Updated December 27, 2020
You may be a person who likes to plan your Florida day trip around a particular theme.
Most websites and books focus on locations when discussing day trips. There is another way to find something to do.
You may be interested in outdoor adventure, history, museums, nature centers, historic buildings, or any number of other themes. We can think of at least 23 themes that might interest you.
If the theme and type of experience on the day trip is more important to you than the location, then this page is for you.
This short video will tell you all about those themes.
Does your perfect day include a family visit to a giant theme park or would you rather go to a smaller and less expensive attraction? No matter your preference, there are hundreds if not thousands of fun getaways in Florida.
Orlando and Central Florida are home to some of the largest theme parks in the world. Smaller attractions are scattered across the state. From water parks to roller coaters to giant Ferris Wheels, it can be found in Florida.
Florida has hundreds of theme parks and smaller attractions. Whatever you like, you can find it in Florida. Here are a few ideas.
Busch Gardens, Tampa
Daytona International Speedway, Daytona
Dinosaur World, Plant City
Disney Springs, Lake Buena Vista
Epcot, Walt Disney World
Fun Spot America, Orlando
Legoland Florida Resort, Winter Haven
ICON Orlando, Orlando
Spook Hill, Lake Wales
Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill
Florida has one of the longest saltwater shorelines in the United States, and the Environmental Protection Agency says the state has 570 beaches with a total beach length of 902 miles.
We don’t know who can challenge that number, but it doesn’t really matter. No matter what kind of beach you are looking for, Florida probably has it.
From just sunbathing, beach combing, long walks, treasure hunting, or searching for unique sea shells – you can find it here.
No matter what your interest is in Florida beaches and shells, the state's long shoreline means you can find it. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Bailey-Matthew National Shell Museum, Sanibel
Beaches, All Over Florida's Thousand Mile Shoreline
Canaveral National Seashore, New Smyrna and Titusville
Destin Sand Castle Lessons
Fort Desoto Park, Tierra Verde
Little Talbot Island State Park, Jacksonville
Tigertail Beach, Marco Island
Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Florida's mild climate makes it home to an amazing variety of animals. Millions of birds stop by on their annual migratory journeys and a similar number stay here year-round.
The state is surrounded by salt water and is home to multitudes of dolphins, a friendly and smart mammal. Manatees, also known as sea cows, are comfortable in the warmer waters around the state. They can’t survive in waters below 60 degrees F., so they congregate in various warmer waters around the state in the cold months.
There are countless opportunities in Florida to observe and interact with these creatures especially around Florida’s many springs.
Birds, dolphins, manatee, alligators, turtles, and other creatures can be observed in their natural settings. Here are some places:
Manatee Watching at Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Crystal River Swim With Manatees, Crystal River
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel
Florida Aquarium, Tampa
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Fort Walton Beach
Farm Tours of Ocala, Ocala
Jungle Island, Miami
Marineland, St. Augustine
Miami Seaquarium, Miami
Mill Creek Farm Retirement Home for Horses, Alachua
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sarasota
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Sarasota
Seacrest Wolf Preserve, Chipley
Butterfly World, Coconut Creek
Florida has thousands of miles of salt water coastline, thousands of lakes, and dozens of rivers. Getting out on the water is a traditional way to enjoy the state and get to see a lot of things you can't see from the roads.
Tours and adventures are readily available to help you enjoy the water, or you can rent a boat and do it on your own. Snorkeling, fishing, sailing are activities that Floridians and visitors enjoy all year long.
Adventure on the water is a favorite way to enjoy Florida. From boating to snorkeling, it is all here. Here's a few examples.
A. J.'s Water Adventures, Destin
Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures, Kissimmee
CatBoat Adventures, Mount Dora
Everglades and Keys Kayak Tours, Key Largo
Fort Gates Ferry, Ocala National Forest
Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi, Fort Lauderdale
Highway A1A Ferry, Mayport to Fort George Island
Jungle Queen Riverboat, Fort Lauderdale
Key West Express, Ft Myers Beach, Marco Island, Key West
Naples Princess Cruises, Naples
Old Florida Boat Tour, Bokeelia
River Safaris, Homosassa
Schooner Freedom, St. Augustine
St. Johns Rivership Company, Sanford
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, Winter Park
RENT YOUR OWN BOAT
If you don't own a boat but still yearn to get out on the water, a boat rental may be the way to go. Sailing or powering, it is great fun on the Florida water.
If boat rentals sound good to you, this is a list of 21 boat rental places in the eight geographical regions of Florida and the Florida Keys. Most of these places will rent you a boat by the full day, half day, or several days.
The size of the boat can depend on how many people you plan to take with you. No matter your level of experience, they will show you safety items and how to use them.
The Florida Everglades is a huge subtropical wetland of sawgrass marshes in a complex system of interdependent ecosystems. These ecosystems include cypress swamps, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rock land, and the salt water marine environment of Florida Bay in the Keys.
The western parts of the extremely urban southeast Florida counties of Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade are in the Everglades. The rampant development in this megalopolis has created new problems for the Everglades and aggravated old ones.
Also, although Naples, Fort Myers, Labelle, Immokalee and Everglades City are in southwest Florida, the Everglades ecosystem touches their very back doors and is part of their history and future.
The Florida Everglades sprawls across 16 counties, all the way from Orlando in the north to Monroe County in the south.
Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy this unique place.
Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee
Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery, Ochopee
Everglades Rod and Gun Club, Everglades City
Everglades National Park, Everglades City, Homestead
Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, Okeechobee
Miccosukee Indian Village, Miami
Museum of the Everglades, Everglades City
Shark Valley Tram Tours, Everglades National Park
Smallwood Store, Chokoloskee
Native Americans were in Florida at least 12,000 years ago, but written records only began when Juan Ponce de León arrived in 1513. Spain built St. Augustine and Pensacola in 1565 and governed Florida for most of the next 250 years until it became a territory of the United States in 1821.
The new territory attracted people from bordering southern states. Florida became a state in 1845. Much of Florida heritage is derived from the Old South, especially in north Florida. Although part of the Confederacy, it suffered less damage in the Civil War than other southern states.
Only one significant battle was fought in Florida. The Union army occupied most coastal towns and forts, but the state’s interior remained in Confederate hands. After the Civil War, agriculture grew in importance, especially cattle and citrus.
Florida's economy collapsed in 1926 and was soon followed by the Great Depression. World War II spurred major economic development because Florida’s year-round mild climate made the state a major training center for our military. Tourists began visiting and many stayed. The population growth continues to this day.
The state has lived under the flags of Spain, Britain, Confederate States of American, and several independent republics. Here are some of places that will help you enjoy the history.
Barnacle Historic State Park, Miami
Castillo San Marcos, St. Augustine
Cracker Country Rural History Museum, Tampa
Fort Caroline National Memorial, Jacksonville
Fort Christmas Historical Park, Christmas
Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach
Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial, Ellenton
Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville
Koreshan State Park, Estero
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, Olustee
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs
The Florida Keys are a string of coral cays that stretch from the mainland south of Miami all the way through Key West to the Dry Tortugas. Most of these cays don’t have sand beaches, but shores of coral rock.
The Keys are not only different geologically from the rest of the state, the people have a culture that is unique and reflects a turbulent history. The Keys were isolated from one another and only accessible by water until 1912. In that year, the extension of Henry Flagler’s railroad all the way to Key West connected the cays for the first time.
Early settlers of The Keys were called “conchs” (conks) because of the main staple of the sea. Many of these early settlers were Loyalists who came from the Bahamas, descendants of those who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War.
In 1982 the people of Key West had a disagreement with the U.S. government, declared their independence, and briefly became the “Conch Republic”. Though only a stunt, it brought a lot of publicity to The Keys and cemented its reputation as home to a bunch of independent people.
The image still sticks today. The Keys are for people who love boating, fishing, and the unusual.
Here are some things and places you will enjoy.
Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key
Hemingway Home, Key West
Key West Aquarium, Key West
Mallory Square, Key West
Theater of the Sea, Islamorada
Truman Little White House, Key West
The Dolphin Connection, Duck Key
You can also read more about dining, lodging, and the mile marker system at our FLORIDA KEYS TRAVEL GUIDE.
Florida’s mild to tropical climate makes it ideal for growing a large variety of plants. The huge population explosion in recent state history makes these botanical gardens even more attractive. They are peaceful oases that provide refuge and quiet in the busy state of Florida.
Here are some places, large and small, that you will enjoy if you are a plant lover.
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, Fort Lauderdale
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables
Leu Gardens, Orlando
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach
Naples Botanical Garden, Naples
Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg
Reliable sources claim that Florida has about 50,000 restaurants, wineries, bars, diners, and other establishments to enjoy good spirits and good times.
We scratch the surface here with some of the oldest and most popular establishments. You can enjoy a wide variety of food, drinks, and entertainment at these places.
Alabama Jack's, Card Sound Road, Key Largo
Bern's Steakhouse, Tampa
Cap's Place Island Restaurant, Lighthouse Point
Chattaway, St. Petersburg
Clark's Fish Camp, Mandarin
Columbia Restaurant, Ybor City, Tampa
Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery, Lake Placid
High Tides at Snack Jack, Flagler Beach
Joe's Stone Crab, Miami Beach
Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards, Clermont
Mai Kai Restaurant, Fort Lauderdale
San Sebastian Winery, St. Augustine
Schnebly Redlands Winery, Homestead
Sloppy Joe's, Key West
The oldest buildings in Florida are in St. Augustine reflecting the Spanish heritage dating back to 1565 (with one unusual exception in North Miami Beach). Many architectural masterpieces in the rest of the state were constructed during Florida’s Gilded Age of the 1880s and 1990s.
Some of the most impressive buildings were built during the real estate boom of the 1920s and are still functioning as hotels or other businesses. Florida also has its share of historic mansions, many of which have been preserved and converted to museums.
Here are some we enjoy.
Ancient Spanish Monastery, North Miami Beach
Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach
Ca'da'Zan (John Ringling Home), Sarasota
Cassadaga Spiritual Camp, Cassadaga
Coral Castle, Miami
DeFuniak Springs Historic District, DeFuniak Springs
Flagler Museum (Whitehall Mansion), Palm Beach
Ponce de Leon Hotel (Now Flagler College), St. Augustine
Florida Citrus Tower, Clermont
Florida State Capitol Buildings, Tallahassee
Frank Lloyd Wright Child of the Sun, Lakeland
Miami Marine Stadium, Miami
Ocean Drive Art Deco District, Miami Beach
Oldest House Museum Complex, St. Augustine
Pensacola Historic Village, Pensacola
Seaside Planned Community, Seaside
Tampa Bay Hotel (Now University of Tampa), Tampa
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami
Ybor City Historic District, Tampa
Most Florida historic hotels, with some exceptions, were built in the boom days of the early to mid 1920s. Many of them were masterpieces of architecture of that golden era; many of them also deteriorated over the years as more modern motels and hotels popped up all over Florida.
Thanks to good old capitalism and the huge population explosion in Florida from the 1950s until now, many of these grand old ladies have been renovated and can stand up to any luxury hotel or motel in the state.
Many of them are architectural treasures where you can still find elegant lodging. Here are some on the National Register of Historic Places.
Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables
Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach
Casa Marina Hotel, Jacksonville Beach
Casa Marina Resort, Key West
Casa Monica Hotel, St. Augustine
Cadillac Hotel, Miami Beach
The Chesterfield, Palm Beach
Don Cesar Hotel, St. Petersburg Beach
Driftwood Inn, Vero Beach
Florida House Inn, Fernandina Beach
Floridan Hotel, Tampa
Fontainebleau, Miami Beach
Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande
Gulf Stream Hotel, Lake Worth
Island Hotel, Cedar Key
Hotel Jacaranda, Avon Park
Lakeside Inn, Mount Dora
Ocean Spray Hotel, Miami Beach
Seminole Inn, Indiantown
Tarpon Lodge and Restaurant, Pine Island
Tween Waters Inn, Captiva Island
Vinoy Park Hotel, St. Petersburg
The Terrace Hotel, Lakeland
Florida lighthouses are among the state's oldest structures. All of them have interesting stories to tell, and some of them can be visited by tourists. These places make an entertaining destination for a Florida day trip.
The oldest lighthouse on mainland Florida is the one in St. Augustine that was built in 1824. The tallest lighthouse in Florida is at Ponce de Leon Inlet south of Daytona Beach. It is 175 feet tall and one of the tallest in the United States.
Six of the lighthouses in Florida are open to the public. Some of them allow visitors to climb to the top. A few lighthouses also serve as popular wedding locations.
Here are some that you can visit or look at.
Pensacola Lighthouse, U.S. Naval Station Pensacola
Crooked River Lighthouse, Carrabelle
Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, Boca Grande
Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, Boca Grande
Cape Florida Lighthouse, Key Biscayne
Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, Pompano Beach
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, Jupiter
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Ponce Inlet
St. Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine
St. Johns Light, Mayport
Amelia Island Lighthouse, Fernandina Beach
Mount Dora Lighthouse, Mount Dora
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Florida had large virgin forests. Lumber was used for most building construction back then. Carpenter Gothic was an architectural design created so a carpenter could build a church that had some of the features of other churches made in stone.
Only 39 of the original 80 churches remain in the state.
There are museums in Florida for just about any interest you might have. From fine Tiffany art to the bizarre collections in a Believe it or Not museum, you name it and it is probably somewhere in the state.
Museums range from the serious, such as the state museums of history and natural history, to the sports themed and the automobile-oriented museums, to some of the most interesting artifacts in Florida such as recovered buried Spanish treasure.
For a relatively young state, Florida has museums for many different interests. Here are some of them.
Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Winter Park
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Ocala
Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers
Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville
Jacksonville Museum of Science and History, Jacksonville
John Gorrie State Museum, Apalachicola
McLarty Treasure Museum, Vero Beach
Morse Museum, Winter Park
Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee
National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, Fort Pierce
Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando
Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum, St. Augustine
The Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
The Revs Institute, Naples
Florida's year round temperate to tropical climate makes it a perfect place for outdoor adventure. The state is bordered by 1,300 miles of saltwater coast, and its interior is bejeweled by 30,000 lakes and hundreds of miles of rivers and streams.
Florida has an extensive state park system, along with national parks, local parks, and bike trails. There are limitless places for boating, fishing, or just plain beach combing and shell hunting. Florida is made for enjoying the outdoors.
Here are some of our favorite things to do.
Horseback Riding on the Beach, Amelia Island
Babcock Ranch Ecotours, Punta Gorda
Bob's River Place, Branford
Florida Fish Camps, Various Locations
Ginnie Springs Outdoors, High Springs
Ichetucknee Inner Tube Trip, Fort White
Kayaking at Topsail Hill, Santa Rosa Beach
Scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico, Various Locations
Sea Turtle Nesting Season, Indialantic
Withlacoochee State Trail, Inverness
Florida Parks are treasured natural resources. The Old Florida that is rapidly disappearing from the state is being preserved in local, state, and national parks.
It is because of these parks that some parts of natural Florida are still alive and well despite the proliferation of condos, theme parks, subdivisions and shopping malls that have obliterated much of the Florida landscape in the past half century or so.
Many Florida state parks have camping sites carved out of the surrounding pine woods and palmettos. The campsites are separated from each other by this natural vegetation. The privacy is much greater than in the average private campground. Each campsite usually has an electric outlet, a water faucet, a charcoal grill and a fire ring for campfires.
Florida Parks preserve natural resources and protect them from the constant development of the state. Parks are great for camping, hiking, observing nature, or just relaxing. Here are a few we like.
Biscayne National Park, Homestead and Miami
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, Gainesville
Dry Tortugas National Park, Homestead
Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna
Fruit and Spice Park, Homestead
Highlands Hammock State Park, Sebring
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, Cross Creek
Florida's modern history began first with the railroads, then airplanes, and finally rockets. After the U.S. Civil War, water routes were the main form of transportation in the state.
Railroads made the development of Florida possible by increasing export routes for its agricultural products, and ways for tourists to come down from the north.
During World Wars I and II, aviation became a large part of Florida history. The mild climate resulted in hundreds of army air force bases being built for training pilots. The modern space program began in Florida at Cape Canaveral with the launch of Bumper 8 In 1950.
Federal, state, and local governments along with private individuals have done a great job preserving the memories and artifacts of these eras.
Here are a few.
Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, Ft. Walton Beach
Air Force Space & Missile Museum, Cape Canaveral AFB
Central Florida Railroad Museum, Winter Garden
Fantasy of Flight, Polk City
Florida Air Museum, Lakeland
Florida Railroad Museum, Parrish
Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
Murder Mystery Dinner Train
National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola
Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, Titusville
The rapid development of Florida has been a double edged sword. On the negative side, this growth has too often been rampant and careless and done a lot of environmental damage. Native habitat has been lost forever and what remains continues to be erased or damaged by development.
On a more positive note, the financial resources generated by this growth have provided the funds for government and private organizations to buy sensitive lands and put them into preservation forever.
These preserves, along with nature centers and science museums, continue to educate the public about environmental issues and help them become good stewards of the land.
Nature centers, science museums, and environmentally sensitive land preserves are managed by state and local governments - as well as some private parties. Here are a few of them.
Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Key West
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton
Harbor Branch Ocean Discovery Center, Fort Pierce
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville
Ocala National forest, Silver Springs
Orlando Science Center, Orlando
Princess Place Preserve, Palm Coast
Tampa Museum of Science & Industry, Tampa
Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida, Pensacola
There were at least 12 Native American tribes who lived in Florida before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. They were all gone within 200 years, either dying of European diseases or enslaved in the Caribbean.
The Seminoles emerged in the 1700s from a combination of various Native American tribes who settled in Florida. The dominant tribe was the northern Muscogee Creeks from Georgia and Alabama.
The word “Seminole” is derived from a Creek word or may be a corruption of the Spanish word “cimarron” which means runaway or wild one. The Seminoles intermarried with free blacks and escaped slaves, hence the runaway designation.
Most Seminoles were relocated by 1842 to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The remaining population fought three wars against the United States. The few hundred who never surrendered moved to the Everglades.
In the twentieth century, the Miccosukee separated from the Seminoles and became a recognized tribe.
Here are a few places where you can learn about their history.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservations
Billy Swamp Safari, Clewiston
Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Bushnell
Florida Seminole Wars Heritage Trail, Various Locations
Miccosukee Resort and Gaming, Miami
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Hollywood
Florida has about 1,000 fresh water springs, more than any other state in the country. 27 of these are first magnitude springs discharging more than 100 cubic feet of water per second.
At least 14 Florida cities have “springs” in their names, as this is where development typically began.
The largest springs discharge ground water from the Floridan aquifer, a limestone formation underlying much of the state. Most spring water is at a constant temperature of 68 to 72 degrees F. Many Florida springs support unique ecosystems, and they also flow into streams and rivers that depend on the flow of fresh water.
Springs are one of the few natural areas in Florida where you can encounter a large variety of plants and animals in one compact area. A visit to a spring can not only give you a wonderful swimming hole, but a place where you can see manatees, alligators, otters, and a large variety of fish, birds, and turtles.
The cool, clear waters of these springs have attracted visitors and Floridians for centuries. Here are some of them.
Alexander Springs Recreational Area, Altoona
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, De Leon Springs
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Fort White
Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon
Silver Springs State Park, Ocala
Wakulla Springs State Park, Wakulla Springs
Warm Mineral Springs, North Port
Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka
The arts in Florida include a wide variety of forms that reflect the state’s diverse culture.
In addition to hundreds of private art galleries, Florida has a large variety of museums ranging from fine art to sidewalk art. From street musicians to symphony orchestras to Broadway musicals in modern performing arts centers, you will find it here.
Folk music is part of the cultural fabric, and the State is home to the annual Florida Folk Festival. Dozens of community theaters add to the entertainment opportunities across the State.
Here are a few.
Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala
Asolo Repertory Theater, Sarasota
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale
Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville
Dali Museum, St. Petersburg
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando
Florida Theatre, Jacksonville
Lake Placid Murals, Lake Placid
Menello Museum of American Art, Orlando
Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples
Raymond E. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, W. Palm Beach
Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota
Wynwood Walls, Miami
Even if you go exploring in the Florida wilderness, you are not likely to see a lot of wild animals. That’s because they are masters at hiding from danger and they often see humans as dangerous.
They spend most of their time looking for something to eat and drink. Hiding from other animals is hard wired into their genetic code. In Florida zoos, a lot of their biological needs are taken care of and the animals can relax.
This lets you observe them in more detail.
Some people believe zoos are cruel because they imprison wild animals. There are many others who believe zoos give an opportunity for millions of people to see, enjoy, and appreciate wild animals.
They feel in the long run that this exposure helps animal species survive because of human’s love and understanding of them.
Most zoos have the mission of helping animal species survive by helping people love and understand them. Here are a few good zoos.
Brevard Zoo, Melbourne
Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, Jacksonville
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville
Lion Country Safari, Loxahatchee
Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, Tampa
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, Naples
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, St. Augustine
Zoo World, Panama City Beach
Detailed information on most of these attractions is included in our book "Florida Day Trips By Theme." It is available at Amazon and most book stores.
Click on the cover for Amazon details