With spectacular year-round sunshine, never-ending entertainment and action-packed activities, there’s certainly no bad time to visit Florida. But depending on your interests and what you’re trying to find (or avoid) when you get here, there’s likely to be a “best time” to come.
Although northerners consider sun-drenched Florida a four-season dreamland, the state’s tropical and subtropical climate is subject to intense fluctuations. Temperatures also vary dramatically from the northern Panhandle to the southern Keys, especially during winter when there’s a chilly bite to the northern air.
Summer (June–August) is often unbearably hot, though the rainy season (mid-May to mid-October), brings brief, biblical downpours providing respite from the heat. And, of course, there’s the dreaded hurricane season from June through November. But each season has its merits; here’s what you need to know to pick the best time to come.
Winter is the time to enjoy the gorgeous Florida coast © Kamira / Shutterstock
December to May is best for awesome weather
For maximum comfort, aim for December through May. Plenty of snowbirds dot Florida’s beaches until March or April, and they’re here for smart reasons. The sun is shining, the weather is dry and (tolerably) hot, there’s minimal rain (December is Florida’s driest month) and the hurricane gods are fast asleep! But unless you enjoy the chill, avoid the Panhandle at this time of year.
There are some big events on the calendar too, from college football to Miami’s Art Deco Weekend, the Florida State Fair, the Edison Festival of Light in Fort Myers and Mardi Gras in Pensacola.
March and April are best for partying
Hordes of party-seeking spring breakers descend on Florida beaches during the March break (which runs into April for some colleges and campuses). Many bars and nightclubs eagerly await this pilgrimage, knowing weeks of raucous, endless partying are on visitors’ energy-packed agendas. Daytona Beach, Miami, Panama City Beach and Jacksonville are the big hotspots these days.
May to August is a great time to spot dolphins © Tory Kallman / Shutterstock
Late May to August is the best time to see dolphins
Although they’re seen year-round in Florida, dolphin sightings are more common during the summer mating season. A great place to view frisky dolphins in the early morning or mid-afternoon is on the Gulf Coast near the town of Destin. Popular viewing spots include Henderson State Beach Park, Okaloosa Island Pier, Miramar Beach and Crystal Beach. Guided dolphin excursions are an excellent opportunity to get close to these playful, rambunctious creatures.
May and October are best for South Florida beach vacations
In May and October, the gorgeous southern beaches are blissfully uncrowded, the sun’s shining, there’s little rain, and the ocean feels like bath water (though hurricanes can occasionally activate the Jacuzzi jets in October). And you can still find plenty of off-season bargains. Diehard sun worshippers, however, should wait until June to August for the ultimate sizzle!
June to August is the best time for water sports
Pack your waterproof sunblock! Summer brings sweltering heat, encouraging many to desert the beach and keep cool in the water. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, surfing, paddle-boarding, kitesurfing and kayaking are all popular activities at this time of year, with a motherlode of water sports rental shacks available at popular seaside spots. Different beaches appeal for different activities, so be sure to research ahead of time.
June and October are big months for LGBTIQ+ events © Manny DaCunha / Shutterstock
June and October are the best months for LGBTIQ+ events
Despite political tugs of war, Florida remains a favorite destination for LGBTIQ+ vacations. June is, of course, Pride Month, with countless rainbow-themed celebrations. Parades and festivities happen throughout the state, including Key West Pride, Miami Beach Pride, Stonewall Pride in Wilton Manors, and Wynwood Pride in Miami.
Orlando attracts tens of thousands to its annual “Gay Days” event, where participants don red shirts to identify themselves during theme park visits, drag bingo sessions, hotel takeovers and pool parties. Crowds converge again in October for Orlando’s Come Out With Pride, featuring colorful parades, cheeky stage entertainment and a spectacular fireworks display.
Late-September to May is the best time for golfers to tee off
With 230 days of glorious sunshine each year, and more than 1000 manicured courses to choose from, Florida is heaven for golfers. Florida’s luscious landscape was built for golf, with its sandy greens, gently rolling hills and plentiful pockets of water. You might even catch a wayward gator waddling across the green. Diehards prefer to tee off from late September to May, when drier conditions prevail and there’s a lower risk of heavy rainfall or storms.
Smaller crowds mean easier sightseeing, even on busy Ocean Drive © Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock
September and January are great times for bargains
The Florida experience is all about supply and demand. Kids are back in school by September and the snowbirds are yet to arrive, so deals can be found everywhere. Likewise, a slump in tourism follows the indulgence of the Christmas holiday season, with hotel prices plunging as much as 50% before climbing again for Spring Break.
Theme parks and tourist attractions, restaurants and hotels have to compete harder for your vacation dollars so this is a good time to pick some low-hanging fruit – the best discounts are usually early offered from September, and can continue until Thanksgiving.
October and February are best for avoiding crowds
These are typically the slowest months for tourism in Florida. There’s more room to spread your beach towel and shorter queues at attractions, and you’ll avoid the summer crowds invading the theme parks, and Spring Break, when hordes of college students pack beaches and bars. Late October brings Halloween fun at theme parks and FantastFest in Key West.
Winter brings manatees to the clear waters of Crystal River © Colors and shapes of underwater world / Getty Images
November to March is the best time for swimming with manatees
Among the Sunshine State’s most anticipated visitors, manatees return to Florida’s many warm springs each winter, fleeing cooling ocean waters. The highest numbers gather from December to February; great spots to encounter them include Manatee Lagoon at West Palm Beach (they cluster around warm-water outflows from a nearby generating station) and Blue Spring State Park.
Alternatively, you can take the plunge and swim respectfully with these “gentle giants” in their natural habitat at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (named for its glass-clear waters). Dubbed “the manatee capital of the world,” it’s the only place in Florida where human interaction with manatees is legal, and training and guidance are provided.
December and January are best for exploring the Everglades
You’ve watched them being wrangled on reality shows – now’s your chance to encounter gators, crocs and Burmese pythons in the wild in Florida’s famed Everglades. Adventurers can pitch a tent at serviced campgrounds or canoe into the untamed and unforgiving wildlands at Everglades National Park.
If you’re pressed for time, or courage, we’d recommend an exhilarating airboat ride at Sawgrass Recreation Park. You may not encounter pythons, but you’ll definitely see plenty of gators and turtles. December and January provide drier conditions and lower water levels, making it easier to spot an assortment of wildlife. You’ll also avoid high temperatures and mugginess… and those pesky bugs!