1. Suwannee River
- Best For: Nature and nothingness. The 173-mile Suwannee River paddling trail starts in Mayberryesque White Springs, where resident John Vassar customizes day and overnight trips from two hours to 20 miles a day. Play your cards right and he'll invite the "Martha Stewart of North Florida," who whips up filet mignon, pasta with venison sauce and blueberry cobbler over a campfire.
- Sleep: Woods Ferry River Camp, nine miles downstream, offers five screened-in sleeping platforms, full-service restrooms and hot water. Not keen on "roughing" it? Check into White Springs Bed 'n Breakfast, a whitewashed turn-of-the-last-century boarding house. email@example.com, whitespringsbnb.com
- Best For: Really Old Florida. It's not just laws that make the history books in Florida's capital city. Spaniards celebrated North America's first Christmas here in 1539 (take that, Pilgrims) and worshipped with Apalachee Indians at Mission San Luis, a reconstructed fort and archaeological site. The nearby Natural Bridge marks the only southeastern capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union.
- Hoof It: The Park Avenue and Calhoun Street historic districts lined with Victorian Gothic homes are best explored by foot.
- Stay: Feeling blue? Seeing red? Guests of the new Hotel Duval get to choose their floor and room by color.
- Best Eats: In the shadows of the Tallahassee Capitol, Andrew's Capital Grill & Bar has a few menu items that reference politicians, like the Gra-HAM burger. hotelduval.com
3. St. George Island State Park
- Best For: A water rendezvous. The pristine St. George Island State Park located on the Panhandle's Forgotten Coast (U.S. 98) is a slice of Florida as it once was with: unspoiled beaches, prolific wildlife and miles of open water.
- Don't Miss: Find remnants of past shell-fish harvests and pottery making that tell of the island's 5,000-year-old history.
- Best Activity: Hop in a canoe with guides from Journeys and paddle offshore from the island to take in the views of pine-studded forests, dunes and coastal scrub.
- Eat: On your way to the park, stop at the locals' favorite Eddy Teach's Raw Bar for the freshest and most savory oysters on St. George.
- Sleep: Settle into a river-view room at the charming Apalachicola River Inn; indulge in a home-style breakfast and even a gratis happy-hour drink at the on-site Roseate Spoonbill Lounge. floridastateparks.org/stgeorgeisland
4. Panama City Beach
- Best For: The laid-back flip-flop crowd. With the May opening of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport, and expect Northwest Florida tourism to spike as the area becomes an easily accessible "fly" market. (Historically, it's just been a drive destination.)
- Don't Miss: A drive along U.S. highways 98 and 30A shows off the spectacular beach communities.
- Best Eats: Firefly, across the street from the resort, is a standout. Exhibit A: The tortilla-crusted grouper and seared diver scallops with corn and avocado relish.
- Stay: A hidden gem nestled among white-quartz sand dunes on the Gulf of Mexico, the Edgewater Beach Resort has an 11,500-square-foot lagoon pool, a nine-hole par-3 golf course and 27 holes at nearby Hombre Golf Club, a perennial PGA Qualifying School pit stop. edgewaterbeachresort.com
5. Rags to Riches Regatta, North Florida
- Best For: Sailors of any stripe. It's not the America's Cup, but when a couple dozen Hobie Cats set sail in the Gulf, it's a fight to the finish and a matter of Panhandle pride. Founded in 1981 to kick off the Fourth of July weekend, the five-mile course starts in Grayton Beach (proud to be the rags) and ends in Seagrove (the riches at the time). Revived after a 15-year hiatus, the course now sails past the decidedly more affluent towns of Seaside and WaterColor, which didn't even exist back then.
- Seaworthy Sustenance: Seagrove Village Market is a casual eatery with old-fashioned fried-seafood baskets and grilled grouper sandwiches, plus a mini-mart with cold beer for wannabe sailor spectators.
- Land-Ho Lodgings: With a front-row view at the mid-course is the unabashedly "rich" WaterColor Inn & Resort. At the finish line on the bluff overlooking the beach stands the historic Seagrove Villas Motel—right next to the community block party after the race. watercolorresort.com, seagrovevillas.com
6. Taste of the Beach, North Florida
- Best For: Film, food, wine and more wine. Set in Florida's "Deep South," this festival has all the Southern hospitality that North Florida dishes so well. Held Nov. 5-8, the event reaps fall's cooler temperatures, making it an exhilarating outdoor festival.
- Movie Buffs: Indie films, fire pits and wine mix well at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival under the stars in WaterColor Inn & Resort's backyard on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Sip and Buy: Arrive early to Saturday's Seeing Red Wine Festival in Seaside to stake out a spot on the green with blankets and chairs. Then meander from vendor to vendor tasting Caymus, Moet, Mount Veeder and other top wines.
- Eat: Wrap the weekend with the charity auction on the Sandestin Hilton pool deck. Jazz musicians play against the evening's pink sky as folks write in their bids for wine, bicycles and spa packages.
- Sleep: The adult-only Henderson Park Inn, on the edge of Henderson State Park, is pure romance. Rooms are just steps from billowy sand dunes and swings for sunset gazing. tasteofthebeachfla.com, hendersonparkinn.com
- Best For: A family summer vacation, clan-style. This North Florida beach town hugging the Gulf of Mexico is all about spending the day on soft, pillow-puff sands and in clear, cool waters. Rent umbrellas and chaises for the whole family. The kids and their cousins build sand castles while grown-ups catch up.
- Play: Harbor Walk Village on the Destin Harbor is meant for strolling. After perusing the boutiques, candy stores and kite shops in the shadow of the elaborate Emerald Grande resort, check out the charter-fishing vessels and rental boats at the marina. You'll want to book a day on the water for the gang.
- Eat: Breakfast at Another Broken Egg Café is omelets whipped up with anything you can imagine—brie cheese and lobster, anyone?
- Sleep: Separate condo units provide privacy and also keep everyone under one roof. So take your pick from Sterling Resorts' steps-from-the-shore rental properties that are fully equipped right down to plastic sand pails. harborwalkdestin.com, sterlingresorts.com
8. Pensacola Beach
- Best For: Caribbean-style beaches with a Southern twang. On the island of Pensacola Beach, the Gulf of Mexico is your backyard. Crystalline dunes and turquoise waters have long beckoned in-the-know Southerners to this Northwest Florida hideaway—not to mention down-home cooking, tasty rum drinks and sprawling, affordable beach houses.
- Best Eats: The fresh oysters at Peg Leg Pete's, with its laid-back beach atmosphere and a large deck overlooking the Gulf.
- Day Trip: Cross the causeway to Pensacola's downtown, graced with antiques shops and cobblestone streets that evoke New Orleans.
- Don't Miss: The narrow barrier island's undeveloped stretches of sand is flanked by the Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico at Navarre Beach State Park. Afterward, stop at Paradise Bar & Grill for burgers.
- Sleep: Take your pick from the Paradise Beach Homes' assemblage of waterfront houses, cottages and condos. paradisebeachhomes.com, peglegpetes.com