Samantha Brown's Favorite Destinations To Visit In Florida

Samantha Brown loves Florida. The celebrated TV host has filmed many times in the Sunshine State, and it also has a personal meaning for the two Emmy awards-winner. Brown honeymooned in the Florida Keys, so it is safe to say the state definitely has a special place in her heart. Brown's Florida shows are filled with warmth and affection. And while crystal clear beaches, seaside bars, and late-night parties are all duly featured in the episodes, Brown doesn't miss a chance to promote sustainable activities, give voice to the conservation community, and immerse herself in authentic local culture.

Given her status, experience, and knowledge of Florida, it's interesting to discover Samantha Brown's personal preferences in the state. That's why we've decided to make a round-up of her Sunshine State favs; from the historic allure of St. Augustine to the undertravelerblogd corners of Miami, from the least visited national parks in the US to thrilling wildlife adventures, this is Florida at its very, very best.

St. Augustine

American history comes alive in St. Augustine. Even the coast here is called "historic," and there's an excellent reason for that: the city's founding date is 1565, making it the oldest continuously inhabited in the country. Spanish until 1819, St. Augustine has all of Florida's advantages and then packs it with some more. "A historic powerhouse of a destination," writes Samantha Brown, fascinated by the rich attractions in this corner of the Sunshine State. The must-sees include the mighty Castillo de San Marcos (aka the oldest masonry fort in the US), the ornate 18th-century Cathedral Basilica, and Flagler College, which Brown calls one of the "most beautiful colleges in the world."

But a great thing about St. Augustine is that it's much more than its historic center. Nature lovers can hop on a boat tour to embark on a wildlife-watching journey at St. Augustine Wild Reserve, where the rescued animals dwell –  it is a fantastic family adventure. There is also the gorgeous, long stretch of fine Atlantic beaches, with an easygoing vibe and a photogenic wooden pier. On the culinary side, Samantha Brown recommends eating at Urban Asado, which specializes in mouthwatering Argentinian grill, while Llama Restaurant brings Peruvian traditions to the table.

Anna Maria Island

If you crave an escape-all laid-back retreat that doubles up as the ultimate winter beach vacation, Anna Maria Island is calling your name. It's pure Florida bliss here. A barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, Anna Maria Island offers an idyllic tropical holiday. The local sunsets are among the most spectacular in the state, the beaches are largely untouched by mass tourism, and that elusive old Florida feel is still alive and well. Anna Maria Island is a place to get inspired and recharge, a picture-perfect harbor free of buzz and stress.

Samantha Browns calls this destination "Florida's best-kept secret" and recommends walking and biking as much as possible. To make things even easier transportation-wise, there's a free trolley that takes you around the island. Bean Point is where you want to be during the sunset, and the charms of Mother Nature are at their most sublime here. Check out the quaint wooden Rod and Reel Pier that doubles as a fresh seafood-serving restaurant. Most importantly, give in to the slow travel allure of this corner of Florida and get that well-deserved rest.

Key West

The southernmost point of the contiguous USA, Key West may well be one of the most charismatic cities in the country. It is full of beautiful sea vistas, compelling stories, raucous parties, hidden gastronomic treasures, and rich historical significance. Samantha Brown has quite an intimate connection with this part of Florida, as the TV host honeymooned at Sunset Key Cottages.

Key West is packed with attractions and experiences, and Duval Street forms the city's central artery with a rich supply of historic bars, trendy restaurants, and laid-back cafes. The local eccentric atmosphere has also been a draw to a few famous figures. Ernest Hemingway wrote "A Farewell to Arms" in town, and you can visit the house where the writer lived and learn more about his sojourn in Florida. Tennessee Williams also called Key West home, while former president Harry Truman established the Winter White House here. But it's not only about the monuments; food is also a large part of this destination's allure. Samantha Brown's must-visits include savoring Cuban meals at El Siboney, sampling fried lionfish, and munching on Key lime pie, the town's most famous dessert export.


Samantha Brown doesn't hold back her affections when describing Miami. For her, it's "one of the best places in the world" if you're looking for sun, beach, and party. But there's a brimming culture here, and the TV host highlights the unique experiences you can have in this southern Florida powerhouse. Miami is a city of colorful neighborhoods, unmissable events, superb outdoor escapes, and a rich history. Brown is fascinated by the melting pot character of the city, its multicultural core, and the fusion of many cuisines in local restaurants and cafes.

The heart of Miami leisure lies in picturesque South Beach, where Art Deco buildings overlook the palm tree-lined Lummus Park and the glorious sandy beaches along the Atlantic. Head to the Art Deco Welcome Center for more background about the iconic architectural style. For art, visit Wynwood Walls, an open-air mural museum and one of the hottest tourist attractions in the city. Immerse yourself in the immigrant history of Little Havana by visiting the Cubaocho Museum (which also has a Cuban bar). Miami is also known for its unique outdoor adventures, and Brown recommends taking an airboat tour to enjoy the immense wetland beauty of Everglades National Park. For a calmer time filled with fresh air, visit the Fruit & Spice Park.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Sometimes, you just want to get lost in the wild, and Big Cypress National Preserve is perfect for that. This vast 720,000-acre area is a part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem and, for Samantha Brown, an ultimate Florida outdoor activity. The preserve is among the lesser-known natural attractions in the state, so you can enjoy relative peace while trekking through the expansive swamp.

The best way to start your wetland adventure is by visiting the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center, where you can get up close and personal (almost) with Florida's most famous wild inhabitants: American alligators. There is a designated boardwalk that allows you to observe the mighty reptiles from a safe distance. Another cultural highlight of the area mentioned by Brown is the remotely located Big Cypress Gallery. Established by photographer Clyde Butcher, the gallery features a collection of black-and-white images that capture the raw beauty of this gorgeous swampland. To get fully immersed in the landscape, stay overnight at the cottage adjacent to the gallery.

Kissimmee and Celebration

Florida is arguably the amusement park capital of the world, with a neverending supply of family-friendly fun. Orlando is where you find the highest concentration of theme parks in the state, but Samantha Brown advises taking a closer look at Kissimmee as a better base for visiting the attractions. The reason? You will spend less at the local hotels than at the park-adjacent resorts and the distance to the theme parks won't be much different than in some neighborhoods of Orlando.

Also, Brown recommends checking out Celebration for accommodation. A utopian town envisioned by Walt Disney himself as an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), it's a relaxing Orlando suburb filled with scenic cycling trails, New Classical architecture, and plenty of rentals to choose from. Celebration is just 5 miles from Walt Disney World by car, making it an ideal family-friendly place to stay if you're looking for an easy commute to the amusement parks.


A part of the so-called "Middle Keys," Marathon offers a quiet tropical break and a sleepy fishing village atmosphere. Set on a dozen small islands, it's everything you ask for from a slow travel destination. Samantha Brown highlights the local Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort as a "warm and welcoming" oasis of Gulf of Mexico perfection and praises its 2.5-acre private beach. Sparky's Landing restaurant also gets a mention from the travel expert, which is no surprise considering the quality of its wood-fired oven seafood cooking. In the Florida Keys episode, Brown visits the restaurant with a lionfish caught on her fishing tour with Rachel Bowman, and the restaurant turns it into a mouthwatering dish.

But one unique attraction at Marathon Key makes it a must-visit when you are in Florida. That is the Turtle Hospital, an actual working medical institution that specializes in rehabilitating injured sea turtles and safely returning them to their natural habitat. The facility also organizes educational tours where you can meet (and feed) the turtles. Dolphin Research Center is another wildlife-focused attraction that offers dolphin encounters.

Marco Island

Marco Island is Southwest Florida at its finest. Beach aficionados will find the whitest of sands, luxury seekers have a plethora of upscale resorts to choose from, and foodies will be thrilled to discover the laid-back local snack scene. Marco Island is also a superb tropical escape for couples, and there are countless opportunities to enjoy the delightful Gulf of Mexico nature while kayaking, hiking, or simply admiring the stunning sunsets on the warm sand.

Samantha Brown features Marco Island on her Naples episode and finds plenty to enjoy in this part of Paradise Coast. For example, there's a restaurant-cum-live music hotspot called The Oyster Society, where you can get acquainted with amazing local bands playing everything from folksy jazz to hard rock. Fancy more unique experiences? Brown suggests visiting Dolphin Traveler Blogr, calling it "Florida's best dolphin show." It's a family-friendly ecotour and cruise that takes you around Marco Island's waters in search of dolphins and teaches you how to identify and distinguish between various dolphin species.


Per Samantha Brown, Florida's very own Naples is known for its "sophisticated, world-class atmosphere." Also, the beach here is absolutely gorgeous, and Brown writes that the easy public access from pretty much every city street makes this white sand stretch a perfect sunset-watching spot. When in sunny Florida, appreciating the beauty of a stunning sunset is a must. However, as its vibrant food scene proves, Naples is much more than the beach.

The epicenter of all the culinary action is 5th Avenue South, a street packed with classy restaurants serving mostly European fare. Bar Tulia is Brown's favorite; the award-winning host loves this venue's no-reservations attitude, superb craft cocktails, and delicious Italian dishes prepared by Chef Vincenzo Betulia. If you crave more cucina italiana, check out Bar Tulia's sister establishment, Osteria Tulia. For family-friendly outdoor adventure, Samantha Brown suggests heading straight to Naples Zoo, where kids and adults can encounter the queen of the state's wildlife — the endangered Florida panther.

Fort Myers

There's a lot to unpack in Fort Myers. A highlight of Southwest Florida, the city offers a great set of prime Sunshine State experiences. From the exemplary sandy stretch of Fort Myers Beach to the 3,500 acres of wildlife adventures of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve through the historic Art Deco downtown of Fort Myers proper, you've got a fantastic choice of attractions. With all this and more, it is no shock that Fort Myers is a Florida favorite of Samantha Brown.

There's also world-class historical significance here. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates give you a peek into the lives of two of the planet's most notorious innovators, who happened to be friends and lived next to each other while enjoying the Florida winter sun. Another Fort Myers must-visit recommended by Brown is the ECHO Global Farm, an initiative that provides hands-on agricultural training for small-scale farms worldwide. Visit for a tour of sustainable growing practices and experience farming life first-hand.


Tremendous Tampa also finds itself among Samantha Brown's favorite places in Florida. One primary reason could be because the local airport is her favorite in the world, and considering that Brown has visited over 250 cities in 62 countries throughout her long travel host career, it's quite a distinction for Florida's Gulf Coast destination. Everything seems to work like a charm in Tampa Airport for Samantha Brown, and she compliments the organization of traffic, amenities, and checks. Also, the travel expert shares that she loves dining at the Cuban Columbia Café before taking the flight. That is some fabulous press for TPA, which currently enjoys a high 4.6 rating on Google Maps.

Of course, you aren't going on holiday just for the airport. Unlike other places in the Sunshine State, Tampa is for urban animals. Packed with contemporary high-rise architecture, a cosmopolitan food scene, an epic Aquarium, and plenty of sports spectacles (the NFL's Buccaneers and NHL's Lightning call the city home), the city is a fantastic place to visit.

Sanibel Island

Beachcombers rejoice; Sanibel Island is a shelling paradise. Its 15 miles of untouched beaches are perfect for the slow, meditative act of hunting for seashells. There's even a local name for the activity, the so-called "Sanibel Stoop." Also, Samantha Brown advises visiting the Sanibel Community House, which specializes in shellcrafting, making artistic items using objects collected from the beach. You can take a course in this activity here and purchase some Sanibel souvenirs. But wait, there's more! There's also the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the only one in the country. In short, if you love seashells, you'll love Sanibel Island.

In Sanibel, you want to be as close to nature as possible. For Brown, there's no better place for that than the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The award-winning host describes the area as "calm, serene, and almost like an impressionist painting." With 245 species of birds living within the refuge, it's an ultimate gift for birdwatchers and an inspiring attraction to visit.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Only 84,285 people visited Dry Tortugas National Park in 2023, making it one of the least visited destinations in the NPS network (Yellowstone had 4.5 million visitors, for comparison). The primary reason is the park's remoteness, making it a real challenge to access. Set 70 miles off Key West, this archipelago can only be reached by boat or airplane, but the pristine Caribbean nature and abundance of birdlife score Dry Tortugas a spot among Samantha Brown's collection of underrated national parks.

Dry Tortugas National Park boasts 100 square miles of protected area, but it's no Yosemite. Most of its territory is open water, plus seven tiny islands where you can touch sandy ground. Despite this, the park has some record-breaking attractions here. Fort Jefferson is officially the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, which alone justifies a visit to Dry Tortugas. Aside from the mighty historic sight, you've got the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to travelerblog while diving and snorkeling.


Unsurprisingly, Samantha Brown is a big fan of Florida Keys, and idyllic Islamorada is mentioned in the TV host's article about unexpected adventures in the Sunshine State. Frequently overlooked on the way to the well-known tourist chops of Key West, Islamorada deserves your full attention. Fishing enthusiasts may already know it as the "sport fishing capital of the world." Islamorada has a well-established fishing infrastructure, and local restaurants are used to preparing the guests' catch. Everything from deep-sea to fly fishing awaits. Brown mentions Bud N' Mary's as the charter company to team up with to engage in the village's most famous pastime.

This part of the Florida Keys is also about enjoying the unhurried side of nature. Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is a tiny islet abundant with tropical flora and perfect for hiking, while Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is both an ideal picnicking spot and an engaging visit to discover more about fossilized coral quarry. Moreover, don't miss a unique local History of Diving Museum devoted to this underwater activity.