AAA Travel Tips & Articles / Get to Know the Real Florida at These Unique Places

Get to Know the Real Florida at These Unique Places

Florida Department of Environmental Protection/William Garvin
By AAA Travel Editor Katie McPhee
July 05, 2018
Beyond the mouse ears and thrill rides is a different side of Florida—one made up of down-home cuisine at local restaurants, natural springs, rocket launches and even a few gator parks for those into adventure travel. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident of the Sunshine State, add a few of these AAA Rated restaurants, attractions and things to see to your bucket list and get to know the “real” Florida on your next vacation.
Sign at Blue Heaven Restaurant & Bar in Key West Florida
AAA/Janet Brindle Reddick
Blue Heaven Restaurant & Bar
Key West, Florida
AAA Inspector Rating
(305) 296-8666
Dine al fresco beneath tropical foliage—and among roaming roosters—at this AAA Two Diamond favorite, known for its hearty breakfasts and Caribbean-inspired lunch and dinner. The menu is a little slice of heaven, with sea scallops à la Provençal, Jamaican jerk chicken, filet mignon and the ever-popular homemade Key lime pie (topped with a mountain of meringue) among the offerings. Live music accompanies lunch and dinner.
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Manatees at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Florida
Florida Department of Environmental Protection/William Garvin
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa Springs, Florida
(352) 628-5343
Built around a freshwater spring that keeps the water a chilly 72 degrees F, the wildlife park and rehabilitation center is said to be the world’s only spot to see West Indian manatees throughout the year. A pontoon boat takes you on the short trip from the visitor center to the park, where an underwater observatory allows you to peek at the manatees’ slow-moving antics. Other native animals, including black bears, Florida panthers, bobcats, wolves and river otters, can be seen along paved walking trails and boardwalks.
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Large gator jaws at Gatorland in Orlando Florida
Courtesy of Gatorland
Gatorland
Orlando, Florida
(407) 855-5496
Get close to a few of Florida’s native creatures at this iconic family-friendly attraction, one of the fun things to do in Central Florida. Pose for a photo at the park entrance—it’s shaped like a giant gator mouth—then explore the grounds to see crocodiles, alligators and other reptiles up-close. Daily gator feedings feature plenty of jaw-snapping action, while train rides and a petting zoo provide entertainment for little tykes.
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Photo of the springs at Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White Florida
AAA/Inspector 52
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Fort White, Florida
(386) 497-4690
A float down the crystal-clear Ichetucknee River is the perfect Florida experience if you're wondering what to do on a hot day. Rent an inflatable inner tube or raft from vendors just outside the park entrance, then spend 2 to 3 hours floating down the river. You’ll be treated to views of sunbathing turtles and thick tree canopies. Non-tubers will enjoy hiking, kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling and scuba diving at the park.
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Outdoor rocket on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida
AAA/Inspector 76
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
(855) 433-4210
Florida’s east coast boasts the only place on Earth where man has successfully launched a spaceflight to the moon. Plan to spend a full day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where captivating exhibits and experiences cover the past, present and future of the NASA space program. Walk beneath a massive Saturn V rocket, touch a moon rock, ride a launch simulator and see the space shuttle Atlantis on display—this AAA GEM® Rated attraction is worth a trip to the coast.
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Exterior shot of Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House in Deleon Springs Florida
Courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill & Griddle House
De Leon Springs, Florida
AAA Inspector Rating
(386) 985-5644
Come hungry and ready to cook your own pancakes at this breakfast spot within De Leon Springs State Park. Set among moss-draped oaks on the site of an 1830s sugar mill ruin, the scenery here is Old Florida at its finest. Each table comes equipped with a built-in griddle, and servers bring homemade pancake batters, blueberries, chocolate chips and other fillings to your table. Breakfast meats and eggs round out the meal. Keep in mind that a state park entrance fee is required to visit this AAA One Diamond restaurant.
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Cheeseburger with ketchup and lettuce
Courtesy of Ingram Publishing
T-Rays Burger Station
Fernandina Beach, Florida
AAA Inspector Rating
(904) 261-6310
Located in a converted gas station, the AAA One Diamond Rated, no-frills restaurant serves up burgers, breakfasts and daily blue plate specials to hungry crowds. The line often snakes out the door (past the old fuel pumps), but the wait is well worth it for chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, shrimp and “Big T Burgers,” made with a half-pound of hand-patted chuck and a secret spice blend. Picnic tables, mismatched furniture and college football décor create a casual, friendly vibe, making this one of the fun places to go for local grub.
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Mermaid underwater at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida
Courtesy of Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Weeki Wachee, Florida
(352) 592-5656
Live underwater mermaid shows put this roadside attraction on the map when it first opened in 1947. Today the park still draws record crowds to see its unique Weeki Wachee mermaids perform in the springs. Settle into your seat in the submerged viewing theater and watch as sequined mermaids twist, turn, flip and float through the water. Practice your own mermaid routine in Buccaneer Bay, a spring-fed water park located on-site.
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Oysters over ice at Crave Fishbar restaurant in New York City
AAA/Inspector 592
Whitey's Fish Camp
Fleming Island, Florida
AAA Inspector Rating
(904) 269-4198
You can arrive by car, motorcycle, RV or even boat at this AAA Two Diamond restaurant. A large covered deck offers prime waterfront seating overlooking an inlet. The house specialty is all-you-can-eat catfish, but there’s no shortage of other seafood options here, from scallops and oysters to gator tail and shrimp boils. With live music, an RV park and a bait and tackle shop on the premises, this fish camp is a good place to sit and stay awhile.
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