9 Fun Things to Do in Florida That You Don't Want to Miss in Winter

Let's turn that summer vacation into a winter escape.

Florida isn't called the Sunshine State for nothing. Southerners—along with people from all over the country—flock to the coastal state year-round for white sand beaches, clear blue waters, and warm, sunny weather.

As much as we love summer vacations on Scenic Highway 30A or down at the Keys, there is just as much to love about Florida come wintertime. From December through February, this state packs in special things you don't want to miss, from Christmas festivities at Walt Disney World to migrating manatees (that you can snorkel with!) to the biggest NASCAR race of the year. A Florida winter really is as sunny as it gets.

Disney at Christmas
Ryan Wendler/Disney

Here are nine of the best things to do in Florida during the winter.

Snorkel With the Manatees at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River

During the winter months, manatees flock to Crystal River seeking warm water refuge before the water temperature drops too low in other areas. The 57-acre wetland refuge that surrounds Three Sisters Springs, along with its scenic boardwalk, sees hundreds of manatees during the winter, and visitors are able to swim, snorkel, or paddle alongside the gentle giants in the clearest of water. It's definitely a sight worth seeing. threesistersspringsvisitor.org

Head to "The Happiest Place on Earth"

Not only are you able to catch these parks at a less crowded time (summer is the high season!), but you're also typically able to do it a cheaper price. Not to mention, once you've fared the long, hot, sweaty, crowded park day in the middle of July, you'll be dreaming of a more autumnal or wintertime Walt Disney World visit.

If you're there during the holidays, expect an extravaganza of holiday spirit—twinkling lights and all—at every park and resort, and don't miss out on Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. If you're traveling in January, consider visiting during the popular Walt Disney World Marathon. There are 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon races on the docket, along with a few special challenges named after famous characters like Goofy and Dopey. disney.go.com

Catch St. Augustine, the Nation's Oldest City, During Night of Lights

Come December, St. Augustine's historic district dresses up its Southern charm with millions of tiny white lights scattered throughout the city, inspired by the Spanish tradition of displaying a white candle in the window. It's known as one of the top holiday light displays in the country, and you can attend the annual festival, Night of Lights, for fun-filled events like trolley tours, a tour of homes, and a regatta of lights. visitstaugustine.com

Catch Waves With the Surfing Santas at Cocoa Beach

Florida said, "We'll see your Old Saint Nick and raise you a Surfing Santa." If you're looking for a relaxed December getaway, head to Cocoa Beach, located about an hour southeast of Orlando. The beach town boasts an annual tradition that brings hundreds of surfers dressed up as Santa who kick off the festivities promptly at 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve. There's even a costume competition for all ages. This laidback event is the perfect way to kickstart your holiday celebrations. surfingsantas.org

Surfing Santas
Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images

Get a Taste of In-Season Florida Citrus

Did you know that Florida citrus—oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and more—are actually in-season during the winter months? Their sunny colors might fool you, but it's one of the best times of the year to get a taste (specifically from November through April).

Head to Citra, Florida, to visit the iconic Orange Shop, which has been in operation since 1936. You can stock up on fresh citrus fruits, Bundt cakes, marmalades, and more. Plenty of farms throughout the state, such as U-Pick Citrus in Ft. Meyers, lets you pick your own bushel of fruit. Bring the whole family, and make it a fun activity. floridaorangeshop.com

Send Your Greeting Cards From Christmas, Florida

Located about 25 miles outside Orlando, this small town is quite the destination once December hits. People from all over pay a visit to the post office to send greeting cards to friends and family—postmarked Christmas, Florida. The post office has even been known to offer colorful stamps and ink to decorate your envelopes, which was once a town tradition.

Experience Dickens on Centre at Fernandina Beach

Why not travel back in time at the turn of the year? Inspired by Charles Dickens famed "A Christmas Carol," this Victorian-inspired festival sees downtown Fernandina flooded with costumed characters, themed performances, and plenty of festive vendors hocking things like chestnuts roasting. It's basically a beach town transformed into a charming English village for a spell. ameliaisland.com

See the Gaylord Palms All Dressed Up for the Holidays

Say hello to the most festive hotel in Florida. It's the perfect place to create lifelong memories with your family this season, including a trip or two to the resort's ICE! attraction. The indoor winter wonderland features a self-guided walk with life-sized ice sculptures—including hand-carved scenes from holiday-favorite movie, "The Polar Express"—and a handful of two-story ice slides. marriott.com

Attend the Daytona 500, NASCAR's Most Prestigious Race, at Daytona Beach

February in Florida means one thing: Daytona 500. This big-time race, held in mid-February, is an once-in-a-lifetime experience all Southerners should put on the bucket list. You might not be into NASCAR, but you'll still think it's one of the most exciting sporting events of all time. (The crowd goes absolutely crazy!) End the winter season on a high note at Daytona International Speedway. daytonainternationalspeedway.com

It's time to head to the Sunshine State—you've got places to be and things to do.

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