Touring Florida can be expensive, especially for a traveler who chooses waterfront hotels and gourmet restaurants. But along 1,200 miles of coastline and 11,000 miles of rivers and waterways — as well as spots of dry land — are plenty of places for free fun. Here’s a sampling:
The Keys, a series of islands spanning over 100 miles connected by bridges and causeways, offer plenty to do at no cost, from sunset views to nature spots. Driving the toll-free Florida Keys Overseas Highway south from Florida City to Key West, which takes about three hours, is worth the trip alone. You feel as though you are floating over water as you hop from island to island, with pristine views on either side. It’s also one of the rare places where both sunset and sunrise can be seen over the water.
A couple of tips: Bring snorkel and flippers so you don’t have to rent. If you plan a hotel stay, find one that lets guests use kayaks for free. You can fish off the bridges, but you’ll need a license unless you’re here on the state’s two Free Fishing Days, April 6 and June 8. For more visitor information, download a free Florida Keys iPhone app, or visit www.fla-keys.com.Key Largo:
A bicycle and pedestrian corridor known as the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail starts in Key Largo (Mile Marker 106) and stretches 70 miles. It will eventually run the length of the Keys parallel to U.S. Highway 1.Islamorada:
Anne’s Beach (http://floridakeystreasures.com/Beaches/annesbeach.shtml) at Mile Marker 73 is a quiet beach with a rocky shore and shallow clear blue waters. There’s limited parking but it’s rarely crowded.Marathon: Big Pine Key:
You can also tour the Bat Tower in Sugarloaf Key (www.keyshistory.org/SL-Sugarloaf-Key.html) at Mile Marker 17. Just don’t expect to see bats. The 1929 structure was built to lure bats as a way to combat mosquitoes. Bats stayed away, but the tower stands.Key West:
At the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden (www.keywestsculpturegarden.org), you’ll find 38 bronze busts of prominent men and women who had homes here, from Henry Flagler to Ernest Hemingway and President Harry S Truman.
Finally, stop at the southernmost point in the continental U.S. for a picture at the replica of a large concrete buoy so you can say you were 90 miles from Cuba.
The gleaming white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Florida’s Panhandle draw millions of visitors each year, but this area isn’t known for glitz, glamour and high-end hotspots like some of Florida’s other beaches. Instead, the Panhandle offers a laid-back vibe, Southern hospitality and family atmosphere and caters to budget-conscious travelers. Unlike South Florida, peak travel season here is summer.Beaches:
During the busiest months, some beaches offer free outdoor concerts. Pensacola Beach offers live music every Tuesday night from April to October (http://visitpensacolabeach.com/what/bands.php).National Naval Aviation Museum: Seaside: The Truman Show Wentworth Museum and Historic Pensacola:
For a look inside the historic homes in Historic Pensacola Village, you can take a tour for $6. The University of West Florida Archaeology department often conducts digs in the area and visitors can get a close-up look at a dig in progress.The Destin Docks:
Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grand resort (www.emeraldgrande.com/harborwalk-village.aspx), located on the west end of Destin, have a variety of seasonal events year-round and make a fun place for visitors to stroll before or after checking out the day’s catch.
While the region does boast some of America’s most beautiful beaches, there are also some out-of-the-way spots that reveal a different side of this sunny state.Jose Marti Park: Teddy’s Tampa: Mafia Cemetery: Donnie Brasco Sunset Beach: St. Petersburg waterfront: