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6 Hidden Gems in Florida You Need to Visit (with a Time-Sensitive Deal to Help)

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Sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA

Thinking about planning, or booking, a trip to Florida? Tired of only hearing about its most famous destinations and top attractions and craving something a little more unique and lesser known?

We’ve ridden roller coasters at Orlando’s theme parks and partied on Miami’s South Beach– all of which belong on your Florida Bucket List.

But, as our recent Florida travels have shown us, the Sunshine State isn’t just about Mickey Mouse or bustling cities; it’s also home to some of the most enchanting hidden gems that promise unforgettable experiences.

Join us as we share six of our favorite hidden wonders in Florida, each offering its own unique charm, from quaint coastal towns to serene natural escapes.

And to sweeten the deal, we’ve teamed up with VISIT FLORIDA (sponsor) and Priceline to bring you an exclusive discount for your accommodation, making your Florida trip not just memorable but also budget friendly.

Priceline is making it easier for you to Go to your Happy Place for a Happy Price!

PRICELINE DEAL: 10% off Hotel Express Deals on top of the up to 40% off on Hotel Express Deals when you book by May 27 at 9 a.m. eastern There is a limited quantity of redemptions, so act now. Click here and Use CODE: CAZNCRAIG10 

1. Manasota Key, Gulf Coast

aerial of woman and child walking on englewood beach

Escape the crowds and discover the pristine beauty of Manasota Key, an 11-mile barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, halfway between Tampa and Fort Myers.

I’ll never forget my first view of Englewood Beach at Manasota Key (mere steps away from our accommodation): pure white sand, calm, turquoise water, palm trees barely swaying, and only a handful of people.

This was a Florida paradise I hadn’t seen before, and had never heard of, making it one of my favorite hidden gems in Florida.

But wait, it gets better at the southern end of the island is Stump Pass Beach State Park.

woman standing on the beach
That view!

A 1.3-mile sandy nature trail winds through a low-lying forest, offering glimpses of the wild Gulf Coast on one side and the serene, luminescent aqua waters on the other through gaps in the trees.

It’s flat and gentle with only a handful of people passing you by. Once you reach the end of the trail, dolphins may even swim by. I was jealous of the two ladies paddle boarding right next to where they appeared.

This is also a good spot to spy a West Indian Manatee or a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (one of the most concentrated spots for these sightings in the world). 

Shark Teeth Hunting at Blinds Pass Beach, Florida
Shark tooth hunting

Manasota Key is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for shelling, snorkeling, and shark tooth hunting along the shorelines of Blind Pass Beach Park. I’d say you’re guaranteed to find … a lot.

After a day of exploration, indulge in delicious  fresh seafood at The Waverly where stunning sunset Gulf views complement every meal. My top tip is to reserve a table in the upstairs dining room ahead of time. Talk about a Florida hidden gem.

woman sitting at table of tiki bar in sand with blue cocktail

The  Sand Bar Tiki & Grille has a Key West kind of vibe with spicy pineapple margaritas, picnic tables set out on the sand, an extensive and diverse menu and live music all afternoon and evening.

For more live music, open air dining, fresh seafood, sunset gazing, and fire pits, dine at the popular Lighthouse Grill.

Discover more things to do in Manasota Key

Recommended Accommodation: Manasota Key Resort

hotel in manasota key on water
Image: Priceline

For a relaxing stay, consider the Englewood Beach front, Manasota Key Resort with its private beach area. It’s also located near Stump Pass State Park. Some rooms have balconies with sea views.

 See rates and availability here.

2. Martin County, Treasure Coast

people on jensen beach MArtin County
Jensen Beach

Tucked away on Florida’s southeastern coast, Martin County is a paradise for both nature lovers and art enthusiasts. This area blends sophistication with Old Florida charm, inviting you to kick off your flip-flops and embrace a relaxed Island-Style persona.

Martin County has everything we love in a destination: spectacular, diverse scenery, fun outdoor adventures, charming towns with artistic vibes, a slow-paced tempo perfect for vibrant fun, endless opportunities for mouth-watering seafood and sunset cocktails—often paired with live music and laughter—and even great coffee shops!

people sitting on a boat
Sunset Sail on Schooner Lily

Explore the tranquil waterways of the St. Lucie River on a scenic schooner sailing tour, explore local art on a Hobe Sound mural tour, or stroll through the vibrant galleries and boutiques of downtown Stuart, named in 2016 as Coastal Living’s “Happiest Seaside Town.”

Then there are the twenty-two miles of uncrowded, white sandy beaches to play on. Stuart and Jenson are guarded beaches, but locals recommend the hidden Tiger Shores Beach.

paddle boards on island with sunset behind
Sunset from Disappearing Island

If you can time your visit with a full moon, we recommend the unique sunset full moon stand up paddle board tour. Paddle out to Disappearing Island, in the middle of the St Lucie River Inlet, to watch a tangerine sunset, followed by the moon rise, and return paddle by its light! And yes, that island does disappear with tidal movements! We launched our paddleboards from the Sandspirit Park in Stuart. 

When hunger strikes, head to the Bunkhouse Coffee Bar in Jensen for outstanding smoothie bowls. Follow that up with coffee to remember at The Roasted Record in Stuart (shop for vinyls while there).

 Enjoy lunch or dinner with a view at numerous restaurants along the waterfront. We can recommend TideHouse or the Stuart Boathouse.

If you’re in town on a Thursday, Jenson has Jammin Jenson, a street festival with live music, art markets and food!

Discover even more fun things to do in Martin County, Florida.

Recommended Accommodation: Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa

resort located on ocean at martin county
Image: Priceline

Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa combines low-key luxury with an impeccable Jensen Beach setting.

Private balconies have sweeping ocean views and guests have access to resort style amenities such as outdoor swimming pools, on site restaurants, wellness spa and private beach access.

See rates and availability here on Priceline 

3. Monticello, North Florida

woman standing in front of a white building

 Step back in time and discover the timeless charm of Monticello, a historic town nestled in the heart of Jefferson County in Natural North Florida. The county is known as Keystone County for its unspoiled beauty and mild climate offering the ‘keys to quality living.’

Explore the quaint downtown area lined with antique shops and local eateries, embark on a tour of the majestic Monticello Opera House, or visit surrounding orange and bee farms.

people swimming at wacissa springs florida

An unmissable activity near Monticello is air boating through narrow channels canopied by Spanish moss cypress and oak trees on the Wacissa River. This first magnitude clear, spring-fed stream is fed by about twenty springs at the headwaters (you’ll stop at swimming holes along the way).

people in airboat cruising down wacissa river
Airboat on the Wacissa

Follow that up with a kayak paddle through the quickly moving water and narrow spaces of the Slave Canal, which connects the Wacissa to the Aucilla River.

family kayaking wacissa river north florida
The adventurous Slave Canal kayak

 We loved this so much it made our list of top family adventures in the USA. You can read more about our Wacissa River adventure (with lots of photos and videos)

For a taste of Southern hospitality, dine at Tupelo’s Bakery & Cafe, known for its delicious baked goods and homestyle dishes. The gluten free cupcake here was one of the best I’ve had. And pizza lovers, will enjoy Pappa & Nonna’s Pizzeria for extremely delicious pizzas.

Click here for more tips on things to do in Monticello, Florida

Recommended Accommodation: 1872 Denham Inn

exterior of denham hotel
Image: Priceline

The award-winning 1872 Denham Inn, located in the heart of scenic Monticello, offers six elegantly appointed rooms featuring comfortable king beds, private baths, and unique period antiques.

 This beautifully restored example of Italianate architecture, listed on the National Historic Register, showcases traditional Victorian elegance in every room, making it a perfect retreat in natural north Florida.

See rates and availability.

4. Wakulla Springs, North Florida

woman and child swimming in wakulla springs
Wakulla Springs

Immerse yourself in the beauty of Florida’s natural springs at Wakulla Springs in Natural North Florida, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world.

The eerie atmosphere of the majestic cypress mangroves rising out of the swamp may feel familiar to you; Tarzan and the Creature of the Black Lagoon were filmed here, chosen for its primeval setting.

Wakulla Springs’ sapphire waters are abundant with wildlife including manatees, alligators, turtles, deer, and birds.

You can see many of these on a leisurely glass bottom boat tour along the Wakulla River.

family sitting in wakulla springs
Beautiful swimming hole

The springs have a roped off section for swimming with a diving platform kids of all ages will love. The jungled canopied views offer a Florida swimming vibe you won’t find on its popular beaches.

After your adventure, enjoy a meal at the historic Wakulla Springs Lodge, where classic Southern and seasonal farm to table dishes are served in a charming vintage setting.

Kids will love the classic 70 ft marble original Soda Fountain built by Edward Fall, and known for its root beer floats, ginger yips, and sundaes. 

Recommended Accommodation: The Lodge at Wakulla Springs 

family walking up to wakulla lodge
The Lodge at Wakulla

One of the highlights of a visit to Wakulla Springs is staying on its doorstep at The Lodge at Wakulla Springs. Each of the lodge’s 27 rooms overlook the springs.

It was built in 1937 by industrialist Edward Ball and is known as North Florida’s castle.

See rates and availability here. 

5. Cedar Key, Gulf Coast

aerial view of Cedar Key

Slip into your flip-flops, release your pent-up stresses, and embrace a slower pace. We’re journeying back to the days of Old Florida, reminiscent of the Key West you dreamed of during Hemingway’s era. It’s raw and authentic, free from glamor, and artificial tourist attractions.

The tranquil fishing village of Cedar Key, nestled among the Cedar Islands and extending four miles into the Gulf of Mexico, radiates a genuine, warm, and unhurried charm.

Arriving across a series of bridges and scenic salt marshes, you’ll find a diverse community where artisans, nature lovers, and those seeking a more relaxed lifestyle coexist harmoniously.

Girl kayaking with a yellow life vest on.
Kayaking to the islands

Spend your days kayaking to the small nearby islands of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, swimming at the small beach, or soaking up stunning sunrises and sunsets.

sunrise over the ocean
Gorgeous sunrise

For a taste of local flavors, don’t miss dining at Steamers Clam Bar and Grill on the Big Dock offers prime position for Gulf Views over Atsena Otie, the barrier island offshore of Cedar Key, and some of the best clams – and clam chowder – on the island.

Cedar Key is a major producer of clams nationwide, raking in more than $34 million annually.

family on deck of Steamers restaurant eating
Prime seating area

On the narrow deck, there are several private nooks to feel the balmy breeze on your skin and enjoy dolphins frolicking in front of you.

Locals say you cannot beat the sunset and quirky vibes from the Tiki Bar located just outside the bridge into town.

See more things to do in Cedar Key, Florida

Recommended Accommodation: Harbour Master Suites

harbor master suites on stilts over water
Great accommodation

There’s no better place to stay in Cedar Key than on stilts over the water with 270-degree expansive views over nearby islands. Sunrise is magnificent from your own private deck. 

We loved our spacious, two-bedroom Sea Pearl Suite at Harbour Masters with a living area and full kitchen. And within easy walking distance to everywhere – the Cedar Key Way!

6. Sebring, Central Florida

girl posing in front of sebring mural
Welcome to Sebring

In Central Florida’s Sebring, ranchers and citrus growers mingle with farm-to-table restaurants, while locals enjoy the company of alligators, turtles, and birds in ancient forests, abundant lakes, and cypress swamps.

Known for its scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, Sebring offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, and golfing amidst breathtaking landscapes.

couple enjoying Airboat tour on top of lillies in Sebring, Florida
So much fun!

This is another place to enjoy an airboat ride – this time on Arbuckle Creek and Lake Istokpoga zipping over the water lilies and through backwater country creeks past farmlands, grazing cows, and massive oaks dripping with Spanish moss over the banks.

What we loved about this airboat ride is our driver, Captain John from Airboat Wild Adventures also took us scooting over dry land. It was wild fun!

Don’t miss a boardwalk hike over the cypress swamps of the stunning Highlands Hammock State Park.

family walking on barodwalk at highlands hammock state park

1000-year-old oak trees provide shade as you walk past giant cypress, hardwood swamps, evergreen flatwoods, ferns, and other habitats. There’s a good chance you’ll see alligators here as well.

After a day of exploration, dine at Chicanes Restaurant & Bar, located in the Inn on the Lakes, a local favorite known for its delicious cuisine and panoramic views of Little Lake Jackson, especially at sunset.

The flocks of ibis flying to the small island across from the restaurant almost steal the spotlight from the splendor of the setting sun.

Good news. After you’ve finished the sunset show with cocktails at Chicanes, you can just walk a few steps to your room at the Inn on the Lakes. 

Discover more things to do in Sebring

Recommended Accommodation: Inn on the Lakes

hotel pool on lake at sebring
Inn on the Lakes and Chicanes Restaurant

The Inn on the Lakes offers a luxury casual experience in an elegant environment. It’s close to historic downtown, but also invites you to slow down at the hotel with spa treatments and an enticing swimming pool surrounded by palm trees.

See rates and availability

Final Thoughts

girl dancing on beach in front of orange sunset in manasota key
Stunning Manasota Key sunset

These favorite hidden gems of ours offer a glimpse into the diverse beauty of Florida, from its pristine coastlines to its historic towns and natural wonders. I’m ready to discover more lesser known places in Florida. 

With Priceline’s Hotel Express Deals, you can make these unforgettable trips even more affordable. For a limited time, enjoy an additional 10% discount on top of savings up to 40% off when you book your accommodation through Priceline book by May 27 at 9 a.m. eastern.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore the hidden treasures of Florida without breaking the bank. Book your adventure today and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime. Click here and use CODE: CAZNCRAIG10 

Now you can go to your Happy Place for a Happy Price!

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