Kid-Friendly Adventures: Fun Florida Activities for Families
There are some places where it seems you never have enough time to explore, and Florida definitely falls into that category. From the purely natural to the overly commercial, there’s no end to the adventures families can enjoy. Tried-and-true amusement parks never fail to please kids, but this year, shake things up and discover some new family favorites.
1. Fly over Alligators
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park (999 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine, FL) is not just about alligators. This place has all different kinds of animals, and not only reptiles; you and your kids will also enjoy plenty of birds and small primates. But the real excitement can be described in just four words: Alligator Farm zip line. No kidding, Crocodile Crossing is an attraction that allows adventurous guests ages 8 and up to ride a zip line over actual alligators and crocodiles. The park has been around since 1893, but the Alligator Farm is great at keeping up with the times and now has a major focus on conservation.
2. Climb a Lighthouse
Florida has lighthouses all over the state, from Pensacola to Amelia Island and all the way down to the Keys. Some of the lighthouses, such as the one on Amelia Island, have limited access. Others are open to the public, and most are relatively inexpensive to visit. Some feature museums, which can be really interesting. Whatever the destination in Florida, there’s probably a lighthouse nearby, and visiting one can provide an interesting break from the beach or other outdoor activities. Some of the most family-friendly lighthouses are the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (81 Lighthouse Ave., St. Augustine, FL), the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum (2081 Radford Blvd., Pensacola, FL), the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum (4931 S. Peninsula Dr., Ponce Inlet, FL), the Cape St. George Light (2 East Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island, FL), the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum (500 Captain Armour's Way, Jupiter, FL) and the lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (1200 South Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, FL).
3. Visit a Zoo
Florida has several really excellent zoos in different parts of the state. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, FL) is big on interaction, and it’s fun for kids to visit the butterfly garden or feed the giraffes. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo (1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa, FL) is family-friendly, with a focus on conservation and a program for rehabilitating manatees, which is pretty impressive. The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens (3755 NW Highway 17-92, Sanford, FL) has worked to be especially autism-friendly, with exhibits that are close to each other and ticket prices that are reasonable enough to prevent angst if it’s necessary to leave early.
4. Hit the Beach
No one does beaches like Florida. You have your choice of all types of beaches, from secluded family beaches to rowdy tourist spots, from beaches with rough water to shorelines where the water is so smooth it's nearly glassy. For kids who enjoy the rough-and-tumble action of the surf, the eastern coast is a good bet. For smaller children or families who want to escape crowds, Gulf-side beaches like Longboat Key, Sanibel Island and Cedar Key are quieter, gentler options, as is Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs. The beaches favored by locals are the ones with fewer tourists, where it’s possible to really unwind and enjoy the ocean.
5. Last but Never Least: Disney World
This is the most obvious choice, which is why it’s last on the list. There’s plenty to do in Florida without Disney, but everyone should make the pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime. The Disney World compound is really four parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. The best one for your family? That really depends on your family! Magic Kingdom is pure fantasy, focused on classic Disney characters and stories. Animal Kingdom is all about, well, animals. Hollywood Studios is perfect for movie buffs, and Epcot is a great place to learn about different countries, as well as science and technology.
Weather and the Seasons
Summer is the high season in Florida, and it’s also really hot. The weather is pleasantly warm in late spring and early fall, though, so those might be better times to take the family and avoid the rush, if you can work around school schedules. No matter when your trip, wear plenty of sunscreen, because the tropical sun can be harsh. Also, be aware that in the summer, it rains almost every afternoon. Be forewarned, and bring an umbrella.
Florida can get expensive if your vacation consists of nonstop amusement parks. On the other hand, planning one or two big expenditures and filling the rest of the time with free or nearly free activities can really maximize your vacation budget. When staying for a while, consider renting a house, because that can be cheaper in the long run than a hotel, and it’s much more convenient.
Amy Curtis has been writing her entire life and professionally for the past decade. Her work has been featured on sites like Wayvs.com, 10Best.com and WorkingMother.com. A vagabond at heart, Curtis has lived all over the U.S. and Europe. She loves a good road trip, and has traveled extensively for business, pleasure, mission trips and as a military wife. She's currently busy working on a novel and planning her next big trip to Lake Powell, Utah.