Were you planning to come to Florida this summer to visit the theme parks? Are you now scrambling to change your plans due to new restrictions? Maybe you still want the Florida sun but are trying to avoid the crowds.
Well, I’ve got you covered with plenty of social distancing activities you can do in Florida away from the crowds where you get to experience the beauty of natural Florida. You might even find you have more fun than you would have done in a theme park! Read ahead for 8 ideas for a socially distant Florida vacation.
Trade a water park for a natural spring
Going to a water park is usually one of my biggest recommendations for visiting Florida in the summer because it is just so hot and humid that really the only place to be comfortable is in the water.
Since some water parks are currently closed and others might be very crowded, I’d recommend checking out one of Florida’s beautiful natural springs instead.
Florida has over 700 freshwater springs (more than anywhere else in the world!) and the ice cold water that bubbles from the springs provides the perfect place to cool off on a hot Florida day.
Our personal favorite is here in Central Florida. Blue Spring State Park is a short drive from the Orlando area and is a great place to kayak, go tubing, or just splash around in the 72 degree water. If you visit in the winter months, then you can even spot manatees basking in the crystal clear water.
The entrance fee for the park is $6 per vehicle and it’s recommended to arrive as early as possible since the park often reaches capacity later in the day. There are public bathrooms and we usually bring a picnic to eat after we swim.
Other favorites in the Orlando area include Rock Springs Run State Preserve and Wekiwa Springs State Park. They have similar amenities to Blue Spring, and are usually less crowded.
The Florida Natural Springs also make for great day trips from Orlando.
Trade a roller coaster in a theme park for ziplining over a forest canopy
Who needs a roller coaster when you can go zipling over a forest instead? OK so if you have a roller coaster enthusiast with you, they might not quite see it as the same thing but if you want to avoid the theme parks on your Florida vacation, then this is the next best thing – and it’s pretty amazing!
At Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park in Ocala, you can book a zipline tour that takes you 155 feet over the canopy of the Ocala National Forest. The various tours offered fly over places like Lost Spring Lake and Sky High Canyon, and they even offer a nighttime tour that takes you over five different ziplines!
Kids must be a minimum of 70lbs to participate in the tours (they offer 10 years old as the recommended age) and must be accompanied by an adult.
While you’re at the park, you can also try horse back riding, go on a kayaking tour or go gem mining. Individual tours all have their own prices and should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
This is a great way to get the adrenaline pumping while still maintaining your social distancing!
Trade a tourist beach for a quiet beach
If you’ve seen images of Florida beaches packed with people and absolutely no social distancing going on, you might be second guessing your Florida beach trip right about now.
Luckily, Florida has over 600 miles of beaches and I promise not all of them are crammed with people. Most beaches are still pretty empty, and even those that are in touristy spots are mostly filled with locals and there’s still plenty of space for social distancing.
My recommendation would be to stay away from beaches like Cocoa, Clearwater and Daytona. Those tend to get filled up the quickest, and then not only do you have to fight for your patch of sand, but there’s more people using the amenities like the bathrooms and the parking lots get crowded.
If you want a quiet beach in Florida that still offers plenty of amenities like restaurants, shops, etc then look into places like Anna Maria Island and Sanibel Island on the West Coast, or Amelia Island on the East Coast. We love all of these spots; you can easily find plenty of space on the beach to set up camp, and there are lots of great places to eat in the area.
If you want to skip the tourist spots completely, try places like Vero Beach or St George Island. We’ve been to both in the last year and they’re fantastic for finding completely empty beaches with miles of sand all to yourself!
Even better than a quiet beach is hitting one of Florida’s beautiful State Parks. With 175 to choose from, there are some beautiful state parks on the water that offer much quieter beaches as well as hiking trails, natural springs to swim in, and a look at the history of the state. Some of the best for beaches include Caladesi Island, Gasparilla Island, Honeymoon Island, and Lover’s Key.
If you’re coming to Florida this summer, do keep an eye on the restrictions local counties are putting in place for the beaches. Some beaches are still closed, and others allow exercise but you can’t sit down or bring beach chairs or anything. Look up the beach you plan to hit beforehand to see what the rules are, and have a Plan B in case the beach you choose changes its restrictions at the last minute.
Trade a cruise for renting a boat
Cruises are looking very unlikely this summer, and I know a lot of people are really disappointed. Whilst it’s not the same as going on an ocean liner, if you’re just looking to get out on the water to relax then consider renting a boat instead.
You could rent a boat for a few hours to cruise along the coast, for the day to go further afield, or even consider renting a boat for a few days to really spend some time on the water.
Get My Boat is a company that can help you find all kinds of boats at almost any location along the Florida coastline. You can browse a variety of different kinds of boat in different destinations, renting them for a few hours or a few days at a time.
You could go for a pontoon boat, a sailboat, or even a luxury yacht. If you have no experience behind the wheel (or the sail) then you can search for options with a crew as well.
Being on the water in a boat is about as social distancing as it gets, and this is a great way to experience Florida in a way you may not have before.
Trade a marine park for seeing dolphins in the wild
While Sea World is opening back up this summer, you might still have reservations about going, and why go to a marine park when you can see the animals in the wild?
Dolphins are ever present off the coast of Florida, and what better way to see a dolphin than in their natural habitat. We’ve had the most luck off the Gulf Coast but we’ve also seen dolphins from Amelia Island, Vero Beach, and the Everglades so your chances are pretty good wherever you go.
As well as dolphins, Florida marine life includes manatees, turtles, alligators, and a huge variety of other birds, fish, and animals.
When booking any tour in Florida, I would encourage visitors to look into companies certified by the Florida Society for Ethical Tourism. You can search their website for all kinds of tours that meet or exceed their standards for ethical ecotourism, including protecting natural resources, encouraging education, and promoting integrity in ecotourism.
Some of the options for wildlife excursions certified by the Florida SEE include Happy Paddler Kayak Tours and Eco Ventures in Anna Maria Island, Lovers Key Adventures and Good Time Charters in Fort Myers, and Captain Brian on the Water in Captiva Island.
These companies offer a combination of paddle boarding, kayaking, and boating excursions, each providing an eco-friendly way to see some of Florida’s best wildlife.
Trade fireworks for a bioluminescent kayak tour
Want to see pretty lights in Florida? Skip the fireworks (I’m not sure there even will be any this summer) and find the lights in nature instead on a bioluminescent kayak tour.
Get Up and Go Kayaking offer a number of tours in their totally clear kayaks throughout Florida, but their bioluminescent tours at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge are something else. We got to experience one of these tours recently and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.
Bioluminescence happens when plankton in the water lights up as it feels movement around it. Living organisms, ordinarily too small for the eye to see, glow a faint blue color as water moves around them, so it looks like the water is lighting up. It only occurs during the warm summer months and it’s best seen when the night is very dark; we got lucky with our night being super dark and the lights were super vibrant.
The bioluminescence can be seen as you move your kayak paddle through the water and as the boat pushes through the water (and because the kayaks are clear, you can see it glowing all under the boat as well!) but one of the coolest things was watching fish swim through the water; as the plankton lit up around them they looked like they were glowing under the water and it was amazing!
As well as the bioluminescence, you might see manatees, dolphins, and alligators in and around the water. We didn’t see any manatees but we did get to see a dolphin and a baby alligator hanging out on the banks. The water around the refuge is so calm, it’s easy to hear as soon as something is close to you, and it’s amazing to suddenly hear a dolphin surface near you as you paddle along.
These tours book up quickly so if you’re considering this, definitely book as far in advance as you can. Their calendar lists the moon percentage on the various nights, and you want to look for one with as low a percentage as possible for the best chance to see the bioluminescence.
I can’t recommend this experience enough if you’re looking for an activity this summer for a socially distant Florida vacation.
Trade a zoo for a National Park
I’m not against zoos by any means, and Florida does have some great ones, but I would always rather see animals in their natural habitat if I’m given the chance, and Florida has plenty of opportunities for that.
Everglades National Park is the only place you can see both alligators and crocodiles living in one place in an incredibly delicate and important ecosystem. As well as an abundance of alligators, you can find manatees, dolphins, and a huge number of birds and fish.
If you’d rather be in the water (and in the tropical temperatures in Florida, that’s probably going to be the case!) then try Dry Tortugas National Park. This park can only be accessed by plane or boat as it sits 70 miles off the coast of Florida.
This park is an amazing place to snorkel or dive and see the incredible marine life Florida has to offer. Although it is possible to go for the day, I would strongly suggest camping overnight to make the most of your visit there.
Take a look at this post for more of our favorite Florida National Parks to visit.
Trade swimming with dolphins for swimming with manatees
This is one area where I’ll say I really don’t agree with swimming with dolphins in captivity, but I know how popular places like Discovery Park can be, and it’s understandable to want to come into closer contact with some amazing creatures. There is an alternative, however, that allows you to swim with some magnificent sea creatures in a place that is safe for both you and them.
Crystal River is the only place in Florida where you can legally swim with manatees, and the animals are not held captive in any way, they are free to come and go as they please. Manatees flock to the warmer waters of Florida’s rivers and streams when the weather outside makes the ocean too chilly, so the best time of year to do this is in the winter months.
There are very strict laws and regulations around swimming with manatees. You are not allowed to approach the manatees, you have to wait for them to come to you, and obviously you can’t harass or disturb them in any way. For the most part, the manatees seem curious about their swimming companions and it’s amazing to watch them from the water – they’re a lot bigger up close!
If you want to give this a try with kids, many of the tour companies do allow children of a certain age to participate. Children should be strong swimmers and able to follow all of the rules set in place – they should also be prepared for very chilly water!