Family Must-Sees

By: Carrie McLaren

From water parks, theme parks, and baseball to coral reefs, space centers, and zoos, here's a list of Florida must-sees for families.

Is it any wonder that Florida is the Number One dream vacation spot for kids? After all it's the home of Walt Disney World  Universal Orlando Resort  Busch Gardens Tampa and other thrilling theme parks. And Florida has 1 800 miles of coastline translating to sandcastle-building fishing and family fun.

In the Sunshine State your kids can meet Shamu and Mickey Mouse for sure. But they can also meet an astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center and a professional baseball player at a spring training game.

Experience the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex– Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

Here kids can swim with dolphins and manatees see real live alligators and snorkel surrounded by colorful tropical fish. They can experience fun hands-on exhibits at kid-friendly museums aquariums and zoos.

Here are some places that just shouldn't be missed while in Florida. 

Alluring Amusement Parks

Beloved cartoon characters exotic animals and killer whales. Scream-inducing stomach-turning roller coasters magical fairylands and realistic simulators. Fireworks parades and light shows. Stunning costumes and talented dancers and singers. This is the world of Florida theme parks -- sensory overload and excitement like nothing your kids have ever experienced.

The Orlando area is theme park central home to the Walt Disney World Resort (including Magic Kingdom Park  Epcot  Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom)  Universal Orlando Resort (including Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure) and SeaWorld Aquatica and Discovery Cove

Experience thrills on Manta – Sea World Orlando

In nearby Winter Haven  LEGOLAND Florida is a family favorite filled with rides for little ones and even a waterpark.

Busch Gardens Tampa  about an hour away offers thrills as well as animal encounters.

Visit A Fort

Theme parks may seem like the obvious vacation choice when traveling with kids but you can expand your trip to include a variety of activities. Spend a day in one of Orlando’s abundant theme parks then travel just 90 minutes away to historic St. AugustineCastillo de San Marcos in downtown St. Augustine is impressive and well-known. Just two miles north is Fort Mose Historical State Park the first free community of ex-slaves. Africans who fled slavery in the British Carolinas were welcomed by the Spanish government to this fort in 1738.

Learn history in St. Augustine – Daron Dean for VISIT FLORIDA

A Launching Pad for Fun

Get swept up in the thrill of space exploration at the awe-inspiring Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on the Space Coast. Here your family can learn about early space pioneers see their personal memorabilia and feel what it's like to walk on the moon. Also enjoy 3-D movies in two giant IMAX® theaters live shows and exhibits. A behind-the-scenes tour will bring you by huge rockets as well as launch and landing facilities. Meet a member of NASA's Astronaut Corps by signing up for the "Lunch with an Astronaut" program. For an extra treat make sure your visit coincides with a rocket launch - a truly out-of-this-world experience.

A Beach for Each

A visit to Florida just isn't complete without spending at least one day at the beach. From powdered sugar-white sand and emerald water in Northwest Florida to hard-packed golden grains and pounding surf on the Atlantic coast a beach can be easily reached no matter where you are in the state.

Toddlers love wading and splashing in the warm water or digging holes in the sand. Older kids swim snorkel play a game of beach volleyball or surf (surf's up mainly from New Smyrna Beach to West Palm Beach to Venice Beach).

Have fun at the beach – Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

Beaches offering food restrooms and rental beach toys or chairs are particularly family-friendly. Check out Siesta Key  Clearwater Beach  Fort Myers and Fort Walton Beach to name just a few.

For a unique special event kids of all ages can experience the Mardi Gras festivities in Perdido Key. With a lighted boat parade live music and the Cajun cook-off the festivities carry on into the evening with a fireworks show over the water.

Lions Etc.

See lions and tigers plus leopards elephants zebras and more all living in natural habitats at Florida's zoos. The state is home to several including Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo ranked first inChild magazine's list of the country's "10 Best Zoos for Kids" in 2004 and also No. 1 by Parents Magazine in 2009. Lion Country Safari just outside West Palm Beach is home to the state’s only drive-thru safari and is home to over 900 animals. 

 See the sights at Lion Country Safari – Carrie McLaren for VISIT FLORIDA

Batter Up!

Take your family out to the ballgame -- on a budget. Florida hosts 14 Major League Baseball teams during Spring Training. Bring your mitts and catch a game; your kids can see their favorite pros up-close and you won't go broke on tickets.

Football Fanatics

Florida is the place to be for football fans in your family. Depending on the time of year you can enjoy the Florida Blue Florida Classic in Orlando. The game features two Historic Black College Universities based in the Sunshine State: Bethune Cookman College and Florida A&M University. High profile college bowl games take place each year throughout the state -- the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville the Citrus Bowl in Orlando and the Orange Bowl in Miami are just a few of the annual matchups.


Cheer on the Jacksonville Suns – Visit Jacksonville

If college football is not your preference Florida is also home to professional football teams such as the Miami Dolphins  Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Undersea Exploration

Give your children an unforgettable experience -- snorkel or scuba dive the crystal-clear warm waters of the Florida Keys to view the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. Head to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary where kids can see brain corals and sea fans up-close and swim with rays turtles and tropical fish. While breathing underwater is part of the fun for many children younger tykes might rather experience the reef via a glass-bottom boat tour.

Water Parks

Florida is blessed with more than its fair share of water parks -- cool wonderlands that provide a refreshing complement to traditional theme parks. From daunting nearly vertical waterslides to "rivers" with currents allowing you to float lazily along in a tube Florida's water parks offer rides for every family member including teen daredevil and toddler. Check out Adventure Island in Tampa or Wet 'N Wild in OrlandoWalt Disney World Resort has two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach which features the world's tallest fastest waterslide.

Make a splash in Florida – Walt Disney World Resort

Animal Encounters

If your child is the creature-loving type visit Florida where up-close hands-on encounters will provide the thrill of a lifetime.

At Discovery Cove in Orlando your family can swim and play with a bottlenose dolphin snorkel among rays and tropical fish and feed tropical birds. Your kids will be kissed and hugged by dolphins and sea lions respectively at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada. And for swimming with gentle manatees head to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs.

The ZOO in Gulf Breeze is a 50-acre preserve where little ones won’t want to miss the petting zoo – home to goats sheep cows pigs and rabbits. Be sure to take a peek at the hatchlings in the incubator area and see the zoo’s kitchen offering an inside look at the work involved in feeding more than 700 animals.

For Kids Only

There aren't many places in this world made especially for kids. But Florida is one big exception. At Ronnie Van Zant Park south of Jacksonville for example you can't fish unless you're accompanied by someone younger than 16 years old.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens – Carrie McLaren for VISIT FLORIDA

Or check out one of the many children's museums located throughout the state. Jacksonville's Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens interactive kids' section called Art Connections allows little ones to touch/feel and make their own art. Pensacola's Children's Discovery Museum is a historical museum featuring a trading post a Native American village and displays from the city’s maritime industry. Also the Florida Aquarium in Tampa offers an outdoor aquatic exhibit for kids called Explore-A-Shore. Here kids can climb on sea creature models board a pirate ship slide down a waterslide and play in water jet sprays. 

Gawking at Gators

Are your children pestering you about seeing alligators on your trip to Florida? One of the best ways to view these toothy reptiles is aboard an airboat a flat-bottomed propeller craft known to speed through mangrove tunnels in Everglades National Park and in waterways and swamps throughout Florida. Airboats come in different sizes offering seating for two to 18 passengers. The propellers are loud but drivers give out ear mufflers and most kids love the ride which can include speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. In central Florida  Boggy Creek Airboats takes riders up-close along the shores of East Lake Tohopekaliga.

Another option for true reptile-philes is Gatorland in Orlando home to the hands-on "trainer for a day" program.

Geology Lessons

Visit north central Florida's state parks and show the kids some of the coolest geological features in the Sunshine State.

In Chipley walk the nature trails and check out the 67-foot waterfall at the aptly-named Falling Waters State Park. At Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna view the extraordinary formations on your cave tour and then cool off in the swimming hole.

At Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville see the huge 120-foot-deep sinkhole that was formed when a cavern's roof collapsed. Explore the sinkhole from boardwalks or from a nature trail around the rim. 


Bring the whole family – Julie Fletcher for VISIT FLORIDA


In today's world family members are often scattered all across the globe. So why not set a date to reconnect in a fun and relaxed locale for a reunion? And what better locale is there than Florida where there's sunshine warm weather and activities for kids and teens as well as for their parents and grandparents?

Many Florida resorts specialize in family reunions offering blocks of rooms at a discount as well as activities ranging from poolside get-togethers and games of water polo to dinners in formal dining rooms.

The Walt Disney World Resort offers "magical gatherings"- vacations featuring special experiences for groups - for those staying at a Disney resort. In addition vacation rental companies offer furnished and completely stocked houses and cozy cottages. Families can easily rent one large residence or several homes in the same neighborhood. No matter where you go in Florida a memorable family reunion is guaranteed.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

More From Family


You are signed in as:null
We need maps and points of interest for 2seniors to travel the entire st. End of Sept.or Oct..
Hi Marlene,
Thanks for reaching out.
I just answered you as follows in the question you sent to my inbox:
There are so many places and so many things to do I donât know where to start!
We have 825 miles of beaches in every variety, including the pure white sands of one of the best beaches in the nation, Siesta Key. We have unique little towns like Cedar Key, perched three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. We have the best snorkeling in the nation in the Florida Keys. The golf is unprecedented.
You can watch a mother sea turtle lay her eggs on the beach under the cover of darkness, or ride a horse along the surf. You can fish for bass in Lake Okeechobee or balloon over Orlando. You can discover the best shelling in the United States on Sanibel Island, or discover the most fun small town in America (according to Rand McNally) in Delray Beach.
We have the best and most theme parks.
You can watch dolphins frolic in the wild, or touch one at many aquariums.
Plus there are so many only-in-Florida adventures that you shouldnât miss, like snorkeling with the wild manatees in Crystal River. Itâs an all-ages experience-- I took my mom when she was 77âbut you can go out in a kayak or pontoon boat too.
Follow the links for more info on the adventures and destinations.
Let me know what youâre interested inâart, nature, adventure, whateverâand Iâll give you specific suggestions.
Also, to order VISIT FLORIDA Magazine, a free map and other publications, click here.
Sunny regards,
I wanna live in Florida
What are the top 3 theme parks or attractions to visit in Florida?
You have to try the Lucia N3 Hypnagogic Light Machine at The Om Spa in Naples FL, a kinetic light device used for deep relaxation, meditation and to access alternate states of consciousness. Light travelers simply sit in front of the light, close their eyes, and the journey begins. White light enters the retina and stimulates the pineal gland, creating an amazing and powerful kaleidoscopic experience of vivid colors, psychedelic effects and sacred geometric shapes and forms. Music enhances the experience as the mind combines the two, creating synesthesia â an experience of seeing music.