Florida is one of the most popular travel destinations in the United States, with the state receiving record travelers.
According to WFSU, the number climbed to 37.9 million.
There are a thousand reasons to visit Florida, from its year-round temperate weather to the gorgeous beach views and endless family attractions and entertainment.
This guide will help you plan a Florida family getaway, whether you’ve been before and are seeking something new or planning your first trip.
I’ve narrowed it down to nine must-see places that you must put on your itinerary, stat.
1. Explore the Wildlife in Miami
One of Florida’s best offerings, hands down, is its assortment of tropical wildlife. Get to know the creatures that call Miami home with family-friendly animal-centric destinations left, right, and center.
Put on your walking shoes to visit Zoo Miami. The zoo is four miles or 750 acres, but that’s only because it includes so many animals. More than 2,500 species live here, from reptiles to amphibians, mammals, and birds.
Delight the kids before you leave your hotel by turning on the live cam on the zoo’s website and seeing who’s on the prowl today. Be sure to check the calendar, as Zoo Miami always has something fun going on.
Continue the vacation of a lifetime at the Miami Seaquarium. The kids can have a one-on-one dolphin encounter for an additional fee (with a supervised staff member present, of course).
Even if there’s no room in the budget for a dolphin encounter, the kids will still get to witness and touch many creatures. Touch pools are scattered throughout the aquarium, and the young ones can also watch nurse sharks and rays (although no touching!).
If your kids still crave seeing more animals, fill another day of your Miami vacation itinerary with a visit to Jungle Island. Part botanical garden, part zoo, all fun, Jungle Island has a playground known as Treewalk Village.
This treehouse features wood bridges, nets, and eight-foot hammocks, while the ground level offers games and obstacle courses. The bravest families can venture higher for Treetop Trekking, a ziplining experience.
The kids will also delight in Jungle Island’s animal encounters, as they can meet (and sometimes feed) rabbits, capybaras, giant tortoises, flamingos, and wallabies.
2. Go on a Historical Tour of St. Augustine
The northeastern coastal city of St. Augustine is the oldest city in the country, with Spanish colonial building influences everywhere you look.
It’s the perfect place to book a vacay if you and the family are history lovers. A few kid-friendly options will keep young ones from being bored.
You won’t find an older masonry fort in the continental US than the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Today, the fort features volunteers and rangers who can provide information and take pictures, as they’re dressed for colonial times.
While here, tour the casements, see museum exhibits, or witness a live weapon demonstration.
I also recommend the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Here’s one of the coolest facts about it – it’s still in working order today. That’s despite being built in the 1870s!
A guided tour will walk you through the lighthouse, shedding light (yes, pun intended) on its fascinating history. The kids won’t want to miss the Maritime Hammock scavenger hunt offered on the nearby walking trails or the Maritime Museum.
A United States National Monument since 1924, the Fort Matanzas National Monument features 100 acres of barrier islands and salt marshes by the Matanzas River and the namesake Fort Matanzas, a Spanish fort that has stood since 1740.
You must take a boat ride to and from the monument, and the guided tours take about an hour.
You don’t have to go on a cruise to set sail for a world of adventure. The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum will enchant children of all ages. Step back in time to more than 300 years during the Golden Age of Piracy to experience firsthand what life was like for pirates at the time.
3. Immerse Yourselves in Nature in the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are 120 miles in all. Truly, you could spend an entire vacation jumping across one tropical island to another and be perfectly contented.
However, if you want to expand your plans for the ultimate family vacation, here are some of my favorite places.
You’ll find everything you need for the perfect tropical getaway at Bahia Honda State Park, including a snack bar, a marine sanctuary, snorkeling and kayaking, and three beaches to play in.
You can while away the entire day splashing in the crystal-clear waters. That’s not such a bad thing considering the sunsets here are magnificent, and the stargazing is even better!
Don’t miss the opportunity to spot giant hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, slate pencil sea urchins, sea stars, and conches.
You could spend an entire vacation at Dry Tortugas National Park, as it’s 46,000 acres with seven islands.
If you must condense your trip, may I recommend Bush Key to witness seabirds or Loggerhead Key for the sea turtles (it also has a lighthouse)? The 1875 Windjammer is still visible on the island, and Fort Jefferson has stood since the 19th century.
Falling in love with nature is easy when you spend an afternoon at The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. A day here begins with a 15-minute video introduction into how butterflies become…well, butterflies!
Next, you’re unleashed into the exhibit, where butterflies and birds freely flit about. Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful greenery, as more than 50 plant species are on display among walking paths and waterfalls.
4. Zip Through Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach is a mecca for race fans. Check the event calendar, as the Daytona International Speedway regularly hosts races, especially NASCAR. You can book a track tour just about anytime, which is the ultimate activity for the budding racer in your household.
Adrenaline of an entirely different sort awaits at the Daytona Lagoon, a water park and fun park. The water park offers some of the most thrilling spills this side of the beach, from the multicolored slides of Kraken’s Revenge to the aptly-named Adventure Mountain.
Don’t stress if you just want to chill. Pelican’s Drift Lazy River is a relaxing experience, as is the Castaway Children’s Play Area.
Grab your towels, change out of your soaking swimwear, and high-gear it to the Fun Park. Awaiting you are go-karts, laser tag, bumper cars, mini golf, a ropes course, an indoor rock wall, and a spacious arcade.
A day trip to the Museum of Arts & Sciences or MOAS caps off any Daytona vacation well. The range of exhibits rotates to keep exploring the museum exciting, and a planetarium plays shows throughout the day. However, entry into the planetarium requires separate tickets.
By day or night, the Daytona Boardwalk is an amazing place to foster family togetherness. Stroll and shop to your heart’s content, witness a summer show at the Daytona Beach Bandshell, eat at the restaurants and snack bars, and play at the arcade.
Daytona Lagoon is the boardwalk’s water park with a Grand Prix track, while Screamer’s Park has enough thrills to entertain older kids. Fireworks shows occur seasonally after dark.
5. Hit Up the Theme Parks in Orlando
Your kids will undoubtedly beg you to visit Orlando, the theme park capital of Florida. Where else can you find Universal, Disney World, and LEGOLAND? Let’s explore your theme park options, as you have no shortage of ‘em.
The dream vacation destination for millions of families, vacationing at Walt Disney World will make your children’s entire year.
Spend a day apiece at the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, or the Magic Kingdom, or try to see them all in one day. Splash and play at Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
You can stay at a campground, hotel, or resort on the park grounds or just outside of Disney World if it’s more financially feasible.
Between the shopping, the dining, the rides, the character meet and greets, and the overall atmosphere, it genuinely doesn’t get any better.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a water park, resort, and theme park all in one. It’s also the perfect place to visit to make your kids’ dreams come true. The theme park has more than 50 rides to explore, not to mention games, shows, shopping, and seasonal events like Halloween parties.
The water park is awesome for family togetherness, as it offers rides for all thrill levels, from the very tame lazy river and DUPLO Splash Safari to scary slides and splashes on long tube rides.
Universal Studios Orlando is three theme parks jam-packed into one. Volcano Bay is a water theme park that promises soaking thrills at every turn. This is the place to find the one and only Krakatau Aqua Coaster, which is part water slide, part roller coaster, all heart-pounding excitement.
Islands of Adventure is all about the fantastical, everything from wizardry to witchcraft, dinosaurs, and superheroes. Here, you and your family can experience the Jurassic Park River Adventure, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal Studios Florida is a theme park with yet more Harry Potter rides, character encounters with the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Minions rides, and the Revenge of the Mummy ride.
6. Explore Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast is a hub where culture and business intersect. Of course, you’ll have more interest in the former than the latter on a family vacation, which is just as well. You and the kids can expect a well-rounded trip here with many attractions to experience.
The Museum of Science & Industry or MOSI calls itself a “scientific playground.” That’s enough to pique any child’s interest but make parents happy that the kids will at least learn something. The museum features permanent exhibits with hands-on features.
Kids can explore a lunar colony, watch planetarium shows, try brain puzzles, or learn about the science behind optical illusions.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is plenty of fun for families, and the zoo strives to promote animal conservation, which is reason enough to plan a visit as you pass through this part of Florida.
Learn about animals in parts of the world as Africa, Asia, or Florida, or explore the Manatee Circle with an adorable manatee mascot walking around for photo ops.
The Carousel Circle has a stunning animal-centric carousel for the kids to ride, and with special events always on the calendar, you can ensure a rip-roaring good time for your loved ones.
If you had to pass on the parks in Orlando, Adventure Island is sure to make up for it. This water park features dizzying slides, tube racing, and body slides. If slower rides are more your speed, Shaka-Laka Shores is an interactive play and splash zone.
Adventure Island also has rope climbing over a pool and a half-mile lazy river called Rambling Bayou.
The heart-pounding excitement doesn’t have to stop there! Tampa Bay Grand Prix will be the ideal capper for your Tampa experience.
You and the kiddos can put the pedal to the metal and compete on an indoor twisting track. Who will cross the finish line first? No matter who earns first place, everyone is a winner, as you’ll all have bunches of fun.
7. Experience Nature in Winter Park
Winter Park is a hop, skip, and a jump from Orlando. Due to its proximity to that major Florida city, Winter Park often gets overlooked or lumped into Orlando’s entertainment options. I feel like that’s a real shame, as it has its own attractions for families.
For instance, I love the nature in Winter Park, as it’s green, lush, abundant, and plentiful.
The Harry P Leu Gardens is an excellent example of what I mean. This tropical and semi-tropical garden has 50 acres of lakes and grounds with greenery around every turn.
You can explore a camellia forest or witness oaks that are more than 200 years old. The Leu House Museum showcases the fascinating history of the Leu family, who purchased the land that became the gardens in the 1930s.
Oh, and there are sometimes dinosaur exhibits at the Harry P Leu Gardens, which will enchant any child.
I also recommend an afternoon at the Mead Botanical Garden. It’s free to enter and open every day from 8 a.m. to dusk. Grab a map and explore locales like the Lake Lillian Wetland, Stormwater Ponds, Legacy Garden, Discovery Barn, and Native Scrubby Woodlands.
Although it’s on a much smaller scale, Winter Park’s Kraft Azalea Garden is a commanding presence. This 5.22-acre garden on Lake Maitland is open all year long and holds the same hours as the Mead Botanical Garden.
Cypress trees provide much-needed shade from the Florida heat. You can also take a break at the benches or the dock.
8. Get Playful in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale is a place for kids to be kids and adults to release their inner kids. Its beaches are some of the best in Florida, but you can expand your horizons during your getaway to this part of the Sunshine State.
The Museum of Discovery and Science features an IMAX 3D theater for seeing the latest flicks. Put on your 3D glasses, sit back, and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.
Of course, MODS is a museum more than anything else, with a STEM lab for little learners, an outdoor garden called the Food Forest, the Lego Playful Learning Museum Network, and an exhibit featuring live otters (behind glass, don’t worry).
The Great Gravity Clock is the centerpiece of the museum. It’s a kinetic energy sculpture and the biggest of its kind in the state.
How about a different breed of fun in Fort Lauderdale? Spacebound Trampoline Park is a spot for bouncy, glow-in-the-dark excitement. Toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens can spend hours bouncing about. You can even add rock climbing to your experience.
Find out what’s so great about Flippo’s Fort Lauderdale by visiting. Flippo the hippo leads the varied attractions here. A toddler zone will keep the little ones plenty busy while your older kids play in the laser maze or indoor jungle gym. Kids of all ages will have a ball at the arcades at Flippo’s.
Lauderdale Comics is another excellent stop on your tour of Fort Lauderdale. You and the family can browse the latest titles and collect comic book memorabilia like toys, figures, and rows upon rows of Funko Pops.
9. Stroll the Beaches on Sanibel Island
The Lee County of Sanibel Island is a vacationer’s dream come true. The picture-perfect beaches invite you to go snorkeling, swimming, shell collecting, or stroll along the shoreline. The privacy of the island and its exclusivity foster a relaxed atmosphere you and your family will adore.
Bowman’s Beach Park is one spot here to explore. Although you must pay for parking, this beach park is beloved for its shelling. It’s miles of clean white sand and clear waves. You’ll feel wonderfully isolated, as the beach doesn’t have much surrounding development.
However, Bowman’s is one of the most popular on the island, so expect it to get crowded.
» MORE: Road Trip from Tampa to Key West
Turner Beach has limited paid parking and gets busy during sunset, as the views are unparalleled. I wouldn’t recommend swimming here due to the powerful undertow and steep drop-off into the deep waves.
However, you can sit and catch up on a good book while the kids make sandcastles.