Considering a warm-weather escape? Odds are you don’t need a passport or a pricey plane ticket to get yourself there. Florida is America’s gem of a tropical destination, complete with the sandy beaches, fresh seafood, and tropical drinks you’re craving from a warm-weather fix.
So much more than Walt Disney World and South Beach (though, those are always worthy vacation contenders), Florida is home to national parks, marine reserves, shopping, dining, art, and more. Whether you’re looking for a solo adventure, a romantic getaway, or a trip for the whole family, Florida has a weekend getaway destination for you.
It may be the most obvious Florida suggestion, but it can’t be denied that Miami is one of the state’s best destinations for a weekend getaway. Weather alone puts it into the running with deliciously warm (and dry) temperatures in the winter.
If you’re in Miami on a quick weekend getaway, you won’t be short-changed for things to do. In fact, a weekend may hardly seem like enough. You don’t have to spend your entire vacation budget on a swanky South Beach hotel (though you can). Instead, consider opting for a property like Circa 39 in Miami Beach, which has vintage decor, an onsite restaurant, a swimming pool with cabanas, and beach access across the street — plus a wallet-friendly price tag.
Miami’s dining scene is one of the best in the country, as well. Hot on the scene is Le Jardinier from Joel Robuchon. This Design District newcomer specializes in seasonal cuisine, with veggies taking the spotlight. Of course, when in Miami, you mustn’t leave without trying the iconic Cuban sandwich. Where to get the best is hotly debated among locals, but you can’t go wrong at La Carreta or Sergio’s.
2. Lake Okeechobee
If you and your family love the great outdoors and don’t have to have a beach, there are plenty of easily accessible Florida destinations to enjoy. Lake Okeechobee, for example, is the largest lake (730 square miles, to be exact) in the state and is perfect for travelers who love lake life.
A Lake Okeechobee getaway means fishing, boating, and miles of trails to explore. The town best equipped for travelers is Clewiston, especially if you’re into fishing. This is the premiere spot for snagging the lake’s largemouth bass and speckled perch. From Clewiston, you can explore the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, which is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Bring your hiking shoes or bicycle — the trail is perfect for both. If camping is your style, on the north end of the lake you’ll find the town of Okeechobee, which has a campground with activities for the entire family.
We likely don’t need to tell you why most people are visiting Orlando (do the words Disney or Universal ring any bells?). If you have kids, or even perhaps because you were a kid, you’ve likely even been there yourself. But it turns out there are many other reasons to go to Orlando — reasons that aren’t doused in fairy dust or coated in movie magic.
Soak up a slice of local life in the Thornton Park District. You can catch locals at the Orlando Farmers Market on Sundays in nearby Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Prepare to shop for local crafts and artisan products like pasta and honey. If you’re looking to splurge on a meal, Kadence is a Michelin-rated, nine-seat sushi bar that offers sake pairings and boasts some of the most coveted reservations in town.
Less than 15 minutes from downtown Orlando is one of its most high-end addresses: Winter Park. Drive around the lake to take in the stunning mansions, or hit the boutiques along Park Avenue. You can even catch views from the lake itself with Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours.
4. Sanibel And Captiva Islands
Slip off the grid and into sanctuary with an escape to Sanibel Island and nearby Captiva. About 25 miles south of Fort Myers these small, family-friendly islands are known for their undisturbed beaches, rich wildlife, and even richer cuisine.
Sanibel is the larger of the islands, with Captiva as its smaller sister. On both, the beaches are the biggest attractions. Try Bowman’s Beach or Blind Pass Beach. For a deep dive into wildlife, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to hundreds of animals, from crocodiles and manatees to dozens of bird species. Visitors can also explore the Great Calusa Blueway, which is a 190-mile-long canoe and kayak trail.
For hotels, Casa Ybel Resort comes with a sense of place and decided island charm. The building is historic, and each room has a kitchen, so it’s perfect for families or couples who don’t want to eat every meal out. That said, if dining out is on the menu, the seafood on Sanibel Island cannot be beat. For something island upscale, try Il Cielo or The Sandbar. Or, it can’t get more beachy casual than the Lazy Flamingo. Guests can bring their own fish for the cooks to grill up or fry for eats that are cheap, delicious, and full of local flavor.
Palm Beach may have the east coast, but when we’re talking west coast Florida, the charm and romance certainly goes to Naples. Culture and sophistication along with white sands and pretty views make Naples a crowd-pleaser for solo travelers, couples, and families. They don’t call it the Paradise Coast for nothing.
A first-timer to Naples will want to drink in the views from the 100-year-old pier, which juts into the Gulf of Mexico. Photographers, fishermen, and people watchers alike all gather at the communal pier to soak up a slice of life in the city.
Naples, believe it or not, has also transformed itself into one of Florida’s great culinary destinations. A must is 1500 South, which opened in March 2016 under the direction of James Beard Award winner Art Smith. Naples is also the jumping-off point from which to explore Marco Island, the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. Your first stop on the island should be 32-acre Tigertail Beach.
In addition to dining, shopping, and beautiful hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton Naples, the art scene in Naples is electric. Stroll Gallery Row along 3rd Street South to take in the collection of shops that sell everything from European art to works by local Floridian artists.
6. St. Petersburg
A cultural renaissance has turned St. Petersburg (St. Pete’s to the locals) into a vibrant, multi-dimensional city. Picture dazzling street art, a refreshed historic district, and a world-class Dali Museum. This is the St. Pete’s of the 21st century. Add to that a burgeoning gourmet scene (gulf to grill, if you will), boutique shopping, and galleries, and it won’t be long before St. Pete’s becomes one of the great cultural destinations of the South.
The vibe in St. Petersburg is decidedly vintage, with samples of a retro era, like the Bon-Aire Resort Motel and the Postcard Inn. People move at a calmer pace in St. Petersburg’s Gulf waters. At night, though, St. Pete’s comes alive with tiki and beach bars. Jimmy B’s Beach Bar continually gets recognized as one of the city’s best. There’s also The SandBar at the SandBox Beach Lounge and the Toasted Monkey, a waterfront beach bar and grill.
7. Amelia Island
A sun-drenched island with a checkered past (think a long history of pirates), Amelia Island is a jewel in the string of barrier islands in the Atlantic. Today, the island is known for its championship golf courses, white sand beaches, sublime seafood, wildlife, and a healthy dose of serenity. Just 13 miles from the Georgia border, Amelia Island has a touch of southern charm, heavy with hanging moss and rich in a variety of cultures.
The Timucua tribe people settled here as early as 4,000 years ago. Since then, the island has been inhabited by the French, Spanish, English, Mexicans, and more. It’s a cultural melting pot in such a small space. The central town is Fernandina Beach, which beckons visitors with 50 blocks of historic buildings, Victorian architecture, restaurants, and more. Outside of town, you’ll find verdant parks and miles upon miles of beautiful beaches.
8. Key West
The ultimate Floridian escape, Key West is a taste of the Caribbean right on our very own soil. Laid-back, friendly, and buzzing with activity, Key West is a wonderful weekend getaway, whether you want to kick back and relax or sip daiquiris with your new (or older) best friends. Hotels abound here, so you’ll have your pick of size, style, and budget.
Seafood is the order of the day in Key West — try Thirsty Mermaid for oysters and the ceviche du jour. And, of course, there’s Pepe’s, which has been open since 1909 and is known for its Key lime pie and margaritas.
Tip: If Key West is too far of a journey, you can switch it up and head for Key Largo, the northernmost island in the Keys. It’s just an hour’s drive from the airports in South Florida and is home to a national park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Still undecided but eager for your Florida weekend getaway? Read up on Key West vs. Key Largo: nine key differences between them.