Florida has a rich history, from pirate lore in the southern waters to the borders of Georgia and Alabama to the north, two states deeply rooted in the southern traditions of the U.S. It’s actually quite surprising that, considering the amount of tourists that flock to this sun drenched paradise throughout the year, there are still many hidden treasures located around the state. Hidden treasures that the locals hope you never discover.
Let’s explore some of the best:
Crystal River Preserve and State Park
- I think that one of the best hidden secrets in the entire state has to be Crystal River Preserve and State Park in Citrus County. Besides having some of the clearest waters in all of Florida, it is the ONLY place to legally swim up close and personal with the protected Manatee. If for no other reason, this would be why most people hope the masses never discover this gem.
- Crystal River is a quaint town about 2hrs north of Tampa, on the affectionately named “nature coast”. Here you will find people who love their town and want to protect it. They are closer to the community and don’t do things the same way as the rest of the world.
- For example, the Crystal River Mall is also the farmer’s market. Not a typical combination in other towns, but here it’s par for the course. It’s true. Stop in at 1801 US-19, in Crystal River and see how this mall and its unique setting will be something you talk about.
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales
- The City of Lake Wales lies among rolling hills on the highest ground in peninsular Florida. Nestled in the rolling hills lies Bok Tower Gardens. This majestic 200-acre garden features a 205-foot singing tower facing a reflecting pool, a bird sanctuary, and acres of oaks, pines, ferns, camellias, jasmine, spider lily, and wetland plants.
- The residents of Lake Wales consider their town to have a vintage charm that they refuse to compromise. Keeping this mindset front and center, the city has seen recent growth, including the addition of Eagle Ridge Mall. This mall boasts such additions to the vintage charm as big named stores, a carousel, cinema and a bowling alley. Lake Wales should be a stop on your tour, and a ride on the carousel at the mall should go without saying.
Swap Shop Flea Market and Drive-In Theater
- Swap Shop Flea Market is over 80 acres of shopping experience, not to mention the HUGE drive-in movie theater. There are over 2,000 vendors, restaurants and farmers markets They also offer amusement rides, a giant video arcade and of course, one of the world’s largest drive-ins. It’s no surprise that this is a favorite locals spot, and that they never hope you hear about it. Who would want a ton of people crowding up their favorite little market?
- If regular shopping is your game, just head on in to Ft Meyers proper, and there you will find The Galleria at Ft. Lauderdale, and Coral Ridge Mall. Both offer the big city shopping experience that you’re looking for, with big brand stores and dining. Just don’t forget to swing by Swap Shop Flea Market if you want some produce, or to partake in a lost tradition… the drive-in
Santa Rosa Beach
- Santa Rosa Beach is renowned for its upscale dining and turquoise waters. Surrounded by more popular destinations like Miramar Beach and Eglin Air Force Base, Santa Rosa Beach is often overlooked. It’s a shame, because its sugar-white sand and the retreat of Point Washington State Forest are the ingredients for a dream vacation.
- At The Shops of Gulf Place you will encounter charming boutique style shopping. You won’t find any mega-malls here, but you will find rich history and many quaint shops and beachside businesses that sell a mix of goods that you just can’t find anywhere else. Truly a place to stroll leisurely and get lost in the shopping experience.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
- Just west of Delray beach is the truly enchanting Japanese gardens of Morikami. This center for Japanese culture in Palm Beach County is unique and serene, offering Japanese tea ceremonies, a bonsai garden, festivals, and classes. This cultural gem should definitely be on anyone’s travel itinerary, especially considering its proximity to Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
- As long as you’re in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, you simply vist Sawgrass Mills Mall. Sawgrass is the largest mall in the state, with amenities such a s a full IMAX theater and “bags free” shopping, where they will directly check your bags from the mall to Miami and Ft. Lauderdale airports!
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
- Perched just off of Miami’s coast sits the island of Key Biscayne. Very rich with nautical history, Key Biscayne also has one more secret up her sleeve. The southern tip of the Key is where you will find Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and the Cape Florida Lighthouse. This lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Miami, and was an actual stop on the underground railroad!
- Just because this is an island off of Miami’s coast, doesn’t mean that it only has island amenities. The island is host to beach clubs, The Ritz Carlton and The Square Shopping Center, a shopping mall with banks, a range of retailers, a hair salon & a casual Italian eatery.
- Florida is a huge state, so we couldn’t possibly list all of its hidden gems. Without a doubt the best ones are probably still well hidden. The only way to truly discover these are to take a trip to Florida and just get off the beaten path somewhere, join a local in a coffee shop and just start asking questions. Tip: You’ll probably get a lot further if you pay for their coffee.