How to Have a Memorable Family Vacation in Florida
A family vacation in Florida is just the best!
A family vacation in Florida is always a good idea. The beaches. The theme parks. The endless summer. The good, good times.
A family vacation is all about letting go of the everyday and having fun every day. For this, the Sunshine State has you and the kids covered.
Florida has about 825 miles of family-friendly beaches on the rollicking Atlantic Ocean and the more bucolic Gulf of Mexico. And then there’s the laid-back Florida Keys, where the all-around azure water might trick you into believing you’re frolicking in the Caribbean.
Add to that professional sporting events (basketball, baseball, football and hockey), spring training games, children’s museums, world-class music and theater performance venues, natural wonders, water sports and other activities for kids, parents and grandparents. So pack your beach bags and load up the car. The sunshine and memory-making await.
Here are 10 ways to enjoy the Sunshine State with the family:
1. Meet the Dolphins
One of the joys of vacationing near the water in Florida is spying dolphins leaping from the water. These delightful creatures love to put on a show. A gentle boat cruise on Charlotte Harbor along Florida’s west coast almost guarantees some jumping dolphins in the boat’s wake. And the louder the passengers clap, the more the friendly mammals perform.
2. Lessons in Fun
Just because your children are on vacation doesn’t mean they can’t learn something. Florida is a real-life classroom, including Tampa's Florida Aquarium, the historic streets of St. Augustine, the outer space dreams at the Kennedy Space Center, and the best shelling in the world on Sanibel Island.
3. See a Gator
There are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in the state, many of which can be safely observed in the Everglades from the seat of an airboat or from observation decks and boardwalks in state parks. They can also be seen at wildlife theme parks and in their natural habitat in freshwater lakes around the state.
4. Back to the Beach
Siesta Key near Sarasota has been named the best beach in America by Dr. Beach. Part of the reason is the waves are so gentle parents don’t worry about their wee ones getting knocked down when they play at the shore. Plus, there’s plenty of parking and bathroom/changing facilities.
5. Fun for Teens
Out of the mouths of teens come recommendations for three trips they promise to love. And that’s saying a lot. From ziplining in Orlando to surfing on the east coast, or exploring Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park and knocking around Key West, we promise any sullen teen will find their inner happy kid. Just give them a little space and a Florida sunset. Or sunrise.
6. Movies Under the Sky
Take it outside to one of Florida’s many outdoors theaters, where the family can watch old flicks and first-run movies or maybe settle in for a concert under the stars. The Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale has 14 outdoor screens, and the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre in Lakeland is a blast from the past.
If you’re going to be in St. Augustine, check the amphitheater’s schedule of country acts and classic rock bands. Dogs are welcome at the Ruskin Family Drive-In Theatre, where double features are the norm.
7. Take Refuge with Wildlife
The national wildlife refuge system got its start in Florida in 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt moved to protect Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon to provide a haven for birds. Since then, 28 more refuges have been established in Florida, many of them open to the public. Activities include bird watching, paddling and biking, plus the chance to see a variety of nesting sea turtles.
8. Shoot for the Stars
There are several planetariums across the state where families can learn about the heavens. (Uh oh, more education.) All of them have special programs throughout the year and special activities for children. If you're in Florida for an extended period, consider a multi-day camp for your budding astronomers.
9. Enlightening Views
Florida has 29 lighthouses perched around its 1,200 miles of coastline. Some of them allow visitors to climb to the top, such as the barber pole-striped St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. From that vantage point, you’ll be able to see for miles. The state’s tallest lighthouse is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse south of Daytona Beach. Take a deep breath (or two or three) and start your climb up the 203-step spiral staircase. Trails and a keeper’s quarters that can be toured are close by the lighthouse.
10. Gone Fishin’
Florida has some of the best fishing in the world, and there are plenty of fishing spots that are perfect for young kids, from St. Augustine to Destin to the Florida Keys. Fishing the flats around the mangroves on barrier islands all over the state is an easy excursion. The water is calm, and there are plenty of birds and marine life to watch while waiting for the big bite. Kayaking and canoeing are also fine water activities for children. Outfitters are at the ready to rent equipment so you don’t have to worry about hauling poles from Peoria.