7 Underrated Places in Florida You Should Visit in 2024

There’s plenty to soak in on a visit to the Sunshine State (besides all that Vitamin Sea).

Aerial view of a busy stretch of beach in St. Pete-Clearwater, Florida, complete with loungers and umbrellas

Florida has some prime beach real estate—but don’t forget the abundance of inland places worth exploring.

Photo by Shutterstock

For as much as Florida can get maligned, those of us who live here know all the good that comes from living among people from all over the world, outstanding natural beauty, and the very best beaches in the country.

Florida is never static. It’s always reinventing itself with developments such as the September 2023 debut of the Brightline high-speed passenger train service that runs between Orlando International Airport and Miami (with stops in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Aventura along the way)—making it easier to cover some serious ground in the state.

Whether you come to explore the buzzy new downtown district in Tampa, dig into an underrated food city, or kick back on a beautiful beach, here are the places with the biggest news as of late.

Which Florida city should I be most excited about right now?

The Tampa city skyline at sunset, with a highway loop and palm trees in the foreground

The Tampa Bay region has a population of about 3 million people.

Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock


The urban buzz in Florida has been all about Tampa, which has stepped into the spotlight after a long while of being overshadowed by Miami and Orlando. Recent growth has centered around a new downtown district, Water Street Tampa, with The Tampa Edition and JW Marriott Tampa Water Street (check out the city’s newest and highest rooftop bar, Beacon, on the 27th floor) as its cornerstone hotels. New restaurants there include French favorite Boulon Brasserie and gastropub and oyster room The Pearl. Local foodies are eyeing the opening of Ash in Water Street Tampa this spring—a new Italian concept by lauded chef Ferrell Alvarez of celebrated Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster & The Till.

Just south of downtown, the residential neighborhood of Hyde Park has seen some openings, too. Florida’s only Palisociety property, the Palihouse Hyde Park Village, and Japanese restaurant Ro opened in Fall 2023.

Where to Stay: Palihouse Hyde Park Village

Unique among boutique hotels in Tampa, the 36-room Palihouse Hyde Park Village has a residential feel, with an intimate second-floor setting that seems hidden away, a lounge and restaurant, and spacious rooms with crystal barware and Smeg mini fridges.

I’m looking for a beachside getaway.

Palm tree leaf in front of an ocean

Located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Anna Maria Island is one of Florida’s best places for a seaside getaway.

Photo by Terry Ward

Anna Maria Island

There’s so much to love about this Gulf of Mexico beach town with powdery beaches and no chain establishments in sight. Less than an hour from Tampa along the Gulf of Mexico, Mello on the Beach opened in 2023 along a stretch of white sand in Holmes Beach, just south of Anna Maria Island. The decor is retro, bright, and cheerful, conjuring a bit of Palm Springs in Florida with neon pool floats, color-pop furnishings, and extras like umbrellas, coolers, and lounge chairs that make an off-grid beach day easy.


To the south in the tiny gulf-front town of Naples, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples reopened last summer after an extensive revamp that included a 14-floor expansion of the Vanderbilt Tower for Club guests (it has the brand’s largest Club Lounge in North America), a new dramatic lobby bar, and 10 new air-conditioned private poolside bungalows for when you need a break from the beach but aren’t quite ready to retreat to your room.

Amelia Island

Just north of Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Amelia Island is ideal for exploring by bike, particularly around the historic town of Fernandina Beach and nearby Fort Clinch State Park, with miles of pristine beachfront. Fronting a 13-mile stretch of quiet beach, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island offers naturalist-guided ecology field trips to discover the surrounding barrier island environments, and it plans to unveil a revamped spa in late spring this year.

I travel to eat but have already been to Miami. Where should I go?

The sun about to break above the Orlando city skyline.

Orlando has the second most Michelin stars of any Florida city.

Photo by Zhukova Valentyna/Shutterstock


Miami restaurants claim most of Florida’s Michelin stars (it has 11 Michelin-starred restaurants), but Orlando is the Sunshine State’s biggest sleeper when it comes to food: It has a globally inspired dining scene that runs the gamut from high-end restaurants to holes-in-the-wall yet manages to stay largely unfussy. And if Asian food is your favorite, Orlando particularly delivers.

The city’s Mills 50 District is full of exciting Vietnamese (roughly 17,000 Vietnamese Americans live in Central Florida) and Southeast Asian options, from mainstays Pho 88 and Little Saigon to Laotian street food spot Sticky Rice and Filipino ice creamery Sampaguita, a newcomer in 2023.

Omakase is also having a big moment in Orlando. Visit restaurants like 10-seater Soseki, Kadence, newcomer Natsu Omakase, and the more casual Susuru Juju, which rolls out sashimi and nigiri delights (many made from fish freshly flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu market).

Where to Stay: Conrad Orlando

Orlando’s most newsworthy resort opening of late is Evermore Orlando Resort, where the Conrad Orlando has nearly 500 rooms and suites, a kids club, a rooftop Mexican restaurant, and private beach access to the complex’s enormous eight-acre man-made lagoon. Houses, flats, and villas for rent at Evermore Orlando range from four to eleven (!) bedrooms, offering everything required for a multigenerational gathering.

Surprise me with a place I’d never think to vacation in Florida.

Boat pier at sunrise on a lake

The Lake Placid area has nearly 30 named lakes.

Photo by 3ddesignplus/Shutterstock

Lake Placid

Florida’s crystal-clear freshwater springs in places like Crystal River—where manatees gather by the hundreds to warm up from the chilly Gulf of Mexico waters during the winter months—are fairly well known. But the state’s sandy-bottom lakes (read: less likely to harbor alligators than mucky ones, although the creatures can be found in any freshwater environment in Florida) in and around towns like Lake Placid, about two hours south of Orlando in the center of the state, often surprise visitors. Here, the Lake Placid farmers’ market takes over Journal Plaza every Saturday, Morty & Edna’s Craft Kitchen does a mean shrimp-and-grits weekend special, and you can spend the day pontooning and tubing on pretty little Lake June with Lake June Pontoons.


About 20 minutes north of Lake Placid, Sebring is home to a burgeoning restaurant scene spearheaded by spots such as Faded Bistro & Beer Garden. But it also has one of Florida’s most spectacular state parks, Highlands Hammock State Park, which boasts a three-mile bike loop, tunneling oak trees, and an elevated boardwalk through an old-growth cypress swamp. For serious airboat thrills on Lake Istokpoga in Sebring (one that is loaded with alligators and is decidedly not for swimming), head out with Airboat Wildlife Adventures from Neibert’s Fishing Resort, and make sure Captain John knows you want to the “roller-coaster version” for the biggest adrenaline rush.

Where to stay: Inn on the Lakes

Inn on the Lakes hugs the shoreline of Lake Jackson in Sebring, and its rooms with balconies as well as its outdoor pool overlook the water. On-site waterfront restaurant Chicanes serves huge plates of baby back ribs and pork schnitzel.

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer whose work appears in CNN, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and the Washington Post, among many other outlets.
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