The Best Destinations In Florida To See Mesmerizing Bioluminescent Waves, According To Visitors

You might have seen videos of boats paddling through dark waters where every time an oar touches the surface, the waves crackle with electric blue lights. Sometimes, if the weather is just right, you can find coastal waters and lagoons in Florida emitting this mysterious glow. Spots around Cocoa Beach, Space Coast, and the Indian River Lagoon system are famous for it. This ghostly light might look like wizardry, but in reality, it's a fascinating natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence.


It comes from a type of plankton called dinoflagellates — glowing animals so small that they can't resist the powerful pull of the ocean's current and go wherever the waves take them. When enough of them end up in the same spot, anything that disrupts the water causes a shimmering wave of light to erupt out of the dark water. Unfortunately, this event can be tricky to predict — it's really about being in the right place and the right time. The right time really depends on the season and the weather conditions. According to stunning videos and glowing reviews across social media, these are the right places.

Indian River Lagoon

There are tons of underrated state parks in Florida, but one that you definitely won't want to miss is the Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park. It is full of marshes and mangroves, perfect for Florida's natural wildlife. It's home to thousands of species of plants and animals and an important nesting place for sea turtles. In the water, you can also find bioluminescent plankton. When the many fish in the lagoon leap out of the water with the current, they sometimes leave streaks of glowing blue light behind them.


There are numerous kayaking tours available throughout the area, particularly on dark nights in the height of summer. The temperature might be oppressive and the air thick with mosquitoes, but the shimmering light in the water makes it all worth it. However, if you can't handle the heat, the concentration of plankton here is so high that it might even be worth checking it out even in the off-season.

"You can see it most of the year," one local said of the Indian River Lagoon on their channel Islands n Highlands. "Our county's tourist website claims that it's the best July through September, but we actually just saw some, we're here, it's like, early December and we just saw some of the most amazing bioluminescence we've ever seen."


Mosquito Lagoon

Don't be put off by the name. Let's face it, there's a reason most tourists want to avoid visiting Florida in the summer. If you're planning to go out in a kayak after dark on a slow-flowing lagoon in Florida in the summertime, you're going to have to deal with mosquitoes — at least Mosquito Lagoon isn't hiding it. Luckily, the water has more than mosquito larvae — there are also manatees, dolphins, and little bioluminescent dinoflagellates. If you go out in the right conditions, as soon as the sun sets over this lagoon (part of the wider Indian River Lagoon system along Space Coast), the paddles of your boat will start leaving blue trails through the water from the plankton.


While it's not bioluminescence, sometimes you'll see pulsing, colorful comb jellyfish in the water at Mosquito Lagoon. Don't worry; these tiny glowing creatures don't sting, so unlike the mosquitoes, they won't hurt you — just add to the incredible underwater light show.

Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge

When you're hoping to see bioluminescence, your biggest enemy is light. Even if the conditions are perfect, if there's too much light pollution, you're not going to be able to get a particularly impressive look at the glowing blue water below you. Fortunately, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has almost no unnatural light, so when you head out on the water, you'll only be competing with the moon and stars.


The area of coastal Florida known as Space Coast was technically set aside for the U.S. space program, but they are also used as wildlife preserves. One of these is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, best known as a place where birds stop, rest, and prepare for the next leg of their migration. In the little inlets and coves around the shore, you can sometimes see bioluminescent plankton and even glowing comb jellyfish. While Florida locals on Tripadvisor have warned that it's hard to see the bioluminescent glow from land at Merritt Island, a kayak is ideal for catching a glimpse of it. One user on Reddit suggested that if you're traveling to Merritt Island, you should visit Kelly Park after 9 p.m. during a new moon for the best views.


Thousand Islands Conservation Area

When looking for the best place to see bioluminescence in Florida, many locals and travelers will give you the same answer: Cocoa Beach. If you're interested in walking along the shore, you'll certainly see some interesting wildlife (just don't make the mistake of feeding the gulls on the beach), but where exactly should you go to see the water shimmer? You have a few good options, but the best might just be Thousand Islands Lagoon in the larger Indian River Lagoon system.


As explained on Reddit by a marine biologist who works as a tour guide around Cocoa Beach, Thousand Islands stands apart because of the other wildlife in the water, like dolphins and alligators. Not only will you get the light show of a lifetime, but there's no chance of missing anything else swimming in the dark water. Just like the paddles of a kayak, these larger aquatic animals set off the glimmering blue lights when they move through the water, imbuing them with a shimmering aura.


The kind of plankton that causes this exciting phenomenon can be found in several different underwater habitats around the world, but those in Florida tend to live in brackish lagoons. Like other forms of algae, they require a certain amount of sunlight every day, so the Sunshine State is a perfect fit for these tiny glowing plankton. We've selected spots where bioluminescent dinoflagellates are often spotted on dark summer nights, using general areas frequented by the most popular local Florida tour guides and other spots recommended by the official tourism marketing corporation for the state of Florida. From there, we combed social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, as well as travel reviews and blogs, to find out which spots visitors and locals reported seeing the most impressive bioluminescence.