Readers Choice

WINNERS: Best Florida AttractionChosen by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best

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    #10 - Beaches of Daytona Beach

    NASCAR got its start here, when early moonshiners used to race their cars on the beach.  So it's only fitting (but still amazing) that cars are not only allowed but encouraged to drive directly on Daytona's beach. Ramps leading down from the town allow cruises to slowly show off their wheels, while swimsuit-wearing beach lovers take it all in.   Daytona Beach is probably the only beach in the world with a speed limit.  

    Photo courtesy of James Martin/Thinkstock

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    #9 - Castillo de San Marcos - St. Augustine

    Daily re-enactments are exciting at this massive stronghold, which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Anchoring the north end of St. Augustine's historic district, the Castillo becamse a national monument after 251 continuous years of military control by 4 different bodies: the Spanish empire; the kingdom of Great Britian; the Confereracy; and the United States.

    Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

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    #8 - Salvador Dali Museum - St. Petersburg

    Imaginative works of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí have taken up residence in a geodesic glass edifice on the bayfront in St. Petersburg. The architecture of the Salvador Dalí Museum is reason enough to visit. A dramatic spiral staircase leads to galleries showcasing more than 2,000 of Dalí’s visionary pieces, from 1904-1989. 

    Photo courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

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    #7 - Seashells of Sanibel Island

    Visitors travel from around the world to do "the Sanibel stoop," a posture which comes from bending over to see the myriad of seashells which cover Sanibel's world-famous beaches. Due to its unique east-west orientation, Sanibel's typically gentle surf delivers more shells to its shore than on any other North American island.   

    Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Thinkstock

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    #6 - St. Augustine Historic District

    Discovered by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon,  this lovely city marked its 450th commemoration in 2013. At the heart of Old Town is the pedestrian-only St. George Street. Stone pillars of coquina shell at the Old City Gates lead to the Colonial Spanish Quarter, where privateers and pirates appear in garb, and tales of Minorcan settlers abound. 

    Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com

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    #5 - Magic Kingdom - Orlando

    Cinderella’s castle towers at the center of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, making fairy tales come true since 1971.  The first of four theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort, this iconic landmark - which thrills children and adults - remains as ageless as the beautiful princess herself. Though other parks have grown around her, Magic Kingdom is the undeniable “Disney Classic,” the iconic Grand Dame of the family.

    Photo courtesy of Kent Phillips/Disney

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    #4 - Discovery Cove - Orlando

    Is the impossible possible in Orlando? Visitors to Discovery Cove often think so.  They swim with dolphins, snorkel amid a rainbow of tropical fish, and delight in fresh-water encounters with marmosets and otters and more. Best of all, this attraction is rarely crowded: admission is limited to about 1,300, to ensure guests the time and space to enjoy the park.

    Photo courtesy of Discovery Cove

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    #3 - Everglades Holiday Park - Ft. Lauderdale

    This popular attraction is home to the “Gator Boys,” stars of Animal Planet’s reality tv hit.  Visitors sometimes see an episode in the works or meet one of its stars in person.  But Florida’s Everglades are an ecosystem unlike any other, home to magnificent wildlife seen via the airboat safari which departs from Everglades Holiday Park.  

    Photo courtesy of Animal Planet/Bob Croslin

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    #2 - The Ringling - Sarasota

    This sprawling estate on Sarasota Bay was the home of circus impresario John Ringling and his wife Mable. Their Ca d’Zan mansion, Mabel’s Rose Garden, and the Museum of Art -- with its Louvre-worthy collection -- are parts of a parcel that also includes the Circus Museum, the historic Asolo Theater and more. 

    Photo courtesy of The Ringling

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    #1 - Clearwater Marine Aquarium

    It began as a volunteer-run rehab for injured animals. One of them was Winter, whose heartwarming biopic, “Dolphin Tale,” (in which she played herself) catapulted the small facility into the public sphere. Plans for expansion are in the works and visitors from all over the world flock to see Winter and enjoy this attraction reborn.

    Photo courtesy of Courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Clearwater Marine Aquarium voted Best Florida Attraction

The Ringling, Gator Boys' home base, Orlando theme parks also win

After four weeks of voting, Florida fans have voted Clearwater Marine Aquarium into the top slot in our 10Best Readers' Choice award contest, held in conjunction with USA TODAY.   

The popular Tampa Bay area aquarium - the setting for the film Dolphin Tale - won over the hearts of America when the story of its famed resident Winter the Dolphin hit the big screen.  Filming of the sequel - Dolphin Tale 2 - is currently underway at the Aquarium, and visitors will be able to visit a new dolphin star, Hope, as well as fellow resident Winter.

Voting was brisk in this contest and 2nd place finisher The Ringling, Sarasota's dazzling museum and arts complex, clearly demonstrated the lasting memories it makes upon visitors.  

Our 3rd place finisher is home to reality TV stars 'The Gator Boys,' while 4th place finisher Discovery Cove in Orlando emphasizes yet again how much humans love dolphins: this attraction facilitates swimming with the world's most popular mammal.  Mickey Mouse and his friends landed solidly at number five, just as a movie about Walt Disney himself  hit theaters across the USA.

The full list of winners in the 'Best Florida Attraction' contest category for 10Best Readers' Choice are as follows:

  1. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
  2. The Ringling - Sarasota
  3. Everglades Holiday Park - Ft. Lauderdale
  4. Discovery Cove - Orlando
  5. Magic Kingdom - Orlando
  6. St. Augustine Historic District
  7. Salvador Dali Museum - St. Petersburg
  8. Seashells of Sanibel Island
  9. Castillo de San Marcos - St. Augustine
  10. Beaches of Daytona Beach

Congratulations to all the winners!

To vote in other 10Best Readers' Choice contests, go to http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/  

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Meet the Experts

Libby McMillan

10Best Senior Editor and travel journalist/producer Libby McMillan spent 20+ years in the sunshine state, what she calls “the only place in the world where you drive north to reach the South.”   While writing and producing from her southwest Florida home base, McMillan was able to cover a lot of territory and has personally visited all but a few of the nominees.   You might still spy her hanging out on Captiva Island; shopping in South Beach; cycling around Del Ray; chilling on Anna Maria or Amelia; cocktailing in Key West; or exploring St. Augustine.

Susan Friedman

Susan is a seasoned journalist whose 25-year award-winning career includes writing about travel, lifestyle, food, design, and architecture. Susan spent years exploring the sunshine state as Senior Editor for the regional travel magazine Florida Travel + Life. She loves living a tropical lifestyle, and is particularly fond of exploring the next great place to vacation, dine, spa or play.

A.D. Thompson

A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.  Orlando-based A.D. is a bit of a theme park junkie and is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.  

Gina Birch

Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for 22 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality, and as of late, a travel writer.  She contributes to numerous publication on subjects including travel, food, wine and shopping. She is also in the process of publishing a restaurant guide for southwest Florida.  You can find more of her musings in her blog "The Birch Beat" (www.thebirchbeat.blogspot.com)