Few other states offer the diversity of underwater experiences that Florida (aka the Sunshine State) does. In fact, it’s the only state in the USA to straddle two main bodies of salt water — the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. There are hundreds of dive sites, from wrecks to reefs, along its shores. Seem overwhelming? Here are ten underwater bucket list experiences in Florida to start with.

a manatee in a spring in florida

1. Snorkel with Manatees

When winter cold snaps descend upon Florida, scores of West Indian manatees huddle in the springs outside the town of Crystal River, a 90-minute drive north of Tampa. The site of Three Sisters Springs, just inland of the Gulf of Mexico, is the easiest to reach and is served by several local snorkel tour operators. Note that the biggest numbers can be seen when air temperatures dip to or below 40°F (4°C).

shutterstock a goliath grouper underwater in Florida

2. Experience the Goliath Grouper Spawning

In September, goliath grouper congregate off the city of Jupiter, a 90-minute drive north of Miami. This four-foot (1.2m) fish comes to spawn at night in the water column. Although night dives can be hard to arrange, daytime dives are easy, allowing visitors to swim alongside roughly 30 to 50 goliath grouper in one dive.

Shutterstock -The Eagle Wreck in Florida. Photo:

3. Go Wreck Diving in the Keys or the Florida Panhandle

The Florida Keys and the Florida Panhandle are home to more than great beaches. Here you’ll find a variety of wrecks to explore, such as the Spiegel Grove, the Vandenberg and the San Pedro.

The wreck of the Eagle, one of the smaller and lesser-known wrecks of the Florida Keys, is often overlooked — and yet, most who dive it swear the Key Largo attraction delivers more than the deeper competition. For starters, it lies in two pieces, allowing a full view of the interior without any penetration. Plus, it lies in an area with slight current, delivering excellent visibility, best appreciated during an encounter with a passing eagle ray.

The U.S.C.G.C. Duane, sunk in 1987, sports more old-growth in the form of sea fans, hard corals and sponges, than any other wreck in the state. At 327 feet (99m), she’s got enough real estate to entertain most divers, as well as provide habitat to eels, lobsters and more. Bonus: Some say she’s haunted.

Float Plane View of Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

4. Dive into a National Park

These islands, 67 miles (100km) west of Key West, boast some of the country’s healthiest reefs at Dry Tortugas National Park. Book a day trip to snorkel alongside green sea turtles, hogfish and gardens of elkhorn coral, or, to scuba dive, commit to a weekend on a local liveaboard, which regularly hop to this domestic outpost.

lemon shark dive

5. Swim with Loads of Lemon Sharks

Also off the town of Jupiter, lemon sharks congregate in numbers upward of 50 at a time from January to March. All dives in the area are drift, so divers must be able to handle themselves with a strong current at depths of around 75 feet (22m) to swim with the 10 to 13-foot (3-4m) sharks.

6. Spend the Night Underwater

You don’t have to be a Cousteau to experience the underwater habitat in Key Largo. Just book a night at the Jules Undersea Lodge, found 21 feet (6m) under the sea. Meals are included (including underwater pizza delivery), and bedrooms feature a portal so you can enjoy fish gazing around the clock. If rates for an overnight are too steep, consider dropping by for lunch.

diver swimming into a covered area

7. Try Cavern Diving

Did you know Florida is home to some of the best caves and caverns for scuba diving? Check out Devil’s Den, Florida’s only underground prehistoric spring, in Williston, Florida. Or, head to Blue Grotto where excellent visibility and water temps of 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) await you year-round. Just be sure to check what certification level is needed and get proper training before attempting any cave dives.

blue heron bridge dive site in florida

8. Search for Macro Critters Under a City Bridge

It may surprise you that one of Florida’s best dive sites is located underneath a busy bridge in a city. But take a look under the Jerry Thomas Memorial Bridge, and you’ll find the Blue Heron Bridge dive site. This site is a photographer’s dream as it is filled with plenty of photo-worthy marine life. It ranges from octopuses and nudibranchs to moray eels and mantis shrimp. What’s even better is the site is both easily accessible from shore and suitable for divers of all levels.

christ of the abyss florida

9. Find the Christ of the Abyss

Seeking out sunken statues offers a unique underwater experience. That’s why the site of Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks is worth your time. At nine feet tall, this statue of Jesus is an imposing feature and an ideal subject for underwater photographers. As you explore the surrounding area, keep your eyes open for marine life, such as moray eels, crabs, grouper and eagle rays.

diver swimming by coral in Florida

10. Get Scuba Certified or Take Your Next Diving Course

Florida is home to plenty of exciting dive sites and vacation-worthy spots. This combination makes it a great destination to get scuba certified (or level up from your current certification). From sharks and wrecks to macro and manatees, the Sunshine State has underwater wonders to enthrall you as you grow as a diver.

Looking for more information on diving in Florida? Check out our Florida Dive Guide here. Or, if you’re ready to book your adventure, browse all the available diving excursions by clicking on the button below.

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