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Great Escapes Without Leaving the State

There’s nothing like calling one of America’s favorite vacation destinations home. What most people travel from all over the world to cram into a vacation that never seems to last long enough or include everything to see and do, Central Floridians can enjoy any time of year.

Plus, living in and around Orlando means you’re the first to know when something big happens, like everything the International Drive Resort area has coming up. You don’t have to go any farther than ICON Park to enjoy the just-opened Max Action Arena, a high-energy, family-friendly featuring escape and adventure rooms, extreme VR experiences and more. Or you could check out the world-famous robotic show at the similarly brand-new Roboland Orlando, a semi-permanent installation featuring nearly 100 robots on-site, including many you may have seen on TV.

Central Florida not only has a world of adventure right in its own backyard, but also is advantageously positioned to access the state’s variety of getaway options with a quick car, plane or even ferry ride. Between the must-see mainstays that you owe it to yourself to finally cross off your bucket list and some diamonds in the rough that deserve to be on your radar, we’ve rounded up some spring-break destinations from all over The Sunshine State that have something for everyone.

The Panhandle and Big Bend
Keaton Beach
Long touted as a hidden gem off the beaten path, this coastal gulf community is the perfect place for couples, families and friends who just want to unwind by getting away from it all. Quiet, secluded beaches offer ample space for swimming, picnicking, fishing and birdwatching without the stress of strategizing how to get the best place on miles of sun-kissed sand.

Heading to The Festival City of the South in spring means you can go to beach and let the music come to you, thanks to the seasonal Bands on the Beach showcase kicking off in April. And while the panhandle’s westernmost locale does boast some world-famous beaches that you really should see for yourself, this laid-back seaside city offers other similarly chill goings-on like daily dolphin watches and 450 years of history to explore. Places like Sam’s Fun City offer family-friendly entertainment beyond the familiar offerings Orlando residents are used to, letting your kids—and your own inner child—indulge in some new-to-you amusement parks.

Gulf Coast
The third-largest city in Florida extends upward as much as it does outward, from the tops of its skyline to the shores of the bay with which it shares a name. And its attractions are as wide-reaching as the metropolitan landscape itself, with plenty to offer sports fans, arts aficionados and history buffs in equal measure. Among those offerings is the Tampa Museum of Art, where you can spend a quiet (and air-conditioned!) day with ancient, modern and contemporary permanent collections and an exciting rotation of temporary exhibits. Plus, youngsters can enjoy the adjacent Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park’s playground with shaded recreational structures or cool off at the two splash pads.

Clearwater/St. Petersburg
Clearwater’s three miles of white-sand beaches are legendary and St. Pete’s holds the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine with an impressive 768, but it’s not just folks who want to soak up as much sun as possible who’ll love these two neighboring towns. The sea turtles, dolphins and other rescued marine animals being cared for at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium are always a hit with kids, while St. Petersburg has the wonderfully weird Dali Museum and wide-open waterfront Vinoy Park, home to its numerous events and featuring plenty of space for the family to spread out and enjoy a day together.

Amelia Island
With its unspoiled vistas, ample golf courses, miles of preserved park lands and long stretches of quiet beaches, it’s no wonder this Northern Florida locale nabbed the No. 3 spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards for the country’s top islands last year. It boasts a rich arts and culture scene, a vibrant downtown with plenty of shopping and dining options, and an undeniably coastal vibe and seaport charm all its own. Explore the island through on-foot and trolley-guided portals to the past, or grab an oar and see it from the water with the award-winning Amelia Island Kayak Excursions.

Green Cove Springs
Named for three of its best features—a year-round verdant landscape, a safe-harbor location situated at the bend of the St. James River and a warm natural spring that first attracted settlers with its restorative qualities —Green Cove Springs is packed with natural beauty. It also has a wealth of historical sites for those looking for an immersive history tour, including three sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town hosts the annual CalaVida Arts Festival in April, a celebration of the musical, visual and written arts.

Lake City
Lake City recently saw a retooled marketing campaign focusing on the ample aquatic appeal its advantageous geographic situation allows for. Whether you take to its lakes, rivers or springs in a kayaking, by swimming, with underwater exploration or by lazily floating away the day on an inner tube, you’ll agree that this northern town is fondly called Florida’s Springlands for a mighty good reason. Lake City loves its history and music, too, so be sure to check out the events calendar to find all the fun to be had on dry land, too.

Palm Coast
Sure, those cinnamon-colored beaches and a golf course that both overlooks the ocean and was designed by PGA legend Jack Nicklaus are some of Palm Coast’s most obvious appeals, but sometimes you just want a resort experience that the whole family can enjoy. And that’s where Hammock Beach Resort comes in. Florida’s premier oceanfront destination golf resort recently ramped up its amenities: the Boardwalk Shops features Breezes Boutique & Surf Shop, Hammock Beach Pizza & Gelato Restaurant and a beach arcade, and last spring’s full renovation saw upgrades to Stix Authentic Sushi, Delfinos Italian Chophouse and Loggerheads Sports Pub—which, according to Marketing Manager Nicole Connon, are the kind of offerings that turn new guests into members who keep coming back.

St. Augustine
The nation’s oldest city is appropriately packed with plenty of historical and contemporary appeal and attractions, and you can see it all from a different perspective by jumping into a horse-drawn carriage, the oldest trolley in the states, sailboat, kayak, speed boat, ferry, pirate ship or helicopter. Or you can step back in time by checking out the former Hotel Alcazar, a Spanish Renaissance Revival-style castle now home to the Lightner Museum. This spring, the museum has three exhibits to share with locals and visitors alike: St. Augustine Through the Lens of William Henry Jackson, Ride On! Historic Bicycles from the Collection of Keith Pariani and 75 for 75: Lightner Museum Diamond Anniversary Exhibition.

South Florida and The Keys
Dry Tortugas
Your options for getting here are a chartered plane or ferry, but this remote eponymous home of the Dry Tortugas National Park comprising a small group of coral-reef islands in the Gulf of Mexico is a must-see for its awe-inspiring surroundings and clear blue ocean as far as the eye can see. The painstakingly preserved Fort Jefferson fortress is unfinished but remains the Americas’ largest masonry structure, and embarking on either a formal or self-guided tour will reward the adventurous—its 19th-century authenticity means safety railings are scarce—with some breathtaking architecture that’s only rivalled by the islands’ stunning natural views.

Fort Lauderdale
If the Greater Fort Lauderdale region’s annual 3,000 hours of sunshine, average year-round temperature of 75.5 degrees, 165 miles of scenic inland waterways and 24 miles of golden shores aren’t attractive enough, a stay at Lago Mar Beach Resort & Club ought to seal the deal. The resort is no stranger to glowing write-ups in travel magazines of all kinds, and it’s no wonder: The sophisticated retreat is obsessed with extending world-class hospitality and appointments, and its rooms’ mix of Mediterranean chic and Key West chill make staying inside almost as scenic and inviting as its sprawling beachfront property.

Whether you’re an avid underwater explorer or prefer to discover what lies below the water’s surface from the safety of terra firma, you’ll find that a trip to the History of Diving Museum always goes over swimmingly. Executive Director Lisa Mongelia reports that the recent first day of the current featured exhibit, a celebration of the life that thrives where the water meets the land in Our Dive Into Art: Edge of the Sea, made for a wildly well-attended opening—and one that also features artworks from 11 Monroe County schools’ budding artists.

Key West
Key West Botanical Gardens, home to the contiguous country’s lone frost-free tropical forest, is a can’t-miss showstopper that’s been dazzling visitors for 87 years with flora and fauna not found anywhere else. While you can enjoy the Cactus Barron, Cuban Chug and Cuban Palm exhibits all year long, spring-break gardens-goers will be treated to Key West Art in the Garden, which is only open from April through July. While you’re in the continental U.S.’s southernmost city, be sure to snap an obligatory selfie with the iconic anchored buoy colorfully marking the geographic point of interest.

Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas

One of the state’s wealthiest cities is not surprisingly well-appointed with plenty of options for chic boutiques, high-end culture and world-class dining. But with the Everglades’ unique appeal nearby, the area attracts ecotourists, as well as those who want a picturesque spot for dolphin- and bird-watching before they take in a stunning gulf-coast sunset. Here you’ll also find plenty of family fun: Cambier Park is one of the most popular kid-friendly activities in town that’s perfect for preschoolers; the Bird Gardens of Naples lets little animal lovers meet some feathered friends up close; and the immersive, interactive Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples has little ones learning as they play.