February vacation and spring break are rapidly approaching, and with them come the promise of sun, R&R, and a break from winter weather. Florida proves to be a great destination this year—it's easy to reach, with plenty of flights; no passport is required; and great values are available across the board. Even better, there are plenty of "hidden" spots across the Sunshine State, places where you can dip your toes in the ocean, take a long horseback ride, or explore a state park, without any theme parks or beach-going crowds in sight. So, for tropical paradise without a long flight or bloated budget, consider these under-the-radar Florida spots.
Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island
Relax, relax, relax—that's the vibe in Boca Grande, a sleepy historic town on Gasparilla Island, about an hour-and-a-half west of Ft. Myers. No spring training crowds or bustling atmosphere here; there's not a high rise or traffic light in sight. Instead you'll find seven miles of beaches, a state park, bicycle trail, and an area teeming with wildlife. Dolphins, manatees, osprey, pelicans, and more can be found at the beaches, as well as plenty of shelling and fishing spots. Nicknamed the "Tarpon Capital of the World," Boca Grande also lures tourists with fishing charters and sailing possibilities. There are also several restaurants and galleries for those willing to wander away from the sand and surf.
(Photo: iStockphoto/Scott Dart)