Florida fits the bill for most families when they start talking vacation. Though Walt Disney World is by far the most visited attraction in Florida, Southern TravelingMom reminds us that there is much more to the Sunshine State. See where this local recommends for super Florida family vacation ideas that are an alternative to the major theme parks.
6 Florida Family Vacation Ideas
When you think of vacation ideas in Florida, you generally picture packing up your family in the car for a trip to Disney, with no time for rest and relaxation. Instead, why not opt to soak up the sun in another popular Florida destination? Whether your family is looking for water activities, great food, museums, or other big draw attractions, Florida has something for everyone. Here are 6 super Florida family vacation ideas, besides Disney, that works well for a great and memorable trip.
1. Jacksonville/Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Even as the largest city in Florida, Jacksonville Beach has all the perks of being a big city with a small town feel. Partake in all of the typical Florida beach activities on the sandy shores of Jacksonville Beach, followed by a seafood meal at the surf-themed Salt Life Food Shack. The Tuna Tostada is a perfect appetizer choice and the Hawaiian Shrimp Bowl can’t be missed.
More refined vacation opportunities lie in the city of Jacksonville, too. 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 photo ops too, so get that camera or smartphone ready! We really enjoyed the Alhambra Theatre, a local company that has been entertaining the community for over 50 years. Dinner is included (and tasty I might add) and the acting, costumes, and props are superb.
Be sure to take your family to Sweet Pete’s Candy store to satisfy their sweet tooth. You can even go on a tour and see how and where the candies are made. Pop in the onsite restaurant, Candy Apple Cafe + Cocktails, for delicious sandwiches and salads, or my favorite, the creamy Mac ‘n Cheese with candied bacon.
2. Clearwater Beach, Florida
It is no wonder that Clearwater Beach lands on every list of favorite Florida places to visit. Clearwater is my favorite beach because it is only steps from the street and absolutely gorgeous. The sugary-sand is incredibly fine and doesn’t burn your feet either.
Clearwater’s Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival is a fun activity to enjoy where you can watch onsite sand sculptors create masterpieces from only sand.
Winter and Hope, from the Dolphin Tales movies, are housed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rehabilitation hospital/center that is one of the best museums in Florida. Hope, the dolphin, loves to play. Drag a piece of paper along the window of her tank and she will follow along with it; she is very fun! You can also see river otters, sea turtles, and pelicans at this cool stop. Ride in a fun party-inspired pirate ship or the Little Toot Tugboat to see dolphins.
Luxurious travelers should book a room at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, a fantastic hotel with great pools, tasty restaurants, stylish rooms, and gorgeous decor. Once you check it, it is hard leaving and going back to reality.
3. Gainesville, Florida
Gainesville has some impressive educational museums that your family is sure to love. At the Florida Museum of Natural History, exhibits range from Waterways & Wildlife and Florida Fossils to the best butterfly rainforest exhibit maybe 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!
Since my kids are older, they also found the Florida Fun Bikes, where you pedal through town on a 12-seat cycle, complete with adult libations, a blast.
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. Anything you choose at Satchel’s Pizza will delight your taste buds but my fave is the Satch Salad. Grab a cookie from Cookiegazm that will rock your world, like the La Cookieta, a peanut butter cookie drenched with condensed milk and sliced bananas, or the PBJ.
4. Hollywood, Florida
On the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale lies Hollywood, an affordable South Florida vacation spot that is incredibly beautiful. If your kids are old enough, take a Segway tour with Ultimate Florida Tours and ride on the Anne Kolb nature trail as well as the famous Broadwalk. If they aren’t of age, tandem bikes would be a fun alternative.
Stop at the Margaritaville Hotel for lunch or dinner, or just to admire the facilities and great beach views. Adventure-lovers may want to try out the surf simulator on the corner of the Broadwalk at Margaritaville.
Learn more about the arts by visiting the Art and Culture Center Hollywood (don’t miss the green man). Then, drive around town to see the fantastic Downtown Hollywood Mural Project’s street murals.
Share a fine-dining experience in a casual setting at Gigi’s, the most popular spot in town. If Florida Stone Crab is in season, do not miss this delicacy. You can arrive at Gigi’s via Hollywood water taxi, which is a real treat. Afterward, head over to Surf N Spray for a yummy scoop of ice cream on the beach.
5. Siesta Key, Florida
Siesta Key is a gorgeous, natural Florida beach setting that combines family favorite beach activities with Old Florida charm. At only eight miles long, the white quartz sand beaches and turquoise waters of Siesta Key are as welcoming as the friendly locals. Try your hand at paddleboarding or fishing, both popular water activities there.
I like staying in a darling cottage, such as the ones at Siesta Key Bungalows that have a swimming pool, fishing area, and kayaks/bikes that you can borrow on your Florida family vacation. Be sure to keep your eye out for manatee sightings.
For a good meal, head to the Hub Baja Grill in downtown Siesta Key for a great piece of salmon or peel & eat shrimp. Treat the kids to dessert from SunniBunni Siesta Key.
Siesta Key is minutes from Sarasota. Take your family there to explore the Ringling, a collection of memorabilia and exhibits from the famed circus family.
6. Cocoa Beach, Florida
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, a childhood treat I indulge in with each visit. Splurge on lunch with an astronaut for a unique opportunity. The food is tasty plus you will learn about their space missions and have a photo op.
Cocoa Beach offers surf lessons, so if that is of interest, you are in the right spot. 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. I recommend 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. It even has a primo rooftop spot for watching rocket launches.
Florida Family Ideas Inspired by Beautiful Things
Hopefully, these destinations will inspire you to branch out beyond Disney when visiting Florida and make memories in some new areas. Be on the lookout for festivals and special events in each area to enhance your family vacation. Florida is packed full of lovely beaches, pristine nature, and loads of fun for all ages. Safe travels and enjoy our wondrous state.