Yes, there are theme parks. But theme parks aren’t the only reason to head to Florida. The Sunshine State also is home to great beach towns, the natural wonders of Old Florida, unique wildlife (and not just the alligators!), even the place where Amish snowbirds head for the winter. This guide lists our 21 favorite spots for a fabulous Florida vacation for families.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Visit Florida and it contains affiliate links.
The more than 100 million visitors a year make Florida one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the USA. And it’s not only because those families are heading to Disney World or Universal Studios in Orlando. With its beaches, diverse ecosystem, history and wildlife, Florida offers a vacation option for just about every family.
Here are 21 of our favorite spots for a Florida vacation for families. They’re listed in alphabetical order because we simply couldn’t choose which one we like best.
If you’re looking for the best Florida beaches, you’ll want to plan a visit to Clearwater, Florida. The white sugar sand beaches stretch for miles, so even when it’s crowded, it doesn’t feel that way. Rent chairs and umbrellas at spots along the beach to be more comfortable and get the kids out of the searing Florida sun. There are lots of great places to eat just a short walk away. When you’ve had enough time playing in the water and on the beach, head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to teach the kids about injured and rescued marine animals. It’s one of the best family-friendly things to do Clearwater.
TravelingMom Tip: When visiting Clearwater Beach take a day trip to Honeymoon Island State Park. It’s well worth the 25-minute drive to see one of the best-loved Florida state parks. Plan to spend an afternoon swimming and soaking in the stunning views.
One of the best parts of a Cocoa Beach vacation, besides enjoying the great beach, is that you are a short drive from Kennedy Space Center. Go explore space, complete with onsite astronauts, rockets, and plenty of fun for everyone at this world-class Florida attraction. Don’t leave without trying space ice cream. Splurge on lunch with an astronaut. It’s a unique opportunity to eat a tasty meal, learn about his or her space mission and have a photo opp.
Cocoa Beach offers surf lessons, and families flock to the Cocoa Beach Pier for a meal and just to hang out. Arcades are plentiful, too. Pelican’s Bar & Grill is a fun spot for family dining. Try the Lobster Mac & Cheese.
A great place to stay in the area is at the Inn at Cocoa Beach. It includes a yummy breakfast and has beachfront access. The hotel also offers a wine and cheese reception for adults each evening and has a primo rooftop spot for watching rocket launches.
The white sand beaches are just one of the many reasons why Destin has become my happy place and one of the few places I visit over and over again. If had to choose my favorite spot for Florida vacations for families, Destin would be it. It’s very family-friendly and you’ll never run out of things to do or places to eat and shop.
My recommendations for your visit:
- If you have kids under the age of 10 take them on the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. This 2-hour cruise is an absolute blast for little ones.
- Spend an afternoon at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
- Try the Key Lime Cocktail at the Hogs Breath Saloon.
- Add a dollar to the already 1 million dollar bills hanging in Mcguire’s Irish pub.
- Take the kids for a fun afternoon at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park.
- Spend an evening shopping and dining at the Harborwalk Village.
Does someone in your family love fishing? Destin is known as the world’s luckiest fishing village! While walking the beach at night, we have struck up conversations with visitors from all over the world who come to fish in Destin. If your family is up for an adventure, try kayaking or snorkeling while visiting Destin and get a real taste of the Emerald Coast.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re traveling with a large group, consider renting a beachfront house or condo. We found accommodations just a short walk from the beach were ideal for big family groups. If you’re looking for budget-friendly accommodations, consider staying in Fort Walton which is close to Destin.
We chose the “Venice of America” for our multigenerational vacation because it offered enough variety to keep everyone happy. There was plenty of shopping and the many food options made meal times a breeze. We rented a house with a pool so those of us with young kids could get a break from the beach when we needed it.
We all had a great time on the Jungle Queen riverboat ride and strolling the Riverwalk that lines both sides of the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The kids had fun at the Museum of Discovery and Science, one of the largest in Florida. And it’s the Venice of America, right? So we took a fun gondola ride along the canals.
One of our favorite memories as a family is the day trip we took to nearby Hollywood, Florida, for a mural tour. We spent an entire afternoon treasure hunting with our three girls as we searched for 24 murals scattered throughout downtown. We also loved hanging out at the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk. Travel + Leisure magazine named this 2.5-mile-long boardwalk one of America’s best. The kids loved buying fresh coconuts and shopping for souvenirs.
TravelingMom Tip: Consider renting a boat for the day when visiting Fort Lauderdale! It was a highlight during our trip to Fort Lauderdale.
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If you’re looking for a Florida vacation for families that offers beautiful beaches and room to explore, Fort Myers is a great option. Check out Bowditch Point Park. It’s at the northernmost end of Estero Island and has 17 acres of white sand beaches. Take a break from the beach and let the kids get some shade while you explore the nearby wooded trails.
If you’re visiting with older kids and science nerds, don’t miss a visit to the Ford and Edison Winter Estate along the Caloosahatchee River. The draw here is Thomas Edison’s workshop, which looks like he just left and will return soon to finish his latest experiment. Skip this if you’re traveling with younger kids. There are expansive lawns for them to run on, but very little in the way of interactive features to keep them focused on the museum.
The Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers is the place to be from November to March. That’s when the manatees come to visit. This park has a protected sanctuary with an observation platform. Once you’re done admiring the manatees, check out the guided walks and educational activities. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!
TravelingMom Tip: Remember hurricane season is 5 months long in Florida, starting on June 1st. Read this to prepare for severe weather when you’re traveling.
Gainesville has some impressive educational museums, including the Florida Museum of Natural History. Its butterfly rainforest exhibit may be the best in the country. Rent bikes and ride around town to see the cool street art and University of Florida campus. My favorite Gainesville activity is seeing a performance at The Hippodrome, the savvy college theater referred to as “The Hipp.” My children thought the acting was just as good as on Broadway!
Gainesville has yummy restaurants, such as The Top and Satchel’s Pizza. At The Top, opt for the healthy choices including Tempeh and Tofu. If you aren’t that adventurous, go for the Buffalo Tenders and Corn Nuggets, great family-friendly choices.
Jax, as this town is affectionately known, lies at the intersection of I-95 and I-10, which makes it an easy southeast USA road trip. It’s another great beachy spot, with 22 miles of coastline. But beaches aren’t the only outdoor draw in this northeast Florida destination. Jacksonville also boasts the largest urban park system in the country with 3 national park properties, 7 state parks and more than 400 city parks. That doesn’t even count the arboretum and dozens of unique gardens.
It might be the largest city in Florida, but Jacksonville retains a small town feel. Catch a touring Broadway musical at the Florida Theatre or admire the art at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, with its amazing bridge photo ops. Jacksonville has some impressive street art and statues that make for fun Instagram shots, too.
Foodie spots in Jacksonville include a seafood meal at the surf-themed Salt Life Food Shack where the Tuna Tostada is a perfect appetizer choice and the Hawaiian Shrimp Bowl can’t be missed. Take the kids to Sweet Pete’s Candy store to satisfy their sweet tooth. The Candy Apple Cafe + Cocktails has delicious sandwiches, salads and creamy Mac ‘n Cheese with candied bacon.
TravelingMom Tip: The best Florida vacations for families include visiting several unique places in the state all in one trip!
Key West is famous for its beautiful sunsets — and the quirky sunset celebration each night. The southernmost of the Florida Keys, Key West is best enjoyed by families with slightly older kids. The tropical warm waters and some of the most amazing coral reefs in Florida make Key West a prime spot for snorkeling, sailing, parasailing, and other ocean adventures. It is easily one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Florida. There’s also a fun just-scary-enough ghost tour and the 6-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House.
If you’re staying in Key West, don’t miss a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s the southernmost of the US National Parks and reachable via a two-hour boat ride. With its shallow reefs and clear blue Gulf waters, the Dry Tortugas have some of the best snorkeling. Or you can stay on land and tour Fort Jefferson, a massive but unfinished maritime fort. It’s one of the 17 best things to do in Key West with teens and tweens.
TravelingMom Tip: Key Largo, 2 hours north of Key West, is the self-proclaimed Dive Capital of the World. Plan to visit both destinations if you have scuba divers in your group.
We know Miami is a popular destination for Spring Break and that it has a very trendy nightlife but is it family-friendly? TravelingMom Terry Ward says: “I’ve visited Miami more times than I can count. But after I had kids a few years ago, I wondered if I’d be as enamored with the city as before. It turns out there’s just as much to do in Miami Beach as a family — from city to beach to bay to river.”
Explore the colorful murals of the Wynwood neighborhood, dance to the music in Little Havana, or take older kids to visit the Holocaust Museum. And, of course, spend time at the beach. Miami Beach is one of the most popular beaches in all of South Florida. Plan to stay near the beach. There’s a hotel to fit every family’s personality, like these two fun but very different Miami Beach hotels.
And a family vacation in Miami doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of free things to do in Miami with kids.
Naples is best known for high-end shopping and dining options. The high cost of living there might lead you to believe that it’s not an ideal location for families looking for an affordable vacation. However, it’s very welcoming and is a popular destination among a variety of vacationers. In fact, there are a ton of free things to do in the area with kids. Naples offers a quiet and relaxing getaway with some world-class culture and fine dining. The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is very popular with families. It has 7 miles of private beach and an 18-hole golf course.
After only one visit to Navarre Beach, I added it to my top favorite destinations in all of Florida. It’s been called “Florida’s Best Kept Secret.” This hidden gem may be one of the best beaches off the Gulf of Mexico. It has the same beautiful beaches as Destin and Panama City, but half the crowds. Visit Florida describes Navarre as a community that offers “solitude and simplicity.” I couldn’t agree more!
When visiting Navarre, you must rent paddle boards from Sage Paddle Company. Stop in to chat with Sage herself and ask her to tell you the story of how she started her company. At 11 years old, she took out a $5,000 loan from her dad to start her business. She paid him back in just 17 days! We rented a scooter from Sage and cruised down the Gulf Islands National Seashore with its white sand dunes and emerald blue water. Or take a walk on the pier in the Gulf of Mexico for fantastic views of the Gulf’s clear waters and stop at the one of my favorite Navarre Beach restaurants.
Navarre has so many treasures; it’s one of my favorite towns in the state.
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If you’re not a fan of the beach, but you still love nature, head to Ocala. Beautiful natural forests are a big part of the draw of the Ocala area. Take a dip in the natural springs at KP Hole State Park or explore the gardens in Silver Springs state park.
TravelingMom Allison Taylor discovered Ocala on a road trip home to Louisville from Orlando. After taking a zipline that goes on for more than a mile, she and her family had a picnic lunch next to a natural spring. Then they took a dip in the crystal clear springs, where the water stays a constant 72 degrees all year long. A ride on a glass bottom boat ride at Silver Springs State Park gave them an up-close look at thousands of fish, turtles and an alligator. Seeing the gator made her very happy they were in a boat!
Since Ocala is the “Horse Capital of the World,” you simply must take a tour with Horse Country Carriage Company and Tours. Knowledgeable guide Kimie educates and entertains while taking you on a ride through the farms at the heart of “horse country.” You can bring your own horse to ride the 100-mile horse trail at the Ocala National Forest. Or book a horseback ride there. Allison’s husband, who prefers a different mode of transportation, headed to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
If there is one destination in Florida that screams FAMILY FUN, it would be Orlando. It’s home to more than a dozen theme parks and is the #1 vacation destination in the USA. We love visiting Cinderella’s Castle and waving to Mickey, but outside of Disney World, Orlando has so much more to offer. Find out where to eat, shop, relax and eat again in this 2-day itinerary for Orlando. If you’re not driving, you’ll need this info about flying into Orlando. Those two different terminals at the airport can get confusing.
If you’re heading to Orlando to spend time at the theme parks, here’s what you need to know:
- Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation
- Complete Guide to Universal Studios
- Legoland Florida Resort
- Tips for Visiting SeaWorld
TravelingMom Tip: Need attraction tickets? Buy theme park tickets at a discount through our partners at Get Away Today.
Panama City is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the state; you’ll see kids of all ages vacationing here. If you’re into water sports, head to Panama City for kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing. If you’re vacationing with teenagers, consider booking a fishing, scuba diving or a snorkeling excursion.
TravelingMom Tip: Panama City and Panama City Beach are two different cities located near one another. You will find 27 miles of white sand beaches in Panama City Beach. It’s also home to one of the top water parks in Florida called Shipwreck Island Waterpark.
We fly into Pensacola when we’re visiting a destination off the Emerald Coast. All naval pilots train in Pensacola and it’s home to the Blue Angels Naval aerobatics team so you never what you’re going to see in the sky!
The beaches are phenomenal here and you’ll find tons of families along the shoreline. We’ve spent time shopping and dining in Pensacola even when we’re staying in nearby cities. TravelingMom Maria Smith, who has four kids, says, “Pensacola also offers some great values on many things to do. This year-round beach destination can really give your budget a break.” Even better, there are plenty of free things to do in Pensacola.
If lighthouses and seashells bring a smile to your face, then Sanibel Island should be your Florida vacation destination. The beaches are loaded with seashells, so it’s a great place for the kids to search for natural treasures!
Nature is the big draw here. Plan to spend the better part of a day exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Take a tram (OK, it’s a bus with a fancy name) for a 90-minute narrated tour of the refuge. It will stop along the way to watch the more than 245 species of birds and scores of alligators and other reptiles do their thing, oblivious to spectators.
Book passage on a dolphin-watching cruise to see these graceful mammals play in the wake and preen for pictures. If you time it right, you’ll also get to see one of Sanibel’s Instagram-worthy sunsets from the water. Then treat the kids to dessert at the quirky Bubble Room on Captiva Island, where every day is Christmas and one slice of cake is big enough for the whole family.
Sanibel is one of the most expensive places for a family vacation in Florida with lots of luxury resorts. If you prefer more budget-friendly accommodations, I recommend staying in nearby Fort Myers and taking a day trip to Sanibel Island.
This is the town that draws Amish snowbirds escaping the cold winters of the Midwest and Northeast USA. For that reason, it’s also the best place to get incredible fried chicken and pie — at Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village. My mouth waters remembering the lunch we ate there! Eating is just one of the fun things to do in Sarasota with kids. Our favorites include a visit to the Ringling Estate and Circus Museum and renting kayaks to explore the mangroves and waterways. While we kept an eye out for gators, we were awed by the mama, daddy and baby manatees that swam alongside our kayaks for 20 minutes.
Here are 5 family-friendly beaches in Sarasota:
- Siesta Key Beach
- Lido Beach
- Nokomis Beach
- Caspersen Beach
- Manasota Beach
Stick around at the end of the day for a rousing drum circle on certain evenings at Siesta, Nokomis and Manasota beaches. The kids can dance while the parents sip a little wine and marvel at the colorful characters who come out at night to dance while the sun goes down.
Looking for more luxury? Here’s how to have a luxury vacation in Sarasota.
St. Augustine claims the title as the “Nation’s Oldest City.” It showcases centuries-old Spanish architecture and cultural sites that make it a great spot for history lovers. The beaches, blessed with year-round mild weather, are gorgeous.
TravelingMom founder Kim Orlando and her teens found plenty to love about this city on the northeast coast of Florida. While the beaches are a draw for many families (shark tooth hunting is practically a competitive sport here!), Kim and her crew got a golf vibe from their Jacksonville vacation. It’s where Kim and her youngest son, then 12, got their first golf lessons. Her older son, then 17 and an aspiring professional golfer, lingered at Jack Nicklaus’ locker in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Jacksonville also boasts a burgeoning food scene and beautiful Amelia Island is close by. It makes a great day trip. There’s geocaching for kids and a quaint downtown with fudge making.
Some of our favorite things to do in St. Augustine with the whole family:
- Anastasia Mini-Golf
- St. Augustine Wild Reserve
- St. Augustine Aquarium
- St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
This destination in Florida is known for more than just award-winning beaches; St. Petersburg holds the title for the “most consecutive days with sunshine” at 768 days! It’s also home to the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s artwork outside of Spain.
TravelingMom Yvonne Jasinski recommends the Great Exploration Museum and Sunken Gardens as budget-friendly and fun for families.
This Florida city attracts people of all ages, tastes and budgets. TravelingMom Kristin Shaw says, “Tampa has a colorful history and sweet secrets to share. And it can hold its own in the busy tourism belt of Florida. Whether you are a fan of amusement parks, quiet paths through the city, animal life, nightlife, or a culinary adventure (or, if you’re like our family, all of the above), Tampa has a lot to offer.” Head to Apollo Beach to see the manatees during winter months at the free Manatee Viewing Center. Check out these 17 fun things to do in Tampa with kids.
Busch Gardens (the 335-acre African-themed animal theme park) and the Florida Aquarium are the two must-visit places in Tampa with the family. Also, did you know that Tampa, Florida is home to the Big Cat Rescue owned by Carole Baskin? She’s the woman made famous by the Netflix series Tiger King.
Located off Florida’s Atlantic Coast midway between Jacksonville and Miami, Vero is an upscale destination. TravelingMom Melody Pittman lives in Vero and she says Vero Beach is a tropical paradise on Florida’s Treasure Coast and the Atlantic Ocean. While there aren’t the bells and whistles for younger kids, those with older children can enjoy the Environmental Learning Center, visiting the manatees at Round Island, Historic Dodgertown Stadium, and all the perks of the beach and typical outdoor offerings. There’s even a Disney Resort in town, a stellar property in a private setting that offers a peaceful reprieve from busy beach life. Be sure to squeeze in a stroll through McKee Botanical garden and lunch oceanfront at Waldo’s at the historic Driftwood Resort.
Do you know of another destination that should be added to this list of the best Florida vacations for families? Let us know by leaving a comment!