There’s a lot of ink spilled over the Florida hot spots like Miami, Key West, and Orlando. Go here. Do this. Avoid that. Wear sunscreen. You’ve heard all the advice. We’re here to zig when everyone else is zagging – and we’d like to nominate these four beautiful, fun, yet totally off-the-beaten-path locales for your next Florida vaca. So learn a little bit about Florida’s hidden gems – you might just be inspired to book your trip today.
You’ll find a slice of quantity, old-fashioned Florida in Cedar Key. You want quiet? You want remote? There’s a two lane road leading on and off the Key, and that’s it. No traffic lights. No stress. An hour south of Gainesville, Cedar Key is off the beaten path, accessible by Route 24 along Florida’s Nature Coast. Cedar Key keeps that nickname alive with miles of lush natural preserves, ample fishing, and picturesque beaches. The small downtown offers boutique stores lined with friendly locals and century-old oak trees. The houses and stores perch above the Gulf of Mexico on wooden supports, with the water cascading underneath. Cedar Key also has two festivals each year – the Cedar Key Fine Arts Festival which is held in April and the Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival which is held in mid-October. If you want to spend time miles away from stress, chain stores and traffic – come to Cedar Key.
Dade City is about much more than oranges and cows (the area’s top exports). Thanks to its physical features, pioneer heritage, and laid-back atmosphere Dade City is another area typically referred to as “old” or “historic” Florida. This small town is situated about an hour’s drive from Tampa. The downtown is perfectly walkable with many Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture to enjoy. Many tourists come for the 16-acre Pioneer Florida Museum. Designed by architect E.C. Hosford in 1903, this lovely museum showcases the state’s early history and the shade-covered lawn is perfect for a warm day’s picnic. In the mood for the exotic? Take the kids to the Giraffe Ranch just outside Dade City for an up close and personal encounter. Additionally, Dade City plays host each year to a large number of popular community-sponsored events, including the Kumquat Festival, Country Christmas Stroll and a “Classic Car Cruise-in” held the first Saturday of each month.
Slightly funky, and totally laid-back, Crystal River is located 90 minutes north of Tampa. Looking to make a new friend? Crystal river is one of the only places you can swim with endangered West Indian manatees. The adorable sea cows live in the titular Crystal River and the less populated Homosassa River. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making it the prefect temperature for mammals and fish. Visitors also kayak, swim, and snorkel on these springs and nearby Rainbow River. There is a lot to do off the water on the many sunny days that Crystal River has to offer. You can visit the Crystal River State Archeology Site, Fort Island Gulf Beach, or one of Citrus Counties 18 birding trails as well as an occasional outdoor concert at Rockcrusher Canyon.
The growing year-round population of Sebring, Florida is proof that this community surrounded by rivers, lakes, and citrus groves is a must-visit. Founded in 1912, Sebring is also known as “The City on a Circle” because of the circular historic downtown district. Sebring offers boutique shopping and access to some of the best hiking in Florida due to its unique rolling hills (Florida is otherwise flat and swampy). Highland Hammonds State Park is a highlight for outdoorsy travelers with beautiful trails to traverse and ample picnic opportunities. If you love NASCAR and other vehicles that go fast, check out the International Speedway. Sebring is actually famous for the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, part of the prestigious American Le Mans Series.