAKKA RIVER: One of the state’s oldest and largest, the park protects a highly diverse natural area. The river flows through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies and pinelands open to boaters, anglers and photographers, and scenic lake tours by airboat are offered daily.
Myakka City (Central)
JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF: America’s first undersea park attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, most eager to explore the marine scenery. Divers flock to Christ of the Abyss—an 8½-foot, two-ton bronze sculpture that has stood 25 feet below the surface since 1965.
Key Largo (South)
GRAYTON BEACH: More than 2,000 acres, ideal for swimming, surf fishing and camping, entice visitors to enjoy a bounty of fun. Paddle canoes to view a salt marsh ecosystem, or walk along the lengthy nature trail that winds through a coastal forest of scrub oaks and magnolias.
Santa Rosa Beach (North)
JOSEPH PENINSULA: Some of the nation’s highest dunes and one of the last remaining habitats for coastal sand pine scrub are found here. Includes nature trails, cabins and family campsites, as well as a 1,900-acre wilderness preserve.
Port St. Joe (North)
CALADESI ISLAND: Accessible by boat or ferry. Beach lovers enjoy swimming, fishing and sunbathing, while nature enthusiasts hail the 3-mile kayak trail. Its remote access means
it’s seldom crowded.
DAYTONA BEACH: Although driving is permitted on parts of the famous white sand, bicycling is the best way to get around here. Rent one or bring your own, and explore dozens of bike-friendly businesses and landmarks—or just relax overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Daytona Beach (Central)
BAREFOOT BEACH PRESERVE: In the comfort of an undeveloped barrier island, this 342-acre oasis lets protected sea turtles and sun worshippers coexist peacefully amid the natural ambiance of blue water, fine sand and sabal palms until sunset.
Bonita Springs (South)
CAPE FLORIDA: For decades, locals have come to the park to sunbathe, swim in the gentle waves and picnic on this mile-long sandy stretch—in the shadow of a lighthouse dating to 1825. Dedicated bike trails, shoreline fishing and overnight camping complete the experience.
Key Biscayne (South)
Maximize your free time
Florida is a playground—whether you’re into sports, shop for sport, or simply are a good sport who loves a thrill.
JACKSONVILLE BEACH PIER: Anglers say this area has a great run of highly prized king mackerel. Stretching 1,320 feet into the Atlantic, the pier is the best place to hook one from land.
Jacksonville Beach (North)
SHIPWRECK TRAIL: A diver’s delight in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Destin, Panama City and Port St. Joe, this state-sanctioned series of 12 fascinating wrecks encourages underwater explorers to see them all.
Multiple cities (North)
MALA COMPRA GREENWAY: Mountain bikers of all skill levels love the 5½ miles of climbs, switchbacks, rock gardens and jumps through maritime oaks and ocean scrub. Prefer a slower pace? The 323-acre park also includes a 1.5-mile walking trail.
Palm Coast (North)
THREE SISTERS SPRINGS: Possibly the best place to watch Florida’s charming, lumbering manatees. This habitat provides food and shelter for these gentle giants.
Crystal River (Central)
J.N. “DING” DARLING REFUGE: Bird watchers and kayakers love this National Wildlife Refuge. Darling, director of the U.S. Biological Survey in the 1930s, helped spare this sensitive land from development. Today, it’s one of Florida’s most important preserves.
Sanibel Island (South)
EAST END MARKET: A culinary hub inspired by local farmers and artisans, dedicated to the idea that a vibrant food culture is the foundation for a community’s quality of life. The New York Times includes it among many reasons to visit Central Florida.
ARMANDS CIRCLE: This convivial area blends local boutiques, art galleries and sidewalk cafes around a circular park loved by locals and visitors.
WORTH AVENUE: An enclave that inspires dreamers and doers alike, it’s a glimpse at glamour with shops like Gucci, Hermès and Chanel.
Palm Beach (South)
SAWGRASS MILLS: It takes at least a day to explore the largest outlet-shopping mall in the United States—and 26 million people do it every year.
WALT DISNEY WORLD: The Magic Kingdom’s newest ride, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, is a family-friendly roller coaster.
Lake Buena Vista (Central)
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: Harry Potter fans rave about Diagon Alley, the attraction based on the book and film series, featuring shops and rides.
LEGOLAND: The brick-themed resort opens a new area called Heartlake City with rides and entertainment designed to appeal to preteen girls.
Winter Haven (Central)
BUSCH GARDENS: Pantopia, the new theme area, brings global culture and carefree fun. Its centerpiece, Falcon’s Fury, plunges riders from 335 feet.
AAA Members enjoy discounts on dozens of attractions. Visit AAA.com/Fun
Find a real gem or two
Florida is filled with historic places and fascinating spaces. Here are a few storied settings you can discover—or rediscover—today.
FORT BARRANCAS: Deep military roots come into focus during tours of this fortress built by the British Navy in 1763 and augmented by Spanish (1797) and American (1839) commands.
CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS: The oldest existing structure in America’s oldest city, built of stone and mortar by Spanish troops between 1672 and 1695. Cannon shots and weapons emonstrations turn the clock back.
St. Augustine (North)
PONCE INLET LIGHTHOUSE: One of Florida’s premier nautical museums, at more than 125 years old and 175 feet high, it’s the third-tallest lighthouse in the USA. Climb the 213 steps to the top for a stunning view.
Ponce Inlet (Central)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER: Home to America’s space program since the 1960s, the intriguing facility puts visitors in touch with rockets and shuttles and presents opportunities to meet veteran astronauts and experience space and flight simulators.
Cape Canaveral (Central)
ART DECO HISTORIC DISTRICT: Sleek curves, glass blocks, pastel colors—these characteristics distinguish more than 700 buildings dating to the 1920s in this architecturally significant, 80-square-block oceanfront neighborhood. To know the full history, a walking tour is essential.
Miami Beach (South)
SOUTHERNMOST POINT BUOY: Marking the southern extreme of the continental United States, this spot at the end of Whitehead Street draws a million visitors each year to smile for the camera—knowing they’re only 90 miles from Cuba.
Key West (South)
Quirky and Cool
DEVIL’S MILLHOPPER: As unique as its name suggests, this 120-foot-deep subterranean rainforest is fed by streams seeping from limestone—an otherworldly green space populated by birds, wildlife and fossils.
U-BOAT LANDING: In June 1942, during the height of World War II, four German submarine saboteurs came ashore at night in the dunes of a quiet beach community near Jacksonville. They were arrested quickly, and a monument marks the approximate spot of their audacious arrival.
Ponte Vedra Beach (North)
WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS: Mermaids are real—and they’ve delighted visitors here since 1947. A slice of roadside Americana, the park’s colorfully costumed underwater performers entertain guests daily with their aquatic acrobatics in the comfort of a 400-seat submerged theater.
Weeki Wachee (Central)
SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM: A perennial favorite on must-see lists for art lovers throughout the world, the museum features the largest collection of the offbeat Spanish surrealist master’s work outside Europe—paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, films, manuscripts and more.
St. Petersburg (Central)
AMERICA’S SMALLEST POST OFFICE: Before 1953, the post office serving ZIP code 34141 was a farm shed. Pressed into “temporary” duty after a fire, standing 7 feet wide by 8 feet deep, it remains a full-service facility.
900-YEAR-OLD MONASTERY: In 1925, tycoon William Randolph Hearst bought a 12th-century Spanish monastery and had it shipped to Florida—because he could. Today, it’s a striking New World curiosity.
AAA is your ultimate travel companion.
Get member-exclusive discounts on Florida hotels, restaurants, car rentals, attraction
tickets and more, and gather online route maps and destination information. It’s a wealth of knowledge, free to explore.
AAA Mobile App
Plan your trip with this powerful, GPS-based app for smartphones and tablets. Includes member-exclusive savings tips, maps (including detours), access to roadside assistance
and more. Available at AAA.com/Mobile or the app store for your device.
Easy-to-read guides with AAA Diamond Ratings for hotels and restaurants, and details about things to do at your destination or along the way. Free to members; available in print from your local AAA office or download at AAA.com.
For details about other Florida hot spots, speak with a travel consultant at your local AAA office.
A version of this story appears in the May/June 2015 issue of AAA Living magazine.
Image credit/source: Alamy
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