When most families make plans for a vacation, Florida is often on the list of places to visit. In particular, they dream of soaking in the rays and playing in the surf at one of the state’s many beaches. With warm weather all year long and 1,195 miles of coastline (the longest in the contiguous U.S.), there are plenty of options to consider.
Never fear…I’m here to help. I did some research and came up with a list of top Florida beaches. These options run the gamut from sleepy beach towns to places where your family can get more adventurous.
Check it out and then you’ll have a better idea of how to start making your family vacation plans. Be sure to check for any Florida travel restrictions before you plan/go as there may be advisories and safety recommendations. Currently, all beaches are open are ready for visitors to come and get some sand between their toes.
1. Florida Beaches in the Northeast: Jacksonville Beach
Jacksonville’s beach scene provides the best of both worlds. You get miles of beautiful sand and surf, as well as close proximity to the city of Jacksonville, which is close to the Florida/Georgia border.
There are actually a three different beach options in this area:
- JAX Beach near the city center
- Neptune Beach, which is well suited to surfing; and
- Ponte Verde Beach, which features plenty of adventurous activities, such as horseback riding, hiking, and fishing
Hotels and Vacation Rentals Near Jacksonville
- Adventure Landing – Includes go-carts, mini-golf, laser tag, batting cages, an arcade & Shipwreck Island Water Park
- Float along the Little St. Johns River
- Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
- Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park – Featuring 1.5 miles of beach, a 60-acre lake for fishing/kayaking, a splash park & 20 miles of hiking trails
- Museum of Science & History – Learn about native Florida animals, take a walk through the human body, meet a giant snapping turtle & explore the planetarium
You’ll be able to find even more things to do in the Jacksonville area.
2. Mid-Atlantic Coast: Daytona/Cocoa Beach
The Daytona/Cocoa Beach area is perfect for families, with plenty to do for everyone from young kids to teens. The beaches here are shallow and the waters calm, but the low breakers are ideal if anyone wants to learn how to surf.
NASCAR enthusiasts will want to check out the historic Daytona International Speedway. The Kennedy Space Center is also here, which is perfect for science-loving kids (and adults).
- The Dinosaur Store & Museum
- Cocoa Beach Pier
- Daytona Boardwalk
- Daytona Lagoon Water Park & Family Fun Entertainment Center
- Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS)
Whether you choose Daytona or Cocoa Beach, you will have a fabulous family vacation.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals Near Cocoa Beach
3. Southeast: Deerfield Beach
Deerfield Beach is a delightful beach community, just north of Fort Lauderdale and south of Palm Beach. You’ll find beautiful sapphire blue waters and miles of sand.
The Deerfield Beach Boardwalk is ideal for biking, roller skating/blading, and walking. Plus, one of the greatest ecological wonder, Everglades National Park, is a short drive away. You’re sure to see alligators lazing in the sun, along with and tropical birds such as Great White Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Anhinga’s, and Roseate Spoonbills. Explore on your own or book a guided tour with a local expert via Viator. This full day kayak trip the Everglades is quite popular.
- Sullivan Park
- Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (part of the Florida Everglades)
- Boca Raton Children’s Museum
- Children’s Science Explorium
- Museum of Discovery and Science (Ft. Lauderdale)
If you’re headed to South Florida, Deerfield Beach represents one of my favorite options.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals neat Deerfield Beach
4. Southwest: Sanibel/Captiva Island
If you desire to truly get away from it all, head toward Naples and then keep going till you reach the twin barrier islands off the coast. The waters are warm and the surf gentle, though a boogey board will provide hours of fun if the wind and waves kick up.
Sanibel Island is known as a seashell lovers paradise, and you’ll often spot locals and tourists doing the “Sanibel Stoop”. Captiva Island is a little more isolated, but if you desire to “unplug”, this is a wonderful option.
Along with shelling, there are plenty of water sports to enjoy, including boating, fishing, kayaking/canoeing, boogey boarding, jet skiing and paddle boarding.
- Sanibel Sea School (kids ages 6-13)
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
- Sanibel Lighthouse
- Crow Clinic Animal Rehab
If you have a little more time, head to Ft. Myers to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Along with the winter homes of inventor Thomas Edison and automaker Henry Ford, you’ll find a cool museum and a 21-acre botanical garden.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals on Sanibel Island
5. Central Gulf Coast: Clearwater Beach
Located near Tampa and St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach offers a nice escape from your hectic life. The beach is wide and beautiful, with gentle waves. There are also plenty of restaurants, shops, and fun activities for families.
Perhaps the most well-known activity is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. If you’ve ever seen the movie Dolphin Tale, you will remember Winter who became famous because of his prosthetic tail. The Philadelphia Phillies also come here for spring training.
- Pier 60 (Clearwater Beach)
- Mega Bite Dolphin Cruise (Clearwater Beach)
- Tampa Bay Grand Prix (Tampa/Automobile Blvd.)
- Great Explorations Children’s Museum (St. Petersburg)
- Empower Adventures Zip Lining (Oldsmar)
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
I have some great suggestions for places to stay in Clearwater Beach. If you want to also spend some time seeing Tampa and their family friendly attractions, see this Tampa CityPASS trip iterinary using the cityPASS that saves you money on entrance fees.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals in Clearwater Beach
6. Florida Panhandle: Shell Island, Panama City Beach
Shell Island is a pristine, 7-mile beach between St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Families who love outdoor adventures will love the untouched wilderness on the island. Plus, you can marvel at the soft, white sand and blue-green water.
The major part of the island includes a protected natural preserve, which is part of St. Andrews State Park. The waters surrounding the island are home to one of the largest populations of bottle-nosed dolphins in the world, so you’re sure to spot some.
- Gulf World Marine Park
- Shipwreck Island Waterpark
- ZooWorld Zoological Conservatory
- Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
- Coconut Creek Family Fun Park
- SkyWheel Panama City Beach
- Jet ski tour with Adventures at Sea
- Airboat Ride of the backwaters with Wild Thang Airboat Tours
Start your search for a place to stay in Shell Island/Panama City Beach.
Hotels and Vacation Rentals in Panama City Beach
Bring Your Family to Florida for the Ultimate Vacation
A Florida vacation can offer so many options when it comes to beach fun. Florida beaches are diverse and each provides something different to meet the needs of your family.