When you think of activities for kids in Florida, theme parks are probably one of the first things that comes to mind. Known for Disney World, Orlando Studios, and more, the Sunshine State has no shortage of amusement parks for young visitors and residents. But for parents who are looking for alternative (and perhaps more educational) activities for their children, there are plenty of things to do in Florida with kids that provide a unique and engaging experience.
1. Science and Education
Believe it or not, Florida has some incredible educational activities for both kids and adults to enjoy. No matter what kind of topic your children are interested in, you’re sure to find an activity that is interesting for the whole family.
For the ocean lovers, Florida is one of the best places to learn about marine biology. To start, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota is a must-see. The aquarium houses practically every marine creature you could imagine, including otters, sharks, and sea turtles. And be sure to pay a visit to the aquarium’s resident manatees, Hugh and Buffet, who have been at the center for over two decades.
Children who are more interested in the sky than the sea will love the various aviation and outer space themed visits. For the aspiring astronomers, the Kennedy Space Center and the Orlando Science Center Observatory are great visits. Florida is also home to the National Aviation Museum, located in Pensacola, where you can enjoy interactive exhibits like flight simulators and an Apollo 11 virtual reality experience.
Finally, the Miami Children’s Museum is the perfect visit for the littlest ones in your crew. Hands-on exhibits include a multi-sensory zone, a rock climbing wall, the “construction zone”, a music-maker’s studio, and an “ocean odyssey” experience.
2. Arts and Culture
There are plenty of cultural excursions in Florida that offer something for every member of the family. Art lovers can’t miss the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Established as the legacy of circus mogul John Ringling and his wife Mable, the museum houses over 28,000 works of Western and non-Western art.
Speaking of Sarasota, the area is in fact one of the state’s prime cultural hubs. Check out the upscale art galleries at St. Armands Circle (which was designed by John Ringling himself and inspired by a circus ring), and don’t miss the more than 30 sculptures that line the circle’s paths.
The city is also home to the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA), Sarasota’s first modern and contemporary art museum, and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, where you can see musicals, comedians, musicians, and more.
But Sarasota isn’t the only Florida city with a rich cultural offering. You’ll find the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, where visitors can learn about surrealism and see 8 of the Spanish artist’s masterworks. Or head to Miami and pay a visit to the Perez Art Museum, which has one of the largest collections of modern Cuban art in America.
Also in Miami are the totally Instagrammable Wynwood Walls, which are a colorful street art mural that can serve as the backdrop for your kid’s next Facebook profile picture or even a lovely family photo. Or check out the Miami City Ballet for some world class dance performances.
Finally, literature lovers are sure to enjoy the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West. Here you can see where the famous author lived in the 1930s and meet the approximately 60 six-toed descendants of Hemingway’s beloved cat Snow White.
3. State & National Parks
There is no shortage of beautiful state and national parks in Florida. One of the most well-known destinations in the state is Everglades National Park, and for good reason. Biking, kayaking, bird watching, fishing, and boating are just some of the activities that you can enjoy in the park. As the largest surviving subtropical wilderness in the United States, the Everglades is perhaps best known for its concentration of the American alligator, a Florida icon.
If you have a manatee lover in the family, head to Blue Springs State Park, where you can get up close and personal with the gentle sea creatures. For more underwater adventures, check out John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The park spans about 70 nautical square miles of crystalline waters, and visitors can catch a glimpse of its beautiful reefs on a glass-bottom boat tour.
And for those who would rather stay on land, check out Florida Caverns State Park, where visitors can explore the expansive underground limestone cave system on a guided tour. Lastly, Falling Waters State Park is another way to enjoy the state’s natural beauty. Located in northwest Florida, the park houses the state’s largest waterfall, “Falling Waters Falls”, which measures in at 73 feet tall.
4. Nature & Wildlife
Florida’s flora and fauna provide plenty of fun activities for the whole family. Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park allows visitors to view an incredibly diverse offering of wildlife, including fish, manatees, alligators, flamingos, cranes, bobcats, black bears, red wolves, and even the endangered Florida panther.
For the future veterinarians, The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida is an excellent visit. This non-profit organization is dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured sea turtles. Or check out the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, which has the same mission as The Turtle Hospital but is dedicated to birds and “keeping them flying”.
Aspiring marine biologists will love The Florida Aquarium, where you can enjoy exhibits that highlight sea creatures like sharks, sea horses, jellyfish, and starfish. Or head out on the aquarium’s Bay Spirit II for a 75 minute wild dolphin cruise experience. Finally, to see some more exotic creatures, check out the center’s “Journey to Madagascar”, which houses giant clams, the Madagascar tortoise, and ring tailed lemurs.
Another lovely nature-inspired Florida visit is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Here you can stroll among hundreds of vibrant and diverse butterflies and birds or enjoy special experiences like “Flamingle”, an up-close encounter with the conservatory’s flamingos, Rhett and Scarlett. The center also offers guided twilight tours which offer a glimpse into what happens at the conservatory as the sun goes down.
Finally, there are numerous alligator farms in Florida that allow you to see the state’s most infamous creature with your own eyes. You can find locations lining the state, in areas like St. Augustine, Christmas, and the Everglades. At the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, you’ll see not just alligators, but also an array of wildlife, including snakes, sloths, and exotic birds.
5. Outdoor Activities & Events
One of the best parts about the Sunshine State is its lovely year-round weather. Take advantage of Florida’s pleasant climate and enjoy some outdoor activities and special events all year long.
If you find yourself in Florida in March, consider attending a MLB spring training game. Also known as the Grapefruit League, you can watch teams like the Mets, Cardinals, Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Marlins face off in the first games of the season. Games are held on the east and west coasts of the state, and host cities include Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach on the east coast and Bradenton and Sarasota on the west coast.
Families more interested in watersports than baseball have no shortage of activities in Florida. If you find yourself along some of the state’s 8,436 miles of coastline, rent a kayak or a paddleboard and explore the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Or go snorkeling, swimming, or tubing in a natural spring. Check out De Leon Springs for a refreshing dip, Ginnie Springs for snorkeling and scuba diving, and Ichetucknee Springs for one of the state’s best tubing spots.
Florida is also an incredible location for scuba diving enthusiasts, and even kids can give this adventurous underwater activity a try. With PADI, the largest scuba diving training association in the world, children as young as 8 can learn how to dive in shallow waters, and kids ages 10 and older can enroll in an Open Water Dive Course. Some great shallow-water diving and snorkeling spots in Florida include Vero Beach and Deerfield Beach, or head deeper into the underwater caves at Devil’s Den.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear us recommend that you take full advantage of the almost 700 miles of sandy beaches that the state offers. But there are some special Florida beaches that offer unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. To start, you can enjoy the Pier 60 Sunset Celebration every night at Clearwater Beach. The daily event takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., where artists, musicians, and street performers entertain visitors on the 1,080 foot pier.
Or head to the beaches near Venice for shark tooth hunting. The area is considered to have quite the abundant quantity of these fossilized teeth, so check out areas like Caspersen Beach, Casey Key, and Manasota Key. Or if shelling and finding sand dollars is more up you and your family’s alley, don’t miss Tigertail Beach on Marco Island.
6. Soak Up Some History
For the history buffs out there, Florida has plenty of unique attractions that the whole family will enjoy. Perhaps Florida’s best historic visit is St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565 and claims to be the nation’s oldest city. Enjoy the Spanish architecture and quaint cobblestone streets in the colonial quarter, and while you’re in town, don’t miss the San Marco Fort, or Castillo de San Marcos. Built by the Spanish to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.
You can visit other historic forts throughout the state, like Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore. In fact, Fort Jefferson is the biggest brick masonry structure in all the Americas.
Florida is also full of historic lighthouses. We recommend checking out the state’s oldest lighthouse, the Amelia Island Lighthouse, which was built over 180 years ago. Or visit Florida’s tallest lighthouse, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, which measures in at 176 feet tall.
7. Enjoy Some Thrills
There are plenty of places in Florida to get an adrenaline rush aside from the amusement park roller coasters. For car buffs, a must-visit is the Daytona International Speedway, where you can enjoy daily guided tours. And while you’re there, don’t miss the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. The museum has a variety of displays and highlights all types of motorsports: stock cars, sports cars, motorcycles, drag racing, land speed records, and more.
If you’d rather get your thrills outdoors, there is no shortage of adventure activities to check out in the Sunshine State. If you find yourself in the Everglades, take an airboat ride through the mangroves and try your luck at spotting a gator. Another great water adventure to try is parasailing. You can find plenty of parasailing locations along the Florida coast in picturesque locations like Key West, Cocoa Beach, and Marco Island. Or consider renting a jet ski and enjoy the freedom of the open water.
For those looking to get up close and personal with some of the state’s native marine life, you have a number of options. Head to Crystal River to swim or snorkel with manatees. You’ll be blown away by these gentle giants’ impressive size. Or for the more daring, take a dip with some sting rays at Orlando’s Discovery Cove where you can get up close and personal with (and even help with the feeding of) these intimidating creatures. And for the faint of heart, a dolphin swim may be a more suitable activity.
But even if you’d rather stay on land, you still have plenty of ways to enjoy the most adventurous activities that Florida has to offer. To start, give ziplining a try. Fly through the trees or above the water in cities like Kissimmee, Daytona Beach, and Tampa Bay. For the animal lovers, head out for some horseback riding. Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences you can have in Florida is taking a sunset horseback ride along the beach. Finally, the more athletic ones can try their hand at mountain biking at Alafia River State Park. The area offers over 20 miles of single track trails with varying difficulty levels.
Have you visited any of these family-friendly Florida attractions?
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Florida with kids that aren’t an amusement park visit. Whatever your children are passionate about, whether it be science, the arts, animals, history, or outdoor adventures, the Sunshine State has something for practically everyone. Plus, not only will kids enjoy the array of activities outlined in this article, but they are also enjoyable for parents. While there are certainly more family-friendly Florida activities out there, these are some of our favorites.