Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products and services; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
"Aside from the theme parks, there is a huge array of water parks, zoos, gardens, and unique museums."
"Visitors can go kayaking, jet skiing, paddle boarding, and snorkeling—or join a guided boat tour of the mangroves."
"The gateway to an underwater world where snorkelers and scuba divers can explore coral reefs, seaweed forests, and shipwrecks."
"A peninsula of land juts into the sea where miles of pristine white sands overlook the Gulf waters, making for beautiful sunsets."
"Travelers can leave the car in the park and explore a 15-mile loop, choosing to walk, cycle, or ride in a tourist tram."
"Activities include horseback rides on the beach, golfing at one of the many courses in the area, and walking and cycling."
"The most famous attraction is the venerable Busch Gardens theme park and the aquatic playground of Adventure Island next door."
"Family days out can include a visit to the Miami Seaquarium, the colorful and interactive Miami Children’s Museum, and the zoo."
Orlando Theme Parks
Southwest of downtown Orlando and the airport, giant theme parks and other attractions cover extensive areas of land, collectively representing the largest entertainment complex in the world. The biggest of them all, the iconic Walt Disney World, consists of four separate theme parks plus two huge water parks, championship and mini-golf courses, dozens of resorts, and a retail and dining district. A network of buses efficiently transports guests between zones, passing through large areas of natural lakes, as well as wetlands and forests. Although there is less space to play with, Universal Studios also has attractive hotels and resorts on the edges of its two giant theme parks. Venturing into the world of cinema, it also hosts Diagon Alley, an exploration of the Harry Potter universe that has become a pilgrimage for hordes of dedicated fans. In addition, there are numerous smaller parks, each with its own unique style and attractions. Careful research and planning—coupled with realistic expectations as to how much can be done in a certain time—will ensure the best experience possible for visitors.
Aside from the theme parks, there is a huge array of water parks, zoos, gardens, and unique museums such as Madam Tussaud’s waxworks and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Tour companies can arrange nature tours (including airboat rides) through the central Florida swamplands to spot alligators and other wildlife.
There are plenty of hotels and resorts both within the theme parks and in the surrounding area, with properties ranging from cheap and cheerful to 5-star luxury. Visitors can expect a similar diversity of restaurants, bars, and lounges.
Looking for the best theme parks in the state? Check out our roundup.
Watch Now: Planning Your Visit to Orlando
Drawn by the chance to swim with manatees in some of the clearest water in Florida, visitors to Crystal River can interact with the creatures in a controlled, respectful manner, as well as discover turtles, fish, and other aquatic life. Most hotels can assist with booking manatee tours from one of the many local providers who run tours year-round along the Crystal River and elsewhere during the busy winter months. Travelers can also go kayaking, jet-skiing, paddle boarding, and snorkeling—or join a guided boat tour of the mangroves. There is a decent selection of hotels ranging from budget to 4-star. Most accomodations in the area are contemporary, with a few retro and historical properties. Plenty of restaurants, cafes, and fast food joints are in town, including a few seafood and grill houses along the waterfront with views over the bay.
A curving archipelago of islands extending into the tropical Caribbean waters, the Florida Keys are the gateway to an underwater world where snorkelers and scuba divers can explore coral reefs, seaweed forests, and shipwrecks. On land, there are secluded white sands beaches as well as protected marshlands and dunes filled with birds and other wildlife. The scenic roads and bridges of the Overseas Highway create a spine connecting the island chain to the Florida mainland, and many of the islands it touches have hotels, restaurants, and tour companies to suit different tastes and budgets. Fun days out include the aquarium with hands-on exhibits of starfish, sea cucumbers, and horseshoe crabs—and larger tanks with sharks, stingrays, and eels. A butterfly conservatory has large greenhouses with dozens of species of colorful butterflies, as well as tropical plants and birds. Many beaches feature everything from volleyball courts to picnic areas and trail networks for walking and cycling. More adventurous visitors can find jet skis, kayaks, and other water sports equipment for rent.
Having been voted the best beach in the U.S. for many years, Clearwater Beach continues a tradition as a top coastal destination. A peninsula of land juts into the sea where miles of pristine white sands overlook the Gulf waters, making for beautiful sunset vistas. The energetic Pier 60—lined with seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and clothing outlets—has streets filled with visitors, vendors, musicians, and entertainers. Family activities include board, kayak, and motorized water activities as well as beach games. Epic mini-golf courses boast waterfalls, caves, and pirate ships. While the majority of resorts and attractions are concentrated in the Clearwater area, travelers looking for a quieter ambiance can find several hotels and resorts along the 17 miles of uninterrupted beach south towards St. Petersburg.
Everglades National Park
A richly biodiverse wetland internationally recognized for its critical importance, the Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of rivers, wetlands, and forest, harboring life for hundreds of species from mammals to birds and fish. Largely pristine and inaccessible, there are just a few points of entry into the park. From the Miami area, a single road cuts through the heart of the park to Everglades City on the Gulf Coast. Travelers can leave the car in the middle of the park and explore a 15-mile loop, choosing to walk, cycle, or ride in a tourist tram. Once reaching Everglades City, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center is the gateway to explore this section of the park. Plenty of tour companies provide service to the area accessible only by boat. The second road, best explored by car or bike, enters the park from Homestead and reaches the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, where there is a marina with boat tours and kayak rentals.
While there are numerous campgrounds, the park does not have lodging options. Everglades City has a small selection of hotels that can get busy in the high season, but there are many more choices in the coastal city of Naples, a 45-minute drive west. Likewise, visitors to the southern section can find a decent selection of hotels and restaurants in downtown Homestead.
Located on the Atlantic Coast in the northern tip of the state, Amelia Island offers a distinctly different vibe than the beach towns in the south. A more temperate climate and a sleepy, historic feel attract families looking for a relaxing vacation. There are miles of quiet beaches and a heritage downtown area with boutique gift shops and seafood restaurants. At Seaside Park, a collection of resorts, restaurants, and bars are all within walking distance of the main beach entrance. Activities on land range from horseback rides on the beach to golfing at one of the many courses in the area and walking and cycling the extensive network of paths through the countryside. On the water, try fishing, boating, and kayaking either independently or as part of a guided tour. Other things to do include walking history tours, food and drink tastings, and scooter tours.
Tampa Theme Parks
A low-key and accessible choice compared to the glitzy resorts and theme parks of Orlando, Tampa offers a great mix of entertainment in a more relaxed environment. The most famous attractions are the venerable Busch Gardens theme park and the aquatic playground of Adventure Island next door. Elsewhere, race car tracks, cable and waterski parks, an outdoor dinosaur museum, and Tampa Zoo are all excellent family diversions. Legoland is just a one-hour drive away. There are numerous hotels and restaurants to be found—mostly budget to mid-range—concentrated in the immediate vicinity of Busch Gardens, but additional options are further away in quieter, neighborhood settings.
Downtown Tampa is also an ideal place to stay, as many of the theme parks and attractions are less than a 30-minute drive away. In addition to plenty of hotels and restaurants, the area also has its own attractions, including the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Museum of Art, and the Glazer Children’s Museum.
Although many South Florida cities are known for striking modern architecture and a high-profile social scene, Miami stands apart from the crowd. A longtime association with wealth and glamour has also made the city a great family destination, with all the cultural and recreational attractions of a rapidly-growing city. In the desirable Miami Beach peninsula, top hotels and resorts line the beachfront, often with large pools, kid’s club activities, babysitting services, and other family-friendly amenities. All kinds of water sports can be enjoyed from the beach, including jet-skiing, parasailing, and water skiing. Family days out can include a visit to the Miami Seaquarium or the colorful and interactive Miami Children’s Museum and the zoo. Plenty of tour operators run excursions to the Everglades National Park, Key West, and other scenic destinations.