1/10 St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, glimmering between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, draws a young, hip crowd with unique boutiques, ice cream parlors (don’t miss Larry’s Ice Cream & Gelato), kid-friendly breweries and museums. The world-renowned Salvador Dali Museum offers story times, tours and workshops for kids. For an artisanal culinary experience, check out Locale Market. The food hall is a shopping and dining immersion experience with a mix of prepared foods, restaurants, bakeries, a coffee bar and beyond. Of course, there’s also the white-sand beaches for fun in the sun and water. For a family-friendly option, head to Fort De Soto Park’s North Beach. With a wide tidal pool begging to be splashed in, kids will enjoy running between the lagoon and the Gulf. You’ll spot sea shells of every color and size.
2/10 The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a chain of subtropical islands known for their natural beauty, shimmering aquamarine water, mesmerizing sunsets and a vast array of wildlife. Stretching from Key Largo down to Key West and easily accessible by car, boat or plane, the Keys have great appeal for families who want to get away from it all, but also enjoy some of the exciting experiences on offer. Kids can get a taste of Keys history and culture with visits to the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, the Harry S. Truman Little White House or the Eco-Discovery Center. Find sunken treasure on a dive at The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum or delight kids with a trip to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Whether you’re looking for diving and snorkeling on the only living coral reef in the U.S., prefer close encounters with dolphins and turtles, or are keen to explore historic forts, you’ll find it all in the Keys.
Miami, well known for its trendy nightlife and bustling beaches, also extends a culturally enriching experience for adults and kids alike. Museums in the area explore everything from the marvels of space and tech to the wonders of our planet, all catering to curious young minds. Try the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science for hands-on learning or the Miami Children’s Museum for artistic immersion. Wildlife experiences are bountiful in and around Miami: From birds to crocodiles to dolphins to primates, encounters with animals — on land or in the water — will create memories for a lifetime.
4/10 South Walton
South Walton, in Northwest Florida, boasts 26 miles of sugar-white sand beaches, turquoise water and 16 acclaimed beachside neighborhoods, each with its own personality and style. In South Walton, luxury accommodations, challenging golf, eclectic shops, unique art galleries and award-winning dining are all parts of the area’s distinctive character. Outdoor activities are abundant within the four state parks, a state forest, 15 rare coastal dune lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The first Underwater Museum of Art in the U.S. opened in the Gulf waters less than a mile off South Walton’s beaches. The museum rests on the sea floor about 55 feet below the surface and is made up of sculptures created by local and nationally recognized artists. Visitors SCUBA dive to view the museum, or snorkel to check it out from a comfortable depth above the installations.
5/10 Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale, known as the Venice of America, has 165-plus miles of navigable waterways, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades. Visitors can hop on and off a Water Taxi that travels through some of these canals, and the Intracoastal Waterway, to visit top attractions, hotels, restaurants and shopping areas. Kids of all ages will enjoy the Museum of Discovery & Science in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Young At Art Children’s Museum is a great choice for the younger child. For the animal-lover and budding environmentalist, visit the Everglades, Butterfly World and Flamingo Gardens. Canoes, jet skis and other water sports are sure to thrill the family.
The world’s theme park capital keeps every extravagant promise it makes — and then some. Magical for younger kids, end-to-end excitement for teens and fantastic for multi-generational family vacations, Orlando is the #1 destination in the United States. Seven of Orlando’s theme parks are among the top 10 attended amusement parks in the country, hosting millions of visitors each year. Families will find iconic theme parks like Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, plus a variety of water parks, dining and nightlife. Beyond the theme parks, families with budding astronauts will love the Space Coast. There, you’ll find the Kennedy Space Center, while nearby Cocoa Beach offers relaxing and breezy ocean time.
7/10 Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach is an affordable destination with year-round sun. The area is seeing a revival with a slew of new hotels and world-class shopping centers. The famous 23-mile beach may be the biggest draw, but there’s plenty of adventure, culture and fun on offer for the whole family. There’s much to explore, with many kid-friendly attractions within easy reach, including the Marine Science Center, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and the Boardwalk Amusement Area and Pier. Sports fans can also watch the Daytona Tortugas in action, and of course catch a race at the Daytona International Speedway.
This Gulf Coast city is teeming with family-friendly attractions. Art lovers will enjoy The Ringling, a bay-front oasis that was once the estate of John Ringling. The Ringling includes a museum of art, a circus museum, a rose garden, a historic mansion and an Asian art center. The Children’s Rainforest Garden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens simulates a tropical rainforest and has all sorts of activities for children, such as the amphitheater and village shelter, the research station and the canopy walk and rope bridge. Mote Aquarium is a working aquarium, home to more than 100 species of marine life. Both children and adults can enjoy the “Shark Zone” — a 135,000-gallon shark habitat — and the touch tanks, allowing visitors to feel sting rays, sea cucumbers and other sea life.
9/10 Crystal River
For a special Florida animal encounter, a visit to the Manatee Capital of the World is a must. Crystal River’s epic springs, fed by the Florida aquifer, are the natural choice for manatees to seek warm water shelter when temperatures in Florida waters fall below 65 degrees. Crystal River is the only place in the United States where visitors can legally swim with manatees and the guides are trained to make sure everyone treats this beloved threatened species with the utmost care and respect. There are options to see manatees in their natural environment, from swimming with manatees to kayaking to paddle-boarding to visiting the boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa.
10/10 St. Augustine
The nation’s oldest city comes alive for the entire family in St. Augustine. History lovers will enjoy the pirate-themed museum, the nation’s oldest masonry fort, an iconic lighthouse and archaeological sites. Kids will love the boat rides, the train and trolley tours, the cannon firings and the opportunity to get close to a dolphin. Test the waters of St. Augustine that first brought the Spanish explorers to its shore hundreds of years ago with a boat ride or catch the zip line through the forest at nearby ZIPStream Castaway Canopy Zipline Adventure.