5 Florida treasures waiting to be discovered
Every traveller planning a trip to Florida includes Miami, Orlando and the Everglades in their itinerary.
These are great destinations, but today I want to introduce you to some lesser-known attractions of the "Sunshine State".
Here are 5 treasures just waiting to be discovered during your next road trip to Florida.
#1. Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest is an immense wilderness area about a 90-minute drive north of Orlando.
It's not the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, but Ocala features hundreds of lakes, rivers, and magnificent natural springs of crystal clear water.
All this in the heart of a lush environment rich with diverse plant and animal life, including alligators, deer, otter and turtles.
This vast natural playground offers a host of activities such as kayaking, snorkelling and hiking.
You can easily spend several days here, either in one of the many campgrounds or in chalet-type accommodations.
Nature lovers, this jungle-like forest is for you!
#2. St. Augustine
Located in northeastern Florida about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Orlando, St. Augustine is said to be the oldest city in the United States (apparently, there is some disagreement on this among historians...)
In any case, it was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and its historical character gives in an undeniable charm with its cobblestone pedestrian streets, historic buildings, ancestral homes...
The city is easily explored on foot. While it is possible to visit the main attractions in one day, I suggest spending two days there. Spending the night will allow you to slow down and spend some time enjoying your favourite spots. After all, you are on holiday!
Highlights include Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, St. George Street and the old Colonial Spanish Quarter.
The second appealing feature of this lovely city is its magnificent white sand beach, just a few kilometres from downtown.
With its unique atmosphere, St. Augustine is in my opinion one of the prettiest cities in Florida.
#3. Crystal River
Crystal River, a favourite place for manatee watching, is on the west coast of Florida, about 1½ hours north of Tampa.
This small town, which is named for the clear river that flows through it, is home to several remarkable sites where it is possible to enjoy water activities including fishing, kayaking, snorkelling and boat cruises.
But Crystal River is above all the perfect place to observe the manatees lazing in the waters of Kings Bay and Three Sisters.
These gentle water giants are legally protected in the State of Florida since the 19th century, so you can be sure of having an authentic and ethical experience.
Those who prefer to stay on land will appreciate the many hiking trails in Crystal River State Park. And admission is free!
#4. Bahia Honda State Park
Magnificent Bahia Honda State Park is in the Florida Keys, off the southern tip of Florida.
Travellers often go straight to Key West without visiting this small gem.
And yet, the archipelago's only road passes through Bahia Honda State Park, which stretches along both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. You have no excuse, it's along your way.
People come to Bahia Honda mainly to relax on the beach and enjoy the paradisical setting. More active visitors can do some snorkelling or sea kayak, or stretch their legs on the park's single walking trail.
If you're in the area at the end of the day, go to Calusa Beach to watch the sun set over the old Bahia Honda bridge, which has been cut in half since a hurricane hit in 1935.
The park is open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset and there is an admission fee of $8 per vehicle.
#5. Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are located off the coast of Fort Mayer on the Gulf of Mexico.
The utilmate Florida road trip must include Sanibel!
What I particularly like about these two islands is their pristine and unspoiled nature. In fact, it is said that there are more bicycles than cars on the islands. Personally, that alone is a dream come true!
In addition to the white sandy beaches and those covered with countless shells, don't miss the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, which is home to 200 species of birds and reptiles including crocodiles and alligators.
Another highlight is that the two islands boast 40 km of bicycle paths. There are, of course, many bike rental shops.
Locate Florida's treasures
And there you go!
I'll leave you with these magnificent landscapes, in the hope that I have helped you discover new destinations for future exploration.
If you have questions or any other treasures to add to our TOP 5 list, don't hesitate to share them in the comments below.