Weekend getaways in Florida sound simple enough, but when you take a closer look at Florida, there are almost too many cities and towns to choose from. Do you want to explore the sandy shores of Gulf Coast beaches or do you prefer the neon lights and mojitos of South Florida? Are you looking for a sleepy old fishing town or a seaside spa getaway?
Regardless of what kind of weekend you’re in the mood for, Florida has a little bit of everything. So, pack the car, fill the tank, and experience a taste of Florida’s laid-back leisure in one of these 10 spots.
Panama City Beach: The Ideal Family Getaway
Tomas Salas, Unsplash
Panama City Beach is easily accessible by those road tripping through the northern part of the state. Although it is often associated with the rowdy spring break crowds, it’s a vibrant place to explore. With a slew of quirky tourist attractions in the area, Panama City Beach is an ideal getaway for families. Kids will love Wonderworks, Ripley’s Believe it or Not or attractions like the Gulf World Marine Park. You can also shop for beachy souvenirs at Pier Park or hit the bar for live music and mouth-watering seafood.
Where to eat in Panama City Beach
The Grand Marlin has serene marina views and a menu chock full of fresh seafood. Pair some shucked oysters from their raw bar with a signature martini, like the St. Thom-Tini. In the A.M., stop by Andy’s Flour Power for a hearty breakfast burrito or the thick, country french toast. On your way out of town, don’t forget to snag donuts at Thomas Donut & Snack Shop.
Where to go in Panama City Beach
Pack your swimsuit and sunscreen for a day of splashing around at Shipwreck Island, an affordable family water park. There are rides for every member of your family and a wave pool will surely tire out the tots.
Where to stay in Panama City Beach
Splurge on a stay at Beachcomber By the Sea. You’ll enjoy free breakfast whilst overlooking the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico.Plan Your Trip to Panama City Beach
Fort Myers Beach: For The Wildlife Lover
Southwest Florida should be on your bucket list for its sugar-white sand beaches and lush natural beauty. From the winding trails of the 17-acre Bowditch Beach Park to the beautiful Lovers Key State Park, where you can find West Indian manatees, bottlenose dolphins, roseate spoonbills, marsh rabbits, and bald eagles, Fort Myers is a haven for outdoors and wildlife lovers. For those less inclined to bike and hike, Fort Myers is also a hotspot for entertainment and dining establishments.
Where to eat in Fort Myers Beach
Head to The Beached Whale for a rooftop view of the beaches and dive into their parmesan and bacon encrusted grouper or Southern-style pulled pork. Explore the resorts where you’ll find as many laid-back restaurants, beachside bars, and live entertainment than straw hats.
Where to go in Fort Myers Beach
For a bit of true Floridian charm, head to the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery for live music and a pint of their microbrewed SOB Whatabeer. Then wander along the pier in the heart of Fort Myers Beach and enjoy the antics of the local street performers.
Where to stay in Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers Beach has plenty of hotels, but your entire family will especially love the Pink Shell Beach Resort for its private beach access, water slides, and on-site restaurants.Plan Your Trip to Fort Myers
Naples: The Place to Beach and Bait
Aside from its reputation as a town full of slow-driving retirees, Naples is best known as a quiet beach town with pristine sand and mesmerizing turquoise water. If you’re into fishing, the Naples Pier needs to be on your to-do list. Hours will float by as you wait for that elusive tug on your line.
After a day of beach and bait, The Naples Brewery has a relaxing tasting room to experience some of the best local beer in southwest Florida, from their “Goofy Foot” grapefruit IPA to their Paddy O’ Furniture rye Irish dry stout. (And if you’re traveling with Fido, have no fear, the brewery is pet-friendly.)
No trip to Naples is complete without exploring the old-school treasures of Tin City. In the 1920s, the tin-roofed buildings of this waterfront area were home to clam shelling, oyster processing, and boat construction. Today, the area has all the charm of a historic Florida town with the modern conveniences of attractions like boating day cruises and restaurants.
Where to eat in Naples
Pinchers may be a chain restaurant, but the Tin City location has a peaceful waterfront view, casual vibe, and serves up a seafood dream menu of shrimp, Gulf grouper sandwiches, and jumbo lump crab cakes. Need I say more? If your wallet allows, Fifth Avenue has chic, up-market bars, restaurants, and shopping.
Where to go in Naples
Spot the glistening fins of playful dolphins on a boating trip or cruise. For those wanting to stay on land, splurge on a day of retail therapy at Waterside Shops for some standout shopping.
Where to stay in Naples
The Ritz-Carlton Naples is the most recognizable and luxurious hotel in the city. From a world-class spa to their “Nature’s Wonders” interactive children’s program, there are exclusive perks for everyone in the family.Plan Your Trip to Naples
Kissimmee: The Theme Park Destination
Kissimmee is best known for being a theme park destination and an affordable option for those families traveling to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. For a family-friendly carnival experience, you can explore Fun Town, enjoy a little sibling rivalry playing mini golf, and hop on the I-Ride trolley for a convenient tour through the International Drive resort area. Close out the weekend with a ride on The Orlando Eye, which offers a spectacular view of the city.
Where to eat in Kissimmee
Plan a trip to Disney Springs and try one of the many over-the-top themed restaurants. The kids will “go bananas” for the gorilla figures, waterfalls, and simulated tropical thunderstorms of the Rainforest Café. Other great options are T-Rex, Morimoto, and Raglan Road to name a few.
Where to go in Kissimmee
Chivalry is certainly not dead at Medieval Times, a family classic that offers a dinner and a “tournament” show at a budget-friendly price. Watch armor-glad knights engage in epic swordfights while you enjoy a hearty meal of roast chicken, sweet buttered corn, garlic bread, and other comfort dishes.
Where to stay in Kissimmee
Gaylord Palms Resort has water slides, pools, and an indoor atrium with restaurants and shopping. It’s bustling with conventions and events, and it feels like its own city inside! If you visit during the holiday season, you can enjoy “ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World,” a seasonal event boasting two million pounds of ice sculptures and ice slides.Plan Your Trip to Kissimmee
Dunedin: The Gulf Coast’s Best-Kept Secret
Perhaps the Gulf Coast’s best-kept secret, Dunedin offers tranquil beaches, unique attractions, and an eclectic craft beer scene that will delight any traveler. Book a trip to Caladesi Island (accessible only via ferry) for undisturbed views of Florida’s natural paradise. Explore Honeymoon Island and rent a kayak to get up close and personal with waves, wildlife, and views that the Gulf Coast is famous for.
Where to eat in Dunedin
You can’t go wrong with anything on Main Street. Head toward the water and order a fish sandwich with the fresh catch of the day at Olde Bay Café. For a spicier palate, head to Casa Tina, a popular Mexican restaurant and afterward, sample beers from 7venth Sun or the Dunedin House of Beer for local flavor. Don’t miss finishing off your day with a scoop of ice cream from Strahan’s — it’s a classic!
Where to go in Dunedin
If you’re traveling during spring training, catch a Toronto Blue Jays game at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Finish it off with a snack and a cold brew from the Dunedin Brewery.
Where to stay in Dunedin
Beso Del Sol Resort has a prime waterfront location and the best sunset views in Dunedin.Plan Your Trip to Dunedin
Sanibel & Captiva Islands: Charming Old Florida
Sanibel and Captiva Island offer a charming view of Old Florida. Bicycles are the preferred method of transportation on these islands, and you will love the quiet, uncrowded beaches. There isn’t a happening nightlife scene here; it isn’t needed. Instead, you can enjoy fresh seafood at quirky restaurants.
Where to eat on Captiva Island
Take a trip to The Bubble Room on Captiva Island for the wildest restaurant experience you’ll ever have. This world-famous restaurant popped up in 1979 and has been collecting old toys, celebrity photographs and Christmas decorations ever since. Don’t forget to order dessert! They are known for their outrageously tasty cakes. You can also wander over to The Mucky Duck and experience one of the very best views of a Captiva Island sunset. (Not to mention, their live music will have you dancing in the sunset glow.)
Where to go in Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are best known for their shells, but before you go, learn what to look for and how to properly go shelling. Stop by the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to learn about the mollusks in the sea or book a shelling trip.
Where to stay on Captiva Island
The South Seas Island Resort is one of the few hotels on Captiva Island, and it is worth the price. With private beach access, a fishing pier, transportation around the resort, and water slides and pools, this is truly a destination for both families and romantic getaways.Plan Your Trip to Sanibel & Captiva
Clearwater: Nightlife and Beachy Bliss
If you’re looking for a bustling beach city with nightlife, restaurants, and beachy bliss, Clearwater might be the destination for you. Although it can get quite crowded, the beach is a lively place filled with families, couples, friends, and solo swimmers. For a no-fuss family-friendly experience, don’t miss the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It gained popularity with the movie “Dolphin Tale” that told the story of a dolphin without a tail. Learn about Florida’s wildlife and get to know a few animals on your trip.
Where to eat in Clearwater
When the intense Florida heat is peaking, grab a cold, creamy ice cream cone on the Pier. When it’s time for lunch or dinner, head to Frenchy’s for a fresh grouper sandwich and the She crab soup. It’s a staple establishment of Clearwater beach and the perfect place to end a day of sand and sun. Drink a frozen cocktail at sunset and you may never want to leave.
Where to go in Clearwater
Book a day trip on a boat like Captain Memo’s Pirate Adventure. Dance, sing, enjoy cold drinks and look for dolphins frolicking in the surf. It’s a view of Clearwater Beach that you won’t forget.
Where to stay in Clearwater
Upgrade your Clearwater getaway with a stay at Shephard’s Beach Resort, which was recently upgraded and has beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s located right on the beach, so you can jet ski, tan, and swim nearby! There’s also onsite bars, restaurants, and a nightclub.Plan Your Trip to Clearwater
Tallahassee: Cornhole and Coffee
Home to Florida State University and the capital city of Florida, Tallahassee offers a blend of natural beauty and historic charm. With so many university students milling (except for during the quieter summer months), the city retains an upbeat, youthful atmosphere. Explore the Museum of Florida History for an authentic educational experience or spend a day wandering through Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens — a 1,176-acre Florida State Park filled with lush ornamental gardens.
Where to eat in Tallahassee
Start your morning at Maple Street Biscuit Co. with a buttery Southern breakfast. For a cheap, tasty lunch, try Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack. (It’s more than a clever name — it has a reputation for having the best oysters in town.)
For a gourmet hot dog overloaded with toppings, you can’t beat Voodoo Dog. For a pick-me-up, Tallahassee is chock full of perky coffee. If you can bob and weave your way through studying students, relax on the patio of Black Dog Café and enjoy the lakeside view with a cup of joe.
Where to go in Tallahassee
If you’re visiting during college football season, a Seminoles game is always a blast. Be sure to do it right, though, with a few rounds of cornhole at a tailgate beforehand.
Where to stay in Tallahassee
Hotel Duval is a historic, boutique hotel near museums, the Florida State campus, and the state’s capitol complex.Plan Your Trip to Tallahassee
Fort Lauderdale: Soft Sand and Wavy Waters
The beaches on Fort Lauderdale‘s Atlantic coast offer soft sand and wavy waters, so bring a boogie board and get ready to ride the surf. You can shop on Las Olas Boulevard, explore the historic riverfront, and enjoy the arts and culture scene. Gondola tours are popular, which let you explore the many canals in the city.
Where to eat in Fort Lauderdale
Premiere Bar is top-rated for a reason. With stellar food, a solid selection of beer and wine, and the gentle buzz of good conversation, it is a must-go place to eat and drink near the beach.
Where to go in Fort Lauderdale
Besides the beaches, The Historic Stranahan House Museum is the oldest structure in the city. Built in 1901, you can check out the old antiques that furnished homes in that era. You can also explore nearby West Palm Beach for attractions like the Palm Beach Zoo and City Place, which offers shopping, movies, dining, and bustling nightlife.
More ideas to beef up your Fort Lauderdale visit…
Where to stay in Fort Lauderdale
The Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort offers a luxurious view of the beach and high-quality amenities.Plan Your Trip to Fort Lauderdale
Where are you heading for your Florida weekend getaway? Leave a comment and let us know what’s next in your travels.
Featured image courtesy of Luke Dahlgren, Unsplash