7 Under-The-Radar Destinations Only Floridians Know About

Hidden gems that are worth the trip, according to a longtime resident.

juniper inlet lighthouse

Getty Images/Sean Pavone

While Florida’s beaches and theme parks lure millions of travelers, some of the best places to visit include under-the-radar destinations. From Gilded Age mansions, lighthouses, and prehistoric caves to authentic dude ranches, wineries, and historic limestone pools, off-the-beaten Florida adventures beckon travelers away from the crowds. 

01 of 07

Florida Caverns State Park

florida caverns state park

Getty Images/Michael Warren

A cavern in Florida? Yes! Located in the Panhandle in Marianna, this state park spans roughly 1,450 acres and draws outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy canoeing, fishing, camping, and horseback riding. But the shining star here is the incredible cave system. As the only Florida state park where visitors can take a guided cave tour, Florida Caverns offers dry caves flanked by spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstone. The tour takes you down 35 steps and winds you through a dozen cave rooms where an expert guide will share the cave's history, talk about its early uses, and describe the incredible geological formations you see along the way. With the cave’s cool temps and calmly dripping water, the 45-minute tour provides a comfortable respite on a hot Florida day. These popular cave tours often sell out (especially on weekends and holidays), so get your tickets in advance.

02 of 07

Venetian Pool

venetian pool coral gables

Getty Images

When developer George Merrick wanted to create a “city with a Mediterranean flair” in the early 1920s and call it Coral Gables, he used limestone from a local quarry pit to construct the buildings. Merrick worked with a  local artist and architect to transform the pool (which holds 820,000 gallons of water fed by the Biscayne aquifer) into a tropical oasis named the Venetian pool. Debuting in 1924, this unique aquatic locale earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places—the only swimming pool to receive such a designation. Roughly 40 times bigger than a typical backyard pool, the Venetian Pool delivers an incredible sensory experience. Its emerald waters feature stone bridges, cave-like grottos, and waterfalls, with palm trees and bougainvillea flowers dotting the perimeter. Closed in December and January, the pool charges an entrance fee ranging from $11-$21 per person.

03 of 07

Florida Horse Park

Ocala Horseback Riding
Courtesy of Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau

As the jewel of Ocala, this 500-acre multi-use park appeals to equestrian enthusiasts as well as upscale travelers, outdoor athletes, animal lovers, history buffs, and campers. The property’s fields, which sit upon bedrock of limestone, provide the perfect foundation for a variety of equine events, including stadium jumping, dressage and cross-country competitions. In fact, the Florida Horse Park serves as an official training site for the U.S. Equestrian Team. But with roughly 250 events on the calendar in any given year, you might also be able to participate in (or watch) a variety of activities ranging from dog shows to obstacle course competitions and 5-K runs. And with the newly opened, luxurious Equestrian Hotel, you can also stay in style.

04 of 07

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse

juniper inlet lighthouse

Getty Images/Sean Pavone

If you've ever wanted to climb to the top of a lighthouse, check out the 108-foot Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in Southeast Florida. After ascending the spiraling, cast-iron staircase (105 steps, in case you’re counting), you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views at the top. To the north and west, you’ll spot the Atlantic Ocean as it flows into the inlet and then splits into the Indian and Loxahatchee Rivers. And you’ll be mesmerized by the 120 acres of Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area surrounding this landmark structure, with scenic hiking trails to explore when you’re back on the ground. Afterwards, dive into 5,000 years of history at the Lighthouse Keeper’s Workshop and the World War II U.S. Naval Housing Building. 

05 of 07

Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo in River Ranch, Florida
Courtesy Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Glamp it up at this 1,700-acre authentic dude ranch, located one hour south of Orlando, with accommodations ranging from Luxury Glamping to Luxe Conestoga Wagons. You’ll get a taste of Old Florida (before Mickey Mouse moved in) to experience the beautiful Florida wilderness. Overlooking the scenic Kissimmee River, the property packs in tons of outdoor fun, so no need to even leave the property. Go horseback riding (obvi!), enjoy the award-winning rodeo every Saturday night, go on a hayride, take the kids to the petting farm, try bungee jumping, play a round of golf, cast your line to fish in the river, take an airboat road to spot alligators, or try your hand at archery. Plus, in 2022, the resort debuted a “ranch chic” steakhouse using locally sourced ingredients and dishing out steaks and seafood, naturally.

06 of 07

Stetson Mansion

stetson mansion

Courtesy of Stetson Mansion

Built on a 300-acre orange grove in Deland for famed hat-maker John B. Stetson in 1886, Stetson Mansion is Florida’s most historic home and only Gilded Age mansion. Dubbed “the house that hats built,” this carefully restored property has changed hands over the years and is actually a private estate (not a museum) today, where the current owners still reside. Take a guided, small-group tour (reservations required) to walk through the three-story, nearly 10,000-square-foot mansion, which blends a mix of cottage, Tudor, Gothic, Polynesian, and Moorish architectural details. Inside, you’ll find an original Edison-installed fuse box, more than a dozen mosaic parquet wood floors, 10,000 panes of antique glass, period furnishings, and intricate, hand-carved wood embellishments. Outside, explore the serene gardens, fountains, gazebos, pool, patios, and a quaint guest house (located in the property’s original on-site school). Visit November through January for the annual Christmas Spectacular.

07 of 07

Lakeridge Winery

lakeridge winery florida

Courtesy of Lakeridge Winery

Located about 30 miles northwest of downtown Orlando and nestled in the rolling hills of Clermont, this 127-acre estate serves as the largest winery in the Sunshine State. Harvesting grapes for wine since 1989, this award-winning winery now produces more than one million bottles every year. In its 75 acres of planted vineyards, Lakeridge Winery pioneered the growth of hybrid and native muscadine grapes, including Noble (red) and Welder and Carlos (white) varieties that thrive in Florida’s warm, humid climate. Complimentary, daily winery tours (about 45-minutes) and tastings attract more than 160,000 wine enthusiasts annually. Check out their year-round weekend events, too, ranging from the family-friendly grape stomping festival and upscale food court to live entertainment.

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