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Your Florida Family Vacation Guide 

Words by Editor, Shelby Little

If you’re considering a family trip to Florida and long for outdoor adventure, national parks, hot springs, and wildlife with dashes of culturally rich experiences and fun, we’ve got you covered. 

Here’s our starter guide to Florida’s standout natural wonders and cultural excursions that may not be on your radar. We encourage you also to visit Florida’s vibrant cultural city centers, but our picks are often outside the bustling metropolises, in quiet state parks, or near serene natural springs. We’re betting there are plenty of these places you haven’t yet considered in Florida that are ready to welcome your crew.

  • Florida’s Gulf Coast boasts beach sands as fine as baker’s flour and emerald-hued waters so glorious you’ll envision a new paint color for your bathroom walls.

  • Picturesque St. Augustine, where you can wander Plaza de la Constitución, America’s oldest public space, and catch a Thursday concert surrounded by monuments, old cannons, and shade trees.

  • Relax in quiet coastal villages where pelicans perch on dock pilings, bay boats bob in the water, and seagulls soar overhead. 

  • In the rural middle of Florida, the night sky is dark, the locals still say hello, and the cattle and citrus ranchers still remember their grandparents riding horses across the open range.

  • In the Everglades of South Florida, mink, crocodiles, panthers, and black bears live harmoniously in or near the dark waters, surrounded by bromeliads, rare orchids, sawgrass, and bald cypress. 

There Is a Florida for You 

It’s a nature lover’s paradise for active family travelers seeking shaded trails under silvery moss drapes. Florida delivers for culture hounds who revel in architecture, place-based art, down-home cooking, and literary landmarks. It’s for the parents daydreaming of a temperate family beach vacation where time sloughs away in moments of tranquility. Florida also flourishes for the birders, naturalists, and family photographers who covet a glimpse of sandhill crane colts, alligator hatchlings, roseate spoonbills, or the reclusive bobcat. Florida has the unexpected. 

Every member of your crew will find something in our family vacation guide, with regional recommendations, starting at the top. 

Dip Your Toes in North Florida 

From the Panhandle to Jacksonville, North Florida teems with diverse excursions, from natural springs to historic landmarks and cozy beach communities. Typically cooler in the spring months than its southern counterparts, North Florida offers many unique regional attractions. Pick the ones that call to you.


St. Augustine

It is the quintessential Florida history destination and America’s oldest city, with tree-lined streets bejeweled by Spanish Colonial architecture. Not to miss: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument — a military fort every elementary student must visit —along with the Oldest Wooden School House on St. George Street. If anyone at the schoolhouse asks, you do not want to don the pointy hat and sit in the corner. For a break from the history lessons, drive from the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island for a sweet beach excursion. Once recharged, take the kids to the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

With just a $6 per car admission fee, this National Natural Landmark is well worth a visit, especially as air temperatures warm up in late spring. Take your family for a dip in the cool sapphire-colored springs, tour the Mediterranean-style lodge with the world’s longest marble bar, or spot manatees and alligators on a glass-bottom riverboat ride.

T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

This remote state park fits the bill if your family likes peace and quiet outdoors. Rent a cabin or camp, play on the beach, splash in the surf, breathe in the Gulf coastal breeze, and just be awed by the massive sand dunes and quiet coastline.

Amelia Island

This sleepy Southern town is on a barrier island with salt marsh estuaries

that lure fishermen and kayakers with its historic lighthouse. This island, just 13 miles long and four miles wide, may surprise you with all it holds: Southern culture, boutique shopping, kayaking, landmark lighthouse tours, and days of lounging and shelling on a pristine beach.

Underwater Museum of Art

Imagine a secret sculpture garden underwater that you can visit by scuba diving or viewing from above with a snorkel and fins. This Panhandle beach attraction in Walton County, off Grayton Beach, thrills art lovers and diving enthusiasts. Don’t dive yet? Get your certification during your stay. It’s a great family bonding experience; certifications begin at age 10. 

Bear Paw Adventures

Ease into the slow pace of a Panhandle vacation with an afternoon tubing trip down Spring Creek.


Plunge into North Central Florida

North of Tampa and Orlando are numerous pastoral communities saturated with reedy prairies, still lakes, and enchanting natural springs. Resident manatees mosey past sunning alligators and yellow-bellied turtles in stunning spring waters that pool below palms, Spanish moss and, occasionally, monkeys. Recreational and relaxation opportunities include glass-bottom boat tours, historic landmarks, and equine culture.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park

Stroll through the Florida homestead of 1930s Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Lake Country, north of Ocala. Picnic in the shade canopy provided by the citrus, cypress, and oak trees, tour the pioneer home, and imagine the pioneering life Rawlings knew nearly a century ago. 

World Equestrian Center

Is there a horse lover in your herd? In Florida’s bucolic countryside, Ocala hosts the new World Equestrian Center (WEC), an expansive resort and events center with pools, climate-controlled indoor/outdoor arenas, spas, restaurants, and shopping. Reserve a golf cart to tour the grounds, and stick around for a Saturday night Grand Prix in the WEC Grand Arena.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

If you need an alligator sighting to complete your visit to Florida, you can bet you’ll check that box on a hike at Paynes Prairie south of Gainesville. In addition to excellent gator habitat, the area also has a variety of other wildlife, including wild horses, buffalo, ibis, and sandhill cranes.


View the Jewels of North Central Florida

Plan a few days at one of North Central Florida’s enchanting natural springs. Each spring offers different recreation, swimming, and wildlife opportunities.

Silver Springs State Park

Northwest of Ocala, rent transparent kayaks and paddle through an old-timey movie set that ferns, fallen leaves, and feral monkeys have reclaimed. Take our word for it: you want to give the monkeys plenty of space. Endurance lovers will enjoy the brief upriver paddle to the deep headwaters and may observe manatees below or osprey and swallow-tailed kites flying above. 

Rainbow Springs State Park

Tube, swim, paddle, or kayak through one of the largest spring runs in the world, the Rainbow River, which is a half-hour drive southwest of Ocala. Crystal-clear waters bubble out of multiple vents in the earth at 72 degrees and keep your family cool in the Florida sunshine. A complimentary up-river tram service lets you go with the flow and float for 1.5 hours amongst the fish, otters, and aquatic plants. In early spring, check out the historic gardens for the show of azalea blossoms.

Blue Spring State Park

Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando, Blue Spring is picturesque and offers a handicapped-accessible, one-mile boardwalk from the lodge and parking lot near St. Johns River to the spring’s headwaters. Look for resident manatees and consider the variety of water activities and rental options.

Crystal River Preserve State Park 

& Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

For a day excursion north of Tampa, both Crystal River and Homosassa Springs are fascinating destinations for manatee and nature enthusiasts. Book a boating guide, bring your underwater camera, and take a swim with the resident manatees—this is one of the rare places in the world where that’s possible.


Road Trip Central Florida

It’s possible you cruised right past many of Florida’s unique artistic and cultural destinations on previous trips through Florida. 

Here are a few off-the-beaten-path places that culture hounds and nature lovers will enjoy:


Bump along brick streets admiring the art, architecture, and antique shops. If schedules allow, visit during Mother’s Day weekend and attend Mayfaire by-the-Lake, a bustling outdoor arts festival downtown. Not only will you see Florida’s best modern artists displaying their work, but you can’t miss the resident swans—a gift from Queen Elizabeth. Stroll through the nearby Florida Southern College campus, which has the world’s most extensive collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Before you leave town, treat yourself to a visit to Born & Bread Bakehouse or relax with a latte on the shaded porch of Hillcrest Coffee. 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Southeast of Lakeland, Circle B is the place for wildlife spotting in Central Florida. People come from around the world to this immersive natural setting in a former cattle ranch, complete with marsh rabbits, growling gators, prowling bobcats, and barred owl habitat. Catch a glimpse of a 12-foot resident gator affectionately named Humpback, who has a unique curvature to his leathery back and went viral online a few years ago under the pseudonym “Godzilla.”


A Lego-themed amusement park, water park, and Peppa Pig Theme Park experience geared for kids ages two to 12. It’s located in Winter Haven, on the Chain of Lakes, and in the former “water ski capital of the world,” Cypress Gardens.

Bok Tower Gardens

You may be surprised to learn that Florida has high ground. From Iron Mountain, just south of Lake Wales, Bok Tower offers rare, big-picture views of Central Florida and the rolling hills and citrus groves nearby. Early spring guests will delight in the fragrance of orange blossoms, and year-round your family can enjoy the singing tower and carillon, nestled in contemplative gardens designed by one of America’s preeminent landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.


The Glorious Gulf Coast

Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island

You need several days to savor this barrier island south of St. Petersburg and west of Bradenton. Upon arrival, park your car, stow your keys, and slow down to the speed of foot traffic, cruiser bikes, and humming electric carts. Play in the gentle surf and sugar-fine sand, participate in the kids’ scavenger hunt at Anna Maria Island Historical Society, ride the island trolley, visit the farmers market, and get a scoop of ice cream when the sun gets high. 

Order the fresh specials from the bar at the Rod and Reel Pier—a historic wooden pier and restaurant that juts into the Gulf. Spot rays, dolphins, and pelicans while the cozy bar crowd belts out Don McLean’s “American Pie.” When it feels like the whole pier is swaying with the swells below, yet the bartender looks unfazed, it’s best to join the chorus.

With the Florida Maritime Museum, Historic Cortez village south of Anna Maria Island now boasts a family-friendly museum that embodies hurricane survival, coastal life over the centuries, and info on marine life living in the nearby waters. Treat yourself to a dockside meal at the nearby Star Fish Company—and arrive early—word is out about their fried grouper and hush puppies.

Boca Grande

Feel at home in your Polo shirts and Lilly Pulitzer resort wear at the Gasparilla Inn & Club, a historic resort bustling with restaurants, lounges, exclusive events, spa treatments, and golf carts. Watch out for the iguanas on the fairway! Spend time in the historic downtown, under the shade of a banyan tree, bike-ride on the former rails, and take time to tour the two lighthouses on the island. Tell a Floridian you’re visiting Boca Grande in late spring, and they will envision one thing: tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass. Reserve a charter boat and buckle up for some of the best sport fishing in the world. 

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

With its opulent waters, the subtropical beachside community of Sarasota is home to Florida’s official state art museum. The Ringling is a remarkable Italianesque building right on the water, where you can watch the weather sweep across the bay. Inside, expect fine arts and performances with a flair for the unusual. Mable and John Ringling established the museum in 1927.

The Don CeSar

Reserve a suite at the luxurious “pink palace” of St. Pete Beach and let the Gatsby-era opulence soak in. A Tom Petty MTV special was filmed on The Don’s rooftop, and Robert De Niro filmed scenes for Once Upon a Time in America on the beach nearby. The Don is a must-see on the Gulf Coast, with two beachside pools, a spa, several restaurants, and bars.


Six Entry Points to the Everglades

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas famously scribed, “There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known.” 

We recommend six different entry points so your family can have a blast hiking, absorbing local culture, riding an airboat, and more. 

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Get ready for unparalleled hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. Ease your SUV down the dirt entryway, and scan the prairies and pines for endangered Florida panthers, mink, and fox squirrels. The closer you creep toward the trails, the more likely you will see gators, turtles, and water moccasins. Check the Friends of Fakahatchee calendar for upcoming events. These are fantastic opportunities for nature lovers: take a guided marsh walk (and live to tell the tale), ride the tram, or sign up for the guided night sky experience. 

Everglades City & Chokoloskee

These outposts on the edge of the western Everglades are chock-full of character. Enjoy fresh, Southern homestyle dining at Camellia Street Grill, take your family on a thrilling airboat ride, learn about hurricanes and the Tamiami Trail at the Museum of the Everglades, and step back in time at the 1906-era Smallwood Store.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Learn about Seminole history and culture at the heart of the tribe’s Everglades reservation. The Seminoles are masters of beadwork, dollmaking, sewing, and other crafts. Purchase a handmade palmetto doll from the gift store—the details and vibrant costumes are remarkable. The elevated boardwalks outside are a fantastic way to dabble in the Everglades—you may even see a hawk feasting on a snake in a palm tree, as I did while visiting. 

Skunk Ape Headquarters

As the lore goes in Florida, you smell ’em before you see ’em. The Skunk Ape may be Florida’s answer to the Sasquatch, or perhaps an oversized, reclusive ape-like creature is out there in the glades somewhere. Either way, this stop is ideal for Skunk Ape souvenirs, family pictures with a life-sized Skunk Ape replica, and a selection of niche Florida books.

Shark Valley Observation Tower

Hike, bike, or reserve seats on the tram to Shark Valley Observation Tower, a midcentury modern lookout that offers unobstructed Everglades views for 20 miles. Arrive at the visitor center well before 10 a.m. and bring your water and picnic.

Everglades National Park

Experience the splendor of the river of grass as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings saw it. Book the memorable glamping experience at Flamingo, if just for a night, and let the lapping sounds of Florida Bay lull you to sleep. If you visit during a spring warm spell, check into the Flamingo Lodge instead. Try a guided kayak tour through the mangroves, and soon after you exit the park, stop by Robert Is Here Fruit Stand, an open-air tropical food emporium, and pick up a few unusual fruits for the family to sample.


Other Florida Keys

Key West and Key Largo are the most popular destinations in the string of small islands, or “cayos,” as Spanish explorers called them, off Florida’s southeastern coast. These three other keys offer pristine beaches, wildlife viewing, and water activities.

Big Pine Key

Located in the Lower Keys and just 30 miles north of Key West, Big Pine boasts a bounty for nature lovers. See—but don’t approach—the endangered Key deer, which are only 24 inches high at the shoulders, in the Key Deer Refuge. Venture to former rock quarry Blue Hole, which hosts the only freshwater source in the Lower Keys and is also a great place to observe the gators and crocodiles that call the lake home.

Bahia Honda State Park

When you picture tropical beaches, Bahia Honda fits the frame. This popular key and state park is a place to drop anchor and explore for days. Beginners can wade into the waters, snorkel right off the beach, and see a wide variety of sea life near shore.

Marathon Key

Don’t miss the magic happening under the radar in Marathon Key. For starters, there’s the must-see Sea Turtle Hospital and corresponding tour, where your family will learn about these ancient creatures and see many on the mend. 

Athletes and active families will revel in Old Seven Mile Bridge, which reopened in 2002 for pedestrians only—despite the modern version being just 2.2 miles long with an easy paved trail over the ocean. Stop by the unassuming organic grocer Food For Thought for a fresh smoothie or tropical spritzer.


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