Winter in Florida

We’ve spent 2 winters in Flordia. We were there in 2021 then the next year we learned that all smart full-time travelers either go to Baja or Florida in the winter because being cold and feeling stuck inside a small space is terrible. So the following year we spent the chilly months in Florida again. To keep all my suggestions in one place, I’ve combined our two trips to share all of our favorite things.  There is a lot here, but after 3+ months all around the sunshine state, we’ve had a lot of experiences. I hope this helps as a guide for those planning a Flordia trip including where to stay, what to do and of course, where to eat. 

South Florida: 

The cities in South Florida are intense. Miami feels like the locals are really into the hustle culture. They seem to be going a million miles per hour, working three jobs, plus a side gig, all at the same time while functioning off 19 cups of coffee, parties, and 2 hours of sleep. All to live the high life and look good doing it. They certainly don’t have time to spare to drive kindly or take a moment to smile at the grocery store. So if that isn’t your vibe, skip it. I do realize I’m generalizing and I’m sure there are lots of wonderful folks here too. We opted to skip the city and stay in Homestead in South Florida.

On both trips, we stayed at a Hipcamp on a coconut farm. We parked our Airstream nestled under the palm trees. As we were surrounded by tropical plants and palms swaying in the warm breeze, we had to pinch ourselves to remember that this was real life.  The children spent their days harvesting coconuts. We chopped them with machetes, had fresh coconut water, and cut the meat for fresh fruit bowls daily. 

Homestead is where it’s at for tropical fruit. Every street corner has little farm stands where you can buy fresh produce, and not just any produce but the biggest most beautiful fruit you’ve ever seen. We stopped by one of the most famous stands Robert is Here. It’s a famous stand owned and run by Robert who has dedicated the last 60 years of his life to this corner. We got new fruits to experience including black sapote, cherimoya and star fruit and Robert himself checked us out and taught us about them. They also have the very best milkshakes made with your choice of fresh fruit.

I love the U-pick farms in Homestead. Instead of a shopping cart and isles in a store, I do my shopping here with a wicker basket in farm rows. I highly recommend Martha’s U-Pick. The owners are so kind and even with two years between visits they remembered us and our travels and gave us time for a lovely conversation.  

Homestead is a great hub for Cuban culture. You’ll want to find yourself some Cuban food like plantains and black beans. Also, get a cortadito coffee (a sweet Cuban espresso with milk) every chance you get.

My favorite thing about South Florida is the abundance of tropical plants. Plants I’m used to seeing as specialty expensive houseplants in Colorado, like Monsteras, Bromeliads, and huge Golden Pothos just grow wild on the sides of streets.

Homestead is a great and affordable base to stay at to explore the Everglades and the Florida Keys. It’s slower and simpler than some other areas, we enjoyed our time there.


The Everglades is a huge National Park. We enjoyed a day trip and loved seeing what the tropical jungle is like. We took a few hikes but I feel like most of the park is inaccessible since it is covered in sawgrass and marsh. My favorite walks are the boardwalk trails because they bring you through the marsh, areas where the ground is too wet to go otherwise. I’m thankful we visited in the winter,  we were getting bit up by bugs, I can’t imagine the summertime. The ranger told us the summer has 7 billion mosquitos! It was a quick day, with more driving time than we accounted for. If we were to do it again, we’d plan better and have multiple park days.

On our second winter in Florida, we opted to explore the Everglades on a fan boat tour. We joined family and friends and visited Everglades Alligator Farm where we had an awesome class and feeding demonstration. We got to hold baby gators! Then the boat took us on a 30-minute ride through the grasses where we saw cool birds, turtles, and wild iguanas. The boat was loud and fast so it was a cool combo of sightseeing and a thrilling ride. The whole day was very educational, we learned so much and had a great time. It was a good day to be homeschooled kid.

We like to experience culture through food, so after our afternoon at the Alligator Farm, we stopped at Everglades Gator Grill for gator tail and frog legs. We figured we needed to have a full experience including all the senses. We didn’t love them but we didn’t hate them either. 

Florida Keys:

Oh, the Keys…  It is one of those places that remind us to step back and appreciate how amazing this life chapter is and how thankful we are that we made it happen.  The keys are a top bucket list place for many people, so to be there on a random weekday, not on vacation is really special. The 113-mile highway connects the mainland to Key West connecting the chain of tiny islands or keys. The drive alone is an incredible experience. As you drive with the windows down, a beachy playlist, hair blowing in the wind, and salt in the air, you can’t help but be in awe of the beauty of the turquoise water. The drive including the famous seven-mile bridge is one of our top favorite American roads.

Key Largo is the first “key.” The town itself isn’t my favorite, it’s a bit commercialized. It is however home to John Pennenkamp Coral Reef Park, a must-see destination, especially if you like to snorkel or scuba dive. 

On our first visit, we spent some time just chilling on the beach. We hung the hammock in the palms and soaked up the sun while Tom snorkeled for a bit, checking out tons of little jellyfish. Juliette and Leila went on a little walk and came back shrieking causing commotion and alarm. After a moment of panic, we realized their excitement was due to huge wild iguanas in the trees! The locals found them quite comical, apparently, lizards are regular sights on the islands. 

We enjoyed a short hike that brought us to an old citrus grove that was once part of a homestead. 

Our second trip to John Pennencamp was a favorite travel experience. We dedicated the whole day which gave us ample time to enjoy it. We brought a picnic lunch, our paddle boards, and kayak and we took the trails through the mangroves. As we paddled along the waterways we saw a lot of birds, turtles, and crabs. The kids put on snorkel masks and hung off the sides of the boards watching fish swim by as Tom and I paddled them. We took a break mid-trip and stopped at the beach to snorkel and lay out in the sunshine. My only suggestion is to watch the map and the time. We took longer than we should have, took some wrong turns, and ended up slightly lost as the sun was lowering and the no-see-ums were coming out to bite us. We were starting to worry we’d be lost in the dark in the ocean and starting to get real mad at Tom and his navigation, but we made it. 

Honda Bahia State Park is a popular destination. We brought our picnic there and could not get over our excitement that we were eating watermelon and swimming in the ocean the week of Christmas. The beach is neat because it’s shallow and clear, real far out, so you can wade in the water and even the littles feel safe. The park has lots of picnic tables and offers camping. The downside is that the beach is small. On our second visit, the tide was high and the weather was less than ideal so there wasn’t much beach and the kids didn’t want to swim; but on a good day, it’s the spot.

Curry Hammock State Park has the potential to be my favorite Keys beach. We didn’t spend a ton of time there, but I wish we did. It’s smaller than Honda Bahia, therefore less crowded and simple. The beach is lovely and there is a canoe trail. We took a nature trail through the palm-coral forest. It was a lovely walk passing under the palms as the sunlight filtered through. The Keys doesn’t have a lot of hiking, so this was a highlight. 

In 2021 we made it all the way down to Key West. My favorite part was the wild chickens that ran around everywhere. We started our time at Lagerheads Beach Bar where we ordered pina coladas and hung out on the beach chairs to enjoy them. 

Most American ocean sunsets happen on the West Coast, so sunset is a big deal here. They have a party about it every day! In Mallory Square, there are street performers and vendors with celebration energy to send down the sun. 

We were there in December and loved all the Christmas lights and boats lit up, decorated for the season. At The Schooner Wharf Bar, we sat on the rooftop and enjoyed live music and had the best blackened fish and sides I’ve ever had. Two years later, I still think about that fish. We had the best waiter who prayed for us, prophesied over the boys, and even invited us home for pie (which we regretfully declined due to time.) I wish very much that we would have had the foresight to get a room and stay in Key West, even for the night. It was nearly a three-hour drive north to get home which we didn’t start until 10:00. It was too much to cram into one day. It’s days like this that remind me not to plan to fill every moment but to leave time for the flexibility of what may come. Too often we fill and control every minute and miss so much opportunity, like local nighttime Christmas pie in Key West. 

On our second trip, we enjoyed dinner at Pokeys in Marathon Key. We had sat in a parking lot scrolling around and calling places looking for food and live music. I’m so glad we picked this place, it was just our vibe. The restaurant is open-air/patio style, good but not fancy, barefoot/island-style vibes. There was good live music, just a cool man with a guitar singing beachy tunes. We had great happy hour drinks, including virgin versions for the kids. I 100% recommend the coconut mojito and we loved their famous fried key lime pie. 


Just north of Tampa, we camped at my favorite Florida boondocking spot we’ve found. Most spots we’ve seen in the Water Managment camps are fields. Serenova Tract in the Starkey Wilderness Preserve felt like a proper primitive campground. The sites are spaced out with thick brush and trees surrounded by nature. It had been a while since we had been in a good nature spot- it was a very welcome experience. 

Our friends, the Mendenhalls met us to show us their hometown. One day we visited The Tampa Zoo. The kids loved spending a day with friends and getting a closer look at all the animals they’d been learning about. They especially liked the water ride in the middle of the zoo, a great way to stay cool on a hot day. 

Another day they showed us Tarpon Springs. It is a lovely quaint town that has formed from the sea sponge industry. People immigrated from the Mediterranean to build lives as sponge fishermen, an industry that is still alive and thriving. It was a cool and unique experience to see the boats and learn all about it. At the Sponge Docks, we got to see the boats and the fresh caught sponges.

The highlight for me was the Greek culture full of my favorite food. We had delicious desserts and Greek coffee at Hellas Bakery…so stinkin’ good! Then we had dinner at Mr. Soulvakis where we ate dolmas, feta, pitas, and gyros. All my life I’ve said I want to travel to the Mediterranean just to eat, so I loved the little taste of it here in America. 

Central Florida and springs:

When most people think of Florida, they think of sandy beaches, Keys, Disney, Miami…. Turns out there is a whole other part of Florida that I have found to be my favorite. To find boondocking instead of expensive, crowded RV parks, we found ourselves in central Florida. It’s a wild place. The ground is often marshy with thick growth. There are palm everywhere and huge Cypress and Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. The landscape is a constant reminder that it’s home to gators, snakes, wild hogs and who know what else. There are small towns and old Florida charm, there is unique, quiet, and wild beauty.

One of the camp areas we stayed at had a trails on a nature preserve that had wild citrus. The boys tussled through the bushes, climbed the trees, swung from vines, and filled backpacks with lemons, oranges, and grapefruits. We made fresh-squeezed lemonade and ate free fruit all week.  

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’ve decided the best thing about Florida is the springs, not beaches or amusement parks. The whole north western section of Florida is covered with cool, fresh springs, pumping in millions of gallons of water a day from deep within the earth. Some are made into swimming pools. Some are remote little swimming holes. Some feed rivers that make bucket list-worthy epic paddle trips. Next time we are here, the goal will be to visit as many springs as we can. So far our favorite to report is Ictucknee Springs.

Our seasoned Florida adventure friends, The Hockings brought us along for a day at their favorite spring and it turned out to be our favorite Florida day. As we paddled along turquoise waters of canoe trail surrounded in lush greenery, we saw so much wildlife. I saw more turtles than I’ve likely seen combined in my entire life. We saw a gator! The highlight was the manatees! 

After two trips to Crystal River, famous for manatee sightings, this day trumped it. We saw several and the crystal clear water gave us such an amazing view of them. They came right up to our paddle boards, so close we thought they may flip us over. It was miraculous. 

We really enjoyed Ocala. The area has a lot of farming, country roads, and folks that wave from their porches as you drive by.  There we stayed at a Hipcamp at a food forest where we made friends with our host who has been a highlight of our journey. They took us to Juniper Springs which is a neat place for a swim and has a lovely nature trail to view the spring source. Photos do not do any justice to the vibrant colors and abundant life in these places. 

Crystal River is the best known spot to see and experience the manatees. In the winter months, the ocean becomes too cold for these gentle, majestic creatures. They migrate into the fresh water where the springs keep the temperature in the mid-70s. 

Swimming with the manatees was a bucket list experience for our travel life. Before we hit the road, when we sat around the table and marked a map with everything we could dream of on our ultimate U.S. trip, the map said manatees. For Juliette’s Christmas gift, we went on a manatees snorkeling trip. After an educational video and a safety chat, we put on wet suits, loaded the boat, and went to the river. 

These “sea cows” are the sweetest, squishy face, fat, cute, dudes ever. Adults are over 1,000 pounds and 10-12 feet long. They hang around and munch on sea grass, then every few minutes they float to the top to get a breath. It was remarkable to be in nature and be so close to wildlife. They are so curious, they came right up to us. Once one was within inches of Tom’s face. 

We opted to leave the boys out of this trip. I was concerned that the snorkel gear and treading water could be a bit too much for them and that they would need a lot of support and attention. I was glad of that choice because it ended up being a challenge for Juliette who is 3 and 5 years older than her brothers. It was just too cold and the poor thing doesn’t have enough body fat. She was struggling with getting water in her mask and was feeling anxious. She did enjoy herself at first, did like seeing them, and overall was thankful for the experience. I’m sure every kid is different, but I’d suggest saving this activity for teens and adults.

Fast forward two years and we visited Crystal River again, but did it a little differently. This year we all went and skipped the boat and tourist excursion. We parked at Hunter Springs where it was only $5 to park plus $5 a vessel to launch our paddle boards. From there we were able to paddle to the same spots the tours go and see the manatees. We crossed paths with dozens of them and anytime we had trouble finding them we just found a tour and went to that same area. We now have our own snorkel gear so we really enjoyed the freedom of being on our own. I would 100% recommend this over the tour. There are plenty of places where you can rent boards or kayaks if you don’t have your own.


We wanted one classic Florida vacation experience. You know, the RVs on the sand and the travelers sitting on folding chairs drinking tropical drinks in coconuts… all for too much money. We wanted a little bit of that. We’re not rolling in the dough, so we found the most economical place to go, and Destin did not disappoint. 

We stayed at Camping on the Gulf. Most of the park was the general run-of-the-mill place with too many rigs shoved in too close. However, the few spots on the beach made the place awesome. For 9 days we stepped out our door and into white sand. We played volleyball, did beach yoga, built sand castles, and had beach walks.

The beach was covered with man-of-war jellyfish. My sweet son wanted to rescue them. He was like the story of the boy throwing starfish back in the ocean, he couldn’t possibly save them all but he made a difference to each one he did save. He spent hours up and down the beach scooping them up with the shovel and depositing them back to the water. 

On the way out of Florida, heading west, we made it a point to stop for lunch at Airstream Row in Seaside Florida. In the heart of the cute little beachside town, there is a row of restaurants, each one a cute Airstream Trailer. They had Barbeque, crepes, hot dogs, grilled cheese, Greek food and more. It was a dog-friendly area, they even had water bowls out for the pups, so Marley had fun too.  Everything was delicious and it was a fun little detour. 

I’ve come to fully see why Florida is the choice place for snowbirds and full time travelers. When it’s too cold to enjoy the outdoors in most of the U.S., it feels delightful to be soaking up the sun and eating tropical fruits. I used to think that Florida was just for the retired people or the fancy RV folks in bougie RV parks. I’ve loved learning that there are ways to stay simply for free or on a budget, that there is ample nature to explore and so many areas that have nothing to do with the tourists. I hope our experiences can help you plan your own epic season in the Sunshine state. 

Where we Stayed:

vintage airstream with Florida palm trees

Homestead: We’ve enjoyed out time at Jonathan’s farm through Hipcamp. We parked our Airstream tucked under the palms. Our host was awesome to offer coconuts and even brought the boys a slingshot to use to knock them down. The farm is a fully working farm and is also used as a lot for trucks. It’s a farming operation-not an RV park so as long as you’re okay with work happening, it’s a great spot. It’s also a fraction of the cost of anything else nearby. It’s best suited for small rigs like vans, the tight or low branches could be challenging for larger rigs. Use this link for a Hipcamp discount.

Ocala: 2 ½ years into traveling, Jai’s Jungle is still one of our top stays. Keith and his son Jai have a beautiful permaculture farm. Their souls shine love of health, real food, healing the land and high vibes. Our time there was more like visiting a friend than staying at a campground. If you’re the barefoot, gardening, reggae music, wild and free children type…. Go here. But if you’re not, you may not like it… Check out the Hipcamp listing and feel it and decide. Use this link for a Hipcamp discount.

Florida Water Managment: Boondocking in Florida is a little different than most states. It is free and there are options but it takes some planning. You need to obtain permits online and reserve your dates. Most sites were open fields with fire rings and picnic tables. The nicest was Dupuis which had clean flushable bathrooms and showers. My favorite was Serenova Tract which was more primitive and in tune with nature. It did however have a lot of trees so it wasn’t ideal for solar and large rigs may have had a hard time. Some sites are found through Water Matters, and some are on here. It takes a little practice to get used to the sites and systems, but once you do it’s simple and since it’s free, it’s worth any hassle. 

vintage airstream in Destin Florida

Destin: Camping on the Gulf was an affordable option (in comparison to other RV resorts). The beach spots were fantastic- we pilled right on the sand, but the rest were lackluster. They did offer potlucks and a really cool community jam night which was awesome.  

Osceola National Forest: Heading North out of Florida we found Ocean Ponds Campground. It wasn’t free but it was great and priced reasonably. National Forest Campgrounds give 50% off with the America the Beautiful Parks pass, so it was only $6.  The primitive area had lots of nature in between sites. The park had a playground, water access, bathrooms, and showers. 

What I Read:

I always love good stories that teach me about the state I’m in. In Florida, I loved Chanel Cleeton’s books. Next Year in Havana tells the historical tale of Cuba’s politics, the rise and fall of Fidel Castro, and the hardships of the people who lived through it all. Of course mixed in with some love, loss, and feelings. In The Last Train to Key West, I learned about the horrors of The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the first Category 5 storm to hit the U.S. in recorded history. 

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