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Florida Family Vacations

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Orlando may be Florida's top spot for family getaways, but the state is also famed for beaches on both Gulf and Atlantic coasts. And beyond the best-known spots, other gems await.

Sanibel Island & Captiva Island

Photo credit: VISIT FLORIDA.
Photo credit: VISIT FLORIDA.

The famous shell-strewn beaches on these two islands are among the most beautiful in all of Florida. There are no amusement parks, no traffic lights, no billboard-lined highways, no glaring neon, and no tracts of high-rise condos. Instead, you'll find a laid-back vibe, terrific restaurants, chic shops, and 15 miles of drop-dead-gorgeous beaches.

Daytona Beach with Kids

DaytonaBeachBoardwalk.jpg
Daytona Beach Boardwalk

The "world's most famous beach" has come a long way from its days as MTV's college spring break party town. Today's Daytona Beach is all about family-friendly fun that won't break the bank.

St. George Island with Kids

StGeorgeIslandLighthouse.jpg
St. George Island Lighthouse

Tucked into the crook of Florida's Panhandle, the 28-mile St. George Island is renowned for its umspoiled beaches. Located just off the coast, the barrier island is part of the long stretch of beaches known as Gulf Islands National Seashore

Space Coast

45 minutes east of Orlando lies 72 miles of shore known as the Space Coast: the place where the moon launches blasted away from earth, and site of the shuttle launches today. The big draw is the Kennedy Space Center and the beautiful beaches. Less known are the eco-tours: this area has saltwater estuaries, marshes, and 250 sq. miles of wildlife refuges. The Space Coast also has cute towns to visit, such as Cocoa.

Amelia Island

Amelia Island-- in the northeast near Jacksonville-- has lovely beaches, a historic fort complete with actors who play period characters, a quaint town to explore.

The Omni Amelia Island Plantation covers over a thousand acres that includes a prime beach location, and has kids' programs, family activities, and nature programs. The nearby Ritz Carlton Amelia Island offers Ritz Kids, fine dining, kiddie pool, indoor pool, and a beach where shallow lagoons are great for tots. Both properties have golf, fitness centers, etc.

Treasure Coast

Photo courtesy of Disney's Vero Beach Resort.

Further south, the "Treasure Coast" has beautiful beaches, surfing, and coral reef in some areas.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort -- in the style of grand old beach hotels-- has 71 acres on a barrier island, a pool with 163-foot water slide, a pirate ship wet-deck, miniature golf, biking, watersports, and maybe the chance to see sea turtles. Location is two hours southeast of Disney World.

Everglades National Park

Photo ©  Teresa Plowright
Light-years away from theme parks and busy beaches, and yet only a few hours south of Miami by car, the legendary Everglades are a wonderful place to visit, and can easily include education-as-fun as kids learn about this unique ecosystem. Read about the Everglades at the link, above; see also Tips for Visiting the Everglades.

Paradise Coast

Photo courtesy of Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB.
Photo courtesy of Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB.
In the southwest corner of the state, this area has beautiful beaches on the Gulf of Mexico plus miles of nature preserves, estuaries and mangrove habitat. The "Paradise Coast" includes Marco Island, the town of Naples (about two hours' drive from Miami), and western areas of the Everglades. Nearly 100 miles of islands and and estuaries are protected, including the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and state and national parks. The Paradise Coast is great nature lovers yet can also pamper visitors at luxury resorts.

St. Pete / Clearwater Beach

Florida Family Vacations - beach photo (c) Teresa Plowright

Dubbing itself "Orlando's Beach", this affordable west coast area two hours east of Orlando has nature outings, miles of top-rated beaches, and some cultural gems in St. Petersburg. Fun outings include dolphin-spotting, shelling, Pirate Cruise.

 

Swim with Manatees: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

75 miles north of St. Petersburg is one of the best places to see-- and even swim with-- these large gentle creatures in a natural habitat. (November to May are the best months.)

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