The 10 Best Family Vacation Destinations in Florida

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When families—particularly families with small kids—think of Florida for a vacation, the first destination that usually comes to mind is Disney World. And while that's an obviously excellent (and magical) place to start, there are plenty of other options in the Sunshine State for families looking for sun, sand, sports, or nature. Read on for 10 of the best family vacation destinations in Florida, from bustling beach towns to quiet getaways. Florida just might surprise you.

Florida is also home to some truly adorable beach towns. Check out our picks for the cutest Florida beach towns here

Orlando: Theme Park Fun at Disney World, Epcot, and Universal Studios

Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? The fact that Orlando is a theme park mecca makes it a natural, extremely popular choice for a family vacation. Disney World (and it’s five parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Typhoon Lagoon, Animal Kingdom, and Blizzard Beach) may have an Orlando stronghold, but it’s far from the only collection of parks in these parts. There’s also Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Legoland, and Aquatica, to name a few kid-approved favorites.

Outside of theme parks, there are family-friendly oddities at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, hands-on science at WonderWorks, swing and ropes courses at Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park, interactive art at The Crayola Experience. Orlando also has some fun outdoor activities like kayaking, bike and walking paths, hot-air balloon rides, canoeing, and mini-golf. Hotels and restaurants cater to little ones, with thoughtful extras like kids’ menus, cribs, and shallow pools. If kids like it, you can find it in Orlando.

Our Orlando Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge rooms bring a taste of Africa’s savannas to Orlando. Each room is modern safari-themed, with carved furniture and decorative mosquito nets—and balconies overlook zebra watering holes. The restaurants feature African and American cuisines, with kids’ menus. Keep your eyes peeled for wandering giraffes.

Amelia Island: Low-Key Beaches, Horseback Rides, and Bikes

Around an hour’s drive from Jacksonville International Airport, Amelia Island is a low-key Northern Florida sun and sand destination of barrier islands with 13 miles of peaceful beachfront. It’s much less of the tourist-trap tack that you’re likely to find in other beachside towns. It’s a relatively uncrowded choice for families looking to kick back and chill out. Horseback ride on the beach, take a river cruise eco-tour, explore the quaint and colorful Historic District, or just spend your time exploring the beaches. There are also a few small museums, educational nature walks, and opportunities for outdoor adventures like kayaking, paddleboarding, bike tours, and several types of boat tours.

Our Amelia Island Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Residence Inn Amelia Island

Residence Inn Amelia Island offers spacious two-bedroom suites that are ideal for families (up to five). Like condos, each unit has a kitchen with full-sized appliances. The pet policy allows dogs on the first and second floors, so you can bring your pup. Oh, and there’s a free hot breakfast buffet if you don’t feel like using the kitchen in the morning.

Captiva Island: Seashells, Private Beaches, and Stunning Sunsets

An hour drive from Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers is the quiet Captiva Island, and if you’re looking for a destination where you don’t have to plan or think (because, well, you do enough of that), this is a great place to park. If you’re looking for leisurely outdoor activities, the island as a whole is a great area for bird watching and seashell gathering—but resorts provide plenty of other entertainment. We recommend the South Seas Island Resort, whose 300 acres encompass cottages, a harbor, private beaches, tennis courts, a golf course, and three outdoor pools with waterslides. Fun activities for the kids, as well as water sports and bike rentals, are all but guaranteed to tire out the little ones, so grown-ups can escape to two bars, a spa, and three restaurants for a date night or two. Don’t forget to catch the epic sunsets before dinner.

Our Captiva Island Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: South Seas Island Resort

The South Seas Island Resort is a massive property with private beaches, a harbor, and three outdoor pools—plus waterslides! On-site dining includes family favorites, like an ice cream shop, tiki bar, and three restaurants—including one overlooking the harbor with chic outdoor seating. Getting around the resort on golf carts is half the fun!

Clearwater Beach: Pirate Cruises, White Sand, and Warm Water

Clearwater Beach has a lot to offer those with kids in tow, and is conveniently located just 40 minutes from Tampa International Airport. If the name hadn’t already clued you in, the beaches here are seriously beautiful. Not only are these Gulf of Mexico waters warm well into December, but the white sand is so powder soft that your feet sink right in. For non-beach activities, consider checking out the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where you can meet a crew of marine animals in the rehabilitation center, or becoming stowaways on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. Other family-friendly activities include mini-golf, indoor surfing, souvenir shopping on Pier 60, and sunset or dolphin cruises. Food wise, be sure to leave room for plenty of grouper fish sandwiches, seasonal stone crab claws, and tart Key lime pie.

Our Clearwater Beach Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Sandpearl Resort

The Sandpearl Resort is celebrated for its location directly on the beach. But the rooms should share some of the spotlight! These aren’t the musty out-of-date rooms you might imagine in Florida. Instead, the Sandpearl Resort rooms have Keurig coffeemakers, turndown service, and (some) balconies with ocean views. Suites upgrade to full kitchens and washing machines.

Miami: Biscayne Bay, Street Art, and The Unicorn Factory

Yes, Miami makes the best family vacation destinations in Florida list—it’s not all nightclubs here, after all. This major southern Florida city has all the amenities of any major metropolis, including plenty of family-friendly activities that go way beyond its white-sand beaches. Head over to the mainland for a dizzying dose of art, culture, good eats, and fun. The Miami Children’s Museum, Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Museum of Discovery and Science, and the Young Art Museum are all kid-friendly educational and fun museums. The Unicorn Factory and the Museum of Illusions also make for some memorably whimsical photo ops. For more colorful backdrops, take a street art mural tour in Wynwood.

Is your family in to wildlife? Peep tropical birds and Florida marine life at the Miami Seaquarium, go snorkeling on a fossilized reef in Crandon Park, take a day trip to see crocs in the Everglades, or get out on the waters of Biscayne Bay. If you have older kids, they’ll definitely appreciate Miami’s coolest neighborhoods like the Cuban-influenced Little Havana, mural-covered Wynwood, and the vibrant Art-Deco areas of South Beach. Kids love culture.

Our Miami Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Acqualina Resort & Spa

The Acqualina Resort & Spa might sound like too fancy of a place for kids, but it has one of the best fun and educational kids’ clubs in Florida. The lauded restaurant serves Italian food (show us a kid who won’t eat some version of pasta) and the four pools are divided between sections for adults and kids. Win win!

St. Petersburg: Dali Museum, Nature Preserve, and Free Shuffleboard 

Downtown St. Petersburg has all the action, options, and pizzazz of a big city—but on a much smaller, more manageable scale. Its walkability, art scene, museums, and wholesome activities make it best for families with slightly older kids. There are a surprising number of museums in St. Petes Beach, but kids will get the most out of hands-on exhibits inside the Great Explorations Children’s Museum and  events and design at the Salvador Dali Museum. Free Friday night games at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, walks through native plants at Sunken Gardens, and several fun outdoor markets, often with live music, are also kid-friendly options. Venturing further out, you can also visit the literal pink streets of Pinellas Point (where there’s also a Native American burial ground), spend a day or two on the sands of St. Pete Beach, or take self-guided nature walks through Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. So much to see in St. Petersburg!

Our St. Petersburg Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: The Don CeSar

The Don CeSar’s combination of family-friendly amenities (with activity options for kids and teens), opulent Gatsby-era vibe, and ice cream parlor make it an obvious choice for a family vacation. Rooms are modern and bright, and some have pool or ocean views. This is a historic hotel—some say it’s haunted—but it’s all in good family-friendly fun.

Tampa: Busch Gardens and Dinosaur World

Over the last few years, this Floridian city has managed to shed its mostly lackluster industrial vibe and emerge as a must-see destination. While you likely won’t take in as much of the hip restaurant and bar scene if you’re traveling with your family, you can definitely take advantage of this city’s theme parks, waterside location, and arenas. Tampa is a bit of an unexpected sleeper hit when it comes to theme parks. Located right in the city you’ll find two large parks, rollercoasters at Busch Gardens and waterslides at Adventure Island, plus options like Dinosaur World and Legoland within an hour’s drive. Staying in Tampa, families can also check out interactive exhibits at The Florida Aquarium and play through the Glazer Children’s Museum. There are also several escape rooms, pirate cruises, big sporting events (Tampa Bay Lightning hockey and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football are huge here), and plenty of places to try out different water sports. Go Tampa big!

Our Tampa Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel

The Sheraton Riverwalk is located on the banks of the Hillsborough River and is within 15 minutes of the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay Times Forum sports arena, and Lowry Park Zoo. Guests can take a free shuttle or hop on the water taxi to get around. The hotel restaurant, Ashley Street Grille, serves a decent buffet breakfast and American cuisine indoors and out. Most tables have a nice view of the river. Best of all, the food is affordable.

St. Augustine: Pirates Galore, Intracoastal Waterway, and the Fountain of Youth

Believe it or not, St. Augustine is one of the oldest cities in the United States. And its low-key vibe, charming cobblestone streets, and sandy beaches are big draws for families. It also offers a glimpse into some of the more multicultural aspects of Floridian history that’s part Spanish, part British, part pirate—and all fun. For starters, there are a handful of pirate-themed activities, from swashbuckling boat cruises and kid-centered walking tours, to a pirate-theme dinner experience and museum highlighting pirates and treasure. History buffs of all ages will want to check out the legendary Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine Lighthouse, the city’s Colonial Quarter, and Castle of St. Mark. If you’re looking for outdoor adventure, take your pick from the sun and sand at a handful of nearby beaches, test your skills on an aerial course, and race go-karts at Adventure Landing entertainment center. Want to be near wildlife? The Intracoastal Waterway is known for its manatee, dolphin, and seabird sightings.

Our St. Augustine Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel St. Augustine Historic District

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel St. Augustine Historic District has an overall classy vibe, including at the Oak Room Restaurant and Lounge, which serves all three meals. Warm cookies are provided at check-in. For recreation, the hotel has a heated outdoor pool and large, modern fitness center. Spacious rooms feature modern decor, mini-fridges, and microwaves. Families will be comfortable here.

The Florida Keys: Turtle Hospital, Butterfly Conservatory, and Snorkeling

Road tripping through the Florida Keys makes for a memorably fun and scenic family vacation—especially for nature-loving families. You can either choose to stay in one spot and make day trips or start from Key Largo and make your way all the way down to Key West (it’s about a two- to three-hour drive). Explore on land and in the water in Key Largo with a walk through Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park and a snorkel or glass-bottomed boat tour in John Pennekamp State Park. Hand-feed large-mouthed tarpon in Islamorada, go stand-up paddleboarding in Bahia Honda State Park, rent Jet-Skis and zip around looking for dolphins, and visit the bubble-butt turtles at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. You can also try to spot some feathered friends at the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary in Key Largo or small Key deer in Big Pine Key. Once you get to Key West, hop aboard the Conch Train tour of Old Town, taste test Key lime pie, take a banana boat ride, and visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. You’re going to need an extra day!

Our Florida Keys Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Cheeca Lodge & Spa

Cheeca Lodge & Spa is beloved for its activities. The resort fee covers kayaks, bikes, fishing gear, and fitness classes—plus there’s a fun kids’ club on hand. Let’s not forget the golf course, tennis courts, spa, four pools, and beach with a fishing pier. If your family likes to stay busy on vacation, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is your hotel.

Panama City Beach: White Beaches, Dolphin Cruises, and Shell Island

This panhandle beach town was big for family vacations in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, before becoming a rowdy spring break hotspot. Over the last few years, and thanks to an ordinance that created a ban on beachfront boozing, it’s mellowed out quite a bit. Families have noticed. A lot of the fun here is just indulging in a traditional beach vacation, complete with all-American snacks, sugar sand, and sunsets. There’s also dolphin cruises, pirate cruises, and waterparks like Shipwreck Island. Drier activities include pirate-themed mini-golf, ice-cream stuffed donuts from David’s New Orleans Style Cafe and Snowballs, quirky museums like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and WonderWorks, hiking through St. Andrews State Park, or shelling on, well, Shell Island (located within St. Andrews State Park). Panama City Beach is a spring option the whole family will agree on.

Our Panama City Beach Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick: Splash Resort Condominiums Panama City Beach

If your kids ultimate family vacation destination must include a lazy river, then the Splash Resort Condominiums Panama City Beach is a good choice. It also features an interactive water park, arcade with mini bowling alley, and condos (sleeping up to 10 people) with kitchens, washing machines, and furnished balconies. Panama Beach + Family + Splash Resort Condos = Fun.

What to Pack on your Family Vacation to Florida:

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