Our Recommendations for Women Planning a Fabulous Florida Vacation for Their Family

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Kids swimming in the ocean in Florida
Photo Credit: Visit Florida

Yes, there are theme parks. But theme parks are not the only reason our SheBuysTravel writers regularly head to Florida. We know about the best beach towns, the natural wonders of Old Florida, unique wildlife (and not just the alligators!), even the place where Amish snowbirds head for the winter. This guide lists our 21 favorite spots for a fabulous Florida vacation for families.

More than 100 million visitors a year make Florida one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the USA. And it’s not only because those families are heading to Disney World or Universal Studios in Orlando. With its beaches, diverse ecosystem and history, Florida offers a vacation option for just about every family.

This list of our favorite spots for a Florida vacation for families is in alphabetical order because we simply couldn’t agree on which one is the absolute best. Each destination has its own charm and attraction.

Family on the beach in Clearwater florida
Photo credit: Visit Florida

1. Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is the favorite of writer Breeze Leonard. She and her kids visit regularly for the white sugar sand beaches that stretch for miles. That means it never feels crowded, even in high season. Rent chairs and umbrellas at spots along the beach to be more comfortable and get the kids out of the searing Florida sun. There are lots of great places to eat just a short walk away. When you’ve had enough time playing in the water and on the beach, head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to teach the kids about injured and rescued marine animals.

Breeze recommends taking a day trip to Honeymoon Island State Park. She says it’s well worth the 25-minute drive to see one of the best-loved Florida state parks. Plan to spend an afternoon swimming and soaking in the stunning views. 

Read More:
Best places to eat in Clearwater Beach
Best Clearwater Beach Hotels for Families
Best Clearwater Beaches

Cocoa Beach is a favorite Florida family vacation spot
Cocoa Beach Florida. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

2. Cocoa Beach

You definitely don’t want to miss the beach in Cocoa Beach, but SheBuysTravel contributor Melody Pittman says one of her favorite reasons to plan a Cocoa Beach vacation is its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. That makes it easy to explore space, complete with onsite astronauts, rockets and space ice cream. Splurge on lunch with an astronaut. It’s a unique opportunity to eat a tasty meal, learn about his or her space mission and have a photo opp.

Cocoa Beach offers surf lessons, and families flock to the Cocoa Beach Pier for a meal and just to hang out. Arcades are plentiful, too. Pelican’s Bar & Grill is a fun spot for family dining. Melody highly recommends the Lobster Mac & Cheese.

A view of the sand dunes in Destin, Florida
Destin, Florida’s gorgeous white sand beaches. Photo credit: Visit Florida

3. Destin

The white sand beaches are just one of the many reasons why Breeze Leonard and her kids return to Destin time and time again. If you’re traveling with a large group, Breeze recommends renting a beachfront house or condo. She found accommodations just a short walk from the beach that were ideal for her entire extended family.

Her recommendations for your visit:

  • If you have kids under the age of 10 take them on the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise. This 2-hour cruise is an absolute blast for little ones.
  • Spend an afternoon at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
  • Try the Key Lime Cocktail at the Hog’s Breath Saloon.
  • Add a dollar to the already 1 million dollar bills hanging in McGuire’s Irish Pub.
  • Take the kids for a fun afternoon at Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park.
  • Spend an evening shopping and dining at the Harborwalk Village.

Does someone in your family love fishing? Destin is known as the world’s luckiest fishing village! While walking the beach at night, Breeze and her family have struck up conversations with visitors from all over the world who come to fish in Destin. If your family is up for an adventure, try kayaking or snorkeling while visiting Destin and get a real taste of the Emerald Coast.

More Florida Family Vacation Ideas

View from a boat in Fort Lauderdale. Florida vacation for families
Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo credit: Breeze Leonard

4. Fort Lauderdale

Another Leonard family favorite, Breeze and her extended family chose Fort Lauderdale for their multigenerational vacation because it offered enough variety to keep everyone happy. There was plenty of shopping and the many food options made meal times a breeze. We rented a house with a pool so those of us with young kids could get a break from the beach when we needed it.

We all had a great time on the Jungle Queen Riverboat ride and strolling the Riverwalk that lines both sides of the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The kids had fun at the Museum of Discovery and Science, one of the largest in Florida. And it’s the Venice of America, right? So we took a fun gondola ride along the canals.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

One of our favorite memories as a family is the day trip we took to nearby Hollywood, Florida, for a mural tour. We spent an entire afternoon treasure hunting with our three girls as we searched for 24 murals scattered throughout downtown. We also loved hanging out at the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk. Travel + Leisure magazine named this 2.5-mile-long boardwalk one of America’s best. Breeze’s kids loved buying fresh coconuts and shopping for souvenirs.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider renting a boat for the day when visiting Fort Lauderdale! It was a highlight of Breeze’s family trip to Fort Lauderdale. 

Read More: Awesome Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale, as recommended by former resident Melody Pittman.

Selfie in front of the fort myers sign. Florida vacation for families
Fort Myers, Florida. Photo credit: Visit Florida

5. Fort Myers

Since my dad lives about an hour from Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast, we are regular visitors. Bowditch Point Park at the northernmost end of Estero Island and its 17 acres of white sand beaches are a personal fave.

And, of course, my dad is an engineer and science nerd, so a visit to the Ford and Edison Winter Estate along the Caloosahatchee River. is a must. The draw here is Thomas Edison’s workshop, which looks like he just left and will return soon to finish his latest experiment. Skip this if you’re traveling with younger kids. There are expansive lawns for them to run on, but very little in the way of interactive features to keep them focused on the museum.

The Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers is the place to be from November to March. That’s when the manatees come to visit. This park has a protected sanctuary with an observation platform. Once you’re done admiring the manatees, check out the guided walks and educational activities. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!

The 352 Walls is Gainesville, Florida's colorful murals and street art additions.
The street art initiative in Gainesville is called 352 Walls. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

6. Gainesville

Gainesville has some impressive educational museums, including the Florida Museum of Natural History. Its butterfly rainforest exhibit may be the best in the country. Rent bikes and ride around town to see the cool street art and the University of Florida campus. A SheBuysTravel favorite in Gainesville is seeing a performance at The Hippodrome, the savvy college theater referred to as “The Hipp.” On our last visit, we thought the acting was just as good as on Broadway!

Gainesville has yummy restaurants, such as The Top and Satchel’s Pizza. At The Top, opt for healthy choices such as Tempeh and Tofu. If you aren’t that adventurous, go for the Buffalo Tenders and Corn Nuggets, great family-friendly choices.

Art murals in Jacksonville, Florida
Spanish artist DouroneÕs mural is one of many larger-than-life paintings in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Photo credit: Daron Dean for Visit Florida

7. Jacksonville

Jax, as this town is affectionately known, lies at the intersection of I-95 and I-10. It’s another great beachy spot, with 22 miles of coastline. But SheBuysTravel Founder Kim Orlando, an avid hiker, says beaches aren’t the only outdoor draw in this northeast Florida destination. Jacksonville also boasts the largest urban park system in the country with 3 national park properties, 7 state parks and more than 400 city parks. That doesn’t even count the arboretum and dozens of unique gardens.

It might be the largest city in Florida, but Jacksonville retains a small-town feel. Catch a touring Broadway musical at the Florida Theatre or admire the art at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, with its amazing bridge photo ops. Jacksonville has some impressive street art and statues that make for fun Instagram shots, too.

Kim says not-to-be-missed foodie spots in Jacksonville include a seafood meal at the surf-themed Salt Life Food Shack where the Tuna Tostada is a perfect appetizer choice and the Hawaiian Shrimp Bowl can’t be missed. Take the kids to Sweet Pete’s Candy store to satisfy their sweet tooth. The Candy Apple Cafe + Cocktails has delicious sandwiches, salads and creamy Mac ‘n Cheese with candied bacon.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

8. Key West

The southernmost Florida Key is famous for its beautiful sunsets — and the quirky sunset celebration each night. Those celebrations can go beyond quirky. so SheBuysTravel contributor Gwen Kleist suggests Key West is best enjoyed by families with slightly older kids. The tropical warm waters and some of the most amazing coral reefs in Florida make Key West a prime spot for snorkeling, sailing, parasailing, and other ocean adventures. It is easily one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Florida.

There’s also a fun just-scary-enough ghost tour and the 6-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House.

If you’re staying in Key West, don’t miss a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s the southernmost of the US National Parks and reachable via a two-hour boat ride. With its shallow reefs and clear blue Gulf waters, the Dry Tortugas have some of the best snorkeling. Or you can stay on land and tour Fort Jefferson, a massive but unfinished maritime fort.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Key Largo, 2 hours north of Key West, is the self-proclaimed Dive Capital of the World. Plan to visit both destinations if you have scuba divers in your group.

The Frost Science Aquarium in downtown Miami
The Frost Science Aquarium in downtown Miami, Florida. Photo credit: Visit Florida

9. Miami

We know Miami is a popular destination for college spring breakers and that it has a very trendy nightlife. Can it also be a family-friendly Florida vacation spot? SheBuysTravel contributor Terry Ward says yes. “I’ve visited Miami more times than I can count. But after I had kids a few years ago, I wondered if I’d be as enamored with the city as before. It turns out there’s just as much to do in Miami Beach as a family — from city to beach to bay to river.”

Explore the colorful murals of the Wynwood neighborhood, dance to the music in Little Havana, or take older kids to visit the Holocaust Museum. And, of course, spend time at the beach. Miami Beach is one of the most popular beaches in all of South Florida. Plan to stay near the beach.

Read More: The Family Friendliest Miami Hotels


10. Naples

Naples native Hannah Rinaldi, a SheBuysTravel contributor, has this to say about her adopted hometown: “We’ve seen the city grow, add new restaurants and open more green space. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the Old Florida vibe that makes visitors and residents of all ages feel like they’ve stumbled into a world-class land of perpetual summer vacation.”

Among her top recommendations for things to do in Naples with kids:

·  Get out on the water with a boat tour, kayak rental or sunset cruise.

·      Walk the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades. 

·      Explore the Everglades via Airboat.

·      Visit the beautiful Naples Botanical Gardens.

View of the beach in Navarre, Florida
Navarre, Florida. Photo Credit: Breeze Leonard


11. Navarre Beach

This is another area that comes highly recommended by Breeze Leonard. And it only took one visit for her to add Navarre Beach to her list of favorite destinations in all of Florida. It’s been called “Florida’s Best Kept Secret.” It has the same beautiful beaches as Destin and Panama City, but half the crowds.

She has this to say about Navarre Beach: “Navarre Beach is not a traditional ‘beachy’ town. It’s untouched by the commerce I typically expect to find in a beach town: t-shirt shops, fudge shops and kitschy souvenir shops. I knew right away that this would be a place we visit again in the future.”

Breeze recommends taking a walk on the pier in the Gulf of Mexico for fantastic views of the Gulf’s clear waters, visiting the Gulf Breeze Zoo and, of course, whiling away many hours on the gorgeous beaches.


Ocala, Florida view of the ziplining course, Florida vacation for families
Ocala, Florida Photo Credit: Visit Florida


12. Ocala

If you’re not a fan of the beach, but you still love nature, head to Ocala. Beautiful natural forests are a big part of the draw of the Ocala area. Take a dip in the natural springs at KP Hole State Park or explore the gardens in Silver Springs State Park.

SheBuysTravel contributor Allison Taylor discovered Ocala on a road trip home to Louisville from Orlando. After taking a zipline that goes on for more than a mile, she and her family had a picnic lunch next to a natural spring. Then they took a dip in the crystal clear springs, where the water stays a constant 72 degrees all year long. A ride on a glass bottom boat ride at Silver Springs State Park gave them an up-close look at thousands of fish, turtles and an alligator. Seeing the gator made her very happy they were in a boat!

Since Ocala is the “Horse Capital of the World,” you simply must take a tour with Horse Country Carriage Company and Tours. Knowledgeable guides educate and entertain while taking you on a ride through the farms at the heart of “horse country.” You can bring your own horse to ride the 100-mile horse trail at the Ocala National Forest. Or book a horseback ride there. Allison’s husband, who prefers a different mode of transportation, headed to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.

Epcot in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida Photo Credit: Breeze Leonard


13. Orlando

OK, Orlando ranks toward the bottom in an alphabetized list, but it’s No. 1 in our hearts. So many of our writers make annual treks to Orlando. And we are far from alone — Orlando is the #1 vacation destination in the USA. After all, it’s home to more than a dozen theme parks, including the home of a certain Mouse.

We love visiting Cinderella’s Castle and waving to Mickey, but outside of Disney World, Universal, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and 14 other theme parks, Orlando has so much more to offer, says SheBuysTravel contributor Keri Baugh, a former Florida resident. That includes the Orlando Science Center, Titanic Artifact Museum, Sea Life Orlando Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Orlando Wax Museum.


14. Panama City Beach

Another of my personal Florida faves, Panama City Beach is arguably one of the state’s most beautiful stretches of beach,  And the sand squeaks when you walk through it. Who doesn’t love that?

This Panhandle location is home to scores of condo-style rentals, which makes it even better for big families that need more room than you get in a standard hotel guestroom.

Don’t miss the chance to take an excursion to Shell Island where you’ll find seven miles of undeveloped beauty nestled between the Gulf and St. Andrew Bay. Get out on the clear aqua water any way you can — kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, fishing, scuba diving or snorkeling.

Pier in Pensacola, Florida at sunset. Florida vacation for families
Pensacola, Florida. Photo Credit: Visit Florida

15. Pensacola

All naval pilots train in Pensacola and it’s home to the Blue Angels Naval aerobatics team. Look up from the beach and you just might catch them practicing their air acrobatics. You’ll definitely hear them coming!

SheBuysTravel contributor Maria Smith, who has four kids, says, “Pensacola also offers some great values on many things to do. This year-round beach destination can really give your budget a break.” The beaches are phenomenal here and you’ll find tons of families along the shoreline. Even better, there are plenty of free things to do in Pensacola.

The beach in Sanibel Island covered with seashells, Florida vacation for families
Sanibel Island, Florida. Photo Credit: Breeze Leonard

16. Sanibel Island 

Another of my favorite spots in Southwest Florida, Sanibel Island took a serious hit from Hurrican Ian in 2020. But the ecotourism paradise is bouncing back. 

Nature is the big draw here. Plan to spend the better part of a day exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Take a tram (OK, it’s a bus with a fancy name) for a 90-minute narrated tour of the refuge. It will stop along the way to watch the more than 245 species of birds and scores of alligators and other reptiles do their thing, oblivious to spectators.

Book passage on a dolphin-watching cruise to see these graceful mammals play in the wake and preen for pictures. If you time it right, you’ll also get to see one of Sanibel’s Instagram-worthy sunsets from the water. Then treat the kids to dessert at the quirky Bubble Room on Captiva Island, where every day is Christmas and one slice of cake is big enough for the whole family.

Boy playing in the sand in sarasota, florida
Photo Credit: Visit Florida

17. Sarasota

This Southwest Florida town 30 minutes from my dad’s place draws Amish snowbirds escaping the cold winters of the Midwest and Northeast USA. For that reason, it’s also the best place to get incredible fried chicken and pie — my favorite place is Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village. My mouth waters remembering the lunch we ate there! Eating is just one of the fun things to do in Sarasota with kids.

Other favorites include a visit to the Ringling Estate and Circus Museum and renting kayaks to explore the mangroves and waterways. While we kept an eye out for gators, we were awed by the mama, daddy and baby manatees that swam alongside our kayaks for 20 minutes.

Here are 5 family-friendly beaches in Sarasota:

        • Siesta Key Beach
        • Lido Beach
        • Nokomis Beach
        • Caspersen Beach
        • Manasota Beach

Stick around at the end of the day for a rousing drum circle on certain evenings at Siesta, Nokomis and Manasota beaches. The kids can dance while the parents sip a little wine and marvel at the colorful characters who come out at night to dance while the sun goes down.

views in st. augustine, florida
Photo Credit: Visit Florida

18. St. Augustine

St. Augustine claims the title as the “Nation’s Oldest City.” It showcases centuries-old Spanish architecture and cultural sites that make it a great spot for history lovers. The beaches, blessed with year-round mild weather, are gorgeous.

SheBuysTravel founder Kim Orlando and her teens found plenty to love about this city on the northeast coast of Florida. While the beaches are a draw for many families (shark tooth hunting is practically a competitive sport here!), Kim and her crew got a golf vibe from their Jacksonville vacation. It’s where Kim and her youngest son, then 12, got their first golf lessons. Her older son, then 17 and an aspiring professional golfer, lingered at Jack Nicklaus’ locker in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Jacksonville also boasts a burgeoning food scene and beautiful Amelia Island is close by. It makes a great day trip. There’s geocaching for kids and a quaint downtown with fudge making.

Some of our favorite things to do in St. Augustine with the whole family:

        • Anastasia Mini-Golf
        • St. Augustine Wild Reserve
        • St. Augustine Aquarium
        • St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
The Dalí (Salvador Dalí Museum) in St. Petersburg, Florida
St. Petersburg, Florida Photo Credit: Visit Florida

19. St. Petersburg

This destination in Florida is known for more than just award-winning beaches; St. Petersburg holds the title for the “most consecutive days with sunshine” at 768 days! It’s also home to the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s artwork outside of Spain.

The late Yvonne Jasinski, a long-time SheBuysTravel contributor, raved about the Great Exploration Museum and Sunken Gardens as budget-friendly and fun for families.

Giraffe at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida
Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Photo Credit: Visit Florida

20. Tampa

This Florida city attracts people of all ages, tastes and budgets. SheBuysTravel contributor Kristin Shaw says, “Tampa has a colorful history and sweet secrets to share. And it can hold its own in the busy tourism belt of Florida. Whether you are a fan of amusement parks, quiet paths through the city, animal life, nightlife, or a culinary adventure (or, if you’re like our family, all of the above), Tampa has a lot to offer.” Head to Apollo Beach to see the manatees during winter months at the free Manatee Viewing Center.  

Busch Gardens (the 335-acre African-themed animal theme park) and the Florida Aquarium are the two must-visit places in Tampa with the family. Also, did you know that Tampa, Florida is home to the Big Cat Rescue owned by Carole Baskin? She’s the woman made famous by the Netflix series Tiger King.

Vero Beach Florida walking on the sand, florida vacation for families.
Vero Beach Photo Credit: Melody Pittman

21. Vero Beach

Located off Florida’s Atlantic Coast midway between Jacksonville and Miami, Vero is an upscale destination. SheBuysTravel contributor Melody Pittman lived in Vero for more than a decade. She says Vero Beach is a tropical paradise on Florida’s Treasure Coast and the Atlantic Ocean.

While there aren’t the bells and whistles for younger kids, those with older children can enjoy the Environmental Learning Center, visiting the manatees at Round Island, Historic Dodgertown Stadium, and all the perks of the beach and typical outdoor offerings. There’s even a Disney Resort in town, a stellar property in a private setting that offers a peaceful reprieve from busy beach life.

Be sure to squeeze in a stroll through McKee Botanical Garden and lunch oceanfront at Waldo’s at the historic Driftwood Resort.

Do you know of another destination that should be added to this list of the best Florida vacations for families? Let us know by leaving a comment!


Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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