Growing up in New England, I always loved visiting Florida for family vacations. It’s a pretty quick flight, and many Florida cities have direct airline service from Boston and Providence. Florida is also home to many wonderful destinations, beaches, and attractions. It’s also typically sunny and warm – a nice contrast to the winter weather in New England.
Within Florida, there are lots of different travel destinations to choose from. There are two different coasts and even two different time zones. You can explore nature, have a Florida beach vacation, and or experience world-class theme parks. So before you book your Florida trip, you should think about what type of vacation you want to have. If you are looking for a vacation on the coast, definitely consider the Florida gulf coast. This area offers several beautiful beach towns with fabulous resorts and other attractions. Here are some of our favorite places to visit on the Florida Gulf Coast with kids.
Disclosure: I visited Sarasota at no cost for a press trip. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us. All opinions are my own.
Places to Visit on the Florida Gulf Coast With Kids
I had always heard of Sarasota, but didn’t know much about it until I visited last spring. Located south of Tampa, Sarasota is convenient to several airports, including one right in the city.
It’s home to several beautiful Gulf coast barrier islands, including Longboat Key, offering gorgeous beaches and some wonderful family friendly resorts. If you enjoy kayaking, I definitely recommend a trip through the mangroves. You can access these from the launch at Ted Sperling Nature Park. Guided kayak tours are available as well as kayak rentals.
Sarasota is most known as the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. I highly recommend a visit to the Ringling complex, which includes a circus museum, an art museum, and gorgeous grounds. It’s a nice break from the sun and the beach, and offers so much for families to enjoy. I especially loved the huge miniature circus, which is something kids are likely to love looking at.
See our favorite Florida resorts with the family.
Fort Myers is a great place to add to your vacation list, and it can even be combined with several other destinations on this list. If you are a baseball fan, you can enjoy watching the spring training games from the Grapefruit League, which includes our favorite team, the Red Sox.
Fort Myers also offers family-friendly attractions like the Manatee Park, the Imaginarium, and the Shell Factory. You can also fly into the Fort Myers airport, and then travel to other Florida Gulf Coast vacation destinations, like Naples, Marco Island, or Sanibel Island.
Our very first trip to the Florida Gulf Coast was to Marco Island. This island, located a little over an hour from Fort Myers, is a beautiful and quiet place to vacation. Stay at a beach resort, and you’ll want to spend most of your time soaking in the sun and enjoying the water. You can also participate in a number of water sports, including parasailing (which my daughter loved during our vacation).
When you are ready for a break from the beach, definitely consider a trip on the Dolphin Explorer. This eco-tour runs about three hours and is so educational and fun. During the trip, you’ll be able to see a variety of different dolphins and will learn all about them. We absolutely loved this trip and definitely recommend it for families visiting Marco Island.
Sanibel Island is located a little less than an hour from Fort Myers, making it an easy day trip. Or, you can choose to stay overnight, right on the island. Sanibel is known for its beautiful, shell-lined beaches, which are perfect for shell collecting. There is also the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
I had always heard great things about Clearwater’s white sand beaches. So, when I took a quick trip to Tampa, I knew that I had to take a day trip over to Clearwater. It’s located about 35 minutes from the Tampa International Airport, right on the Gulf Coast.
Clearwater is known for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a facility focused on rehabilitating and releasing animals. If you’ve seen the Dolphin Tales movies, you already know all about Winter and Hope, the most famous residents at the aquarium.
There’s also Clearwater Beach, a white-sand beach that offers family-friendly festivals and events throughout the year. During our visit, we enjoyed lunch at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, which is located right on the beach. You could visit Clearwater for the day, or stay at a hotel right on the beach. If you’d like to include a theme park visit during your trip to Clearwater, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay isn’t too far away.
Additional Resources: Want to read more Gulf Coast travel tips and reviews? Click to read our post with destination recommendations, ideas on what things to do, hotel reviews, and more.