When you hear "Florida," what you do immediately think of? Disney World? For a lot of people, the happiest place on earth is definitely the first thing that comes to mind when they consider a trip to the Sunshine State.
But guess what? Florida is so much more than Disney or other theme parks. There are hundreds, probably thousands of fun things to do that don't include a certain Mouse. Here's a quick look at some other things you can do on a vacation to Florida.
See alligators in the Everglades
Located in southern Florida, Everglades National Park is an incredibly important and interesting place when it comes to the nature protected there. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. The park - which covers more than 1.5 million acres - is home to endangered animals like the American alligator, manatees and the Florida panther. Just outside the park's borders, you can even take an airboat ride to go 'gator spotting.
Visit the Kennedy Space Center
Even though the US government has stopped sending space shuttles into orbit, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral is still operational and still open to visitors. At the visitor's complex, you can touch a moon rock, see the largest rocket ever made, have a shuttle launch experience and maybe even meet an astronaut.
Relax on the Gulf Coast's beaches
If it's quiet beach time you're seeking, head to Florida's Gulf Coast, up near the panhandle. My favorites are small beaches in places like Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe - tiny beach communities with clean expanses of soft sand. Rent a paddleboard, go fishing or just soak up some sun. You can also take a day trip to a typical coastal town like Apalachicola.
Explore Key West
Situated at the very tip of the Florida Keys, the island of Key West covers only 4.2 square miles, making it easy to navigate. For an active way to explore, rent a bike to see the Old Town, ride down Duval Street and stop at a few attractions. Two popular ones are the Hemingway House (former home of author Ernest Hemingway and his many-toed cats) and the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens (a museum dedicated to the artwork of John James Audubon).
Soak up history in St. Augustine
Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited European-established settlement in the continental United States. The Spanish influence can be seen in the city's Spanish Renaissance architecture, which can be found throughout the city. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest masonry fort in the U.S.), wander through the historic district and stop in at Flagler College to admire some of the city's well-preserved architecture.
Go shell hunting on Sanibel Island
Love seashells? Then you don't want to miss Sanibel Island, a barrier island off the Florida coast near Fort Myers. The island is known for its shell-covered beaches and is also home to a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary.
See some manatees in the wild
The manatee - or sea cow - is actually native to southern Florida, and there are quite a few different places to view them (sometimes large groups of them) at different times of the year. During the winter, Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River is a popular gathering spot for manatees. You can also head to the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, which is a designated manatee sanctuary with viewing platforms, tidal walkways and an educational center. Just remember to be respectful of these endangered mammals and keep a safe distance if you find yourself in the water with them.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Florida?