25/05/2024

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5 Family-Friendly Florida Vacations That Aren’t Disney World

7 min read
5 Family-Friendly Florida Vacations That Aren’t Disney World

There’s family fun beyond the Magic Kingdom.

<p>ROBBIE CAPONETTO</p> Casa Reina

ROBBIE CAPONETTO

Casa Reina’s dinner crowd

When considering family-friendly vacations in Florida, most people instantly think of Disney World. While we all love Mickey Mouse and everything he has to offer, there’s so much more to Florida than its theme parks.

With great weather all year long, Florida is made for outdoor adventures, laying by the beach (there’s 825 miles of sandy beaches here), and an overall relaxing family vacation.

Whether you’re making your way to the Southernmost state for a quick trip or a longer visit, there are tons of destinations to check out, each filled with activities for the whole family. From interactive museums to space station adventures and swimming with dolphins, if you’re planning a vacation with your children, here are some of the best family vacations in Florida that don’t involve a trip to Disney.

<p>ROBBIE CAPONETTO</p>

As the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine is filled with history and lots of European influence. With over 450 years of history to share, wandering this city feels like you’ve taken a trip out of the country thanks to its hidden courtyards and buildings that have been around since its founding in 1565.

St. Augustine is along the coast of north Florida, so there are plenty of pretty beaches, but if this is where you’re setting out to vacation, your best bet is to check out some of the historical activities found around town.

Said to be where Ponce De Leon discovered healing waters that allow its drinkers to magically maintain a youthful appearance, the Fountain of Youth at Archaeological Park is open to the public and features other historical attractions like the Discovery Globe, Planetarium, Timucua Indian Exhibit, Spanish cannons, and Native Christian Burial Ground Exhibit.

Want to see what it was like in the 16th century? Check out Colonial Quarter, a two-acre park filled with family-friendly activities and reenactments like climbing the watchtower or watching a gunsmith in full uniform fire weapons in the garrison where troops used to be stationed.

While you’re feeling like you’ve stepped back in time, check out Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the country. Built in 1672, this Spanish fortress allows guests to walk around freely while watching cannon demonstrations by staff dressed in period clothing. Visit the gun desk for some of the most stunning views of the city.

Of course, you can’t expect the oldest city in the country to not be a little bit haunted. Those who are into ghost tours won’t be disappointed as there’s a plethora of tours that take place all over the city throughout the day and night on trolleys, on foot, and even in graveyards that detail the city’s haunted past.

Related:The Old Soul Of St. Augustine, The South’s Best Small Town 2023

Tina Sargeant

Tina Sargeant

Located almost exactly in the center of Florida’s east coast, you’ll find Cocoa Beach to be one of the state’s most lovely beaches. Known for being the East Coast surf capital, this is where you’ll find the biggest and best waves around. There’s also a cool statue of Kelly Slater, 11-time world surf champion, in downtown Cocoa Beach to honor the hometown hero.

Never been surfing before? No worries—there are several surf schools including Ron Jon Surf School, School of Surf, and Cocoa Beach Surf School that offer lessons daily.

Cocoa Beach Pier is the perfect spot for a picnic and those who aren’t looking to pack their own lunch can visit any of the restaurants along this busy strip of beach.

Those wanting a break from the sun are just a few minutes away from Kennedy Space Center where children of all ages can venture into space exploration with access to astronauts and up close and personal moments with rockets and artifacts that have literally been to the moon and back.

Indulge on space ice cream, and learn about the missions from the past and those that are in the works. If a rocket launch is scheduled to happen during your stay, you’re in for a treat as you can see, hear, and feel the blast off for miles, making for a truly unforgettable experience.

<p><a href=&quot;https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?photographer=Zoe17es&quot; data-component=&quot;link&quot; data-source=&quot;inlineLink&quot; data-type=&quot;externalLink&quot; data-ordinal=&quot;1&quot;>Zoe17es</a>/Getty</p>

Ginnie Springs is a special destination in the Sunshine State. Located on the banks of the Santa Fe River, just about 45 minutes northwest of Gainesville, Ginnie Springs is home to over 200 acres of woodland and some of the prettiest waters in the Sunshine State.

Perfect for those looking for outdoor adventures, the water here is a lovely 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year-round, making it ideal for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and even scuba diving.

There’s seven different springs throughout the park, allowing for plenty of opportunities for water activities. Ginnie Springs offers the rental of tubes, diving equipment, paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes—but of course you can bring your own.

If you’re diving certified it’s one of the top spots to go cave diving, and those who aren’t certified can take the PADI dive course on-site if you fill out the proper paperwork beforehand.

In and out of the springs, you’ll see lots of wildlife such as manatees, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes, birds, and more. On land you’ll have access to picnic tables, a playground, volleyball, and more.

If you’re into camping ,you can opt to set up your tent by the river or arrive in an RV and park with access to electrical sites with water hook-ups.

Since camping definitely isn’t for everyone, those who are looking to stay nearby will find cute hotels and AirBnBs in High Springs, Florida, a quaint little town with tons of shops and restaurants.

High Springs itself is worth checking out. Here, you’ll find the High Springs Historical Society Museum that gives its visitors a look into pioneer life as it was during the late 1800s and early 1900s steam train era.

You can also visit O’Leno State Park where you can enjoy a day of hiking or biking on the park’s shaded trails. Looking for more springs to swim? Poe Springs Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, and San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park are all very close by.

Reese Lassman/EyeEm/Getty Images

Reese Lassman/EyeEm/Getty Images

Most vacations in the Florida Keys involve landing at Miami International Airport and renting a car to make your way to The Keys. Just 45 minutes after you start your journey from the airport, you’ll hit the first stretch of road that leads you to 44 islands that are linked by 42 bridges.

While you won’t be inclined to stop at most of these islands, quite a few of them make for great family-friendly vacation destinations.

Resorts like Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key make it easy for families to park and play, creating an experience where everything you might need is all within reach. Guests here have access to world-class fishing and watersports, six dining outlets, five pools, a saltwater lagoon, a full-service spa, and an on-property dolphin experience center.

The much quieter Isla Bella Beach Resort allows families to escape from all the hustle and bustle while they relax poolside or in the hotel’s lagoon.

A visit to Islamorada might include a stay at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina where parents will want to visit the World Famous Tiki Bar where the Rum Runner cocktail was invented, while nearby activities include boating, fishing, snorkeling, parasailing, and diving excursions.

There’s also Banana Bay Resort & Marina in Marathon that provides easy access to nearby activities that the Keys are known for, such as the Dolphin Research Center and the largest turtle hospital in the country.

If you make your way all the way down to Key West, you’ll find the most lively of the Florida Keys where no visit is complete without a photo at the Southernmost Point’s colorful landmark buoy or a a stop by Mallory Square for the daily Sunset Celebration filled with entertainment, artisan vendors, and the most gorgeous sunset views. Make sure to stop by Kermit’s Cafe for Key Lime Pie and say hello to Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats.

Robbie Caponetto

Robbie Caponetto

Named one of the most beautiful beaches in the country several times over, Siesta Key is a true paradise. With super soft quartz sand and light turquoise waters, this eight-mile long island is a dream filled with hotels, shopping, restaurants, and plenty of family-friendly entertainment.

A super artistic community, artwork and galleries dot the beach. There are also many rental homes available right along the beach, making waking up and enjoying your morning coffee with your toes in the sand a breeze.

Looking for a break from the beach or want to experience a little more action? Make a quick trip off the island and you’ll find endless activities to check out—for example, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and a Junior Ranger program at Myakka State Park that teaches children about the park and if they complete six CORE activities they earn a Junior Ranger badge.

Baseball fans watch professionals playing during MLB Spring Training in March, where the Atlanta Braves practice at CoolToday Park in nearby North Port and the Baltimore Orioles find themselves at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

Those wanting to experience something a bit more hands-on can stop by The Ringling Museum of Art and Circus Museum where you’ll find several programs for families and kids, including ROAR! Storytime that connects art and literacy, family art making, and stroller tours.

Adventure vacationers can visit Tree-Umph! Adventure Park where guests don a harness and have access to obstacle courses that allow them to climb, swing, and zipline through a forest with options for all skill levels.

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