We all know that Florida is home to world-class resorts, amusement parks, and some of the best beaches in the country. But there are many sides to the Sunshine State that too few visitors have explored. From mysterious and charming hidden gems to off-the-beaten-path nature and wildlife, come along as we explore 10 beautiful places in Florida you didn’t know existed.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Who knew that one of the best botanical gardens in the U.S. was just minutes from the University of Florida? Just off Archer road sits Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, home to the state's largest collection of bamboo trees, the biggest herb garden in the Southeast, and ponds full of giant Victorian water lilies. Twenty-four different gardens sit side by side, ranging from Japanese and rose gardens to an enchanted butterfly garden. Stroll along winding paths of live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and at the end of the trail, relax on a bench to enjoy sweeping views of Lake Kanapaha.
If you take time away from lounging on Miami’s fantastic beaches and do some exploring, you will bump into what some call the eighth man-made Wonder of the World, Coral Castle. It took Ed Leedskalnin 28 years to turn 1,100 tons of coral rock into this extravagant castle. There seem to be no witnesses to Ed’s building technique, but it stands as one of the world's most mysterious accomplishments. He secretly built this eye-catching castle under cover of night, at a time when there was no access to modern construction methods. He would only say that he knew "the secret of the pyramids." The result is the most remarkable artificial structure in the state.
Neptune Memorial Reef
If you happen to be in the Key Biscayne area, check out a haven for scuba divers, boaters, students, and marine biologists: the Neptune Memorial Reef. Covering more than 16 acres of the ocean floor, this Atlantis-inspired site is home to the largest man-made reef in the world. Many come to the reef not just for the underwater experience, but to send off the ashes of loved ones in this serene memorial. In a way, they are creating “life after life.”
Salvador Dali Museum
Fans of Salvador Dalí are in a for a real treat. The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg houses the most extensive collection of this highly imaginative and talented surrealist painter’s work outside Europe. The museum stands as a tribute and features several of Dalí’s paintings, photographs, prints, and 3D objects. Don’t forget to check out other fun activities, like film screenings and yoga classes.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
For an authentic Japanese experience outside of Japan, then a trip to Delray Beach, and the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is a must. You’ll experience gorgeous trees and foliage, as well as serene ponds and peaceful fountains. These inspiring and tranquil gardens offer you the chance to see a variety of exhibitions centered on various interesting aspects of Japanese culture. You can also explore Japanese Art Deco, tattoo culture, and the art of creating bamboo baskets. Check out the tea room where you can be a part of a traditional tea ceremony.
St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine
This beautiful spot in St. Augustine was originally built by a Spanish family in 1749. The St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine features Byzantine art and stunning frescoes, as well as a peaceful garden for guests to enjoy and meditate. Not many people know that repository at St. Photios contains Vatican-certified bone fragments from 18 saints.
Cape Romano Dome Homes
The Cape Romano Dome Homes may seem like an odd place, but many people find these architecturally-bizarre homes beautiful. They were originally built as beach homes by oil magnate Bob Lee. They were designed to withstand hurricanes, but unfortunately, he didn’t account for beach erosion. What once were things of beauty, set against the green of the Everglades and the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, now are a strange tribute to nature reclaiming its home.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Gulf of Mexico
Even though the Dry Tortugas is part of the National Park Service, this obscure cluster of isolated islands is often overlooked when visitors flock to Key West for an island getaway. FDR designated as the area as a national park, and this incredible spot is only accessible by seaplane or boat. It’s a great place for divers who can get their fill of abundant sea life, coral reefs, and tropical birds. You can also experience some fantastic fishing or take it all in by kayaking along the emerald and aqua waters. Standing as a monument to the past, Fort Jefferson is a massive coastal stone fortress that was never completed.
Falling Waters State Park
Most of us think beach when heading to Florida, but if you want to see some really breathtaking nature and appreciate local history, check out Falling Waters State Park in Chipley. This tropical paradise boasts the highest waterfall in the state. Falling Waters is a remote, fern-covered park with paths leading to its iconic 73-foot waterfall, which drops into a cavernous sinkhole. Local legends (and relics from recent digs) tell us that the park contains numerous sinkholes that were used as hideouts by Native Americans who fought Andrew Jackson in the Seminole Wars. Bring your trunks, because the springs have great swimming holes, as well as great hiking, fishing and camping.
Apalachicola National Forest
Sitting on Florida’s panhandle is Apalachicola, the largest forest in the Sunshine State. It’s home to some of Florida’s most pristine lakes, rivers, and natural springs. The forest opens up to prairies that, in the spring, put on a dazzling display of wildflowers that bloom all along the Apalachicola River. You’ll have to see the beauty of this often-overlooked gem that boasts caverns and sinkholes near Leon Springs. Take a drive down the Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway and you’ll be rewarded with views of vast tropical grasslands.