An outside shot of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida

Courtesy of Dan Lundberg/Flickr

Florida is the center of conversation when discussing spring break options. Whether it’s a classic Disney World trip in Orlando, or an all-out party on the beaches of Miami, there’s something for every age group. Nothing is wrong with seeking out popular destinations, but it might be worth exploring the many secret gems this large state has to offer (and yes, that still includes beach time).

From untouched islands to historically rich cities, see our off-the-radar recommendations for a unique Florida vacation.

Get Some Privacy on Sanibel Island

About 30 minutes away from Fort Myers Beach is another sandy spot—minus the buzzing crowds and towering buildings. Sanibel Island takes great pride in its conservation efforts, with 67 percent of the island under protection thanks to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to explore sheltered mangroves, hike or bike the 4.5-mile Wildlife Drive, and bird-watch cuckoos and ospreys.

Do as the local do, and in this case, that means the “Sanibel Stoop”. This bent-at-the-waist posture comes from the island’s reputation of being one of the best shelling spots throughout the world. So if you’re doing the “Sanibel Stoop”, then essentially, you’re seashell hunting. And be sure to take in all the natural beauty, while you’re at it.

Florida’s Hidden, Historic Treasure of Apalachicola

This charming area filled with rich history has everything needed for a laid-back, Florida getaway. Locals consider Apalach (as they call it) part of the Florida Panhandle “The Forgotten Coast”, a reference to a quiet section of the coastline. This destination is just a two-hour drive from Tallahassee, but feels like another world with Victorian inns, historic sites, and a bustling downtown shopping area of its own.

Be sure to indulge in the salty oysters served by many local restaurants, freshly caught from the Apalachicola Bay. Or take the plunge and go catch a fish in the fresh nearby waters, where some of the best fishing happens in Florida. And make sure to take advantage of the many outdoor activities (hiking, biking, and camping, to name a few) across the Apalachicola National Forest, the largest national forest in the state.

A Dose of Art in St. Petersburg

With the nickname of “Sunshine City,” no wonder so many people associate St. Petersburg with a nice climate. However, see past the waterfront parks and golf courses to take advantage of the rich art culture that lives inside the urban space.

Check out the Salvador Dali Museum, home to the largest art collection by the famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali present in the United States. In addition to its impressive art exhibits, the museum’s rectangular building is designed with a unique glass bubble known as the “enigma” that is worth seeing—made up of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass. With 30 other museums in the St. Petersburg area to explore, there are plenty of places to get your art fix.

The city’s theater scene is also booming, ranging from performances by the Florida Orchestra to St. Pete Opera Company, and a selection of playhouses in between. And explore the local art throughout St. Petersburg’s seven distinct art districts—from the Warehouse Arts District to the Waterfront Museum District—where artists share their talent with the community.

Still Want to Visit Miami? Do it Differently.

If you’re still yearning for Florida’s spring break hotspot, but something more than day drinking and night clubbing, we’ve got the recs for you. This city—filled with unexpectedly rich history—is much more than meets the eye.

The Design District—known as the premier place to buy furniture in the 1920s—has gone through a recent revival, as Craig Robins, the CEO of Darca, told us in our November/December 2013 issue. From shopping at the first ever Berluti store in the country to checking out contemporary furnishings inside the Luminaire Lab, fashion and art can be found at every turn. Wander around the streets, and you’ll see street sculptures by artists like Zaha Hadid or Marc Newsom right before your eyes.

Travel a bit north to visit the Ancient Spanish Monastery that now serves as an Episcopal Church. This 12th-century monument was actually built in Segovia, Spain, but was dismantled and then reassembled in North Miami Beach, where it still stands today. See the museum displays at the entrance, attend service in English or Spanish on Sundays, or just bask in the historic architectural glory.

Nicoletta Richardson

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