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I’ve just returned from our one-week Florida beach vacation with our toddler. Over 7 days, as a family, we explored the best family vacation places in Florida. From the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic, there are so many places to choose from in Florida.

So how do you narrow down where to take your family vacation in Florida? Well, this guide is all about the best beaches with the most things to do for a young family. No theme parks, just a lot of nature and easygoing activities that everyone can enjoy.

When I started planning this trip with the Visit Florida team who invited me to visit, I wanted to get a range of experiences. I had not been to Florida in almost 15 years, so this was my first time back. And I did all of it through the eyes of a family traveler with a 2.5-year-old in tow.

What I love about planning a great family vacation to Florida is that there are several airports to choose from. You can’t go wrong with where you pick as there is likely a major airport nearby. From Fort Lauderdale to Orlando to St. Pete-Clearwater, all of these major airports get you to the beach pretty quickly (a plus with young kids.)

With white sand beaches, incredible family-friendly resorts, and more, these spots are my top choices for where to go this year. Below it, I’ve included a few more ideas as well if you’re looking to extend your trip too. This is your guide to where to take a Florida beach vacation with your family!

*This post is sponsored by Visit Florida. As always, all opinions are my own.

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for a Family Vacation in Florida:

  1. Vero Beach (staying at the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa)
  2. Clearwater (staying at the JW Marriott Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa)
  3. Fort Lauderdale (staying at the AC Hotel Fort Lauderdale)

Best Family Vacation Places in Florida

Family Beach Vacation in Florida

Vero Beach for a Relaxed Beach Town & Unparalleled Nature

Welcome to Florida’s Treasure Coast, where the Atlantic Ocean is always mild and the beaches are plenty. The barrier island here gives it that tropical feeling that transports you. Vero Beach is where we stayed for a leisurely three days in the Indian River County to explore all that there is in this town and nearby.

The vibe here is laidback — it’s home to 22 miles of beaches, all uncrowded, that brush up against the verdant jungle. Vero Beach is that easygoing, friendly, small beach town where everyone knows their neighbor and just has that great small-town welcome. In proximity to several natural places from refuges to gardens, there is plenty of space to explore outdoors in Vero Beach.

What to Know Before Visiting Vero Beach

  • Best Airport: Orlando MCO
  • How Many Days: 3-4
  • Time of Year to Visit: November to June

Where to Stay in Vero Beach

When it comes to staying in Vero Beach, there is no better address than the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel & Spa. Set on the shores of the soft sand beaches, you’re footsteps away from it. The boutique hotel has that welcoming, laidback feeling to it which we loved with our toddler. With beach chairs available, a pool with ocean views, and two standout dining choices, you can’t go wrong here.

And for those looking for a bigger space to stay with family, check out their larger suites — many kitchens and separate rooms to sleep for the whole family. You’ll find everything you need for a relaxing stay here. Book the best rates here.

Fun Family Activities in Vero Beach

For those wanting to kick off their trip with a sense of place, head to Ocean Drive for all the shopping and eateries. You’ll find local restaurants like El Sid Taqueria, Casey’s Place for burgers, Sailfish Brewing Co. taproom and restaurant, and The Lemon Tree for a classic diner. Afterward, head straight to the beaches for some time in turquoise waters or stop into the Vero Beach Museum of Art for the latest exhibit.

All adventures most definitely begin on the water, so make your way to Capt Hiram’s Resort for a Dolphin Watch Tour off the fishing piers. It will take you around through the Intracoastal waterways where you’ll see dolphins and possibly a manatee or two. This was such a highlight for us as a family, and our toddler loved it.

We stretched our legs in a few places like the stunning McKee Botanical Gardens. With over 18 acres of gardens to explore with winding paths and lush greenery. There’s an entire kids section that is so fun and equally beautiful (bring swim gear for the splash pad). Afterward, head to the Environmental Learning Center, a center designed for all ages to immerse in nature with a touch tank for littles. Another big hit for us as a family.


Clearwater for White Sand Beaches & Food Scene

Make your way to the Florida Gulf Coast for unparalleled white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. It’s no secret that the Gulf of Mexico beaches top charts every year and Clearwater is the place to stay. But I will say that our time here was memorable for more than just the beautiful beach.

Clearwater in the St. Petersburg to Clearwater has it all. What struck me here in particular was the vibrant food scene and natural state parks. Access to incredible deep-sea fishing means some of the best and freshest seafood can be found here, making restaurants plenty. Then nearby, several untouched islands and state parks within driving distance.

What to Know Before Visiting Clearwater

  • Best Airport: Tampa International
  • How Many Days: 3-4
  • Time of Year to Visit: November to June

Where to Stay in Clearwater

For the best luxury family-friendly resort, book in at the JW Marriott Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa. The newest elevated hotel to open, it’s tucked down the beach on sugar-white sands. The modern yet comfortable hotel features stunning suites that face out with views, each carefully designed.

As a family traveler, this hotel hit all the marks for what we needed. It had beachfront access with private cabanas for rent (beach toys always available!), a rooftop pool, and a lovely kids club that I gladly enjoyed as well. The JW Marriott also had several dining options right there so for those not wanting to venture too far, you had it all. Book the best rates here.

Fun Family Activities in Clearwater

As it is the Sunshine State, Clearwater is the perfect home for all things outdoors. Head to beaches like Clearwater or even nearby Madeira. For more untouched areas, the drive to Honeymoon Island State Park is well worth it. Honeymoon Island boasts beaches with sand bars and several hiking trails.

When it comes to dining, I have a few spots you can’t miss. The first is a dinner at Island Way Grill, where their boats make daily trips to get the freshest seafood. Another spot to book in is The Deep End at the JW Marriott — the sunset and the food here were spectacular. And there’s one more you can’t miss, definitely stop in at Columbia Restaurant for Cuban cuisine. They’ve just won the best Cuban sandwich in the state and I could have gone a few times for this.

For more ways to explore the Clearwater to St. Petersburg area, get a taste of the arts at The Dalí (Salvador Dalí Museum). It’s home to several hundred pieces and there is always a new exhibit like the current impressionist collection with art from Cezanne, Monet, and more. One last thing you can’t miss is a chance to meet the local wildlife up close — book a Dolphin Landings Dolphin Watch Trip for a 2-hour sail on the Boca Ciega Bay to spot the local dolphins.


Fort Lauderdale for City Culture & Natural Spaces

Don’t miss Fort Lauderdale for a family vacation — the opportunities for getting outdoors, enjoying incredible dining, and experiencing the vibrant city culture make it one of a kind. I think it’s the most underrated spot to kickback in Florida with kids.

From lovely beaches, historic gardens, and the stunning canals that dub it the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale is prime with adventure. I love that the airport is only 20 minutes from town, getting you to the beach quickly. You have a lot to do here and I appreciated the choose-your-own-adventure feeling that was in the city.

What to Know Before Visiting Fort Lauderdale

  • Best Airport: Fort Lauderdale
  • How Many Days: 3-4
  • Time of Year to Visit: November to June

Where to Stay in Fort Lauderdale

The AC Hotel Fort Lauderdale is footsteps from the famous Fort Lauderdale Beach. Set with a rooftop pool, and valet parking (very much needed in the city), it’s a good stay for those looking to explore the city.

The hotel is modern and comfortable, the suites are spacious and we loved the terrace with ocean views. I can’t stress enough how easy the location was where we could hop in the car and be somewhere quickly or even just walk. Book the best rates here.

Fun Family Activities in Fort Lauderdale

Where to start in Fort Lauderdale — the beaches, the city, or the state parks? I’d do a bit of everything while here. Stop by the historic Bonnet House Museum & Gardens where 35 acres sit right in the middle of the city to explore. It’s so beautiful with whimsically decorated interiors and lush gardens to walk. Across the street, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is the spot to get out kayak, hike, and explore a public park (there are picnic tables here too).

Another favorite was time along the New River, where you get a taste of the scenic canals. You can take the local waterway taxis to get around as well and don’t miss dinner at The House on the River for a lovely and delicious dinner.

More ways to experience the art culture here is by stopping at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale — it’s well worth a visit when in the city. And finally, don’t skip a meal at the bustling YOT Bar & Kitchen in Lauderdale Marine Center where you dine surrounded by yachts — the smoked fish dip is so good.


Other Destinations to Consider in Florida

Florida is a large state so I asked a few friends what their favorites have been for family trips. Sanibel Island, the Florida Keys, and Siesta Key were all frequent favorites. And of course, there are the famous beach destinations like Cocoa Beach, Panama City Beach, and Palm Beach you can’t miss. I think the net of it is, that you can’t go wrong with a family vacation in Florida.


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Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

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Xx,
Jessica

2 Comments

  1. Hi: My name is Connie Cotherman and I am the Marketing & Events Manager at McKee Botanical Garden. Thank you so much for including McKee Botanical Garden in this post. I have one correction we would like for you to make. Please change 80-acres to 18-acres. (The Garden was originally 80-acres in 1932 when it opened, but all but 18-acres were sold and condos were built on that 62 acres. Today we have 18-acres). Thank you, Connie

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Updated, thank you! We had the most wonderful time there!

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