8 Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays

Surfing Santa courtesy of Surfing Santas Space Coast

By Tyler Francischine

December 15, 2022

Celebrate the holidays this winter by gassing up the car and getting out of town with these affordable Florida trip ideas.

The snow may not fall, and the lakes surely won’t freeze, but that doesn’t mean that winter is not a truly magical time of year to celebrate and be merry in the Sunshine State. Take some much-deserved time off this month for one (or three) of these affordable trip ideas that showcase how Florida celebrates winter and the holiday season in its own unique style. 

1. Take a selfie with Sandi, a holiday tree made of sand, in West Palm Beach.

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Sandi courtesy of the city of West Palm Beach Facebook

Where else in the world other than the Sunshine State could you encounter a 35-foot-tall, 700-ton holiday tree made of beach sand? Sandi the tree celebrates its 11th year as one of the highlights of the city of West Palm Beach’s Holiday in Paradise festivities. Head to the Great Lawn at Centennial Park on the corner of Clematis and Narcissus in downtown West Palm any night before January 1 to marvel at–or take a selfie or two with—Sandi, who features music and light shows each night from 6-10 p.m. Get a bird’s eye view of the star at the top of Sandi by riding the new Ferris the Ferris wheel.

2. Enjoy local citrus in its peak season at Vero Beach’s Countryside Family Farms.

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Countryside Citrus courtesy of Countryside Family Farms Facebook

While the rest of the country is drinking hot cocoa to warm their freezing bones, Floridians celebrate the holiday season with abundant sunshine, warm temperatures, and fresh citrus, the latter of which happens to reach its peak season during the winter months. Instead of grabbing a bag of ordinary oranges from your nearest Publix, celebrate this special time of year by making a trek out to Countryside Family Farms, located only two hours southeast of Orlando in Vero Beach. This family-owned and operated citrus grower boasts a farm store where you can snag freshly picked, ripe Florida navel oranges, Indian River grapefruit, Florida honeybells, tangerines, and tangelos, as well as other homemade items like fresh squeezed juice, homemade pies, barbecue sauce, local fish dip, and the treat that keeps locals coming back for more: sweet “slushees” made from real fruit paired with soft-serve ice cream. After stocking up on the juiciest stocking stuffers, take the kids for some fun on the farm, which is home to a nature trail, a giant chess set, a zipline, and a train ride that tours the citrus groves.

3. Take a dip in Florida’s warmest waters at Smathers Beach in Key West.

There’s no chance of the water freezing—or even giving you a chill–while taking a wintertime dip at Smathers Beach, one of Florida’s warmest beaches. Located in Key West, this strip of sandy shore becomes a rowdy party during spring break, but in the wintertime, it’s a peaceful oasis for families of all ages. Rent jet skis to zoom across the gentle Atlantic waters, challenge your family to a game of beach volleyball, or simply set up a chair and watch the palm trees sway in the warm, winter breezes.

4. Attend Surfing Santa Day in Cocoa Beach.

In Florida, Santa doesn’t ride in a reindeer-powered sleigh–he surfs the waves on his own board. Bring the whole family out to Cocoa Beach for a day to remember on December 24 at 8 a.m., when the Surfing Santas take over the beach with a fantastic display of surfing, fake beards, and red velvet outfits. The event was born over a decade ago as a private, family celebration, but now it attracts surfers from all over the globe who don their best Santa-themed garb before shredding some waves. All surfers are welcome to join in the celebration, though there’s plenty to do if you’d rather stay onshore, too. Create your best Santa, Mrs. Claus, elf, reindeer, or gingerbread man costume and enter the Surfing Santas costume contest for a chance to win a local oceanfront hotel stay, or enter the raffle for a chance to win a 1996 Toyota Hilux “Surf” SUV. Just as Santa would have it, proceeds go to charity: the Florida Surf Museum and Grind for Life, an organization providing financial assistance to cancer patients and their families.

5. Swim with manatees in Crystal River.

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Manatees at Crystal River Preserve State Park courtesy of Visit Florida

Just 100 miles northwest of Orlando lies the only place in North America where it’s legal to swim with manatees. Each winter, Crystal River on Florida’s west coast becomes home to hundreds of manatees escaping the chillier Gulf of Mexico waters for Kings Bay and nearby Three Sisters Springs and Homosassa Springs, where the water temperatures remain a mild 72 degrees year-round. Before you dive into the water to meet these gentle, 1,000-pound giants, educate yourself and your family on the law. It’s illegal to touch a manatee with both hands at once. Instead, use one hand to gently touch the animal on its back or stomach. Since manatees are so curious, they may swim right up to you. To avoid startling the endangered species, don’t make any loud noises or movements.

6. Be dazzled by the Nights of Lights in St. Augustine.

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Nights-of-Lights-courtesy of Visit St. Augustine

Nowhere else in Florida does a holiday light display like St. Augustine. Through January 31, 2023, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights celebrates its 29th anniversary of lighting up the nation’s oldest city with more than three million white lights for the holidays. Take in the displays on a walking or trolley tour of the ancient city in all its dazzling glory. Start at the Plaza de la Constitución, home to a massive holiday tree surrounded by oaks dripping in lights, and continue through the brick-lined, downtown streets until you reach the shores of the Mantanzas River. Don’t miss the most ornate displays within Flagler College campus, the Lightner Museum, and Cordova and Orange streets. Photography buffs might opt for a boat tour during this special time—capture the entire historic downtown area sparkling like stars from the shores of the Mantanzas River.

7. Camp in mild winter weather at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Sebastian Inlet State Park courtesy of Visit Florida

Take advantage of Florida’s mild winters by gathering your camping gear and setting up homebase at the Sebastian Inlet State Park, a unique meeting place of land and sea. Located just 90 miles southeast of Orlando near the border of Indian River and Brevard counties, this state park offers campgrounds for those in tents, boats, or RVs, complete with unrestricted access to the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. Spend your mornings watching surfers from around the globe try with all their might to ride the Monster Hole, a legendary piece of topography rivaling Southern California’s famous surf spots that’s formed by the inlet’s tides and an offshore sandbar. Try your own hand at catching the big one by fishing from one of the two jetties that jut out into the Atlantic. When night falls, let the ocean’s waves lull you to sleep in the campgrounds, just a short stroll from the beach.

8. Gaze at the blooming camellias at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. 

Cheap Florida Winter Trip Ideas for The Holidays
Harry P. Leu Gardens courtesy of Harry P. Leu Gardens Facebook

Winter is the best time to head to Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando to feast your eyes upon the blooms of the nation’s largest collection of camellias outside of California. Leu Gardens boasts more than 2,500 camellia plants of 650 distinct species–count how many variations you see of the flower’s white, pink, and red hues. The gardens sit on 50 acres and also feature Florida’s largest formal rose garden, a butterfly garden, a two-acre tropical stream garden, as well as palm, bamboo, and cycad gardens. 


RELATED: 7 Florida Beaches for Spectacular Views



  • Tyler Francischine

    Tyler Francischine is a journalist who writes about travel, arts, culture and community. She's passionate about social justice, the Atlantic Ocean and live music.



Local News

Related Stories
Share This