When it comes to an area with fantastic beaches, the southwest Florida region is hard to beat. Most of the communities that make up the area are situated along the Gulf of Mexico coast, starting from roughly Port Charlotte to the tip of the Everglades. Aside from beaches, the southwest Florida region is home to a wide variety of kid-friendly activities, making it an ideal vacation destination for families.
Although you will find kids at all the beaches in the southwest Florida area, Sanibel Island (sanibelisland.com) is particularly popular with families because of the abundance of seashells on the beach. Kids can spend hours collecting unique shells in a bucket. Bowman's Beach on Sanibel Island is quiet, has barbecue grills and a playground perfect for youngsters. Sand Key Park (pinellascounty.org) in Clearwater features a park area with a playground, grills, picnic tables and a dog park. It is also known for the sea turtles that deposit their eggs in the sand every year. Families can visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (seewinter.com) nearby to learn about the sea turtles and visit Winter the Dolphin from the movie "Dolphin Tale."
Take the kids to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/dingdarling) on Sanibel Island, known primarily for the variety of bird life. The visitor/education center offers a hands-on interactive area for kids, teaching them about migratory birds. The boat company Adventures in Paradise (adventuresinparadise.com) offers an afternoon Dolphin Watching cruise around the Mangrove Islands. The tour includes educational information about the dolphins and the Calusa Indians who once inhabited the islands. You can also take your kids to the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens (caribbeangardens.com), where they can see giraffes, cheetahs, honey badgers and other animals from around the world. It also features a botanical garden with a variety of tropical plants and fauna.
On a hot spring or summer day, take your kids to the Sun Splash Family Waterpark (capecoral.net/sunsplash) in Cape Coral. This 14-acre waterpark features tons of water slides, a lazy river and water play equipment for kids of all ages. Older kids can try thrilling slides such as the Zoom Flume and the Electric Slide & Power Surge. Younger kids can enjoy the Tot Spot that includes tot-sized water slides and interactive play equipment. King Richard's Family Fun Park (kingrichardspark.net) in Naples offers something for everyone. It features a go-kart track, laser tag, batting cages, a kiddie roller coaster, a water play area and miniature golf.
At the Imaginarium Science Center (imaginariumfortmeyers.com) in Fort Meyers, kids can learn about animals and science in hands-on exhibits. This includes a sea life touch tank where the kids can pet stingrays and daily interactive shows. Other exhibits include a dinosaur excavation dig and a pint-sized town. The Southwest Florida Museum of History (swflmuseumofhistory.com), also in Fort Meyers, features dinosaur bones and replicas of other prehistoric creatures, a fire truck kids can climb on and an old rail car from the 1920s that kids can explore.
- Southwest Florida Travel Guide: Home
- Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce: Best Beaches of Sanibel Island & Captiva Island, Florida
- Pinellas County: Sand Key Park
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium: What We Do
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR
- Adventures in Paradise: Dolphin Watch
- Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens: Home
- Cape Coral: Sun Splash Family Waterpark: Park Map
- King Richard's Family Fun Park: Amusement Rides
- Imaginarium Science Center: Exhibits
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images