Summer’s Top 10 Off the Beaten Path Destinations
While Florida has many beautiful and renowned places to vacation, there are hundreds of other lesser known and fascinating places to explore. From untouched beaches, to historic sites, to underground caves, Florida has even more to offer than famous beaches and theme parks. Consider the following Florida gems for your next quick Florida day trips or family getaway.
Blowing Rocks Preserve
Hobe Sound, FL
Florida is known for its long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches. Blowing Rocks Preserve, however, is uniquely different and as close as Florida has to seaside cliffs. It is named for its rocky Anastasia limestone shoreline, the longest on the Atlantic Coast and is located about 25 miles north of West Palm Beach. Waves that push against the rocky shore during high tide can shoot geysers of water more than 50 feet into the air! The Preserve began in 1969 when generous Jupiter island residents donated 73 acres of land to the Conservancy. The preserve stretches one mile from north to south and offers a view of a rare Florida dune habitat landscape filled with red, black, and white mangroves, Jamaica caper and sea oats. Visitors can enjoy swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, bird watching and occasional sea turtle sightings. Visitors can also enjoy exhibits within the Hawley Education Center. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for major holidays, and is a perfect spot for your Florida day trips.
Cellon Oak Park
Cellon Oak Park is home to the Cellon Live Oak, a large and majestic oak tree 30 feet in circumference and over 85 feet tall, one of the largest if its kind in Florida. Located in the center of a large open field, the 160-foot crown spread of its low hanging branches offers peaceful shade for readers or climbing fun for children. Named for its former owner, Ralph W. Cellon, the tree and park were donated to the city of Alachua County. The park offers Florida day trips staples like a picnic table and grill as well as a picturesque landscape for family portraits and weddings.
A pristine, completely natural island along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island offers three miles of beautiful white sand beaches, unpaved roads, and plenty of fishing for Florida day trips. The island also offers three miles of kayak trails through untouched mangroves and bay as well as three miles of nature trails within the island’s interior, a perfect place for nature lovers. The island is accessible by private boat or ferry which departs from Honeymoon Island State Park beginning at 10 a.m. every morning. The more adventurous visitor can launch a kayak from the Dunedin Causeway to the island or wade the six miles over from Pier 60. Eat at the local café or bring a picnic and enjoy one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches.
Florida Caverns State Park
As the only park to exhibit cave tours to the public, the Florida Caverns State Park offers a way to experience nature’s underground wonders with stunning views of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and flowstones. Guided tours, offered Thursday through Monday, consist of a maximum of 25 guests led by an educated park ranger with the cave tour itself including a moderately strenuous hike consisting of some steep inclines, declines, steps and stooped walking. Hikers on Florida day trips can expect to see beautiful rock formations and may also catch a glimpse of cave bats hanging on the ceiling or crawfish swimming within the cave’s underground puddles. After viewing the caves, visitors can go hiking, swimming, horseback riding and fishing. Camping is also available within the park.
Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge
During the late 1800’s, a series of ten buildings, also known as houses of refuge, were constructed along the Atlantic coast. Men committed to rescuing and saving the lives of shipwrecked sailors and travelers manned these buildings. Gilbert’s Bar is the last surviving structure of this unique building system and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on Hutchinson Island, Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge is surrounded by gardens with views of both the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. Save money and purchase a combined ticket to the House of Refuge and Elliot Museum. Exhibits include Georges Valentine, AIS Native American Artifacts and Lighthouse & Refuge Keepers Quarters. As an added bonus, snorkel or scuba dive the Georges Valentine shipwreck site located just off the coast of Hutchinson Island, 100 yards from the House of Refuge.
De Leon Springs State Park
De Leon Springs, FL
De Leon Springs State Park is 625 acres of natural beauty, including the star attraction, its spring, which looks out over Spring Garden Run and produces 19 million gallons of water every day. Visitors enjoy swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving and can also rent canoes and kayaks and venture through the park’s paddling trail, which allows access to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge with over 22,000 acres of lakes and marshes to explore. Visitors can also hike the 4.2 mile Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail or visit the Butterfly Garden with over 500 plants benefiting butterflies and hummingbirds. And though De Leon is rich in history and nature, the park is most famous for its pancakes and has been lovingly nicknamed “Pancake Park.” The Old Sugar Mill and Griddle House was founded in 1961 and is located inside a 100-year old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill. A griddle is built in to each table and guests can make their own pancakes with easy-to-pour pitchers and can eat as many pancakes as they like. The Griddle House also offers freshly made bread and cookies.
Ravine Gardens State Park
This little-known park located in nearby Palatka offers lovely views of two 120-foot ravines. Visitors can walk the paved 1.8 mile loop and enjoy the beautiful gardens surrounding both the ravine and the spring-fed creek, Whitewater Branch. Make your visit between late January through March and view the “rolling bloom” of over 18 different species of simultaneous blooming azaleas, spreading through over half of the gardens. The park also offers three miles of unique, rugged hiking trails, picnic tables and grills. There is also a playground for the kids. Make it a day trip and enjoy a peaceful day in this lush Florida state park.
Boca Grande, FL
Gasparilla Island is located on a thin strip of land that peeks out into the Gulf of Mexico, northwest of Fort Myers. The island offers seven miles of turquoise blue beaches, with a state park located at its tip where visitors can view the focal point of the island, the restored Port Boca Grande Lighthouse built in 1890. The island is alive with wildlife. Manatees, osprey, dolphins, pelicans and more can be found here. The relaxed and quiet vibe of the island makes it a perfect place for shelling and sunset watching. Nicknamed the “Tarpon Capital of the World,” the island also draws many fishing charters. Bathrooms and showers are available with plenty of parking. Honor system parking at $3 per vehicle.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Six miles southeast of Key Largo located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary lies the continents only living coral reef. This beautiful reef provides spectacular diving for snorkelers and scuba divers alike. Thanks to conservation efforts to protect the area, there are more than 600 colorful plants, animals and creatures to be seen including octopuses, nurse sharks, puffer fish, soft and hard corals and thousands of fish. Diving depths range from 10 – 70 feet with a “drop off” of various angles beginning at around 50 feet. Glass-bottom boats tour as well as many diving tours are available for Florida day trips exploration of the reef through different diving outfits including Ocean Divers and John Pennekamp Coral Reef School of Diving.
Sapelo Island, Georgia
While just over the Florida state line, Sapelo Island is a short three hour Florida day trips from Gainesville and is rich in history and culture. The island is located off coastal Georgia between the Savannah and St. Marys rivers. One of Georgia’s 15 state protected barrier islands, it is accessible only by ferry which departs the Sapelo Island Visitor’s Center in McIntosh County, Georgia. Take a private tour with JR Govner, visit the Reynolds Plantation and the newly renovated Sapelo Lighthouse, explore Native American shell mounds and visit the tabby ruins of the slave cabins. Visitors can also celebrate the culture and traditions of the Geechee people each October and experience gospel music, sweet grass basket weaving and fish net making.