10 Must See Spots in Florida – that aren’t theme parks

In Family, Travel by Rebecca SpearLeave a Comment

Many families think of a Florida family vacation and associate it with a trip to the house of mouse, Universal, Sea World or other big parks and attractions. While that can all be magical and definitely worth an add to the family travel bucket list, there is so much more to the state to explore. There are so many fun and family friendly spots away from the hustle. Since our oldest was born 9 years ago, our family has been going to different parts of Florida every year (sometimes more); we love the opportunity to get away and reconnect with each other. Here’s a round up 10 places to see and fun things to do in Florida.

1. Florida Springs

If you haven’t yet explored any of the Florida Springs, add them to your list ASAP. Florida has over 700 freshwater springs and they are amazing. The pristine water is so cool to experience whether your paddling, swimming, snorkeling, floating or even observing from land. Rainbow Springs State Park has a natural lazy river and Weeki Wachee Springs has a mermaid show, kayak/paddle board rentals and waterslides into the springs. Located in mostly Northern and Central Florida you can find a map and more details on the springs here.


photo from VisitFlorida.com

2. Crystal River

Speaking of springs, Crystal River is home to Three Sisters Springs which is an ideal spot for viewing manatees either by land from the state park’s boardwalk or from the water. The Plantation Adventure Center offers great tours and snorkeling or diving experiences. The Plantation on Crystal River is also a great place today stay overlooking Kings Bay with a beautiful pool, outdoor games and activities, boat rentals and a yummy restaurant. We’ve been going to Crystal River for years and it is such a hidden gem!

3. Sanibel and Captiva

There are many reasons to make Sanibel or Captiva the destination for your next family vacation. The wildlife, shell-seeking, the peace and quiet and slower pace, the sunsets, and of course the endless beach days without the crowds. We stayed a few years back with our boys at the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva and had the best time. Be sure to visit “Ding” Darling Waterlife Reguge, and grab a bite at Grandma Dot’s or the Island Cow.

photo from the Homeowner’s Collection

4. 30A

If you haven’t taken a stroll or bike ride down 30A, you’re missing out; the Emerald Coast is stunning. This stretch of the Gulf Coast is made up of small beach communities each unique with something different to offer. You really can’t go wrong with any them. I recently visited Seaside, and was definitely charmed by the cobblestone streets, cottage style homes, the cute downtown and of course the airstream food trucks.

5. Middle Keys
While Key West may a more popular destination, the Middle Keys are in my opinion more relaxing, and have so much to offer families.  Check out the Dolphin Research Center, The Turtle Hospital, Theatre of the Sea, go fishing in Islamorada, spend the day at the beach and playground at Sombrero Beach, or grab a bite and eat on the beach at Morada Bay, the list goes on. We’ve stayed at Hawks Cay in Duck Key with our family and had an absolute blast and can’t say enough about the endless opportunities for fun for the kiddos.

Photo from Friends of Fort DeSoto

6. Fort DeSoto

Fort DeSoto State Park is often regarded amongst America’s top beaches, and it’s also a nature lovers paradise. The park makes a great day trip if you’re staying in the Tampa/Clearwater area. It’s also an awesome place for a family camping adventure. We are dying to bring our travel trailer down to experience this as we’ve heard it’s one of the best spots for beachfront camping. I’ve also heard you can rent campers in the area as well – RV Family Travel Atlas to be a great resource for camping info.

Photo from Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

7. Anna Maria Island

Who wouldn’t want to escape to Anna Maria Island, with natural and laid back barrier island with turquoise water, white sugary sandy beaches and old Florida charm. On AMI you will see no high rises or fast food restaurants and speed limits never go above 35. If you’re looking to truly get away and slow down, it’s a perfect spot.  We’re staying in a 2-bedroom condo with our family this Spring at the Waterline Resort and simply can’t wait.

8. Caledesi Island State Park

If you’re a nature lover, taking a boat ride out to Caledesi Island island should definitely be on your to do list. There are only two ways to get to the island, either by private boat or by ferry (which leaves from Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin). Caledesi Island is one of the few remaining untouched barrier islands on the Gulf Coast. Whether you kayak through the mangroves, hike the walking trails, or simply enjoy the beach and natural surroundings it will be a great day.

9. The Venetian Pool

Built in1923, the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables is an 820,000 gallon fresh water spring fed pool. Bordered with original coral rock, the pool also includes two waterfalls and cave-like grottos which make for an epic swimming experience. If you’re visiting South Florida this is a great spot to add to your list. Note that this is for families with older kiddos as kids must be at least 3 years old to be admitted.

Photo courtesy of the Amelia Island Visitor’s Bureau


10. Amelia Island

For families wanting a little bit of everything, Amelia Island is a great choice. This northern barrier island is on Florida’s Atlantic coast and is a perfect tranquil getaway and is just 30 miles from Jacksonville. Golf, horseback riding on the shores, dolphin or bird watching, exploring old forts and museums, fishing or shrimping, and beach days are just some of the fun activities to partake in on your trip.

Anyone else wanting to jump on a plane right now? What are your favorite spots to visit in the Sunshine State?

Meet the Author | Rebecca Spear

Rebecca is a mom of three energetic young boys and wife of a lobsterman living in her favorite place, the coast of Maine. Rebecca is a mother-runner/fitness enthusiast, she loves her smoothies, cooking, family clamping as well as other travels and adventures with her boys. When she’s not writing for SSM you can find her over on her blog Mainely Mama talking about her parenting journey, mom style, recipes, exercise, travel, stories from her life in Maine and more.

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