50 Best Things to do in Florida
Florida is Georgia’s backyard playground – so close and so much to do, the beaches are just a bonus. Head south for a trip the family will never forget. Try these ideas:
Air Force Armament Museum, Fort Walton Beach. Kids can climb into the cockpit of a fighter plane, see vintage military aircraft and armament from World War I on, or test their skills in a cockpit simulator.
The Challenger Learning Center, Tallahassee. The center fosters interest in science and space, with a Space Mission Simulator, an IMAX 3D theater, and a Digital Dome Theatre and Planetarium.
The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville. Art Connections lets kids explore art through touch-friendly computer technology. Special activities for kids are the third Saturday of each month.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville. Stroll the grounds with more than 1,000 plants and 2,000 animals and touch a stingray and pygmy goat or feed a giraffe or lorikeet.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville. The Art Explorium Loft lets kids create in interactive art stations; in one station, they build a scarecrow from household objects.
Museum of Science & History, Jacksonville. A current exhibit, Backyard Adventures, lets visitors discover the outdoors from the perspective of a bee, see plants grow digitally super fast, and play mini-golf. The planetarium also is a big draw.
National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola. The world’s largest naval aviation museum has more than 150 restored aircraft, giant screen theater and flight simulators. Time your visit to see the Blue Angels practice.
Pier Park, Panama City Beach. Play laser tag or climb on amusement rides, see an IMAX movie, listen to live music, attend a seafood festival or other special event, dine in a fun restaurant, and shop for most anything at this destination park.
Seacrest Wolf Preserve, Chipley. Reserving a Wolf Encounter Tour will get families close enough to pet these beautiful animals in this preserve just west of Tallahassee. (Kids must be age 10 or older.)
Tallahassee Museum, Tallahassee. Visit the galleries, then see exotic animals outdoors, walk nature trails or take the Tree to Tree Adventures zip line course for children and adults.
The Tallahassee Automobile Museum, Tallahassee. See an eclectic collection, with everything from Abraham Lincoln’s hearse carriage to a Batmobile and Batman movie memorabilia.
Busch Gardens, Tampa. For kids and adults who love roller coasters, this is the place; for those who don’t, the theme park offers other amusement rides, 12,000 animals, live entertainment and more.
Crystal River, Fla. Swim with a manatee or just observe these giants in their winter gathering place from boardwalks or on a boat tour. More than 1,000 converge to enjoy the warm spring waters.
Daytona Beach Boardwalk & Pier, Daytona Beach. Take in a concert or enjoy thrill rides, arcade games, shops and restaurants and nightly fireworks in spring and summer.
The Florida Aquarium, Tampa. Exhibits focus on Florida’s sea turtles, sharks and coral reefs. Plan ahead: Bring a swimsuit for the splash pad or reserve a time to swim with sharks or other sea creatures.
Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville. Visit a Butterfly Rainforest and Florida Fossils, along with other exhibits displaying Florida’s natural history.
Gatorland, Orlando. This 110-acre theme park is teeming with more than 2,000 alligators and offers live shows and zipline thrills.
GatorWorld Parks, Wildwood. More than 400 alligators swim and feed in this drive-through park near Orlando, and guests can feed the gators from an observation platform.
ICON Orlando, Orlando. This huge observation wheel soars 400 feet, with a view of the Kennedy Space Center and the East Coast on a 25-minute tour.
LEGOLAND Florida, Winter Haven. Rides, shows and even a water park pay tribute to everyone’s favorite childhood toy, and LEGO Movie World opens this month.
Oldest House Museum Complex, St. Augustine. A must-see tour that includes Florida’s oldest house, two museums, a changing exhibition gallery, an ornamental garden and museum store.
Safari Wilderness, Lakeland. Visit this 260-acre ranch for close encounters with eland, waterbuck and Grant’s zebra, to ride a camel or take a kayak safari and more.
SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando. Watch the amazing feats trained marine animals can perform, take a thrill ride or swim with a dolphin.
Tampa Museum, Tampa. Art Spot every Saturday afternoon features a different beginner art project for kids; on the Imagination Playground, kids can build creations with giant blocks.
Universal Orlando, Orlando. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a huge draw, as is the new water park, Volcano Bay.
Walt Disney World, Orlando. Even if you’ve been, there’s always a new reason to go back to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Edison Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph, and Henry Ford, the inventor of the Model-T, had side-by-side estates that are fascinating to tour.
Everglades National Park, Homestead. Stop at Coe Visitor’s Center for maps and information, then take a 45-minute drive to see crocodiles and manatees and the amazing Florida Bay. At the Shark Valley entrance, hop on the tram or take an airboat tour.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sarasota. View sharks, manatees, sea turtles and more and learn about the center’s marine research and sealife rescues.
The Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota. Stroll through the 44,000-piece hand-carved miniature circus display, climb into a clown car, balance on the wire, see costumes and circus wagons and more.
Seaquarium, Miami. Swim with a dolphin or take in exhibits of manatees, sea turtles, penguins and stingrays while learning about marine life.
Truman’s Little White House and the Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West. Learn the highlights of President Harry S. Truman’s White House years at his Florida getaway, and see where Ernest Hemingway lived and worked – kids will love the six-toed cats that roam the property.
Some things you just can’t visit anywhere but the Sunshine State.
Mission San Luis, Tallahassee. At Mission San Luis, you enter a 1703 community, where Apalachee Indians and Spanish newcomers lived together.
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales. The gardens’ Hammock Hollow is an outdoor playground for kids full of the wonder of plants, animals and art. The Singing Tower carillon has entertained visitors since 1929.
Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine. Roaming the old fort is a fun and painless history lesson about the clash of cultures – the Native Americans and Spanish settlers.
Daytona International Speedway, Daytona. Even if you’ve never watched a Daytona 500 race, you’ll be fascinated by the Motorsports Hall of Fame and the tram ride that takes you onto the track.
Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral. Kids love the Shuttle Launch Experience, the Astronaut Training Simulators and tours with an astronaut.
St. Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine. Of Florida’s 29 lighthouses, this one, built in 1874, may be iconic. Climb the 219 stairs to the top (must be at least 44 inches tall) for a great view, then visit the 1876 keeper’s quarters, now a museum.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs is one of Florida’s oldest attractions, recalling the Florida of 1947, when the show began. Visitors also see wildlife and can cruise the river on a pontoon boat.
Mixon Farms, Bradenton. Take an hour-long Orange Blossom Tram Tour of the groves, past gator pens, to see what Florida looked like when groves covered miles and miles; let kids run off steam in the play area.
Just for Kids
When kids need a break from all the excitement of new places, it’s time to play “pretend” and just be kids.
C’mon! Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Naples. Children can make art in a kid-sized studio, or become a weather forecaster, farmer, chef, fisherman, architect or veterinarian; special activities each day encourage kids to try something new.
Boca Raton Children’s Museum, Boca Raton. All of the hands-on activities will keep kids engaged, from a multicultural dress-up room, to a pirate ship, a bank and supermarket.
Crayola Experience, Orlando. This attraction inside the Florida Mall has 25 activities for kids, including animating their creations on a big screen and seeing how crayons are made.
Explorations V Children’s Museum, Lakeland. Kids can explore, learn and imagine using their five senses in three floors of hands-on activities.
Great Explorations Children’s Museum, St. Petersburg. Kids younger than age 10 will have a grand time in imaginative play.
Miami Children’s Museum, Miami. From a Music Makers Studio to a Health and Wellness Center, there’s something to engage every kid.
–Amanda Miller Allen