Going on holiday to Florida is a lively experience, and with a selection of theme parks to get lost in, including Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, you can easily spend your entire holiday having fun on all the roller-coasters and rides.
But as the weather cools and the crowds die down, Florida becomes more laid back, and the relaxing and quiet spots that are on offer in the sunshine state are great places to take time out while on holiday in Orlando. After all, Florida is home to some of the most pristine beaches in all of the USA, and 11 national parks, and it’s easy to visit them all, what with the stress-free highways and convenient car rental available.
If you are looking to escape the crowds of the major theme parks but would still like a taste of adventure then check out these five top locations.
1. The Everglades
Great for: Families, older couples.
The Everglades is Florida’s largest national park, and is home to an array of flora and fauna which inhabit the swampy area. You can go on boat tours or tram safaris, and see the amazing wildlife including American alligators, wading birds, and racoons, as well as a variety of unusual plants and trees.
There are a range of companies to choose from if you want to take a boat tour, and you can go on trips that last an hour or two. The closest major town is Naples, which has a popular beach, and is named after the similarly sunny region in Italy.
How to get there: Take highway 91 south from the Disney area to Miami and follow the signs for the Everglades. It will take about 3.5 hours. You can also arrange a coach tour from Orlando, or get the train from Orlando to Miami, which will take around 5.5 hours.
2. Boggy Creek
Great for: Families.
If you want a taste of the Everglades, without the travelling, head to Boggy Creek. This small creek has a fertile landscape, full of alligators and other native wildlife, and there are a number of small air-boat companies offering tours.
You can go on standard one hour tours, or even visit the creek at night, where you have a higher chance of seeing alligators. If you want to guarantee getting up close and personal with an alligator, then visit Gator Land, which is about 15 minutes away from Boggy Creek, and is a sanctuary for alligators, as well as a few crocodiles and other animals.
How To Get There: Take the I4 east from Disney and then turn off for toll road 528 east. Follow the signs to Boggy Creek – it will take around 20 minutes to get there. The creek isn’t accessible by public transport; however the tour companies run their own pick up and collect service at a charge.
Great for: Families with older children, couples.
Offering the calmest and cleanest beach in the whole of Florida, Clearwater certainly lives up to its name. Due to its location on the Gulf coast, the seawater is almost as warm as bath water in the summer months, and even in winter is still cool enough to dip a toe in – especially if you are used to the UK’s freezing beaches!
Pier 60 is the focal point of Clearwater and is popular with fishing enthusiasts, and also has many stall holders selling handmade crafts and souvenirs. The city of Tampa is also very close to Clearwater and is well worth stopping off at, as there are a number of shopping outlets and malls to pick up a bargain.
How To Get There: Take the I4 west. The journey will take approximately 1 hour 45 minutes by car. You can also get the train from Orlando to Tampa, and then the bus directly to Clearwater, which will take approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
4. Fort Myers
Great for: History buffs, couples.
Fort Myers is a small historic town on Florida’s south west coast. It has some amazing quiet sandy beaches to relax on, and has year-round warm weather. Historically, Fort Myers was a winter retreat for the wealthy during the 19th century, and both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were regular holidaymakers. Their holiday homes have since been turned into a museum and botanical garden, and it’s a fantastic little town to visit if you want to see a bit of Florida’s history.
How To Get There: Take the US Highway 17 south from I4 west. The journey takes around 3 hours. You can also get a bus directly from Orlando which takes around 5 and a half hours.
5. Cocoa Beach
Great for: Groups, couples.
One of Florida’s most popular beaches, Cocoa Beach can get busy during peak times, however during the autumn and winter months it’s quiet and peaceful. The sea isn’t as calm as Clearwater or Fort Myers, however this makes it popular with surfers and water sports enthusiasts.
Cocoa Beach is also close to Cape Canaveral and NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, where you can learn more about Florida’s famous ties to the space programme.
How to get There: Take the 528 west from the Disney area and follow the signs to Cocoa Beach. It will take you approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. There aren’t any public transport links here, but speak to your travel operator, as they often will arrange day trips to this popular beach.
Flights to Florida from the UK take around 9 hrs; you can fly to Florida from most major airports in the UK.
Natalie Smith writes on a wide range of travel topics including destination guides, travel advice and Florida travel.