With 825 miles of sandy beaches, thousands of lakes and freshwater springs, Florida is just the watery winter warmup you want right now. In the state's southwest, the Fort Myers area has always been particularly popular with Minnesotans, but that region is still on the mend from the impacts of Hurricane Ian in 2022.

Here's the good news: There are still a dozen Sunshine State airports that receive direct flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul. For each airport, we've recommended a nearby destination where you can get to fun and sun quickly.

Florida airports with direct flights from MSP

1. Santa Rosa Beach

The airport: Destin-Fort Walton Beach (VPS).

Airlines from MSP: Delta, Sun Country, Allegiant.

Northwest Florida beckons with baby-powder sands and water that laps at the shoreline in a robin's egg hue. The Gulf of Mexico is quite a bit cooler than at points south in Florida during the winter, but the reward comes in uncrowded stretches of sand at spots like Santa Rosa Beach and Grayton Beach State Park, where you'll find cabins for rent in the pinewoods and unique coastal dune lakes. The 85-room Lodge 30A opened in 2023 in Seagrove Beach and has a hiking trail from the parking lot that leads right into a state forest.

2. Crystal River

The airport: Tampa International (TPA).

Airlines: Delta, Sun County, Southwest.

For a switchup from the beach but with plenty of clear water to dip into and small-town vibes, Crystal River is the spot to swim and snorkel with wild manatees through March. The docile marine mammals arrive at the warmer spring waters within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to heat up from the chilly Gulf of Mexico. Head out on self-guided tours or guided pontoon boat trips from operators like Paddles Outdoor Rentals or make it easy and stay at Plantation on Crystal River, which has a spa and waterside tiki bar.

3. Pass-a-Grille Beach

The airport: St. Pete-Clearwater (PIE).

Airlines: Sun Country.

Ask a Tampa Bay local what their favorite area beach is for Sunday Funday with the family and they'll likely say Pass-a-Grille Beach, once a stop for 19th-century fishermen to grill their catch and now a quaint coastal burg. The town has old Florida charm in spades and the beach, buffered by dunes, is idyllic for sunset. Head down to the sand for it or snag an alfresco table at the Rooftop Lounge at boutique Berkeley Beach Club. For another incredible beach, make the 15-minute drive to Fort DeSoto Park's completely undeveloped sands.

4. Longboat Key

The airport: Sarasota Bradenton International (SRQ).

Airlines: Delta, Sun Country, Allegiant.

With just a few public access points along its 10 miles of Gulf front, Longboat Key stays largely crowd-free in most stretches, even during snowbird season. Condo-style accommodations await at retro properties like Sand Cay Beach Resort. The newly opened and Palm Springs-inspired Mello on the Beach is another fine spot for a Gulf-front stay. Plan for a visit to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's excellent local wildlife exhibits and at least one lobster roll at Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, a waterfront favorite smack on Sarasota Bay.

5. Sebring and Lake Placid

The airport: Punta Gorda (PGD).

Airlines: Allegiant (also with nonstop service from St. Cloud Regional Airport); Sun Country.

It's easy to overlook Florida's interior lakes, but you'll be surprised by the natural beauty at these lakeside towns 65 miles from Punta Gorda. Book a room at Inn on the Lakes and wake up to chattering ibis. Most Floridians think it's too cold, but you can go for a dip at Lake Jackson and City Pier Beach in Sebring. Highlands Hammock State Park is home to cypress swamps, black bears and the Florida panther. In Lake Placid, hit the Saturday farmers market and Morty & Edna's, where the weekend special is a banging shrimp and grits. Go on a lake cruise with June Lake Pontoons. This is inland Florida at its most delightful.

6. Naples

The airport: Southwest Florida International (RSW).

Airlines: Sun Country, Delta, Frontier.

Fort Myers' airport is open, but while its beaches recover from Hurricane Ian you're better off driving south to Naples. Base yourself at a luxe oceanfront property like LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort or the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, with $50 million in new upgrades. If you prefer to stay near the European-style boutique and cafe-lined 5th Avenue South, the Inn on Fifth is swanky and central, with a lovely rooftop pool. The best beach is at Clam Pass Park, accessed via a free golf cart shuttle along a gorgeous boardwalk through the mangroves.

7. Amelia Island

The airport: Jacksonville International (JAX).

Airlines: Delta, Sun Country.

North Florida is chilly on some winter nights, but it's worth visiting for incredible, dune-backed beaches home to threatened gopher tortoises, like the 13-mile stretch on Amelia Island. Splurge at the beachfront Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and wake up to sweeping Atlantic views. Finish your day searching for shark's teeth on guided walks. Historic downtown Fernandina Beach has brick streets and brims with comfort food eateries and cute boutiques. Book a boat ride on a shrimping eco tour with Amelia River Cruises to explore the scenic marshes.

8. New Smyrna Beach

The airport: Orlando International (MCO).

Airlines: Delta, Sun Country, Southwest, Frontier.

An hour's drive northeast from Orlando brings you to this surf-centric town where you can steer your rental car out onto the sand in some stretches (a local tradition tied to the area's auto-racing heritage). There are plenty of beachfront hotels and condos for rent. But consider staying along the Indian River at the gorgeous little Black Dolphin Inn, with 14 rooms and a mean Southern breakfast served daily. New Smyrna Beach has miles of wide, hard-packed sand perfect for strolling, shelling and just inhaling the fresh ocean air.

9. Cocoa Beach

The airport: Melbourne Orlando International (MLB).

Airlines: Sun Country.

This Space Coast town's appeal comes in its utterly laid-back character and natural beauty. The best place to stay on the beachfront is in South Cocoa Beach, tucked just back from the billowing dunes at Beach Place Guesthouses, where rooms are shaded by tropical foliage and there are loaner surfboards and hammocks. Check the commercial rocket launch schedule from Cape Canaveral to see if something will light up the sky during your stay. Down on Earth, don't miss sipping a piña colada at the classic Coconuts on the Beach.

10. Palm Beach

The airport: Palm Beach International (PBI).

Airlines: Delta, Sun Country.

If you've never experienced Florida's gold coast during its peak winter social season, you're in for some serious people watching. Base at the state's most storied grande dame hotel, The Breakers, for the best of it and a prime oceanfront setting, great golf and an excellent spa. Bike along the lovely Palm Beach Lake Trail, which passes mansion after mansion. Pedal across the bridge to West Palm Beach for more budget-friendly shopping and dining along Clematis Street than what you'd find on tonier Worth Avenue.

11. Fort Lauderdale Beach

The airport: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL).

Airlines: Delta, Sun Country.

Fort Lauderdale Beach long ago shed its party-hearty, spring break reputation, but the town stays balmy and bikini-clad year-round. Pelican Grand Beach Resort is one of the best hotels for a stay directly on the sand. Ride the Water Taxi to downtown Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk and Las Olas Boulevard, packed with restaurants (Ann's Florist & Coffee Bar is a breakfast delight), bars and shops. There are 24 miles of beaches, but Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park is the area's most spectacular natural setting.

12. Islamorada

The airport: Miami International (MIA).

Airlines: American, Spirit, Delta, Sun Country.

You hardly have to make the 3.5-hour drive to Key West for a taste of the Florida Keys. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Islamorada, where you can snorkel and dive coral reefs and shipwrecks, feed the giant tarpon schooling under the docks at Robbie's Marina and lodge waterfront at Amara Cay Resort or the historic Cheeca Lodge & Spa. Do your part to fight invasive species by feasting on lionfish sushi at Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar, alongside a canal where manatees can be spotted.

Tampa-based travel writer Terry Ward enjoys scuba diving and kayaking.