5 Florida Destinations that aren’t Orlando

Florida is a big state and extremely popular with American travelers, no matter the age. It really has everything a person could want from the best amusement parks in the world to year round warm weather and spotless white sand beaches leading into the cerulean ocean. But there's more to Florida than Orlando, and your student group is going to fall head over heels for these alternative Floridian destinations.

  • St. Augustine - Technically the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States, St. Augustine was established by Spanish settlers in 1565. The city continued as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and later as capital of East Florida until it was moved to Tallahassee in 1824. St. Augustine is a veritable wellspring of history and intrigue. The beautiful Spanish city lies on the banks of the Atlantic, shining in the golden sunlight of the past and future. Here you'll find the Fountain of Youth (or at least where Ponce de Leon thought it was), 17th century stone forts, a stunningly opulent hotel museum from the Gilded Age, and an abundance of pirate history. See castles, pirate ships, incredibly old buildings older than Plymouth Colony, and even alligator farms on a tour of beloved St. Augustine.
  • Tampa - Though it's not quite Orlando, Tampa is one of the more popular Florida destinations. On the west coast of the state near the Gulf of Mexico, you'll encounter a historic city on the water. Not quite as old as St. Augustine, Tampa has its own set of cultural history. The city played a fairly large role in the Civil War and had at least two battles within the area, which are now memorialized as landmarks. Ybor City, too, grew Tampa's prestige and cultural history with the cigar making industry, primarily inhabited and worked by Spanish and Cuban immigrants. While you can still visit the past at these sites, Tampa is perhaps better known today as the home of Busch Gardens Tampa and other popular attractions. It's the perfect place to get a sampling of both entertainment and history, all while being close to the warm waters of the Gulf.
  • Sarasota - Lovely, tropical, and full of circus history. Bet you didn't realize that the couple that lead the Ringling Brothers circus settled down in Sarasota. Their stunning house is now a museum filled with the spoils of their travels plus an abundance of circus historical artifacts and personal possessions of the couple. The city of Sarasota lends itself beautifully to touring but with the beach so close you might not want to leave the ocean waves. You'll get lost in the incredible Marie Selby Botanical Gardens or the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, the latter of which contains an interesting collection of animals among the leaves and fronds. Mote Marine Laboratory is an interesting aquarium featuring sting rays and sharks but you also have the opportunity to visit an intense collection of automobiles at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, see a performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall or at the Sarasota Opera House.
  • Tallahassee - Operating as the capital city of Florida since 1824, Tallahassee has acquired an elegant sense of culture and historic sophistication. You'll find not only beautifully curated museums filled with incredible artifacts and art but in Tallahassee you are surrounded by the lush natural landscaping of Florida. Live it up in the outdoors at Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park, Lake Ella, or at the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. Head indoors (to the air conditioning) and explore the Museum of Florida History, the historic John Gilmore Riley House, take a free tour of the Florida State Capitol, or even experience the living history museum at San Luis de Apalache Spanish mission. There are so many museums, shopping centers, and recreational activities for your group to experience that you'll never want to leave Tallahassee.
  • Fort Myers - Compared to some of the other cities on this list, Fort Myers is somewhat small and unknown. However, it is a fairly popular tourist destination and stop on the way to southwest Florida. It also happens to be a beautiful wonderland of white beaches and turquoise water. No wonder Thomas Edison and Henry Ford took up winter homes down there, where the palm trees sway in the light endless summer breeze and sunshine is year long. While most people who come to Fort Myers aren't looking for education, they can find it in the form of historic landmarks, including the Edison and Ford homes which are now open as museums. The Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium keeps beach goers busy with over 60 exhibits of activities but you also have sporting arenas, the training stadium of the Boston Red Sox, beautiful state parks, and of course plenty of beach space to lounge around.