The Hidden Gems of Florida

Boca Grande

Florida is home to a wide range of theme parks, including Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios Florida, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Other high-profile attractions include the likes of the Kennedy Space Center, but it would be foolish to assume that this is all Florida has to offer. The best way to explore the state is by car, and once you’ve collected the keys to a car hire in Florida its lesser-known attractions beckon.

Assuming that you’ve arrived in the heart of the state, at Orlando International Airport, a good starting point may be to explore what the central region has to offer. Fantasy of Flight is dedicated to the display of over 100 rare and vintage aircraft, many of which have been restored to flyable condition, and also offers a range of guided tours, with opportunities to enter the cockpits of vintage planes, and visit the working restoration and maintenance areas. Fantasy of Flight is at Polk City, 20 miles or so from Orlando, just off Interstate 4.

A family-oriented wildlife park, Gatorland offers the chance to see alligators and crocodiles from all over the world, along with gator wrestling shows, their ‘Snakes of Florida’ exhibit, and other wildlife-themed attractions. Gatorland is within the greater Orlando area, just north of Kissimmee.

Staying with the family-themed attractions, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is a museum of unique and bizarre oddities, showing a number of one-of-a-kind items, and concentrating on unbelievable and inexplicable exhibits. DinoWorld, around an hour’s drive from Orlando, is a perfect destination for anyone, young or old, with a love of dinosaurs. Over 150 life-sized replicas are scattered around the park in a forest setting. The world’s first permanent Titanic-themed attraction, Titanic – The Exhibition features a live interactive tour and over 200 artifacts from the famous ship, with other exhibits including a full-scale mockup of the Grand Staircase and other recreations.

Heading farther afield, those in search of a more relaxing environment could head for Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island. To the west of Fort Myers, Boca Grande is a sleepy historic town with around seven miles of beaches, a state park, and areas brimming with wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, osprey and pelicans. Boca Grande also attracts the tourists with a range of fishing charters and sailing opportunities.

Water sports figure heavily in the choice of destinations in Florida, and Fort Walton Beach in Okaloosa County, a short drive from Pensacola, offers a wide range, including snorkeling and diving, or canoeing in the Blackwater River State Forest. A variety of more adventurous activities are also on offer, including parasailing, windsurfing, and waterskiing.

Sport fishing enthusiasts would do well to head for Stuart, in Martin County. Stuart brings in visitors with sport fishing in abundance, with an estimated 800 or so different species to be found offshore. Stuart is within an hour’s drive of West Palm Beach and also offers beaches, nature reserves, parks, and golf courses, as well as a lively music and cultural scene.

For a dose of southern hospitality and old-world Florida charm, make tracks for Apalachicola, in Franklin County, part of Florida’s “Forgotten Coast“. Within two hours of Tallahassee, Apalachicola was designated a National Trust for Historic Preservation Distinctive Destination in 2008, and has a busy downtown area with a welcoming, small-town atmosphere. Apalachicola boasts Victorian inns, restaurants, galleries, and a working waterfront among many other attractions, including the nearby Apalachicola National Forest, which has over 550,000 acres available for camping, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits.