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.
Nature lovers will enjoy all of the wonderful nature to explore in the area. If you are a beach lover, there are miles of beaches – some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Of course, there are also the world-famous theme parks.
So before you book your Florida trip, you should think about what type of vacation you want to have, which will dictate which part of Florida is worth visiting for your vacation. If you are looking for a vacation on the coast, definitely consider the Florida Gulf Coast.
This area, along the Gulf of Mexico, offers several beautiful beach towns with fabulous resorts and other attractions. Florida’s Gulf Coast is an excellent place to visit with kids and is one of my favorite places to visit in the United States. With warm waters much of the year, it’s also a nice place to visit to escape the cold in early spring.
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 (where I visited Lido Beach Resort and the Resort at Longboat Key Club). 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 the barrier island of Longboat Key, offering gorgeous beaches and some wonderful family-friendly resorts. It’s one of the best beach vacations for families. Siesta Key Beach, one of the best Florida Gulf Coast beaches, is also in the area.
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.
For families, 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 very 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. Captiva Island is another option in the area.
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 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.
If you are a beach lover, you’ll definitely want to experience the water waters and white sand beaches of Clearwater Beach. Additionally, the town of St. Petersburg, home of St. Pete Beach, is also in the area.
You could visit Clearwater for the day, or stay at a hotel right on the beach. Many of the local hotels are located near the Pier 60 fishing pier.
If you’d like to include a theme park visit during your trip to Clearwater, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay isn’t too far away.
Clearwater’s sugar white sand is so famous that there is even an annual festival celebrating it. The Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival takes place in the spring each year. During this festival, you can see sand creations made from this sugar-white sand.
There are other great places to visit on the Gulf Coast of Florida, including Venice. See things to do in Venice, Florida here. In addition, you can often take a ferry boat to the Florida Keys for a day trip. Overall, it’s a beautiful region to visit, with so many things for families to see and do.
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.