10 Things To Do In Florida If You Don’t Like Amusement Parks

Planning a trip to Florida but want to skip the amusement parks? There are tons of things to do in Florida, even if you're not into Disney! Read on Florida travel tips you've have heard before! #Florida #Floridafun #Floridatravel #usatravel #usaroadtrip #travelusa #ustravel #ustraveldestinations #americatravel #travelamerica #vacationusa #usatrip
I’d like to start this blog post by acknowledging that while I like Florida,  I don’t like amusement parks.

Fried food, spew-inducing roller coasters, long lines, direct sunlight, other people’s poorly behaved children? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

You’d quite literally have to pay me $200 to go to Disneyland.

So when my husband invited me to tag along to a conference in Tampa my thought process went something like this:
“Ohhhhh! Beaches and warmth! (But what I am going to do on day three when I’ve read all my books and I’ve reached that sweet spot of slightly-less-pale-but-not-sunburned?)”

Friends, be ye not so stupid as me. There are tons of fun, interesting things to do in Florida that don’t involve waiting in long lines for roller coasters.

10 of things to do in Florida that don’t involve amusement parks

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

1. Drink in a Tiki bar

Did you know these were still A Thing? I certainly didn’t. If you’re not familiar, a tiki bar “is an exotic–themed drinking establishment that serves elaborate cocktails, especially rum-based mixed drinks such as the Mai Tai or ‘Zombie cocktail'”.
My guy and I popped into Ka Tiki (directly across the street from the beach!) and had two drinks and a plate of fried things for $12. People also say good things about  The Bamboo Beach Bar and Grill.
10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

2. See the Weeki Wachee mermaids

Do you love magical things? Do you love life? Are you a human being with a pulse? If so, you will love these mermaids. I loved them so much I’ll be devoting a separate post to their magic, but let me assure you that they are 100% worth the $13 entrance fee. The ladies perform three times a day (a different show each time) and you can also take a river cruise, rent kayaks, swim, and see an educational animal show between shows.
10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

3. Smoke a hand-rolled cigar

I’m not really good at smoking things and I’ve never inhaled a single cigar. That being said, I love watching people make things with their hands and tobacco leaves smell like subtle, vanilla-scented heaven. Ybor City is full of cigar shops where you can press your eager face to the window and watch cigar rollers at work. Or you can just go inside and buy cigars. And did you know they even come in different flavors?

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

4. Watch a movie at the Tampa Theatre

Oh, what’s that? You’d like to pay normal movie prices for a gorgeous, old-school movie-viewing experience? And you like interesting indie movies? This is the place for you, friends. Unchanged since it was built in 1926, the theatre features a huge balcony, insanely fancy turrets and tiling, AND A WOMAN WHO PLAYS THE CALLIOPE BEFORE EACH MOVIE. Movies are $11. Get on it.

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

5. Visit the Dali Museum

Melting watches, spectacular mural-sized paintings, religious pieces featuring Dali’s wife’s face as the Virgin Mary – they’re all here. Get the free audio guide and learn more about his complex relationship with his family and his forays into advertising and movies.

Be sure to take your photo with the giant mustache outside and add your entrance bracelet to the wish tree! (Tickets are a bit expensive so try to get them ahead of time at your AAA office or go on Thursdays after 5.)

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

5. Go to Big Cat Rescue and squee over the Lion and Tigress couple

Did you know there are still several states where you’re allowed to own big cats? And they frequently don’t count as pets but as property – so animal endangerment laws don’t protect them? Yuck. Big Cat Rescue serves as a permanent second home to big cats who’ve been confiscated in police raids (!) or rescued from road-side zoos or circuses.

My favorite cats were the lion and tiger couple who’d been introduced as cubs, raised together, and rescued together. They live together at Big Cat Rescue where apparently the tigress taunts the lion by throwing his toys in the pool (because he doesn’t like water) and shaking herself off after a swim directly next to him. Big Cats: They’re Jerks Just Like Our Cats.

P.S. This is Carole Baskin’s big cat rescue that you heard about in Tiger King!!

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

7. Go on a Dolphin-spotting tour

I know it’s suuuuuuper tempting to swim with captive dolphins and there are about a million places in Florida where you can that. But dolphins are uniquely ill-suited to confinement. They’re social creatures that live in large pods and travel forty-plus miles a day, with 80 percent of that time spent beneath the surface of the water.

So! How about we just go look at dolphins, swimming happily in their natural habitat? I’m totally partial to this tour company called Little Toot.

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

8. Kayak with manatees

I swam with a manatee already but I’d be happy to kayak along side these sweet, teddy bear-faced guys. This company runs a particularly animal and Eco-friendly company, discouraging you from befriending them in the wild even if they hug and kiss your kayak. Which they apparently do.

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

9. Eat your weight in Cuban food

Dur. Obviously. Let’s talk about Cuban sandwiches (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese on toasted Cuban bread with mustard and pickles), filete salteado (strips of beef tenderloin sauteed with peppers and a special sauce) and pernil asado (pork shoulder braised with onions in its own juices and spices.)

Or, if you’re vegetarian like me, order croquetas de frijoles (bean croquettes) or madures fritos (fried ripe plantains).

10 Things To Do In Florida If You (Like Me) Don't Like Amusement Parks // yesandyes.org

10. Stay someplace amazing

Florida has a jillion hotels because it has a jillion tourists, but I always prefer to stay in an Airbnb because it’s quieter, homier, better for the environment, and puts money in the hands of locals. If you’ve never used Airbnb, here’s $65 towards your first booking!

Some particularly enticing stays: a treehouse in Orlando, a vintage Airstream on an island (!!!), and a spaceship house.

Florida natives, what other good things should we know about? Any other non-park travel tips for Florida?

P.S.  How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

photos sam howitz // roadside wonders // jason mcelweenie // wlbpa // hok.com // constant rambling // chrismatos // boxer bob // eugene kim // orin zebest // josue armando serrano

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  1. Sarah M

    um, wow, you might have convinced me to go to the one state I never thought I'd visit! Cuban food, kayaking with manatees, Dali museum, and mermaids PLUS good thrifting? Dang. I'm totally on board!
    Sarah M

  2. Savannah

    "Do you love magical things? Do you love life? Are you a human being with a pulse?" This made me laugh out loud. A fun fact (which you may already know if you'll be dedicating a future post to them): the Weeki Wachee mermaids offer a summer camp where you can learn to be an underwater performer like them. My friend went to it and has awesome photos of her being a mermaid and now officially has a certificate saying she is a mermaid–a dream come true!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      (Like, really.)

  3. Annie

    So excited to hear more about the mermaids! I read about them in the NY Times a while back… so interesting!

  4. Tamber

    "..swoop in like the thrifting bird of paradise you are.." love it! haha

  5. Heather Lambie

    I grew up in Miami, but I've lived in St. Petersburg for 11 years now… home to the Dali museum and Bodega on Central–a GREAT place for Latin food. I REALLY wish I would've known you were coming here as I would have loved to meet you and give you a tour of my lovely little city. St. Pete is really turning into a hipster town right now with lots of vintage shopping and outdoor festivals. We were featured in the New York Times recently as one of the 52 Places you MUST visit in 2014, and Southern Living magazine's current April issues covers all the hot spots in St. Petersburg/Tampa. One of the things you missed on your trip was all the little local breweries we have in St. Pete right now (3 Daughters, Green Bench, etc.). There's nothing like playing shuffleboard on a warm summer night with a cold, local beer in hand. Here's an article I wrote on Bodega (which you MUST visit next time you're down this way): http://verticaltampabay.com/bodega/ Look me up–I'll do that mermaid summer camp with ya!

    • Heather Lambie

      Oh, and while I'll agree, Disney World is for chumps (and tourists who don't know better), Busch Gardens (in Tampa) is a really cool amusement park, if for no other reason than that they are owned by Anheuser-Busch and serve all their beer products there. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh! It would have been so nice to have a local tour guide!

  6. M. at Making Sense of Cents

    Love your list! We love Florida, and hardly ever go to an amusement park when we go. The food and drinks are probably the best thing 🙂 We still dream about the Cuban restaurant that we ate at when we were in Miami a few years ago.

  7. angieeatspeace

    I hate amusement parks, too!
    Sounds there is a few things I would like to do in Florida. Thanks!

  8. beckyalyssasbeautybox

    Thanks for this Sarah! I travel from the UK to Florida a lot, but only ever go to amusement parks if we can score free tickets – I much prefer hanging out with my cousins over there and stuffing ourselves with great Mexican food. I'll definitely come back to this list when we're looking for some more cool things to do!


  9. Athena

    I am going to Florida for a conference in July but I really need to figure out how to get on this manatee thing ASAP.

  10. *ashleigh

    That theatre! Those manatees! The dolphins! Thrifting??!! I've never been especially keen to go to Florida, but now I'm rethinking that decision.

  11. Ashley

    I'm a native Floridian still living in the state (Orlando). I love Disney, but I really enjoy when visitors try things outside the theme parks! I've actually never been to Weeki Wachee and am ashamed of myself for it. The Tampa Bay History Center is also very nice and they have a great restuarant inside called Columbia Cafe. The Dali Museum is one of my favorite things. Orlando has really great museums, too!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      We ate at the Columbia Cafe! Their white wine sangria was amazing!

  12. Emily

    When I saw this, I immediately thought of the Big Cat Rescue! So glad to see you included it. 🙂 The July day when we went a few years ago was pretty hot for this northern girl, but I'm so glad we made the stop.

  13. Rachel

    A couple of other fun things to do in Florida: Play mini golf, because they have elaborate courses due to all of the tourists, and look at giant alligators in the wild. You can just walk into a local park and stand as close as you dare to 6-foot-long gators. Yeah, it's freaky, but also cool.

    I regularly have to visit family in Florida, and although I do like amusement parks, I only like the kind with thrilling roller coasters. Disney leaves me cold, too. Visiting Florida is generally a chore, but somehow you've actually made me look forward to the next time I go, if only for the big cats and the mermaids. I MUST see that lion and tigress in person.

  14. The Rabbit

    Loved this. Thank you for the mention! ShopRabbitHole.com also ships worldwide from Miami 🙂

  15. Kate in Austin

    hey great list – I grew up with manatees close by – going kayaking with them sounds glorious! As a full paid up hater of theme parks this list is perfect!

    Kate xx


  16. Erin

    Sarah VB, did you know that Big Cat Rescue has a great You Tube channel? Fact. It's a hit with everyone in my family, from me & the hubs (30 somethings) to my son (2 years). The weird noises cats make video is especially excellent. Enjoy!

  17. veemoze

    I'm a South Florida native now living in Central Florida, just north of Orlando. We have a lot of nice nature trails around here, pretty much no matter where you are in the area, and beautiful parks.

    I love to visit the Winter Park area, where we have the beautiful Park Avenue – fun restaurants, shops and more! It is such a pretty area, and my friends and I used to have picnics in the park there in college, right by the train station. Gorgeous area! I recently visited the Morse Museum on Park Avenue, an art museum with the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass, and I loved it.

    Also, closer to where I live, historic Downtown Sanford is a fun area to visit as well. There are wonderful restaurants (including a fun authentic German restaurant with live music), and plenty of antique stores and thrift shops – book stores, clothing, records, you name it. Plus, on a nice day, you can take a stroll down by Lake Monroe. 🙂

  18. dianarendina

    Being a Tampa native, I have to second pretty much everything on this list. I do have to say though, there isn't quite as much good thrifting as there used to be. Still good stuff, but you have to dig more.

    Did you go to Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa? If not, it's worth a visit next time. It's got several museums around it and hosts lots of festivals throughout the year. And go bike riding or roller blading on Bayshore Blvd – it's the longest continuous sidewalk or something like that. Also, the old shuffleboard courts in St Pete are pretty awesome.

    If you're into antiques, Mount Dora is pretty awesome (about an hour or so from Tampa). Gatorland in Orlando is pretty fun.

  19. Lucy

    My family just moved here, and the mermaid show was great! Everyone loved it!

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