It’s no secret that Florida is the ultimate family vacation spot. The land of sunshine, beaches and Disney World offers a plethora of fun for families big and small, old and young. I was born in Florida, and though we moved away when I was young, this was the place we always came for vacation. so saltwater runs through my veins. When my husband and I were able to relocate our family here a few years ago, I felt like a small piece of my soul had finally come home.
While Disney World, Universal Studios, and Busch Gardens are the obvious fun-time reasons to visit Florida, many people miss out on the smaller, hidden gems that the state has to offer. For those of you looking forward to a Florida vacation in the future, I offer you my Top 5 Family Friendly Activities in Florida…and not one of them is affiliated with the giant mouse.
1.) Visit Seaside – Seaside, Florida is a gem of a town. A throwback to the days of yore, Seaside feels like a coastal Mayfield. It is quaint, historic, quiet and peaceful. The streets are built for walking and riding bikes, and the slower pace allows for greater relaxation. Situated on the Gulf Side of the state, Seaside offers the pleasure of a sugar-soft, white sand beach which beautifully compliments the gentile pastel houses and historical buildings.
Seaside is a town that looks and feels as idyllic as it sounds. Don’t miss an opportunity to soak in this serene locale.
2.) Weeki Wachee Springs Park – For almost 60 years, Weeki Wachee Springs Park has mesmerized visitors with its natural Florida beauty and unique attractions. You thought mermaids were a myth, but Weeki Wachee Springs just may change your opinion.
The spring in Weeki Wachee bubbles daily at 74 degrees. With water flowing steadily from subterranean caverns, it’s reported that the bottom of Weeki Wachee Springs has never actually been found. Not only can you enjoy the mermaid shows in the underwater springs, but you can enjoy a variety of Animal Shows, an afternoon ambling through the park, and a full day splashing in Buccaneer Bay, the nation’s only spring-fed water park.
Located an hour north of Tampa, Weeki Wachee Springs is an easy day trip for Gulf Coast vacationers.
3.) Clearwater Beach – Consistently voted one of the nation’s top family-friendly beaches, Clearwater long lives up to it’s name. Stretching for miles down Florida’s Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach is the epitome of Florida beauty. The sand is powdery and soft, the beach wide and pristine.
A large playground is situated right next to Pier 60, where nightly entertainment keeps families occupied with street shows, handmade vendors, and outdoor movies. You can take a ride on Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship, or visit the famous Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Want a little downtime away from the hustle and bustle? Walk a half mile down the beach to the SandPearl Resort and grab a table at Tate’s Grill. You’ll enjoy a glass of wine and an unobstructed view of the sunset while your children play in the sand nearby. (Tip from a local – Give your children a few glow sticks after the sun goes down. This will allow you to continue your relaxation next to the fire pit, which is lit nightly, and you can still keep up with your kiddos in the dark as their glow sticks bounce around the beach.)
4.) Dry Tortugas National Park – I’m biased to the Gulf Coast…clearly. But there are some amazing gems to be found on the Atlantic side of the state as well, not the least of which is Dry Tortugas National Park. Now I have, admittedly, never been to this park, but it was placed high on my bucket list a few months ago after seeing a friend’s photos from her family’s visit.
Situated 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, Dry Tortugas is surrounded by the clear blue waters that define Southern Florida and stretch into the Carribbean. Accessible only by boat or sea plane, Dry Tortugas boasts a brilliant shoreline, ample snorkeling, and is the home of the Fort Jefferson National Monument designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act in 1935.
In short, Dry Tortugas is worth the time and investment it takes to get there.
5.) The Everglades – A unique treasure located in South Florida, the Everglades give visitors a chance to soak in Florida’s spectacular nature. We are more than beaches and sand, my friends. We also boast miles of shallow marshes and swamps, and a variety of wildlife that all come together in the Everglades to form a balanced ecosystem.
You can ride on a airboat, look for gators living in their natural habitats, or simply enjoy the peaceful act of bird watching. There’s plenty for young ones to both enjoy and learn from a day spent in the Everglades, and if you find yourself needing some time out of the direct sunshine, this is the place to visit.
Florida has so much more to offer than theme parks and tourist traps. The land is beautiful and serene, peaceful and wild. So the next time you plan your Florida vacation, I urge you to take some of these lesser known locations into consideration.