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Best Places to Visit in Florida (Beyond the Theme Parks)

I visited some of these best Florida vacations on press trips (at no or limited cost) but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links in this post my result in a commission paid to us. 

While the state of Florida is most known as the home of a famous little mouse, this peninsula is loaded with cities and towns that are perfect for families to visit beyond the Walt Disney World Resort. As the sunshine state, Florida is a great place to visit when you are looking for some great weather during your vacation. It’s often warm throughout the state for much of the year. 

If you aren’t interested in visiting one of the Orlando theme parks, or would like to combine your theme park trip with something else, here are some of the best places to visit in Florida (beyond the theme parks). You are almost certain to find a city or town that is perfect for your Florida vacation. What are your favorite places to visit in Florida with family?

Best places for Florida vacations beyond the theme parks, including destinations like Saint Augustine, Amelia Island, Marco Island, and more.

Florida Vacations: The Best Places to Visit in Florida

Miami

While many think of South Beach when they think of Miami, I especially love the beauty of Key Biscayne. This barrier island offers beautiful beaches, the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and the Miami Seaquarium. While you may be tempted to spend all of your time at the resort, it’s definitely worth exploring the area.

Both the Miami Airport and the Fort Lauderdale Airport are convenient for a Miami vacation, so you are likely to find great rates. I’ve had luck flying in through the Miami Airport and out through the Fort Lauderdale airport, so it’s worth looking at prices that way as well. 

There are lots of cruises that leave through the Miami Cruise Port, so you can also combine a Miami vacation with a cruise. 

If you’d rather not stay right in Miami, there’s also the upscale community of Aventura. The JW Marriott Turnberry just opened a brand-new water park that is open to all guests of their resort. It’s definitely worth a visit with kids.

I recommend staying at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne.

omni-amelia-island-plantation-0597

Amelia Island

I recently traveled to Amelia Island for the first time for the TMS Family Travel Conference. Located just a short distance from Jacksonville, Florida, Amelia Island offers lots for families, including 13 miles of beaches, golf courses, delicious restaurants, and fantastic resorts. Despite its close proximity to Jacksonville, Amelia Island feels like a completely different world outside the city.

If you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation with lots of fun activities for families, Amelia Island is a great option. It’s located in the Northeast part of the state, so it does have lower average temperatures in the winter. Check the forecast in advance before booking your trip.

Flying into Jacksonville is the easiest way to get to Amelia Island, and there are lots of flights into the area. 

We recommend staying at: The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort

St. Augustine

St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, is a great place to visit with kids. It offers quaint shops and restaurants, a wild reserve, an alligator farm, eco tours, a pirate museum, the Castillo de San Marcos national monument, and much more.

Fly into Jacksonville or Daytona Beach, or combine with a vacation to other parts of Florida. I visited so many times as a kid, and I have such fond memories of visiting the unique shops and restaurants. It definitely should be included on any list of the best places to visit in Florida.

When we traveled there on vacation, we would generally stay in Daytona Beach and visit St. Augustine for a day trip. But, if you want to stay right in St. Augustine, we recommend staying at: The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel St. Augustine Historic District.

Clearwater

Clearwater, which is located on the Gulf coast of Florida, offers beautiful white sand beaches, and was rated the #1 beach according to TripAdvisor. There are numerous family amenities on the beach, which has lifeguards 365 days out of the year. I visited Clearwater Beach this past year on a family trip to Tampa, and I absolutely loved the beach. I definitely want to return and spend more time on the beach.

One of the most popular tourist attractions for families in the area is the Clearwater Aquarium, which is home to the dolphin Winter, star of the Dolphin Tale movies. Whether you are visiting Clearwater as part of a larger trip to Florida, or as an individual destination, I definitely recommend visiting the Clearwater Aquarium.

In addition, there are other things to do in Clearwater. One of our favorites was a dolphin boat tour that included a stop at a small barrier island for shelling.

Clearwater is close to the Tampa International Airport, as well as St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. You may find more affordable direct flights to Tampa, and it’s definitely still convenient. If you do want to include a day at a theme park during your Florida vacation, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is located nearby. 

Clearwater Beach

is one of the best places to vacation in Florida, especially if you love the beach.

We recommend staying at the Sandpearl Resort, the Hilton Clearwater, and the Opal Sands Resort if you want to stay right on the Gulf of Mexico (and you probably do!).

Destin Harbor Boardwalk

Destin

Destin, located on the Panhandle of Florida on the Emerald Coast has been the choice vacation destination for many southerners for years. With beautiful beaches, the Henderson Beach State Park, and so much more, it’s a great spot for a family vacation. You can absolutely have a completely relaxing vacation in Destin.

The Destin Harbor Boardwalk area offers lots of restaurants, boating excursions, and shops. Destin offers sugary-sand beaches – once you vacation on one of these beautiful beaches, you won’t want to leave.

We recommend staying at the: Hilton Sandestin Beach, Golf Resort and Spa or at one of the many vacation homes in the area. The closest airport option is the Destin–Fort Walton Beach Airport, which was formerly known as the Northwest Florida Regional Airport. Because it’s a popular destination for many southerners, tourists often drive to Destin for their vacation. 

Miramar Beach in South Walton, Florida
Fort Walton

Fort Walton, located between Pensacola and Panama City, offers the same type of beautiful white sand beaches as Destin, making it a great spot for a family beach vacation. You’ll also find paddling trails and golf courses. The closest airport is the Destin Fort Walton Beach Airport – so you can easily combine a trip to Fort Walton with a trip to Destin.

Like Destin, Fort Walton offers plenty of great vacation homes that are perfect for a family vacation. It’s also a popular vacation spot for southerners. 

We recommend the Holiday Inn Resort Fort Walton Beach

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Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood

Once known as a popular spring break destination, the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood area has lots for kids to do. In addition to the beautiful Atlantic beaches, you can also enjoy a visit to the Museum of Discovery and Science, which has more visitors per year than any other museum in Florida. It’s still a quintessential beach town, so it’s definitely a fabulous place to visit for a beach vacation.

Fort Lauderdale is located a short distance from Miami, so you can easily visit both destinations in one vacation. I’ve even flown into Miami and out of Fort Lauderdale to save money on my vacation. Definitely check both airports to see what your best options are.

We recommend a stay at the Diplomat Resort and Spa.

Marco Beach Ocean Resort
Marco Island

Marco Island, located about an hour from the Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers), offers a beautiful beach, fabulous food, and fun water activities. During your stay, you can join shell collecting, water sports, and the Dolphin Study Eco Tour and Cruise.

We visited several years ago on a spring break family vacation, and I loved just hanging out at the beach every day. If your kids love shells, it’s definitely a unique place to visit for shell collecting.

We recommend a stay at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort. We booked our stay there with a Jetblue Vacations package, which included flights, hotel, and rental car. You’ll definitely need the rental car, as nothing is really within walking distance. There are also plenty of vacation homes in the area.

Things to Do in Sarasota With Kids, including the Ringling Museum and kayaking through mangroves.

Sarasota

I just recently had the opportunity to visit the Gulf barrier islands off the coast of Sarasota, and I loved my stay. During our trip, we kayaked through mangrove tunnels, where we saw a variety of different birds. We also took a side trip to the Ringling, which includes the circus museum, an art museum, and the home of the Ringlings.

We split our time between the Lido Beach Resort and the Resort at Longboat Key Club, and I’d recommend a stay at both of them. They both offer beachfront access as well as pools and restaurants. Sarasota has its own airport, so it’s easy to access. Families also love Siesta Key, which is located in the same area. 

Fort Myers

Baseball lovers may consider taking a Fort Myers family vacation for spring training. Fort Myers has a convenient airport, and you can also visit Naples, Marco Island, Sanibel Island, and Captiva Island. Fort Myers itself offers Manatee Park, shell collecting, and the IMAG History and Science Center, as well as other family activities.

If you do want to visit for spring training, look at the schedule online before committing. Spring training generally happens in March, so it’s a pretty short window for visiting. 

Key West cruise port

Key West

I had always wanted to visit the Florida Keys, and I finally had the opportunity early this year. We traveled on the Disney Magic, and our last stop was to Key West. There are so many great things to do in Key West, although for our visit, we only had the day to explore. It’s one of the best vacation spots in Florida, so you’ll definitely want to consider it.

You’ll definitely want to visit the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States, where you can take a photo in front of the marker. Kids will love the Conch Tour Train, which offers a hop on hop off tour around the island. It’s a fun trip, and a good way to get around. 

We also enjoyed visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home. Although younger kids may not appreciate the house, they probably will love the cats that make the house and surrounding property their home.

Key West also offers an aquarium, state park, beaches, and much more. You can also take a day trip over to Dry Tortugas National Park. 

Orlando

Even if you don’t want to visit a theme park, there are so many things to do in Orlando. These include nature activities, the Orlando ICON, numerous water parks, and so much more.

This central Florida city can also be the start or end of a Florida road trip, especially if you want to combine a visit to the Florida theme parks with other destinations in the state.

Tips for visiting Florida

  • It’s a big state so be sure to check average temperatures and rainfall of your destination before planning your visit. Those locations in the northern part of the state aren’t quite as warm as those in the central, or southern part of Florida.
  • It’s also important to know that the state is actually in two time zones – Central and Eastern. The panhandle is in the Central time zone, while the rest of the state is located in the Eastern time zone.
  • Some of these destinations can be combined, if you’d like. For instance, you can visit both St. Augustine and Amelia Island in the same trip.
  • Although we are focused on trips away from the theme parks, you could also combine some of these destinations with some time in the Orlando theme parks.
  • Florida is known for its afternoon rain storms. Just because there’s rain in the forecast doesn’t mean that the day is wasted. Rainstorms are often quick moving.

Where are the best places to visit in Florida in your opinion?

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estaservice.us

Wednesday 12th of February 2020

This was such an informative blog and the images are so beautiful! There's so much to explore in Florida and this list could be very helpful. Every traveler visiting US should have these places in their list. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Best In Florida

Saturday 1st of April 2017

Wow, these are the really best places in florida, i will bookmark the list.