Cocoa Beach Pier – Courtesy: Shutterstock — Zhukova Valentyna
The majority of people immediately think of Disney World when considering family-friendly holidays in Florida. There is so much more to Florida than its amusement parks, even if we all adore Mickey Mouse and everything he has to offer.
Florida’s year-round pleasant weather is ideal for outdoor activities, lounging on the beach (there are 825 miles of sand here), and having a peaceful family vacation.
There are many places to see, each offering activities for the whole family, whether you’re traveling to the South’s most southern state for a short trip or a longer stay. Here are 10 of the finest family holidays in Florida that don’t require visiting Disney World, including interactive museums, space station excursions, and swimming with dolphins.
St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country, is rich in history and heavily influenced by Europe. With nearly 450 years of history to tell, this city’s hidden courtyards and structures that have been standing since its establishment in 1565 make walking around feel like you’ve left the nation.
There are many beautiful beaches around St. Augustine, which is in north Florida, so if you’re planning a vacation there, your best choice is to check out some of the historical attractions the area has to offer.
The Fountain of Youth at Archaeological Park, which is open to the public and houses other historical attractions like the Discovery Globe, Planetarium, Timucua Indian Exhibit, Spanish cannons, and Native Christian Burial Ground Exhibit, is thought to be the location where Ponce de Leon discovered healing waters that magically allow their drinkers to maintain a youthful appearance.
Do you want to experience life in the sixteenth century? Visit Colonial Quarter, a two-acre park with kid-friendly activities and historical recreations like witnessing a gunsmith in full uniform fire weapons in the garrison where troops used to be stationed, or climbing the watchtower.
Visit Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the nation, while you’re experiencing a sense of time travel. This Spanish stronghold, built in 1672, allows visitors to wander around freely while watching staff members dressed historically perform cannon demonstrations. For some of the most breathtaking views of the city, go to the gun desk.
Naturally, you can’t expect the oldest city in the nation to be completely ghost-free. Those interested in ghost tours won’t be let down because there are a ton of excursions that describe the city’s haunting past that take place all around the city day and night on trolleys, on foot, and even in graveyards.
In Cocoa Beach, you can surf and learn about space.
One of Florida’s most beautiful beaches, Cocoa Beach is situated almost precisely in the middle of the state’s east coast. You can find the biggest and greatest waves in the area here, which is known as the East Coast surf capital. In celebration of the hometown hero, Kelly Slater, an 11-time world surfing champion, there is also a cool statue of him in the center of Cocoa Beach.
Have you never surfed before? There are numerous surf schools that provide instruction every day, including School of Surf, Ron Jon Surf School, and Cocoa Beach Surf School.
The Cocoa Beach Pier is the ideal location for a picnic, and those who don’t want to bring their own food can stop by any of the eateries along this crowded stretch of sand.
The Kennedy Space Center, where kids of all ages can explore space exploration with access to astronauts and up-close encounters with rockets and artifacts that have really traveled to the moon and back, is only a few minutes away for those in need of a respite from the sun.
Learn about the current and upcoming missions while indulging in some space ice cream. You’re in for a treat if a rocket launch is set to take place while you’re there because you can see, hear, and feel the blast off for miles. That will be an experience you’ll never forget.
At Ginnie Springs, float around in the crystal-clear water.
A unique location in the Sunshine State is Ginnie Springs. Ginnie Springs, which has more than 200 acres of woodland and some of the most picturesque waterways in the Sunshine State, is situated on the banks of the Santa Fe River about 45 minutes northwest of Gainesville.
The water temperature here is a wonderful 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year long, making it perfect for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and even scuba diving. It’s perfect for anyone seeking outdoor adventures.
The park has seven separate springs, which provides a wealth of chances for water sports. While you are welcome to bring your own, Ginnie Springs does rent out tubes, diving gear, paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes.
It’s one of the best places to go cave diving if you’re certified to dive, and if you complete out the necessary papers in advance, those who aren’t certified can take the PADI dive course on-site.
There is a lot of species in and around the springs, including manatees, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes, birds, and more. You can use picnic tables, a playground, volleyball, and other facilities on land.
If you enjoy camping, you can choose to pitch a tent next to the river or drive an RV and park in a location with power and water hookups.
Because not everyone enjoys camping, travelers looking for nearby accommodations can find charming hotels and AirBnBs in High Springs, Florida, a pretty little community with a ton of stores and eateries.
High Springs is interesting in and of itself. The High Springs Historical Society Museum is located nearby and offers tourists a glimpse into pioneer life in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the period of steam trains.
Visit O’Leno State Park as well if you want to spend the day biking or hiking on the park’s shady trails. In search of more springs to swim in? Nearby parks include Poe Springs Park, San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, and Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park.
Driving through the Florida Keys
The majority of trips to the Florida Keys start at Miami International Airport with vehicle rentals to get you to the Keys. Only 45 minutes after you start your journey from the airport, you’ll hit the first stretch of road that brings you to 44 islands that are linked by 42 bridges.
While most of these islands won’t entice you to stop, quite a few of them make wonderful family-friendly vacation spots.
Families can easily park and play at resorts like Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key, where everything you could possibly need is close at hand. Visitors have access to six dining options, five pools, a saltwater lagoon, a full-service spa, and a dolphin experience center on-site in addition to world-class fishing and watersports.
Families can escape the commotion and unwind poolside or in the hotel’s lagoon at the relatively peaceful Isla Bella Beach Resort.
Parents will want to visit the World Famous Tiki Bar, where the Rum Runner cocktail was created, while nearby activities include boating, fishing, snorkeling, parasailing, and diving expeditions. A trip to Islamorada can involve a stay at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina.
Also, Marathon’s Banana Bay Resort & Marina offers quick access to the attractions the Keys are famous for, including the Dolphin Research Center and the biggest turtle hospital in the nation.
If you travel all the way to Key West, the most vibrant of the Florida Keys, you’ll discover that no trip is complete without taking a picture with the bright landmark buoy at the Southernmost Point or stopping by Mallory Square for the daily Sunset Celebration, which features entertainment, artisanal vendors, and the most breathtaking sunset views. See Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats and enjoy some Key Lime Pie at Kermit’s Café.
Unwind On Siesta Key’s Beaches
Siesta Key is a real paradise and has often been ranked as having one of the most beautiful beaches in the nation. This eight-mile long island is a delight with hotels, shops, restaurants, and tons of family-friendly activity. It has incredibly soft quartz sand and beautiful turquoise waters.
The seashore is home to a thriving artistic scene with numerous galleries. Also, there are a ton of rental properties available directly on the beach, which makes waking up and having your toes in the sand while enjoying your morning coffee a breeze.
Want to enjoy a little more action or need a break from the beach? Outside the island, there are several things to do, such the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the Junior Ranger program at Myakka State Park, which educates kids about the park and awards a Junior Ranger badge if they complete six CORE activities.
During MLB Spring Training in March, spectators may see pros play while the Atlanta Braves train at CoolToday Park in adjacent North Port and the Baltimore Orioles do the same at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
The Ringling Museum of Art and Circus Museum offers a variety of family-friendly activities for children and families, including stroller tours, family art creating, and the ROAR! Storytime that integrates art with literature.
Visitors can don a harness and access obstacle courses that allow them to climb, swing, and zipline through a forest with options for all ability levels at Tree-Umph! Adventure Park.
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Chris began his writing as a hobby while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Today he and his wife live in the Orlando area with their three children and dog.