If you love the sea, salt, and sand as much as I do, you probably want to visit lots of different beaches on your family vacations. The southern state of Florida (known as the Sunshine State), as a peninsula, offers so many different types of beaches – on the panhandle, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. While I love the actual sand and surf of the beaches, I also really enjoy the attractions, restaurants, and resorts of the Florida beach towns – some of which are small beach towns.
These coastal towns in Florida offer so many different things for families to explore, beyond the great beaches, including museums, state parks, nature trails, aquariums, art galleries, eco-activities, and shopping. While you may want to have some beach days during your vacation, you may want to spend some time doing other things – especially if it’s raining or if you’ve had too many days in the sun. Here are the best Florida beach towns for families- including coastal towns in Florida that are great for family vacations.
We received complimentary trips/stays at various Florida beach towns and hotels over the years, and paid for other stays. All opinions are my own.
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Coastal Towns in Florida: The Best Florida Beach Towns
When planning a visit to one of these beach towns in Florida, find a centrally located hotel, vacation home rental, or resort. That will allow you the opportunity to do all of the different attractions and activities on your vacation itinerary.
Visits to some of these towns can be combined while others are pretty far apart., so consider geography when planning your Florida visit. You may be able to combine destinations either with day trips or a Florida coastal road trip.
This beautiful historic city on the East coast of Florida is one of my favorite places to visit and is one of the oldest towns. While there are beaches and boat rides in St. Augustine, there are so many other things to do as a family. Popular activities include the historic St. George Street, where you’ll find shops and restaurants, as well as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
There’s a popular hop-on, hop-off bus tour, where you can explore the city and learn more about the history and various attractions that are available.. Younger kids will also enjoy the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, as well as the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.
You can stay right in St. Augustine, or visit as part of a day trip from a nearby destination. During my trips to St. Augustine, we typically stayed elsewhere and visited for the day. If you do stay in St. Augustine, here are some of the more popular hotels.
The South Florida city of Miami is an extremely popular worldwide destination. It’s also very close to Fort Lauderdale, so you’ll be able to visit both cities during your visit.
Both airports are also convenient, so you will have options when choosing flights. On some visits, I’ve flown into Miami and out of Fort Lauderdale because I had better flight times and prices with that combination.
Although the city has so many wonderful places to stay, Key Biscayne, a short drive from Miami, is a great spot for a family vacation. This key is home to a gorgeous Ritz-Carlton resort, and right near a coral reef. You’ll also be near the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park as well as Crandon Park.
I’ve stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne and loved it. This luxury resort offers a waterfront location, family and adult pools, kids’ activities, and a splash pad. Read more reviews of The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne here.
This small city and barrier island on the Atlantic Coast is best known to Disney fans as the home of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. Vero Beach is not as crowded as other beach towns and is located about two hours southeast of Walt Disney World in an area known as the Atlantic Treasure Coast.
In addition to the Atlantic beach and the Disney resort, you’ll also find cultural and natural activities in Vero Beach. Some popular attractions include the McKee Botanical Garden, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Nature lovers especially will enjoy a visit to the wildlife refuge.
Walt Disney World guests who want to combine their theme park visit with some beach time should definitely consider a road trip to Vero Beach. Disney’s Vero Beach Resort offers a pirate-themed pool with a waterslide and play area, catch and release fishing, sea turtle programs, and miniature golf. You can also spend time on the beach, and umbrella/chair rentals are available.
I originally learned about Amelia Island through a conference hosted there, and immediately fell in love with this great place for a family vacation. This barrier island is located on the Florida Atlantic Coast, not too far from Jacksonville. It’s about 13 miles long and 4 miles wide and includes Fernandina Beach, American Beach, and Amelia City.
While you are there, you can explore the historic district, with restaurants and shops. There is also the Amelia Island State Park as well as the Fort Clinch State Park.
During my visit, I enjoyed a complimentary stay at the Omni Amelia Island Resort. This family-friendly resort is located right on the beach and would be great for a family vacation. It offers luxurious rooms, golf, two pools, a splash pad, Segway tours, fishing, and a nature center offering nature tours and activities.
In addition to the Omni, you’ll find other places to stay on the island. These include a Ritz-Carlton, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn, and more. You can fly into the Jacksonville airport and it’s a quick drive over to Amelia Island.
See reviews of Amelia Island hotels here.
We first visited Marco Island on a family spring break vacation several years ago. I hadn’t heard much about it, but decided to take a chance a visit. We definitely agreed that Marco Island is a hidden gem and the perfect place for a family beach vacation.
My family loved our relaxing time on the beach, and I would definitely recommend including it on your Florida family vacation bucket list. Marco Island is a quiet beach destination, but also offers some fun family activities if you want some time away from the beach.
It’s located about 55 miles south of Fort Myers, so that’s the best airport to fly into. It’s also located near Naples, so you can stay in Marco Island and head over the bridge to Naples for some activities. We enjoyed a morning at the Naples Botanical Gardens, but go early before it gets too hot.
While you are on Marco Island, I’d definitely recommend booking the three-hour Dolphin Explorer Eco-Tour and Cruise, which usually runs twice per day.. During this cruise, we got to see lots of dolphins, osprey, and eagles.
In addition to the boat captain, you’ll also have a naturalist on board who will talk about and lead the kids in identifying the various dolphins. We also enjoyed a stop at a small island where we were able to do some shell collecting.
Another popular spot is the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, located between Marco Island and Everglades City. Of course, you’ll want to spend some time at the beaches. There are two public beaches, as well as private beaches that are located at the resorts.
You can read Marco Island hotel reviews here.
Destin Florida, located on the Emerald Coast of Florida on the panhandle, is a popular family beach destination with southerners. I had heard so many great things about it over the years and was thrilled to stay there a few years ago with friends.
If flying to the area, the nearest airport is the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, which is served by American, Delta, and United Airlines. For my trip from Boston, I had to connect in Atlanta, so you may not be able to find a direct flight. Keep in mind that this area of Florida is on Central Time, rather than Eastern TIme.
Within Destin, you’ll find large resorts and many different vacation home rentals. While you are there, you can explore the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, which offers lots of fun shops and delicious restaurants. There are also several malls and shopping areas, as well as Henderson Beach State Park.
The Emerald Coast is known for its beautiful white-sand beaches, and there are other destinations beyond Destin to visit in the area. These include Fort Walton Beach, South Walton, and the small town of Seaside, Florida, which is where the Truman Show was filmed.
While there are some hotels in the area, vacation home rentals are very popular. You can see hotel reviews for Destin here.
Clearwater Beach is one of my favorite vacation destinations in the world. This beautiful beach is regularly rated one of the top beaches in the United States, and once you step into the white sugar sand, you’ll understand why.
Beyond the beach, the town of Clearwater Beach is a quintessential beach town with surf and souvenir shops, fresh seafood restaurants, and fishing charter companies lining the streets. During spring break, the central Pier 60 hosts the famous sugar sand festival, with amazing sand sculptures all in a tent on the beach. You can also visit the marina across the street to book a dolphin cruise where you can see dolphins and do some shell collecting.
Across the bridge leading to the beach, you’ll find the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, known as the home of Winter the Dolphin from a Dolphin Tale movie. The aquarium focuses on rehabilitating animals, and offers educational programs and events that are great for kids. It’s definitely a must-visit if you are in the area.
If you and your family love theme parks and thrill rides, you’ll also want to take a quick day trip to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. This theme park offers animal exhibits as well as some really exciting thrill rides. My teens love visiting Busch Gardens, especially because of the rides.
There are other beach destinations within the Clearwater area, including St. Pete Beach.
You can see reviews of Clearwater Beach hotels here.
Sanibel Island/Captiva Island
Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida is the popular and beautiful Sanibel Island. If you are flying in for your family vacation, it’s best to fly into the Fort Myers Airport. You can access the island by crossing the Sanibel Causeway by car.
While there are some family-friendly resorts on and around this popular destination, vacation rental homes are also available. Most of the hotels and resorts on Sanibel Island are independent and there aren’t many chains on this charming island.
Sanibel Island is known for its fantastic shelling, so make sure you get your shell-hunting skills ready. But there are other things to do as well, beyond the beaches. Activities include the Sanibel Island Lighthouse, the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
You can find Sanibel Island resort reviews here.
Northwest of Sanibel Island is Captiva Island. This quaint barrier island offers beautiful beaches with water sports like kayaking and parasailing, as well as fishing charters and eco-tours. Like Sanibel, it offers both hotels and vacation home rentals.
The town of Sarasota is so easy to access from many US cities and offers a gateway into several beautiful beach communities. Within the city of Sarasota, you’ll find the Ringling, which is a collection of museums on one property. This includes the Circus Museum, the Museum of Art, and Ca’ d’Zan (the home of the Ringlings).
Depending on the ages of your kids, you’ll definitely want to visit the Circus Museum. We loved walking through it, and enjoyed seeing the huge mini circus model. If your kids enjoy art, you can also consider walking through the art galleries at the beautiful on-site art museum.
The basic tickets for the Ringling include the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Bayfront Gardens, so you can walk through as much of the art museum as you (and your kids) would like. For an additional fee, you can add on a self-guided first-floor tour of Ca’d’Zan.
Sarasota is also right near some beautiful barrier island communities including Siesta Key, Lido Key, and Longboat Key. Anna Maria Island is also about 20 miles away. On the keys, you’ll find beaches, nature activities, water activities, and beautiful resorts.
If you are looking for one of the closest beaches to Orlando, consider Daytona Beach. This Atlantic Ocean coast city offers a 23-mile beach and is located about an hour from Orlando. In addition to swimming and sunning, you can also find indoor and outdoor activities in Daytona Beach.
The world-famous Daytona International Speedway is home to the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 Nascar races. If you aren’t visiting during a race weekend, or want to see the speedway without attending an event, there are also tours offered. The Daytona International Speedway also offers the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
As an avid shopper, one of my favorite things to do in Daytona Beach is to visit the Daytona Flea and Farmers Market. It’s open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and takes place over around 40 acres. It’s difficult to even explore the whole thing during one visit – we usually visited twice during one visit.
On the actual beach, you’ll find the Daytona Boardwalk and Pier, with amusements, shops, rides, and more. See Daytona Beach hotel reviews here.
St. George Island
Looking for a low-key vacation in a beautiful location? St. George Island, a 28-mile barrier island, is located on the Gulf Coast of North Florida on the Florida panhandle. The closest airport, Tallahassee Regional Airport, is located about 75 miles away.
St. George Island is a quiet vacation destination, and guests mostly stay in vacation rentals and cottages. There are also two hotels located on the island.
Guests can enjoy the St. George Island State Park. There’s also a lighthouse as well as quaint shops and restaurants.
Read reviews of the St. George Island hotels here.
I had heard so many wonderful things about the laid-back, fun vibe of Key West, so I was happy to be able to visit there as a port on the Disney Magic. Key West is an island accessible by bridge that is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It’s four miles by about one-two miles and is surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Of Mexico.
Guests arrive at the Florida Keys through the cruise ports and the airport. However, if you don’t have a flight option right into the Key West airport, Miami is about a 3 ½ hour drive. While I only was able to spend a day there, I definitely think you could spend more time if possible.
There is so much to do. Walk down Duval Street, where you’ll find restaurants, bars, live music, and shops in a party atmosphere. We opted to take the Conch Train, which runs continuously and offers four stops along the 90-minute tour. You can also choose to rent a golf cart for the day.
You’ll also want to stop at the Southernmost Point marker, which is definitely one of the most popular photo stops. Arrive early and wait in line for your opportunity to get a picture in front of the marker.
There’s also the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. While kids may not know much about the author Ernest Hemingway, they are likely to love seeing the 40-50 six-toed cats that call the museum their home. Guided tours are available, or you can do a self-tour.
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