When you hear the words vacation and Florida, most of you immediately think Disney or maybe Orlando. But with over 650 miles of beaches, it has more to offer besides a crowded, overpriced cluster of theme parks run by a mouse. Florida is filled with hidden gems among its many islands and keys. Whether you prefer collecting seashells on the feathery sands of the Gulf Coast beaches or canoe trips down rivers in search of wildlife, Spring Break in Florida can be an adventure.
The first 5 destinations on our list are located on the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
(1) Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Spanning two-and-a-half miles of pristine beach, the Sanibel Beach Resort is a sea shell hunters paradise. Nature lovers will be in awe of the 330-acre wildlife preserve where the real fun begins.
Grab a map, a camera, and a sense of adventure for a memorable vacation and set out on a ScoutAbout where you’ll search for the 15 Points of Discovery and earn your place on the ScoutAbout Wall of Fame.
If sipping umbrella drinks in your pool-side cabana while the kids splash and play is more in line with your family’s style, South Seas Resort on Captiva Island has you covered.
(2) Siesta Key
For families like mine, who love learning together, our next spot has enough to keep you busy all week long. In nearby Sarasota, the Mole Marine Laboratory and Aquarium will wow your family with its 130,000-gallon shark tank.
At the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, you’ll learn about lions and tigers and the many animals rescued by the sanctuary. Daily events and a petting zoo will keep kids entertained as they learn.
A fairytale world with art and outdoor exploration await you at the Sarasota Children’s Garden. And if history is your family’s cup of tea, then the Crowley Museum and Nature Center is a must-see. Established in the 1800s, it’s now a museum of pioneer days with hiking trails along scenic river views and a boardwalk through the marsh.
(3) St. George Island
Adventure awaits on St. George Island, in Florida’s panhandle, where Captain Jack’s offers a choice of boating excursions; from fishing for flounder to whale watching and picturesque views of the bay.
Sight-seeing opportunities begin at the Cape St George Lighthouse, originally built in 1833. Then visit downtown where you’ll find Crooked River Lighthouse and its pirate ship-themed playground.
St. George Island is dotted with vacation rental properties and a variety of activities your family will enjoy together. Beaches, bike rides, and picnics in the park make St. George the ideal destination for families who love the outdoors.
Shopping at The Jolly Roger Beach shop, your family will find kites, water toys, beach gear, and souvenirs. Dining in St. George will satisfy everyone’s cravings; succulent seafood, juicy burgers, and tantalizing desserts are found in the local restaurants speckling the island.
(4) St. Petersburg
Fort De Soto Park offers swimming, snorkeling, biking, kayaking, and waterfront camping so it’s no surprise it won the title of Best Family Beach in America.
Seashell collectors will want to catch the ferry and visit Caladesi Island State Park where your family may just spot a dolphin or two playing in the still Gulf waters. Water sports are popular on many of St. Petersburg’s beaches and your family will have a blast zipping around on personal watercraft or sailing high above the water parasailing.
If your family is looking for a paradise resort experience, St. Petersburg has two fabulous choices; Tradewinds Island Grand Resort and Rumfish Beach Resort.
The Island Grand is a 20-acre beachfront family fun zone. Activities range from flying with a jetpack to partying with pirates. While the kids are being entertained at supervised guided-activities called KONK camps, parents can indulge in a massage, relax poolside, or snuggle in a beachside hammock.
Rumfish Beach Resort offers a unique experience for its guests, a chance to snorkel in a 23,000-gallon aquarium built by TANKED. Experience sea life while staying mostly dry by visiting the Touch Tank Experience. Four aquariums in all, the resort showcases native Florida species of fish in the Juvenile and Middle School tanks; the Predator Tank features the invasive Lionfish, native to the Pacific Region and the Red Sea.
Across the bay from St. Petersburg, thrill-seeking families can ride extreme roller coasters at Busch Gardens theme park or experience wildlife encounters at Walkabout Way where visitors can hand-feed kangaroos.
Adventures in nature can be taken by canoe along the Hillsborough River where you may just spot a turtle swimming or an alligator soaking up the Florida sun.
Hotels and accommodations abound in the big city sports mecca of Tampa. While the Buccaneers are probably on vacation somewhere themselves, spring training for the Rays is in full swing and you may have a chance to catch a Lightening game if hockey is your thing.
There are golf resorts with manicured lawns and patchworks of tennis courts for families who play well together. Choosing between the nearly 50 hotels available, if golf and tennis are not your games, will come down to your family’s personal preferences giving you plenty of options for your Spring Break.
The final 4 destinations take us to the Atlantic Ocean coast of the Sunshine State. Beaches on this side of Florida range from small fishing villages with coffee shops and specialty stores to high-end boutique hotels amid overcrowded high-rise condominiums.
(6) Amelia Island
There’s a little gem north of Jacksonville that offers 13-miles of beaches, void of the overcrowding caused by overdeveloped tourist towns. Formerly stomping grounds for pirates, Amelia Island is an intriguing Victorian sea village rich with history.
Tantalizing dining options available on Amelia Island will delight everyone in the family. From quaint bistros to bagel shops and delis, you’ll find new and exciting dishes around every corner.
For a unique experience of farm-to-table, book a stay at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. Guests are invited to tour the aquaponic greenhouse, organic garden, apiary, and barrel room to learn how their table came to be.
The resort is a luxurious paradise with more than 400 rooms and three-and-a-half miles of secluded beach. The hotel offers family-friendly activities and tours where you can learn about local wildlife.
This former party-town has turned a new leaf and is now an affordable, family-friendly destination. Home to the start of NASCAR season, this beachside city offers an array of hotel options with endless opportunities to explore; art, history, culture, and of course, sports.
Families can find free guided tours at Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory or visit historical exhibits at the former home of John D. Rockefeller. The richest resource for exhibits on African American history and culture can be found at Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation Home.
After you and your family have had your fill of learning, enjoy some quality outdoor adventuring at Michael Crotty Bicentennial Park or the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens where life-size dinosaur statues remain, leftover from a 1940s theme park.
It wouldn’t be a Florida vacation without some fun in the sun so be sure and visit Sun Splash Park where you’ll find a shaded playground and picnic areas along the decorative walkways.
The City of Miami is South Florida’s hub for culture, offering families a wide range of experiences in a tropical paradise. Museums and marketplaces are found between luxury hotels and high-rise condominiums. Stretching from the Everglades on the west to the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay, Miami provides both nature and city life, giving you more to do than just sit on a beach.
Miami Beach is the island that comes to mind when most people think of Spring Break because that’s where you’ll find the party fueled nightlife of South Beach. To avoid the overpriced luxury hotels along Collins Avenue, I recommend finding an affordable rental on AirBnB for your family’s visit to Miami.
For the price of a luxury hotel room, your family can choose from hundreds of condominiums and apartments ranging in size from studios to two bedrooms and more. Some have spectacular views of the Atlantic and others have private pools.
Guided tours and airboat rides offer families exciting adventures at Everglades National Park, or learn about the cultures that have influenced the area by visiting the museums and art expos scattered around the city.
(9) Florida Keys
Off the southern-most tip of Florida lies 120-miles of islands speckling the waters of the Atlantic starting with Key Largo and stretching west into the Gulf, ending with Key West. Beaches on the Keys are man-made and found on the gulf side of the islands because the Florida Keys is home to the only coral reef in the United States.
(A) John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — Key Largo
Families can kayak, snorkel, scuba, or ride a glass-bottom boat to view America’s only natural coral reef.
(B) Dolphin Cove — Key Largo
Take a boat ride through backcountry waters and learn about dolphins and experience up-close interactions in a natural environment.
(C) Theatre of the Sea — Islamorada
Dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks live alongside tropical fish and birds in this protective environment. Featuring up-close shows and interactive programs.
(D) Boondocks Grill and Draft House — Ramrod Key
The only miniature golf in the Keys, boasting the largest Tiki Bar of all the islands with seafood and burgers, pizza and salads in an open-air restaurant.
(E) Key West Ship Wreck Museum — Key West
Travel back to 1856 Key West and learn how this island became so prosperous and at one time, the richest city in the United States. Hear tails of an unusual industry that provided livelihoods for early pioneers.