20 Best Things to Do in North Florida ✔️ (+Hidden Gems!)

Things to do in North Florida

Looking for fun things to do in North Florida? Look no further. I’ve got you covered!

North Florida has so much to offer both locals and visitors. Many times when people think of visiting Florida, North Florida isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Usually, they think of Miami, Tampa or Orlando.

However, as a local Florida girl myself, I’m here to tell you about all the hidden gems in North Florida that most visitors (and locals) miss out on!

I love North Florida so much. It has gorgeous white sand beaches, historical and cultural significance, natural springs, and some really awesome places to visit and things to do that most people don’t expect, so it’s the perfect vacay!

Let’s dive into this list of the best things to do in North Florida!

Quick Picks for Your Stay

These are some of the tours that are quick to sell out.

Here are the main things to book in advance:

1. Go horseback riding on Amelia Island

1 Amelia Island horseback riding

If you’re staying or live near Jacksonville, this is the perfect activity for you! Amelia Island is home to one of the only places in Florida where you can ride horses on the beach!

This is a super magical experience for people of all ages. Nothing compares to feeling the sea breeze while trotting along the sand on a beautiful horse. Something feels very ancestral and primal about this experience in the best way.

Amelia Island is home to some of the most well-preserved beaches in all of Florida. Offering 13 miles of pristine white sand beaches, this is one of the best places to escape to in Northern Florida. Because it is one of the last untouched beaches in Florida, it is an excellent place for wildlife viewing and getting that Old Florida feel.

However, in my opinion, one of the most fun things to do in North Florida is to ride horses on the beach on Amelia Island. Most other activities pale in comparison to this special experience where you can feel one with your roots and the earth!

Fancy a kayak tour? Here’s another adventurous experience to book on your trip to Amelia Island! Lofton Creek is SO beautiful and kayaking is the best way to experience it!

PRICE: US$125 for horseback riding, US$60 for a kayak tour

Book your Guided Kayak Tour

2. Take the family to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

2 Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens things to do with kids

If you are looking for fun things to do with family in Jacksonville, look no further. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the perfect place to visit with family!

With over 3,000 species of plants and animals, this zoo is spread across 117 acres. Priding themselves on their global conservation work, the Jacksonville zoo is much more than your average zoo.

A portion of the Jacksonville Zoo’s admission proceeds goes to supporting over 45 different plant and animal conservation projects globally. So, you can visit this zoo and know that your dollar is going to help preserve some of the world’s endangered plant and animal species.

PRICE: From US$30 for adults, from US$25 for children

3. Unwind at Navarre Beach

3 white sand beaches Navarre Beach

Relaxing in this little slice of paradise is definitely one of the best things to do in North Florida! Navarre Beach has over 12 miles of pristine white sand beaches for you to explore with a loved one, or by yourself!

Year after year, Navarre Beach is named one of the most beautiful beaches in the country and it is not hard to see why!

Navarre Beach is one of the many hidden gems that North Florida has to offer. In fact, it is one of North Florida’s best-kept secrets, so you can expect minimal crowds and an overall serene and tranquil vibe.

PRICE: Free

4. Explore Castillo San Marcos

4 Castillo San Marcos

For all those history buffs out there looking for things to do in North Florida, this one’s for you! Taking the title of the oldest masonry fort in the United States, Castillo San Marcos is a quintessential part of American history!

Built over the span of 23 years (1672-1695), Castillo San Marcos was built by the Spanish and protected St. Augustine from both pirates and other colonial empires, such as the British, who attacked in 1702.

This is a great activity to do with loved ones in St. Augustine and Northern Florida! You can also get a guided tour where you get an inside look into soldiers’ rooms as well as the cannon and gun firing deck!

For a well-rounded experience, I honestly recommend this hop-on hop-off trolley tour, where you’ll explore St Augustine and get a little history lesson about Castillo San Marcos!

PRICE: US$35

Book Your Trolley Tour

5. Stroll around the gardens at Washington Oaks State Park

5 Washington Oaks State Park

Surrounded by a lush canopy of ancient live oaks, walking around the gardens at Washington Oaks State Park feels like you’ve just entered your own personal fairytale.

This is one of the best things to do in North Florida for nature and plant lovers. The tranquil and picturesque environment makes for the perfect place to unwind, have a romantic date, or see some stunning nature with the family.

Located right on the coast, Washington Oaks State Park is home to one of Florida’s only rocky coastlines. This is not the best beach for swimming, however, you will most definitely be drawn to it for its strange beauty and incredible views.

PRICE: US$5 per vehicle

6. See some of the clearest water in Florida at Ginnie Springs

6 Ginnie Springs water sports activities

Ginnie Springs is easily one of the most beautiful, naturally occurring springs in all of Florida, and it happens to be located in North Florida!

Visiting Ginnie Springs should be high on your list of things to do in North Florida. Ginnie Springs is home to some of the most pristine and gorgeous waters that Florida has to offer.

Ginnie Springs offers lush green foliage lined with palm trees and ferns and bright blue clear fresh spring water bubbling right up from the core of the Earth!

Ginnie Springs is also the perfect location for tons of different water sports activities! The most popular of the water sports is tubing, with an hour-long run floating down a gorgeous lazy river. You can also go paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, diving, and swimming at Ginnie Springs!

PRICE: From US$15

7. Take a trip to the National Naval Aviation Museum

7 National Naval Aviation Museum

If you’re into naval history, this place is a real gem. The whole museum is built for interactive learning and it’s also a great place to take the kids – you’ll definitely want to try out one of their scavenger hunts!

Located in Pensacola, this is such an immersive experience and a great day out for everyone. There’s also a Giant Screen Theater where they’ll show you super interesting projections on all sorts of naval wonders like the history of flight!

NOTE: This museum is only open to DoD ID card holders (for now)!

PRICE: Free

8. Splash around at Gilchrist Blue Springs

8 Gilchrist Blue Springs

Just down the road from Ginnie Springs is another one of North Florida’s hidden gems! Located just outside of Gainesville, this is a super fun activity for all to enjoy.

Much less crowded and more relaxing for those who like to avoid crowds, Gilchrist Blue Springs is the perfect activity for those who are looking for a more laid-back experience at the Springs.

You can enjoy clear fresh blue waters, lots of water activities, incredible views of Wild Florida flora and fauna, and so much more!

PRICE: US$6 per vehicle

9. Take a spooky ghost tour in historic St. Augustine

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Many will not be surprised to know that the oldest city in the United States is also known as one of the most haunted cities in the United States. This charming beach town has seen a lot, and it is definitely one of the spookier places to visit in the U.S.!

Most people go for the historical significance and don’t learn about the darker side of things…

St. Augustine has haunted lighthouses, abandoned prisons, haunted inns, cemeteries, and more. Visiting any of these historic sites will most definitely send a shiver down your spine!

This is by far one of the best things to do in North Florida! Tours are likely to sell out quickly, to make sure you book in advance!

PRICE: US$35

Book Your Haunted Ghost Tour

10. Take the kids to the Museum of Natural History

10 Museum of Natural History in Gainesville

Located near Gainesville, the Museum of Natural History is so much fun for the whole family. They have a butterfly exhibit, all sorts of amazing fossils and ancient artifacts, and it’s a great budget-friendly option since all the permanent exhibits are free!

If you’re bringing the kids, I recommend checking out the Discovery Kids Zone which is a super interactive experience and will make sure your kids will never get bored!

The whole experience is super educational and fun, and I promise you’ll love it.

PRICE: Free for permanent exhibits

11. Visit the gorgeous Pensacola Beach

5 best beachfront hotels in Pensacola Beach

Looking for romantic things to do in North Florida? Pensacola Beach is an excellent place to bring a loved one.

One of the best things to do in Pensacola Beach is to join the Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association to enjoy some free stargazing on the beach! This is super romantic and is bound to create some unforgettable memories with your loved one.

You can find the gathering on Fridays and Saturdays at the Gulfside Pavilion as well as the Fort Pickens Battery Worth parking lot.

If you do end up joining the star-gazing group, you will have access to over thirty different telescopes of different sizes and strengths! This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to do with a loved one for free!

Also check out this super cool night glow kayak tour and paddle session in Pensacola Beach! Plus, you get to choose the color of your kayak!

PRICE: US$69

Book Your Night Kayak Adventure

12. Spot some dolphins in Destin

7 Banana River on a Dolphin Tour

Destin is one of the more beautiful places in Florida by far. Located in Northwest Florida, Destin offers immaculate white sand beaches, crystal clear blue tropical waters, and frequent wildlife sightings.

It may surprise you to know that over 40,000 dolphins inhabit the Gulf of Mexico! That’s why seeing dolphins on the West Coast of Florida is super common!

There are plenty of places to see dolphins in Florida, however, the odds are higher in Destin due to the crystal clear warm waters year-round!

Head on over to the Okaloosa Island Pier in the morning or around dusk for your best bet to spot some dolphins. Alternatively, any time of day you go may be your lucky moment! Dolphins are so abundant in this area that you can really spot them at any time of day.

You can also see sea turtles, sting rays, and all sorts of other marine life in Destin!

Or you can book this Hydrojet Dolphin Cruise if you want a more immersive dolphin viewing experience in Destin! It’s honestly the most magical way to hang out up close and personal with the Destin dolphins!

PRICE: US$40

Book Your Dolphin Cruise

13. Get your nature on at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Ichetucknee Springs Cabins2

Listen, you can’t get closer to nature than at Ichetucknee Springs. This place is a haven of cool canopies and crystal clear rivers, and it’s perfect for a relaxing day out and you can go tubing or kayaking on the pristine waters!

You can also go snorkeling at Blue Hole! The waters here are super warm all year round which makes it a perfect activity for any time of the year. See if you can spot some local Florida wildlife during your trip! Rent all the equipment you need right in the park and enjoy the best day out!

PRICE: US$6 per vehicle

14. Explore Panama City Beach

4 Best VRBO holiday homes in Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is not just a beach – it’s a super cute town! They have everything you need to enjoy a balanced and varied vacation with the whole family, and whether you’re searching for animal life, state parks, nature, or beachy vibes, Panama City Beach has something for everyone!

Sports lovers in particular will enjoy this place – there are tournaments held all year round for so many sports like football, lacrosse, soccer, golf, you name it!

As for state parks, St Andrews State Park is a super popular one for camping, hiking, and the gorgeous beach!

15. Experience the unique landscape at Big Talbot Island State Park

15 Big Talbot Island State Park unique landscape

This is one of the most unique and fun things to do in North Florida! Located in Jacksonville, Big Talbot Island State Park should be high on your list of things to do!

Walking the Boneyard Beach Trail is one of the most otherworldly and unique adventures in Florida! As you descend down the beach, you will see the skeletons of old Live Oaks and giant Cedar trees that will make you feel like you are walking through a prehistoric graveyard.

If you’re looking for another adventure in Jacksonville that lets you get up close to North Florida wildlife, here is an awesome kayak eco tour near Jacksonville! Paddle through peaceful waters with live commentary about all the wildlife you see!

PRICE: US$4 per vehicle entrance to Big Talbot, US$55 for kayak eco tour

Book Your Guided Kayak Eco Tour

16. Explore the Destin Harbor Boardwalk

16 Destin Harbor Boardwalk

North Florida has so much to offer, and Destin in itself is just bursting with adventure, unforgettable memories, and breathtaking views.

Destin is most famous for its impeccable tropical beaches with crystal clear Gulf water. The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is the life of the party in this gorgeous beach town.

The Boardwalk is also home to a slew of boutique shops where you can find all sorts of goodies. Walking down the Boardwalk is a super fun activity to window shop and people watch with gorgeous views and cute shops to enjoy.

On your trip to Destin, make sure to visit Henderson Beach State Park. The Henderson Beach State Park is a majestic nature preserve with 30 ft sand dunes and inviting warm gulf waters.  

PRICE: US$6 per vehicle for Henderson Beach State Park

17. Experience a speakeasy in Jacksonville

1 where to stay in Jacksonville for the first time

Jacksonville is one of the most populated cities in all of Florida, which can be pretty overwhelming for those who don’t like crowds.

However, you can avoid the crowds at this super awesome secret speakeasy spot! This is a fun and creative way to get a drink in Jacksonville.

The speakeasy is called The Parlour, and you can access it by going to Grape and Grain in the San Marco neighborhood. The way you enter is behind a sliding bookshelf! How cool is that?

You can also enter through an alley. Look for the black awning! This is by far one of the most interesting and cool ways to both get a drink and avoid the crowds. Everyone loves a good secret, and The Parlour is one of Jacksonville’s best-kept secrets!

Jacksonville is well known for its nightlife so this is a super fun way to experience it!

18. Be one with nature on the Suwanee Wilderness River Trail

18 Suwanee Wilderness River Trail

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is a beautiful and serene slice of wild Florida, where you can get a taste of what Florida was like before modern development.

The Timucua, the Indigenous peoples of central and north Florida, believed that the Suwannee River was sacred to the Sun God. This gorgeous and sacred river offers nature lovers the perfect opportunity to unwind in Florida’s unspoiled vast wilderness.

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail begins its path in White Springs, the first tourist town in Florida. White Springs offers natural springs, state parks, and charming small towns reminiscent of old Florida.

From White Springs, the river continues for 170 miles and offers towering pine trees lining the river banks, ancient cypress trees, salt marshes, and more as it slowly creeps into the Gulf of Mexico.

19. Take a walk around Eden Gardens, Homestead

19 Eden Gardens Homestead Panama City Beach

Just a 40-minute drive from Panama City Beach you’ll find this absolutely gorgeous park with nature trails, a beautiful historic mansion (Wesley house) to explore, and some much-needed peace and quiet away from the crowds of the cities.

You’ll learn all about the history of the site and the very first people to settle in this area! You can also go hiking, paddling, and take a little picnic to enjoy the afternoon sun with the whole family!

PRICE: US$4 per vehicle (correct change required) for the main entry, US$4 for entry to Wesley House

20. Discover Cedar Key

20 Cedar Key Manatee Springs State Park

The Key West of Northern Florida, Cedar Key has that old Florida charm that makes you feel like you just took a trip back in time.

Cedar Key is not overly developed and has all the charm of the days when Hemingway was wandering the streets of Key West. Plus, if you go to Manatee Springs State Park, you might be lucky enough to catch some lovely sea cows!

The relaxed pace of this small fishing town is perfect for a weekend getaway to explore nature with family or friends. Oh and don’t forget to grab some seafood at Steamers! Enjoying some fresh Gulf-caught seafood with a view of the sunset on Cedar Key is unmatched!

👪 Family-friendly score:High
🎢 Top paid attraction:Guided Kayak Eco Tour
🚶🏽‍♂️ Best free activity:Go to the beach!
👧 Best attraction for kids:Jacksonville Zoo
🕺 Nightlife:Jacksonville
🥟 Must try food:Steamers Seafood, Cedar Key

FAQs about things to do in North Florida

free things to do in North Florida

🌴 What is North Florida known for?

North Florida is known for its huge live oaks, fragrant magnolia trees, tropical palm trees, and of course, the plethora of beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. North Florida is also known for being home to the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine.

💰 What are some free things to do in North Florida?

Some of the best free things to do in North Florida are exploring Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach and checking out the Jacksonville farmers market!

☀️ What are the most unique things to do in North Florida?

You can go on a ghost tour in St. Augustine, ride horses on the beach in Amelia Island, go tubing at one of North Florida’s many springs, live out your Victorian-era dreams at Wesley House, go to a secret speakeasy in Jacksonville, and so much more!

🌳 What are the best outdoor activities in North Florida?

North Florida has so many outdoor activities to offer. In fact, most of the best things to do in North Florida are outdoor activities! You can explore Ginnie Springs, Gilchrist Blue Springs, and Ichetucknee Springs, visit a state park, or go to the beach on the East Coast.

Conclusion

best outdoor activities in North Florida

North Florida is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Every part of Florida has so much to offer when it comes to unbeatable wildlife, stunning views, vast and unique landscapes, and fun activities.

North Florida is home to so many different landscapes and exciting adventures. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and everything in between, North Florida has an unforgettable memory waiting for you!

I hope you enjoyed this list and get to experience some of these special North Florida gems in person!

With love and gratitude,

Amira G


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