Fun, Family-Friendly Things to Do in Florida With Kids

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kids on the beach in clearwater, Florida
Kids love playing in the crystal clear water in Clearwater, Florida Photo credit: Breeze Leonard

If you’re planning a vacation to Florida with kids, you probably have some ideas of what you want to see and do as a family. Of course, it’s tough to ignore the elephant in the room—or maybe we should say that mouse in the room! Walt Disney World and other Orlando theme parks are huge draws, of course, but there’s a wide variety of family-friendly attractions and activities in the Sunshine State. We’ll start with theme parks (of course!) and add some of our other top picks for family fun in Florida.

Theme Parks in Orlando and Beyond

We all know the heavy hitters…Walt Disney World and Universal Studios dominate the theme park landscape in Central Florida, and for good reason—they are huge resorts designed for family vacations. Our website has an entire section devoted to Walt Disney World Resort and Disney brands across the world, as well as pages and pages devoted to the Universal Orlando Resort.

For Orlando theme park newbies, here’s a brief primer.

Disney balloons at Disney World
Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Walt Disney World consists of four theme parks:

  • Magic Kingdom is the original theme park here, home to Cinderella’s Castle, Space Mountain and a couple of other coasters and tons of family-friendly rides based on beloved Disney characters.
  • EPCOT Center brings you the stunning World Showcase, a Frozen-themed ride, the Ratatouille ride and lots of experiences for hands-on learning.
  • Animal Kingdom is Disney’s animal park, with a safari ride, Avatar rides and a few thrilling (and wet) water rides.
  • Hollywood Studios has rides and attractions themed around famous Disney films, plus the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area, which really does make guests feel like they’ve walked onto another planet.

In addition, Walt Disney World Resort has two water parks, dozens of resort hotels, plus shopping and entertainment centers, mini golf, golf courses and much more.

Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks:

  • Universal Studios Florida offers thrills for all ages, including several 3D and 4D rides like the Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon (my 11-year-old’s favorite!) and Diagon Alley, half of the resort’s amazing Harry Potter experience.
  • Islands of Adventure offers Marvel superheroes, big thrill rides and coasters, a Dr. Seuss area and Hogsmeade in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Volcano Bay is Universal’s water park, and there’s also the CityWalk shopping and entertainment area, plus themed hotels and loads of options for family fun.

family outside LEGOLAND resort
Photo credit: Maria Smith

Central Florida Attractions

Beyond the two biggies, Central Florida is full of amusement parks and family entertainment venues. Tops among them is LegoLand Florida, which many families with young kids enjoy for a few days of less intense fun than Disney. In Orlando and Kissimmee, you can find nature trails, airboat rides, boat tours, dozens of mini golf courses, escape rooms and themed dining options sure to satisfy the whole family.

John F. Kennedy (JFK) Quote with fountain in foreground and space shuttle atlantis in background
Outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, this quote by President Kennedy sets the stage. Photo credit: John C. Vanda

The Space Coast

Just an hour east of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is an easy day trip. But we think the Space Coast, as the larger region is called, merits a longer family vacation. The Kennedy Space Center alone is at least a full day. Here, you can see the Space Shuttle Atlantis, meet a NASA astronaut and experience astronaut training and try simulators that mimic microgravity, landing a space vehicle and walking on Mars. This is definitely fun for kids of all ages. The center is also adjacent to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a mangrove habitat that’s rich in bird and marine life.

A short drive up the coast, Daytona Beach is a mecca for NASCAR lovers, but it’s also home to some beautiful white sand beaches, moderately priced lodgings and a beach boardwalk with amusement park rides, arcades and other family attractions.

We also recommend that you plan to do a day trip to St. Augustine, which is about an hour north of Daytona. The oldest continuously occupied city in the US, St. Augustine’s old town dates to the Spanish colonial era and is long on history and charm. There are more gorgeous beaches just a short drive away.

Sailboat in front of sunset in Key West, Florida, a great place to visit in November
The memory of a beach sunset will keep you warm all winter. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Miami and the Florida Keys

Glitzy South Beach gets all the attention, but Miami has a lot to offer as a family vacation spot. It’s the eastern gateway to Everglades National Park, where airboat rides, kayaking and nature trails reveal a bevy of wildlife, from nesting birds to alligators to playful otters. You may even see flamingos and roseate spoonbills here. And depending on where you go in the park, you can discover different ecosystems, from the “river of grass” to dense mangrove swamps and dry woodlands.

Miami is also the starting point for a road trip through the Florida Keys. Essential stops include John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where you can snorkel through or take glass-bottom boat tours over the colorful reef. The snorkeling is easy here and suitable for young kids and beginners.

At the end of US Highway 1, Key West is a fun, funky destination. Kids will love the pirate-y feel here, and can ogle shipwreck treasures at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, see flamingos and flutterers at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and take in the mostly G-rated Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square.

Kids at Everglades National Park
An airboat ride to see the alligators in Everglades National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Southwest Florida

The west coast of South Florida is known for its sugar sand beaches, pristine barrier islands and abundant wildlife. For families seeking a low-key vacation with plenty of beach time, this is a terrific coast to explore.

Just across the causeway from Fort Myers and Cape Coral, Sanibel Island and smaller Captiva Island were devastated by 2022’s Hurricane Ian. But they’re making a comeback, and several of the islands’ resorts and famous white sand beaches have reopened. And in more good news for the area, sea turtles have come back to nest on the shores of both islands. Little by little, nearby Fort Myers Beach is also opening back up from the terrible hurricane damage, and hotels and restaurants are anxious to welcome visitors anew.

South of Fort Myers, Naples is a chic destination with several luxury, family-friendly resorts and the same white-sand beaches the Gulf Coast is known for. It’s also the western gateway to Everglades National Park, and a short drive away from one of the most unique wetlands ecosystems in the United States. At Naples Botanical Garden, families can wander among 170 acres of tropical gardens, including gardens from the Caribbean, South America and Asia.

two young african american girls posing with arms outstretched in front of a lion topiary and sign saying busch gardens, location busch gardens tampa bay florida
Photo credit: Marquita Smith

Tampa Bay and Beaches

On the west coast of Central Florida, the Tampa Bay area offers something for families that even Orlando can’t match—theme parks and white sand beaches. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay combines animal attractions, including a popular giraffe-feeding experience, plus big-thrill roller coasters and an adjacent water park, Adventure Island.

West of Tampa, Clearwater Beach has some of the best beaches in the country, with wide, white sands and calm, shallow waters, plus a good mix of hotels and resorts at different price points. For more great beaches on which to build your sandcastles, head an hour south to Sarasota, where Siesta Key Beach is consistently voted one of the best beaches in the US. Neighboring Lido Beach is splendid as well, and you’ll find low-key resorts and vacation rentals on both beaches.

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