Best Florida Attraction: Gulf Islands National Seashore wins top honors

Clearwater Beach, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Dry Tortugas National Park and Crystal River Complex in top five

What do you imagine when you think of Florida? Is it the 825 miles of sun-kissed beaches or family-filled amusement parks? How about the art deco architecture or contemporary art scene? Or maybe it's the sprawling Everglades teeming with life or stone crab claws enjoyed al fresco by the shore. There's something for just about every visitor to love in the Sunshine State.

Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral)
Space remains the final frontier and a fascination for young and old. This Titusville attraction is home to the greats of NASA’s programs, past and present. Visitors can climb into actual capsules, tour (and experience “launch”) in Space Shuttles, meet actual astronauts – all within minutes of the shimmering Atlantic beach. Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center
Bahia Honda State Park (Big Pine Key)
Whereas most of the beaches in the Florida Keys are either manmade or relatively unspectacular, the three beaches at Bahia Honda State Park win awards with their natural beauty. The largest, Sandspur Beach, in particular earns acclaim with soft white sand, crystal-clear waters and picnic pavilions. Calusa Beach is the smallest and Loggerhead Beach the most shallow with a large sandbar just offshore. All three offer snorkeling among tropical fish. Photo courtesy of ArminFlickr / Flickr
Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando)
Walt Disney World has become synonymous with both Florida and family vacations, thanks to the resort's collection of four kid-friendly parks – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios. What the parks lack in thrills they make up for in truly magical rides and attractions that will bring out the inner child in just about everyone. Photo courtesy of Steven Diaz / Walt Disney World
Universal Orlando Resort (Orlando)
Universal Orlando Resort comprises three of Orlando’s most popular theme parks, Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and the newly opened Universal’s Volcano Bay waterpark. Many of Hollywood's most iconic worlds from TV and movies come alive here, from Harry Potter and Jurassic Park to Transformers and Fast & Furious. Photo courtesy of 2017 Universal Orlando Resort
St. Augustine Historic District
Situated on the banks of the Matanzas River, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America was initially founded by Spanish pioneers in 1565 as a forward base for expanding further into the continent. Throughout its history St. Augustine, protected by the oldest fort in America, Castillo de San Marcos, has been raided, attacked and changed hands several times.  Photo courtesy of Floridashistoriccoast.com
Crystal River Complex (Crystal River)
Visitors to Florida's Crystal River Complex have the unique opportunity of observing slow-moving Florida manatees in their natural habitats. Visitors can see these gentle giants from the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk or up close on a guided snorkeling tour. Photo courtesy of VisitCitrus.com
Dry Tortugas National Park
Seventy miles from Key West lies beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park, accessible only by boat or seaplane. The center point of the park is Fort Jefferson, built in the nineteenth century to protect one of North America's most strategic deep water anchorages. After a short history lesson, snorkeling in azure waters, basking on secluded beaches and birdwatching along the Great Florida Birding Trail await. Photo courtesy of NPS Photo
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Sanibel)
Although most equate the large and lovely roseate spoonbill with “Ding” Darling, serious birders come to look for the elusive mangrove cuckoo. The 4-mile Wildlife Drive and its spur trails allow nature watchers to come quite close to the cuckoos, plus the refuge’s American alligators, Florida manatees and nearly 250 species of birds. Its recreation concession offers rentals, lessons and tours by kayak, tram, boat and paddleboard. Photo courtesy of Keenan Adams / USFWS
Clearwater Beach (Clearwater)
The depth of this clean, sugary, talc-white strand ensures a wealth of space for beach enthusiasts as they cavort – or lie prone in the bright Florida sun – from surf to towel, contemplating active options from paddle boarding to parasailing. Of course, simply lolling about in the oft-warm, blue-green swells, scanning for dolphin pods or enjoying the epic sunsets is just as appealing. Beach bars abound, as do tony resorts, but the vibe here is decidedly casual, decidedly Floridian. Photo courtesy of City of Clearwater
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Undulating with the Panhandle’s patent dunes of talcum sands, this continuum of platinum sandscape feels otherworldly and primitive. It stretches from Perdido Key on the state’s westernmost waterfront and continues at Pensacola Beach’s Fort Pickens National Park and the Santa Rosa Area – the most secluded.  Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

10Best enlisted a panel of our Florida Local Experts and travel writers to nominate their favorite state attractions, and our readers have been voting for their favorites for the past four weeks.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Florida Attraction are as follows:

  1. Gulf Islands National Seashore
  2. Clearwater Beach - Clearwater
  3. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge - Sanibel
  4. Dry Tortugas National Park
  5. Crystal River Complex - Crystal River
  6. St. Augustine Historic District
  7. Universal Orlando Resort - Orlando
  8. Walt Disney World Resort - Orlando
  9. Bahia Honda State Park - Big Pine Key
  10. Kennedy Space Center - Cape Canaveral

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Aimee Heckel, Charles McCool (McCoolTravel.com), Claudia Miller (KeysClaudia.com), Skye Rodgers, A.D. Thompson (www.amydrewthompson.com), Chelle Koster Walton and Amy West (amywesttravel.comwere chosen based on their knowledge and experience of travel in Florida.

Congratulations to all these winning attractions.