The Sunshine State is home to many travel destinations. It’s no secret. Tourists flock both inland and along the coast all year round in Florida. While it’s hard to go wrong on vacation in the state, there are certainly some travel destinations in Florida that are overrated, to say the least. Sure, you’ll probably have a good time at any of these places, but you’ll also have to deal with overcrowded beaches, long waits at restaurants, and maybe even loud hotel neighbors.
What do we think are the most over-hyped Florida travel destinations? Here’s a list…as well as an interesting alternative for each one. While everyone has different preferences when it comes to travel, these ideas should help shape your itinerary into the trip you’re dreaming of. Especially if you want to get off the beaten path when choosing a travel destination in Florida.
Vero Beach instead of South Beach
Arguably the most popular destination in Florida, South Beach immediately takes the cake for the most overrated travel hotspot in the state. The reason is simple: the glitz and glamour leads to an overwhelming experience. Many people that aren’t familiar with the area tend to think that South Beach is immediately adjacent to attractions like Little Havana and the Everglades. While they are both just a few miles away, the everglades being a bit further, practical options of travel to them are limited and often expensive. It’s a time crunch to get anywhere outside of South Beach, particularly during peak season, and this is an issue for the sensitive traveler.
South Beach is certainly interesting. It features locals with an active, outdoor vibe. It has great restaurants and beautiful beaches, as well as amazing night clubs. If that sounds like your thing, perfect! But if you want something more laid back, or if you’re traveling with kids or teens, you may want to consider another place.
Vero Beach boasts lots of attractions that make it a fun alternative to South Beach. You might wish to stay at the Disney’s Vero Beach Resort if you have kids or are a Mickey Mouse fan. Or consider a luxury resort and spa combination, such as Costa d’Este Beach Resort and Spa. And there are plenty of choices for more economic stays with beach access, for couples and families alike. Consider The Prestige Hotel which is highly rated and right on the beach.
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While you’re there, you’ll find gorgeous white sand beaches with turquoise waters. The town boasts amazing restaurants – you can’t go wrong with the seafood or the view at Mulligans Beach House, for example!
Bottom line: If you’re a Miami Heat basketball fan, you’ll be right at home in South Beach. However, if you’re looking to get the true feel of Florida, a nearby location to consider might be Vero Beach. It’s only a couple hours up the coast from Miami and you can still easily see the sights in South Beach on a day trip. Consider spending your travel in a nice community like this as opposed to the bustling metropolis of inner Miami.
Jacksonville instead of Orlando
Disney World and Universal Studios are neat, but they don’t represent the true essence of Florida. Even if these locations are a must-see for anyone who frequents Florida in their lifetime, Orlando is an average enough city that it’s overrated as a travel destination. For one, Orlando doesn’t accurately depict the meaning of the Sunshine State.
Particularly if you’re heading to Florida from another state or country, it’s wise to consider spending the bulk of your time near the ocean. The Southeast, and Florida in particular, can be incredibly humid and the ocean breeze can help mitigate the feeling of damp heat.
Jacksonville does a beautiful job of combining a modern, vibrant city with quaint beach vibe. “Jax” has a much larger population, but the number of tourists is also a lot lower. Driving around the city is less of a challenge than in Orlando, especially around O-Town’s theme parks. Jacksonville also has some wonderful restaurants, and those looking for a quiet beach may love the nearby town of Amelia Island, or the preserved beauty of Big Talbot Island State Park.
In fact, the only thing it’s missing are the roller coasters!
If you’re looking for a great stay close to the beach, try Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant in Jacksonville Beach. It has old-Florida charm, dating back to its opening in 1925, and it’s a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can enjoy their rooftop bar as well as their delicious Sunday brunch. Or if you prefer something downtown with easy access to restaurants and clubs, try Southbank Hotel River Walk. The Riverwalk area in Jacksonville spans either side of the St. John’s river, is right downtown, and has lots of shopping and dining options, plus attractions such as the Museum of Science and History, the Alexander Brest Planetarium, and Friendship Fountain.
Bottom line: Although it’s safe to admit that Orlando has some seriously attractive things to do, it’s still overrated. It’s not strikingly beautiful or near an ocean, and in Florida, any location with those characteristics is over-hyped as a major travel hotspot. A nice alternative would be Jacksonville. It has similar wide-ranging activities, but is closer to the ocean.
Cape Coral instead of Key West
Key West is a location that’s overrated for a number of reasons, most notably because in reality it’s a bit different than it’s perceived from the outside. If you’re looking for a relaxed beach vacation or even a trip to the coast with your family, Key West isn’t the right spot. It caters to a younger crowd, and while it’s unique, the party atmosphere may not be right for families or retirees.
Cape Coral is located on the Southwest coast of Florida. With its gorgeous beaches come opportunities for watersports such as boating and fishing. You’ll also find the staple of the Sunshine State – tons of golf courses. It’s large enough that you won’t get bored, but not so large that you’re constantly fighting the crowds. It’s also a lot closer if you’re driving from out of state.
For more culture and history, drive to Fort Myers to see the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, both of which are now museums. Not too much further of a drive is Sanibel Island, known for the amazing seashells you can find along its beaches. There you’ll also be able to see the beautiful Sanibel Island lighthouse, and you won’t be too far from some of the other Florida Gulf Coast lighthouses.
If golf is your game, and you’re looking to stay a week or longer, consider staying at the Florida Golf Vacation Villa. It’s a beautiful house (an actual house!) with views of the golf course, room for 6 people, a private swimming pool, and oversized jetted tub, and a recreation room with a billiard table and dart board. If you prefer to be on the water instead, try the Westin Cape Coral Resort, with its well-appointed rooms, luxury spa, and beautiful pool with cabanas. It also boasts beautiful views of the Caloosa
Bottom line: Key West is a great travel destination, but it isn’t one to aim for if you’re going to Florida and have limited time or budget. It has nice amenities and entertainment, but it takes a bigger effort to get there that similar places. A nice alternative would be to consider Cape Coral. It’s a large city in-between Tampa and Miami with over 30 recreation parks and a nice beach. It would be an unexpectedly fun travel spot for family or romance.
Unexpected Travel Destinations in Florida
Florida is unbelievable and is by no means overrated as a state. However, there are some places that are a bit over-hyped when it comes to taking a Florida vacation. Keep them in mind when planning your itinerary and make the most of your time in the area. It’s a beautiful state and you’re bound to enjoy any and every area you decide to check out.
Joe HallMarch 19, 2020 at 1:43 pm
I appreciate you explaining that a trip to the beach in key west is a little overrated. My family is going to south Florida this summer and we want to make the most of the trip. I’ll be sure to suggest some other locations so that we aren’t so packed in with other tourists.
KLJanuary 1, 2021 at 6:27 am
I was just at Miami Florida just few weeks ago, and drove all the way down to Key West. I agree Key West is too overrated. It is just a party island where you see bicycle riders take over the road, excessive traffic in downtown (Duval St), driving only 34-55mph on US1 etc. Other than Mallory Square ($5/hr parking), Southern Most Point (not best spot for Sunset), Hemingway House, and End of Road (Mile 0 mark for US1- Overseas Hwy), there really isn’t much to do! Never again. Miami and Ft Lauderdale is fun to me though. I think I would have had more fun driving to Tampa instead.
GaryMay 22, 2021 at 2:44 am
Wow, speechless, absolutely loved the drive to the Key West. Nothing to do haha the best laid back bars in USA.
Susan PetraccoMay 22, 2021 at 10:00 am
And I love the keys myself, but I much prefer the middle keys to Key West.
Susan PetraccoMay 22, 2021 at 10:02 am
KL – so many of those are fun to see once, but for the most part I agree with you. There are always so many tourists.
And Gary, I love the keys myself, but I much prefer the middle keys to Key West. More laid back and less tourist bustle.
But to each our own!
Aimee AMALAMay 20, 2021 at 2:11 pm
I’d love to visit America, once this pandemic is over! This post wants me to visit even more! Great pictures.
Jasmine EMay 20, 2021 at 2:13 pm
I love how you offered alternatives as well, as this is very helpful for many of us planning trips this summer! Thank you!
Jenjen BalaticoMay 21, 2021 at 2:31 am
I would definitely love to visit Florida one day! Saving this for future reference.
Ramil HinolanMay 21, 2021 at 3:00 am
Would prefer to go to places with less people. Vero Beach is the best alternative for those who frowned upon places that are noisy and crowded.
MicheleMay 21, 2021 at 8:32 am
I live in Tampa and I completely agree with this list. When you think of Florida it is mostly Busch Gardens, Universal, Disney, and all the popular beaches. There is so much to do here that flies under the radar.
Crickette, The Things I Have to SayMay 22, 2021 at 1:03 am
I visited Florida briefly when I was young–for Disney World.
But I also remember the crowded beaches, and it wasn’t really my thing, even then. Vero Beach seems like a good idea.
Christianforemost.comMay 22, 2021 at 5:40 am
Thanks for the tips! I totally agree that it’s better to explore other places, instead of squeezing yourself in the overrated one. Also, it’s best to ask locals for the best spots haha
My KitchenMay 22, 2021 at 1:32 pm
Well explained. This is going to help out those who are planning on going for a vacation in the USA once the pandemic is over.
Jasmine MartinMay 23, 2021 at 9:00 am
I know of a few people that live in Jacksonville, Florida and they are always sharing with me about how many fun things they end up doing there.
Conch RepublicAugust 23, 2021 at 9:20 pm
I’ve lived in Florida for 20 years and this list is ridiculous. Making the link between Key West and Cape Coral is downright comical. If you’re going to Key West for sandy beaches you know nothing about its geography, history, culture, or mystique and you don’t belong there anyway.
Susan PetraccoAugust 24, 2021 at 8:20 am
Actually I tend to agree, and I’ve thought about replacing this over the years. It was originally a guest post submissions from a blog that went under a few years later. However, I do personally prefer some of the less-crowded keys, like BPK, just because of all those people going there just for the beaches and bars!