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Florida in December: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re visiting Florida in December, chances are high that you’re here to celebrate the holidays. While Florida doesn’t offer the snowy Christmas atmosphere that you’d find in states further north, it’s got lots of unique things to entertain you this season.

We created this big guide to Sunshine State in December so you can get the most out of your trip. If you’re used to white Christmases, this time of the year in Florida will be one of the most interesting holiday experiences you’ve ever had.

This article is part of Roundtript’s series of expert Florida travel guides for every month of the year.


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Florida Weather in December

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December weather in Florida will be cooler, but usually never truly cold. The humidity is typically waning at this point, with very low chance of showers and almost never a chance of snow. The wind will pick up on occasion, but for the most part expect cool and dry days and nights.

Florida is the only place in the United States that maintains a subtropical to tropical climate all year round. But based on where you’ll be traveling, temperatures are likely to vary. In the Northern part of the state (Central Florida to the Panhandle) average daily highs in December will be around 63°F (17.7°C) and lows will be about 43°F (6.1°C). In the Southern part (Central Florida to the Keys) average highs will be closer to 76°F (24.4°C).

When packing, it’s best to bring a variety of layers as the mornings will start cold and get warm throughout the day, then turn back to cold in the evenings.

Florida Affordability & Crowds in December

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December crowds in Florida will vary depending on which region you visit this month. However, December tends to be a bit busier across the board since the holidays are underway. Most parts of Florida will experience the hype of the season, especially in medium to large cities.

The places where you’ll experience the biggest influx of visitors will be in towns that are popular with “snowbirds” who usually arrive in October and stay through May. Places like St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Naples, Fort Myers and Hollywood, FL, will see some of the largest amounts of winter visitors, while the big cities like Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami will just be busy in general.

It should come as no surprise that Florida travel rates will be a little pricier this time of year, though you can still find cheaper options available. Decent hotels in Orlando will range from $175 – $300 per night, hotels in Tampa will range from $150 – $250 per night, and the more populous city of Miami will see rates from $250 – $450 per night.

Best Things to Do in Florida in December

Visit St. Augustine

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St. Augustine is considered to be the oldest city in the United States, first founded by the Spanish in 1565. To this day, it remains marked by Spanish architecture and history in it’s beautifully preserved buildings and homes, The Castillo de San Marcos fortress and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth.

The city is a truly remarkable place to vacation at all times of the year, with lovely beachfront lodging on St. Augustine, Flagler and Crescent beaches, historical tours, delicious restaurants, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum and Colonial Quarter in Historic Downtown.

At Christmas, this old city will dazzle with Nights of Lights all season long. Residents and visitors walk or drive over 20 blocks through the Historic District to see the gorgeous lights draped over buildings from rooftop to foundation. There’s also the Holiday Regatta of Lights; a sensational lighted boat parade on Matanzas Bay. The St. Augustine Ballet also performs the Nutcracker and the Lighthouse hosts families for arts & crafts and a chance to meet Santa.

Visit Tampa Bay

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The Tampa Bay region of Florida is comprised of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. As the cities have grown, visitors from outside the area still view this region as an easily accessible cluster of cities. However, each lays about 30-45 minutes from each other and is vastly different. On New Year’s Eve, parties are being hosted at restaurants and big attractions in each city and firework displays can be viewed on the water all along the Bay.

Tampa is the largest city in Tampa Bay and is most well-known for it’s historic Cuban culture in Ybor City, for the annual Gasparilla flotilla and as the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The food scene serves all tastes from upscale to downhome and the fun nightlife takes places at the walkable restaurants on Howard Avenue. During the holidays, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park transforms into Winter Village, the Tampa Riverwalk hosts a lighted boat parade, The Nutcracker is performed at the Straz Center and you can meet Santa at the Florida Aquarium.

St. Petersburg is the second largest and has a completely different atmosphere. The city is known for it’s award-winning beaches, historic places and overall casual vibes. St. Pete has an extremely relaxed approach to life and fun, which is best witnessed in their many eclectic shops and restaurants in the downtown area. In December, the Sundial hosts free photos with Santa and snow falls every night, Snowfest is at North Straub Park, The Florida Orchestra performs at the Mahaffey Theatre and the Dali Museum will have special holiday displays.

Clearwater is the beachiest of the three cities, well-known among tourists as a beach vacation destination. In some areas, Clearwater has similar vibes to the Key West beach style, with more shopping, dining and live entertainment. In addition to the white sandy beaches, consider seeing the Holidays at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Downtown hosts a Holiday Extravaganza.

Stay in Celebration

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Celebration is Walt Disney Resort’s very own city, located only a couples miles from the theme parks and built with traditional American architecture. Residents have built a solid neighborhood tradition of Christmas festivities throughout the entire month of December. Celebration is a small 10 mile stretch of land, but there are plenty cute AirBnB rentals and hotels to stay in with access to Walt Disney World.

The town’s biggest draw during the holidays is Celebration’s Winter Wonderland, taking place at Town Center. Snow falls every single night, carriages pull festive riders along the streets, light shows take place on the buildings and ice skating is open to the public. Lakeside Park also puts on a Holiday Fest, where makeshift snow hills allow kids and adults to sled and tube to their heart’s content.

In addition to the fun in this small community, you have access to all that Walt Disney World has to offer. During December, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is going on in Magic Kingdom, Festival of the Holidays is taking place in Epcot and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), which is free to the public, has a Christmas Tree Trail, live entertainment and holiday magic around the shopping center.

Go Golfing

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Golfing is a popular past time all across the state of Florida and there are many resorts and cities with great courses. Some of the best you’ll find in December are down in South Florida where the weather remains temperate through the Winter, though there are some excellent courses in Central and North Florida that are hard to pass up.

One of the best under-the-radar recommendations is Streamsong Resort & Spa in Central Florida. It’s a little out of the way located on old phosphate property, so prepare to make this a vacation in and of itself. Streamsong is the perfect golf retreat featuring several high-class courses, with the Red course being it’s most popular and favorable. The resort is built for ultimate relaxation whether you play golf or prefer the spa treatments.

Another great choice is the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach toward the Northwestern part of Florida. It’s a 400-acre property beloved by some of golf’s most well-known pros who use it for the Tournament Players Championship each year. It’s self-described as the world headquarters of professional golf, which makes it an excellent place for a golf trip.

Visit Ocala

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Ocala is a lowkey destination in the Northern Central part of Florida, known for it’s abundance of horse farms, expert equestrian trainers and race tracks. It’s humbly renowned as the Horse Capital of the World. December marks the start of the Ocala Winter Circuit, a competition that lasts through March. Every week hosts a different equestrian competition with prizes ranging from $50k to $1mil.

Many of the over 1,200 horse farms located in Ocala will offer tours and horseback rides for families and groups. They also offer feeding and carriage rides for special occasions. But horse farms aren’t the only entertainment around this vast area; Ocala is also home to some of the most beautiful natural habitats in inland Florida.

Tourists will revel in the landscapes of both Silver Springs State Park and Ocala National Forest, featuring natural springs, waterways and tree-lined wetlands. Ocala also has Juniper Springs, Rainbow Springs State Park and KP Hole Park. At Christmas, Circle Square Commons will have a radiant light display, the Ocala Christmas Parade will march through downtown and guests can cut down their own Christmas tree at Ocala National Forest.

Best Florida Beaches in December

Beaches in Florida are always a good time, no matter the season, but December will tend to be a bit colder and windier than other times of the year. We’ve ranked the best beaches by weather in December for you to consider on your vacation around Christmastime.

Treasure Coast: Best All-Around

Giant Christmas tree sandcastle in West Palm Beach. Manny DaCunha / Shutterstock

The Treasure Coast is located just above Miami’s beaches and has some of the warmer temperatures – about 75.9°F (24.4°C) – you can experience in Florida in December. The cities that make up this area include West Palm and Palm Beach, popular beach towns known for glamorous residences on pristine white sands. There are many things to do in this area, making it a nice place to vacation.

Our top beach recommendations in this area are West Palm, Delray, Pompano, Palm Beach, and Boca Raton. All feature slightly different styles. Delray Beach not only has excellent beaches, but has a booming arts district. Pompano Beach has multiple diving sights to explore coral reefs and shipwrecks. Boca Raton is great for recreational activities like golf and shopping.

Gold Coast: Bustling Beaches

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The Gold Coast is located in the southwest side of Florida, comprised of the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas. Miami has the highest temperatures in Florida all year round, making it the top destination for December visitors who are looking to avoid the cold. The beaches in this area are very popular with tourists, so expect them to be fairly crowded, with water temps at 74.7°F (23.7°C).

Our top recommendations for Gold Coast beaches include Las Olas Beach, Miami Beach and South Beach. The best part about visiting this area is cruising down Ocean Drive, choosing from a wide variety of dining and hotel options and enjoying the night life in the city. Not to mention the vast number of holiday events going on in this busy metropolis.

The Florida Keys: Best Weather

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The Keys are an extremely popular destination all year round, and January is no exception. January offers a winter reprieve for snowbirds and tourists alike, so the Keys will also be packed with visitors this time of year. The water averages 74.5°F (23.6°C). Our favorite spots include beaches on Key West, Key Largo and Marathon, as well as Bahia Honda State Park and the Dry Tortugas National Park.

Some fun and unique things to do in this area include exploring historical places like the Hemingway House, the old civil war base at Fort Zachary Taylor and getting a picture at the Southernmost Point. We highly recommend flying in for those looking to do an extended weekend in the Keys, but driving from Miami will give you some of the most scenic ocean views you’ve ever witnessed.

Space Coast

Annual Christmas surfing in Cocoa Beach. Lori Barbely / Shutterstock

The Space Coast is located slightly north of Orlando on the Atlantic side of the state. Known as the home of Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral and the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, this area has been a popular Spring Break destination for decades. While the beaches don’t rock as much as they did in the early 2000’s, tourists still enjoy what the Space Coast has to offer.

December will be cooler on the Space Coast, with the water temperatures averaging 73.4°F (23°C) which is cold to Floridians, but vacationers may not mind. The best beaches on the Space Coast are Melbourne, Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach. All have a very similar structure and atmosphere, so choosing your location may be based on their proximity to Orlando – in which case Cocoa will be your best option.

Paradise Coast

Aerial shot of Sanibel Island & Captiva Island. Noah Densmore / Shutterstock

The Paradise Coast is opposite of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, featuring a more natural habitat and relaxing environment for winter visitors and older audiences. The area tends to be a most appealing setting for snowbirds, with lots of events and activities within a serene atmosphere. It’s also the closest coast to the Everglades, giving visitors a range of options and adventures for their Winter vacation.

The popular spots will be busy this time of year, but might not be hopping with people like you’d see in those previously mentioned. The waters are cool and clear, averaging 71.2°F (21.8°C). The top destinations on this coast are Marco Island, Naples, and Fort Myers.

Cultural Coast

We are most partial to the Cultural Coast as it’s been the favorite summer destination for our families since before we were born. In December, the water and weather will be slightly cooler than you’d experience farther South. The beaches are beautiful here, but the water will average 68.5°F (20.3°C).

Our best suggestions for visiting the Cultural Coast are Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Siesta Key and Sanibel Island. Anna Maria Island is the picturesque beach town with a very relaxed atmosphere that encourages walking and biking around the island. Longboat Key on the other hand puts on more of the ritz. Siesta Key has recreational accommodations for the whole family and Sanibel has a great natural habitat in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Preserve.

Sun Coast

The Sun Coast is north of the Cultural Coast on the Gulf side of the state, with similar weather to the Cultural Coast with water temps at 68.5°F (20.3°C). The Sun Coast boasts Tampa Bay’s best beaches, including Dunedin, Clearwater and St. Pete Beach. While these beaches are heavily marketed and popular with tourists, the coasts mentioned above will have more pristine offerings and lodging.

Our best recommendations for this area are to visit Caladesi Island State Park or Honeymoon Island State Park. Both require ferry trips from the mainland in Dunedin. These well-preserved state parks have designated dog-friendly areas, picnic tables and walking paths to take in the natural island habitats. You’re guaranteed to see gopher tortoises, sea turtles and ocean birds with every visit to these islands.

First Coast

The First Coast is Florida’s coldest coast on the Atlantic side, featuring the historical cities and beaches of St. Augustine, Jacksonville and the Sea Islands. The water temperatures in the month of December will be about 66.4°F (19.1°C). Visitors to this area will love the historical aspects of this region even more so than the beaches themselves this time of year.

St. Augustine is known as Florida’s oldest city and has many landmarks to explore, including the Castillo de San Marcos fort. Jacksonville is Florida’s most populous city with many parks, gardens and museums to experience. Amelia Island is the perfect escape for a luxury resort stay with upscale golf courses and shopping districts.

Emerald Coast

The Emerald Coast makes up Florida’s panhandle from Pensacola to Tallahassee. This coast will experience the coldest temperatures in Florida during the Winter, so expect December water temperatures to be around 64.4°F (18°C). Despite the colder weather, the Emerald Coast has a lot to offer in the month of December.

Our top beach recommendations in this area are Pensacola, South Walton Island, Destin and Panama City. Swimming may not be your top option this month, but beach walks and inland activities will make a great vacation. Pensacola has many museums to visit, while Panama City has several state parks to experience. South Walton has a great art scene and Destin has excellent golf courses and other recreational activities.

Top Florida Attractions in December

Walt Disney World

Christmas decorations inside Disney World’s Epcot park.

Walt Disney World is the vacation capital of the world, therefore it’s Florida’s biggest attraction. Walt Disney World is comprised of four different theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon). Disney is located outside of Orlando in Lake Buena Vista. In the month of December, the weather will be cool but dry and the parks will be very crowded.

Lots of park goers, whether they be locals or tourists, are at Disney this month to see all the Christmas festivities. Disney resorts are glittering with decorations and every single park is adorned with twinkling lights and festive decor.

The top events this month will be the Festival of the Holidays in Epcot, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom and the Flurry of Fun show in Hollywood Studios. By far, the most well-attended is the Christmas Party, which is a separately ticketed nighttime event with special shows, a parade, character meet and greets, as well as a firework spectacular.

Universal Orlando

Universal Studios decorated for the holidays. MontenegroStock / Shutterstock

Universal Orlando is Disney’s biggest rival, featuring two different theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) along with one water park (Volcano Bay). It’s located on the outskirts of Orlando and has it’s own resort accommodations for guests to enjoy. The parks are known for movie-themed roller coasters, rides and attractions for all ages.

Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort are going on with the entire park decorated for Christmas. There are special shows, menu items and character meet and greets going on throughout the park for all attendees to experience.

SeaWorld Orlando

Ice skating at SeaWorld Orlando. VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock

SeaWorld is most popular for it’s aquatic animals, shows and coasters. It’s very close to Universal Orlando and makes a great full day of entertainment. SeaWorld has recently added big roller coasters like Manta and Mako to up their thrill game for older audiences. There is plenty for people of all ages to enjoy inside this ocean-themed park.

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration kicked off in November through December full of holiday traditions, special treats, live entertainment, and more for families and people of all ages.

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens is the biggest theme park in the Tampa Bay area, located in north Tampa. It’s a great option for a full day to add into your weeklong vacation in Tampa, St. Petersburg or Clearwater, about 15 miles from the Tampa International Airport. Howl-O-Scream, Tampa Bay’s Bier Fest

Busch Gardens is known for it’s big coasters, like Cheetah Hunt and Kumba, along with it’s African themed animal habitats where guests can see wildlife in designated areas. Busch Gardens Christmas Celebration is going now through January, including a Winter Wonderland experience filled with Santa and friends, Christmas lights and holiday treats and entertainment.

Legoland

Legoland is one of Florida’s newest theme parks located in Winter Haven, right in the middle of Central Florida. As you can imagine, Legoland is entirely themed after these popular little toy blocks which have inspired movies, roller coasters and water rides. There’s even a Lego resort where you can stay on vacation.

Holidays at Legoland is underway in December, inviting guests to join in the Lego fun with festive decor, delicious food and special friends like Lego Santa, the Tin Man and the Gingerbread Man.

Gatorland

Gatorland is a lesser known amusement park when compared to the likes of Walt Disney World and Universal, but a popular attraction nonetheless. Visitors love to learn more about Florida’s swamp creatures and natural habitat in this fun experience. Gatorland is south of Orlando and offers ziplining fun, off-road adventures and petting areas. It doesn’t typically do a Christmas-themed event in December, but you’ll likely find holiday specials on ticket prices.

December Events in Florida

Santa’s Enchanted Forest

Touted as the “World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park”, this Miami event is filled with joy for people of all ages. For an entire month, guests can ride rollercoasters, see live entertainment, enjoy holiday treats and special foods, view twinkling lights and meet the big man himself.

Pensacola Winterfest

Pensacola’s Winterfest is a flurry of fun for families with young children to come meet Santa Claus and choose between two different experiences of entertainment. The Polar Express Tour is a fun event taking inspiration from the motion-picture’s hot chocolate scene and the brand new Cajun Christmas takes you on a tram ride to meet Papa Noel who will read a Cajun fairytale book by candlelight.

Ice! at the Gaylord Resort

This event held at the Gaylord Resort in Orlando every holiday season has been a popular experience that thousands of guests have thrilled to see. Ice! has a different theme each year, taking you on a walk through ice castles and sculptures inside the resort lobby. This huge display is kept up for over a month and visitors are given giant parkas upon entry.

Key West Holiday Fest

What Key West lacks in snow and that general White Christmas feeling, it makes up for with a spectacular display of lights around town. The Harbor Walk of Lights is aglow each evening throughout the month honoring the maritime history of the Keys. There’s an historic holiday inn tour and pets can even take pictures with Santa.

Sandi Land

West Palm Beach lights up with the annual Sandi Land. “Sandi” is the lovingly bestowed name for the city’s Christmas tree made entirely of sand. The spectacle of this artist creation is only part of the event – the whole month is booked with light shows, meeting Santa, a Plein Air fair, pancake breakfast and a sing-along storytime for children.

Nights of Lights

St. Augustine hosts this annual holiday event showcasing this city’s beautiful holiday light display, which adorns nearly every building with Spanish architecture in the downtown area. This enormous display can be seen for free every night from mid-November through early January.

“Merry and Bright”

The Orlando Museum puts on this special showcase featuring the Festival of Trees. The trees are elegantly decorated with different themes and accompanied by various vignettes, gingerbread houses, Christmas wreaths and other accessories on display. Not only can you view these items at the museum – all of them are available for purchase so you can take the lovely decor home!

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve events are happening in every single city across the state, some elaborate and some modest, but all fun and enjoyable for all. Depending on where you end up, check out the local events to see where the New Year will be celebrated in town with either fireworks or a big party.

Conclusion

We told you there’d be plenty to do on a December vacation to Florida! Whether you choose to stay in a coastal city to experience Christmas on the beach, visit the theme parks for the ultimate holiday or select a more relaxing environment for the season, you’re sure to have a Christmas to remember.

Let us know if you choose to visit Florida in December and tell us your thoughts on how the trip went!

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