Looking for a way to escape the dreaded winter chill? Luckily for you, Florida is one of the most popular and accessible destinations in the United States, renowned for its year round sunshine, jaw-dropping beaches, and adorably goofy-looking manatees.
So if you’re planning your annual getaway, complete with palm trees, frozen cocktails, and tropical vibes, buckle up- here’s 14 incredible destinations that are perfect for enjoying winter in Florida.
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I grew up in the Midwestern United States and remembered that, as a kid, all of my friends’ families religiously headed down to Florida during winter break.
And it’s no surprise why- you can enjoy a tropical environment without dropping a ton of money on plane tickets (my family actually made the 19-hour one-way drive there on more than one occasion!), plus there’s an incredibly diverse array of activities to enjoy across the state, from shipwreck scuba diving to swamp airboat tours and cuddling with 60 six-toed cats (but more on that later!).
And heading south to enjoy winter in Florida is not just reserved for Midwestern families- in fact, Florida gains up to one million seasonal residents each winter (5% of the state’s entire population!), who flee the frigid cold of the northern states to relish in the warm temperatures and sunny skies of the aptly-named Sunshine State.
Whether you want to be a snowbird for a week or for the entire season, there are so many destinations in Florida that are perfect for your next winter getaway.
Best Destinations to Enjoy Winter in Florida
1. Key West
- How to get to Key West: This colorful town has its very own airport, Key West International Airport, or alternatively, is located about a three hour drive south of Miami International Airport.
- Where to stay in Key West: The Key West Bed and Breakfast perfectly marries the old with the new- the historic Victorian-era building has plenty of modern amenities, including a hot tub to warm up on particularly chilly evenings.
If you’re looking for one of the best destinations to enjoy winter in Florida, then you can’t beat Key West. With daily highs hovering around 77 degrees and mostly sunny days, it’s the perfect place to escape the winter blues.
If you can swing a visit to this quirky town during mid-December, Key West is one of the best places on the planet to relax on the beach on Christmas. For example, you’ll get to watch sailboats deck their hulls (boat pun!) with plenty of Christmas lights and cruise through the water during the annual boat parade. Alternatively, you can also attend the Historic Inns Holiday Tour, where you’ll get the opportunity to stroll around the town’s cozy bed and breakfasts, all dolled up for the holiday season.
If you visit after December, you’ll still have lovely weather to enjoy some of the best things to do in Key West, like grab a drink and party the day away on Duval Street, which holds the very impressive title of the most bars per capita in the entire United States. If you want to pretend to mix a teeny bit of culture in there, make a stop at Sloppy Joe’s- this dive bar was established in 1937 and was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts.
Speaking of our good ol’ friend Hemingway, don’t forget to swing by the Ernest Hemingway House, where the famed author lived in the 1930s. Not only is the Spanish Colonial-style mansion stuffed to the brim with artifacts from his life, but you can also get your snuggle on with the aforementioned infamous gaggle of 60 polydactyl (six-toed) cats that live here.
Afterward, head to Mallory Square to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico and the amazing street performers that inundate the area, especially during the nightly Sunset Celebration.
Recommended by Victoria of Florida Trippers
2. Biscayne National Park
- How to get to Biscayne National Park: Biscayne National Park covers the northernmost part of the Florida Reef, which holds the title of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. Although there are several small low-lying islands here, the park is 95% water. Accordingly, the best way to explore it is by boat! You can find out more about boat tours of the park here.
Boat trips leave for the park from the harbor in Homestead, located an hour south of Miami (and just a 40-minute drive from Miami International Airport).
- Where to stay in Biscayne National Park: There are a couple of primitive campgrounds on the islands, but almost all visitors come here on a day trip. If you choose the latter option, stay at one of the hotels in Homestead, like the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, an impeccably clean and modern hotel that’s located near the town’s harbor.
Given that Biscayne is mostly ocean water, the most popular thing to do here is a boat tour, complete with a cruise past a picturesque lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and snorkeling the Florida Reef. For snorkelers or even scuba divers, the underwater world here is nothing short of breathtaking, with colorful tropical fish, a vibrant coral reef, and multiple sunken shipwrecks. Just remember to slather on that reef safe sunscreen– normal sunscreen contains chemicals that cause coral’s DNA to mutate and essentially gives it coral cancer. And you don’t want to be a coral murderer, do you?
Alternatively, if you prefer to stay above the surface (or want an extra adventure), you can also take a guided kayaking trip, which usually includes one and a half hours of exploring seagrass meadows, paddling through mangroves, and keeping your eyes peeled for mangrove snakes, tree crabs and sea birds.
If you’re more of a landlubber, Elliott Key is the largest island here, offering a hiking trail with excellent opportunities to spot birds, like brown pelicans or a Bahama mockingbird. Luckily, one of the best times of the year to visit Elliott Key is in the winter, thanks to the pleasant temperatures and limited bugs.
In fact, winter is one of the best times to visit Biscayne National Park, thanks to the temperatures in the 70s, the clear and sunny skies, and the blessed lack of hurricanes!
Recommended by James of Park Collecting
3. Everglades National Park
- How to Get to Everglades National Park: Miami has the closest international airport to the Everglades, and is a one-hour drive from the park. Other airports that are still within two hours driving distance include Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, and Naples.
- Where to Stay Near Everglades National Park: Conveniently located near the park, Everglades Adventures Hotel Suites by Ivey House has spacious and tidy rooms and friendly service, who will help you arrange activities, like an Everglades kayaking tour, or set you up with a free bike rental.
If you’re looking to head down south for the winter in Florida for wildlife viewing and outdoor adventures, Everglades National Park, in the southern part of the state, should definitely be on your list. The Everglades, undoubtedly one of the best national parks on the east coast, are primarily made of tropical wetlands and offer the largest contiguous stand of protected mangrove forest in the western hemisphere, ultimately leading to this area being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
And one of the best times to explore this unique landscape is the winter- unlike the scorching summers, the temperatures are fairly moderate and the usually rainy skies are dry. Not only does the lower water levels make the park’s trails more accessible, but you’ll have an easier time spotting wildlife in the park’s wetlands.
One of the best places to observe wildlife in the park is along the Anhinga Trail, where you’ll see alligators, birds, and turtles. Other things to do in the Everglades include kayaking through the park’s 99-mile Wilderness Waterway network or, for a shorter journey, the Hell’s Bay kayaking trail can be combined with an overnight stay on one of the park’s floating “chickee” camping sites (basically, your own little wooden platform island to camp on!). Alternatively, if you’re not quite up to the task of kayaking with the gators on your lonesome, consider going with a guide, like this kayaking tour through mangrove tunnels.
You can also explore the park via bicycle, where several trails, like the Long Pine Key or Shark Valley, cross through grasslands and marshes. This is a great way to see marine life or, for a more relaxed way to see the swamps, consider booking one of these airboat tours.
By Patricia of Ze Wandering Frogs
4. Crystal River
- How to get to Crystal River: The closest airport is Tampa International Airport (TPA), about 74 miles south of Citrus County.
- Where to stay in Crystal River: The recently-renovated Gator Den offers the best of both worlds- a small, family-run motel with the modern amenities and comfort that you’d expect from a chain, plus an excellent location between Crystal River and the Rainbow River, a river with stunningly clear turquoise water.
If you’re planning on enjoying winter in Florida, you need to add seeing the adorably doofy manatees to your list- and one of the best places to see them is Crystal River, along Florida’s central coast.
In fact, Crystal River is known as the “Manatee Capital of the World” because, during the winter months, manatees travel from Florida’s rivers and coastal waters to its warmer springs. You can see them by kayaking along the many waterways or, to really get up close and personal, you can go swimming with them (check out this tour or this one)! Remember that manatees are a vulnerable species, so please respect them by swimming at a distance and not touching or otherwise disturbing them.
While observing the blubbery manatee is one of the best reasons to visit Crystal River, there’s plenty of other wildlife to keep you entertained here, especially at the Three Sisters Springs. This nature refuge has a boardwalk that borders its springs, which is a great place to spot marine life, tropical birds, and native plants.
One important tip for your adventures around Crystal Spring- remember to pack a sweater or two (I’m obsessed with my Patagonia zip-up fleece)! Although the average high temperature is around 70°F, it drops down to the low 40s at night.
Recommended by Vicky of Buddy the Traveling Monkey
5. Dry Tortugas National Park
- How to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park: Dry Tortugas is one of the most unique national parks in the U.S., consisting of a series of seven islands and lots of open water in the Gulf of Mexico.
Given that no roads lead to the park, you can either fly into Miami and drive to Key West (or just fly straight to Key West) and, from there, hop on the Yankee Freedom Ferry. Book your ferry tickets well as soon as you can, as they can sell out several weeks in advance.
- Where to Stay Near Dry Tortugas National Park: To get the full Dry Tortugas experience, camp overnight at Garden Key Campground, located on one of the park’s islands. The campsites are rustic, but your reward is the opportunity to spend a quiet night in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, miles away from the rest of civilization. If you’d prefer not-so-rustic accommodations, you can visit Dry Tortugas as a day trip and stay overnight at Key West, like the Ocean Key Resort and Spa, with ocean view suites and in-room whirlpools.
Most visitors will arrive at Dry Tortugas on Garden Key, home to Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fort. Constructed in 1846 from more than 16 million bricks, this fort was built to protect American shipping routes and was later repurposed to house criminals during the Civil War. Today, visitors are allowed to wander the halls of the now defunct fort.
But, really, the most spectacular part of the park is the underwater world around Garden Key. You can actually snorkel right off the island, about 75 yards from the western edge of the fort’s moat wall. Here, you’ll get to see coral, colorful tropical fish, sea grass, and other marine life that call these turquoise waters home.
Winter can be a lovely time to get out and enjoy the water, given the warm temperatures that reach up to the mid-70s almost every day. That being said, the water may feel a bit chilly, so in addition to your bathing suit, consider bringing along a wetsuit (like this one for men and this one for women) so you can actually enjoy the snorkeling!
Recommended by Scott of the Quirky Travel Guy
6. Cedar Key
- How to Get to Cedar Key: To get to Cedar Key, fly into the Gainesville Regional Airport and drive an hour southwest to the Gulf Coast.
- Where to stay in Cedar Key: Cedar Key is the second oldest town in Florida, so if you want to lean into the old timey vibes, head to the Island Hotel. Dating back to 1859, it’s one of the oldest bed and breakfasts in Florida!
Cedar Key, a charming beach town, retains the patina of its storied past. It’s a bit sleepier than some of the other coastal towns in Florida, so it’s the perfect place if you’re looking for a warm destination to relax without all the crowds.
Come winter, there’s plenty of festivals to enjoy in Cedar Key. For example, plan your visit in November during the annual Pirate Invasion and watch as the mayor surrenders the town over to pirates for a day. Between the historical reenactments, weapon demonstrations, costumes, and food, you aaaaargh guaranteed to get quite a show! December comes with its own festivities, including a Christmas parade and a festive Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Another awesome thing to do here is to get out on the water- for example, you can take a sunset cruise to search for dolphins, or if you’re a history buff, book a ferry to the nearby Atsena Otie Key. It lies just a half mile away and was once the original settlement of Cedar Key. A hurricane destroyed the island in 1896, and now all that remains is an abandoned cemetery and some crumbled buildings that you can explore if you dare.
Once you’re back on land, march those sea legs over to Dock Street, the main drag that’s full of waterfront bars and restaurants, for a bite to eat.
At night, Cedar Key is an excellent place to stargaze, thanks to its remoteness and the associated limited light pollution. Just be sure to bring along a light jacket (we recommend this one for women or this one for men)- temperatures get up to 65 degrees during the day, but can drop down to 50 at night.
Recommended by Jillian of Adventure Dragon
7. Blue Springs State Park
- How to Get to Blue Springs State Park: Blue Springs is located approximately forty minutes north of Orlando or two hours southeast of Tampa.
- Where to Stay in Blue Springs State Park: Like any good state park, Blue Springs has a campground, an RV park, and even some rustic cabins if you want to maximize your time in the great outdoors. If you prefer something slightly more on the bougie side, check out Artisan Downtown, a boutique historic hotel, with quirky yet charming décor in each room, in the nearby town of DeLand.
If you’re looking for an active vacation with plentiful wildlife sightings, Blue Springs State Park is the place for you. Winter is the best time to spot manatees in Florida and if seeing these chunky creatures is on your bucket list, you’re in luck- Blue Springs is renowned for being one of the best places to kayak with manatees in Florida.
Beyond the manatees, there’s also an abundance of other creatures you can spot here, from black bears and gopher tortoises to ospreys and eagles.
If kayaking isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of other ways to enjoy the park’s aptly named springs’ clear turquoise water, like tubing, swimming, or just taking in the views along a peaceful stroll. The park offers a half-mile boardwalk, running along Blue Spring Run’s bank, from the bubbling spring itself to the St. Johns River.
Recommended by Trijit of Budget Travel Buff
8. St. Petersburg
- How to get to St. Petersburg: This town conveniently has its own airport, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), or, for a larger hub with more flight options, fly into the Tampa International Airport (TPA), just 20 miles from downtown St. Pete.
- Where to Stay in St. Petersburg: Consider the Hollander Hotel, a boutique hotel with a heated outdoor pool (complete with a poolside bar) and an excellent location near the city’s best museums and parks.
St. Petersburg is an eclectic city on the gulf coast of Florida, offering a rich mix of art, outdoor spaces, and beaches.
The city enjoys moderate weather in the wintertime, with daily highs reaching up to the mid-70s and usually only a handful of rainy days each month.
While you may be able to squeeze in some beach time on an unseasonably warm winter day, there’s luckily plenty of things to keep you busy if you happen to visit during a chilly period.
The top attraction, and one not to be missed, is the Dali Museum. It has the largest collection outside of Europe of the works of the mind-bending surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, including some of his most famous pieces, such as The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory and Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. During your visit, I highly recommend checking out the museum’s free audio guide that you can download on your phone, which provides tons of background information on the various pieces and Dali himself, as you move from gallery to gallery. Don’t miss the small yet lovely sculpture garden in the back as well!
If you haven’t had your fill of artwork, there’s other museums nearby to explore, including the Museum of Fine Arts, which features a varied collection ranging from Ancient Greek and Roman art to impressionist and contemporary masterworks. The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement is also worth a visit, displaying works from 1890 to 1930.
For an outdoor activity, check out the Sunken Gardens, a compact, yet impressive area offering beautifully landscaped exotic plants, trees, and flowers. The gardens are also home to some exotic tropical birds, like flamingos and parrots, and a variety of other critters, like an ancient snapping turtle.
Recommended by Merry of Virginia Vacation Guide
- How to get to Naples: The Southwest Regional International Airport in Fort Myers is just 30-40 minutes away, with service to most major airport hubs throughout the US.
- Where to stay in Naples: To lean into Naples’ swanky vibe, book a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, an all-suite boutique hotel with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous pool and friendly staff that remember your name!
When the winter chill sets in, many sun worshippers flock to southern Florida to warm up, visiting towns like Naples along its southern coast. Home to over 700 excellent restaurants and locals who enjoy a luxurious yet laid-back lifestyle, Naples has some of the best beaches in the country and is as good as it gets for an escape from the chilly winter in Florida.
Unlike some of the more northerly towns in Florida, Naples enjoys balmy temperatures in the winter, ranging from the high 70s to mid-80s. And with its location right along the Gulf of Mexico, the warm temperatures allow you to still enjoy countless water activities, like swimming, boating, jet-skiing, and kayaking. And while many travelers associate Naples with retirees and golf enthusiasts, the town is actually perfect for young families as well, with gently sloping beaches that are perfectly suited for swimmers of all skill levels as well as lively, family-friendly beaches.
If you’re planning your warm winter getaway in December, don’t miss the unique holiday events in town, beginning with the American Sand Sculpting Championships on nearby Fort Myers Beach during Thanksgiving week, followed by the start of the Christmas boat parades. The town hosts several boat parades that usher in the holiday season, where boat owners and tour companies outfit their boats in festive lights, music, and plenty of holiday cheer.
Recommended by Lori of Travlinmad
10. Fort De Soto Park
- How to get to Fort de Soto Park: To access the park, which is close to St. Petersburg, fly into Tampa International Airport or the smaller St. Pete Clearwater Airport, both of which are just 45 minutes away from the park (making this an awesome day trip from Tampa!).
- Where to Stay in Fort de Soto Park: For my RV fam, Fort de Soto has a 236-site campground, but it’s nearly impossible to snag a reservation here. So alternatively, consider booking a stay at a nearby hotel, like the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key, with an outdoor pool with ocean views and full-service spa.
Located in Pinellas County, Fort De Soto is a historic landmark with incredible beaches. In fact, the park is made up of five keys, with seven miles of waterfront and three miles of beaches to enjoy. With just a $5 day-use fee, this is one of the most bang-for-your-buck activities in Florida!
Unsurprisingly, one of the highlights of the park is the fort itself, which was built on the awesomely named Mullet Key in 1898, and is open to visitors to explore and learn about its history. The fort was named after the conquistador, Hernando De Soto, who arrived to do his conquistador thing in the area in May of 1539.
There are a number of other historical buildings around the fort, constructed between 1900 and 1906, to check out as well. The surrounding property is beautifully landscaped and offers seven miles of paved trails for walking, running, and biking, along with many unpaved trails as well.
One of the most popular features of this park is its incredible dog beach. A section of beach is set aside specifically for dogs and their owners to enjoy. Dogs can be on or off leash, depending on your comfort level and the dog’s skills. If you prefer a fenced area, that’s also available right behind the beach. What could be better than a day full of fun, sun, and your furry best friend!
For those non-dog lovers out there (listen, we need to talk), there’s still plenty of things to do here, including a museum, snack bar, and canoeing trail, which offers both canoe and kayak rentals.
Recommended by Tori Pines Travels
- How to Get to Seaside: The closest major airport near Seaside is Pensacola International Airport, about an hour and forty-five-minute west of the city.
- Where to Stay in Seaside: The family-owned and operated Hibiscus Coffee and Guesthouse is a charming getaway, with plenty of “old Florida” vibes and quirky events, like poetry readings and backyard yoga.
Located in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside, a sleepy beach town, is one of the best places to visit during the winter in Florida. In fact, it’s so picturesque and charming, it was the setting for the 1998 movie, The Truman Show.
Despite its brush with Jim Carrey and fame, Seaside is still a bit off the beaten path. So you’ll be able to enjoy its beaches and its famed sunsets without the crowds- plus, it tends to be a more affordable destination than some of its busier neighboring towns.
Temperatures here typically hover around the mid-50s to 60s with the occasional warm front where the temperatures can rise into the mid-70s. The cooler weather make it perfect for hiking and biking on one of the many area trails.
Even though it’s a quaint town, there are plenty of awesome things to do in Seaside to keep you busy. One of the best things to do here is exploring the nearby beaches, like Henderson Beach State Park, Van Ness Butler Beach, and Seaside Beach, which are known for their powdery, white sand and turquoise waters. It’s probably too chilly for you to take a dip here, but you can still stroll along the shoreline, enjoy some kayaking, and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and birds.
Another great activity is to visit one of the many art galleries and eclectic boutiques in town. The galleries typically feature artists that are inspired by the natural beauty of the Emerald Coast. I recommend renting a bike to explore the entire town and its adorable streets, lined with beach cottages.
Whatever you do, be sure to grab a drink during sunset at Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant & Bar before you leave– you won’t be disappointed!
Recommended by Disha of Disha Discovers
12. Clearwater Beach
- How To Get to Clearwater Beach: You can fly into the Tampa International Airport, a scenic 30-minute drive from the city.
- Where to Stay in Clearwater Beach: The Hilton Clearwater Resort is a 4-star hotel on the beach, with a spa, onsite bike rentals, and yoga (on the beach, of course).
Clearwater Beach is a perfect destination for all kinds of travelers, with family-friendly activities and a lively nightlife scene for younger adults.
The weather is perfect for exploring the great outdoors, with highs in the low 70s and temperatures that rarely drop below 50 degrees. While it’s usually a bit too chilly to swim, you can still stroll along the beach, walk to Pier 60 (a 1,080-foot pier that juts into the ocean), and enjoy the waterfront bars and restaurants.
If you’re interested in becoming immersed in this area’s incredible nature, Caladesi Island is just north of Clearwater Beach and offers all kinds of adventures, like kayaking through mangroves, paddleboarding in the open water, and spotting interesting wildlife, like armadillos. This little slice of heaven is only accessible by ferry or boat and thus, still remains blissfully under the radar.
Recommended by Wayne of Always on Shore
13. Daytona Beach
- How to Get to Daytona Beach: While Daytona Beach has its own teeny airport, most visitors fly into Jacksonville and make the hour and a half drive south instead.
- Where to stay in Daytona Beach: The locally-owned and operated Bahama House has plenty of awesome perks, like a nightly happy hour and upscale continental breakfast and is just steps away from the beach.
Daytona Beach offers the perfect beach weather throughout the winter months, even reaching up to 80 degrees in January.
That being said, Daytona Beach is not exactly known for having the soft, powdery sand most beachgoers dream of, but instead, has a fairly hard sandy shore. In fact, some believe that Daytona Beach’s hard-packed sand was the birthplace of car racing; nowadays, you’ll see NASCAR memorabilia proudly displayed everywhere you look.
If you’re looking for a heart-pumping activity or simply a great place to people watch, NASCAR kicks off its annual racing season with the Daytona 500 at Daytona Speedway in mid-February, with other events, like the Rolex 24 or Bike Week, sprinkled throughout the wintertime.
Daytona Beach’s history of racing has earned it several titles, including the World’s Most Famous Beach and the Racing Capital of the World- but the town has also earned the moniker of the Festival Capital of Florida. Throughout the wintertime, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a day that doesn’t have some sort of live music, food, or arts festival happening here.
For a totally different side of the city, one of the best things to do in Daytona Beach is explore some of its amazing museums. For example, the Museum of Arts and Sciences is a Smithsonian affiliate and its Roots Family Museum wing features a dizzying amount of Coca-Cola and train memorabilia. Additionally, the nearby Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art houses the world’s largest collection of Florida-themed art.
Whether you’re a fine art enthusiast or a NASCAR fanatic, Daytona Beach is definitely worth exploring and beating the chill of winter!
Recommended by Charles of McCool Travel
- How to Get There: Pensacola has its own small airport, just a short 25 minute drive to the beach. Alternatively, you can fly into Billox’s airport, less than two hours east of the city.
- Where to stay in Pensacola: While a hotel themed around Jimmy Buffett may not initially sound up your alley, the Margaritaville Hotel has some tricks up its sleeve, including a tiki bar, a beachfront pool, and oceanview rooms.
Renowned as the first European settlement in the US, Pensacola is steeped in rich history, dating all the way back to 1559. It is a beach side city with a large university, making it a great place for both families to take a step back in time, and young couples to enjoy the lively bar scene.
You’ll find moderate weather here in the winter, with temperatures in the mid-60s, which is perfect for exploring the area’s incredible scenery and history. For example, learn about the United States’ efforts to fortify its ports after the War of 1812 at Fort Pickens (which is almost 200 years old!) in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, or you can get out on the water for dolphin watching on a racing trimaran, a special type of boat renowned for its speed and stability.
Despite its incredible beaches with powder white sand and turquoise water, Pensacola- and really, the whole Florida Panhandle- is a hidden gem, remaining especially quiet during the wintertime. This is the perfect time to enjoy the charming downtown and the flower-lined Palafox Street, without the crowds. In fact, this area is so full of wonderful galleries, bars and restaurants that Palafox has been named one of “10 Great Streets in America”, per the American Planning Association.
I hope you find someplace sunny and warm to getaway from winter in Florida. Do you have any questions about these destinations or did I miss a hidden gem? Drop ‘em in the comments below!
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