Exploring South Florida with Kids
Sea animals, beach time, knockout sunsets, fruity drinks and a relaxed vibe –what could be better? Our family spent a long weekend exploring Fort Lauderdale, the Everglades, and Key West. Here are our top kid-friendly experiences in South Florida.
Everglades National Park
About an hour from Ft. Lauderdale, there are two entrances to Everglades National Park –both are worth exploring. Stop at Coe Visitor’s Center near the main entrance for maps and information. At the Ahinga Trail near Coe Visitor’s Center, we saw alligators, turtles, birds, grasshoppers and more. Take the pleasant 45 minute drive from the main entrance to see crocodiles and manatees and the amazing view of Florida Bay near Flamingo Visitor’s Center. At the Shark Valley entrance, hop on the tram or rent bicycles to enjoy an observation tower and several hiking trails. See the Everglades via airboat near the Shark Valley entrance as well. Consider one day for the main entrance and one day for Shark Valley.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale
At Fort Lauderdale’s “Central Park,” take a water taxi on the intracoastal waterway, explore a huge Banyan tree, enjoy two fun playgrounds, rent a kayak, rent bikes, or just take a nature stroll with your kids throughout Birch State Park. The 2 mile paved loop is perfect for hopping on and off, whether you’re biking or driving through the park.
Pelican Grand Resort in Fort Lauderdale
Pelican Grand Beach Resort is right on the ocean with excellent amenities and one of the coolest pools our kids have ever experienced. They loved the lazy river, zero-entry pool, and jumping into the deep end. The lazy river even had inner tubes to float around in.
Get fine dining on Pelican Grand’s oceanfront porch at OCEAN2000, the on-site restaurant. Grab breakfast or lunch and take in the view. Dinner was perfect as they had a varied kid’s menu. We all enjoyed dining and taking in the sunset over the ocean. There is also an ice cream parlor and necessities shop on site.
The rooms are spacious with a trendy, modern update. PURE Spa, on the top floor of the resort, is a great escape with an amazing view of the ocean. Take a break from the kids and get a massage, facial or pedicure. Enjoy a drink or fruit-infused water and relax on the outside patio of the spa.
Stops Along the Florida Keys
There are several stops you can make on the way to Key West, including the Dolphin Research Center, Bahia Honda State Park, and John Pennkamp Coral Reef State Park. Our favorite was The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. This non-profit rescues sea turtles, treats them, and releases them back into the wild. Kids meet many turtles and even get the opportunity to feed them.
Key West with Kids
Key West is much more than a party town. It’s fun for families with lots to explore, including The Shipwreck Museum, Custom House Key West, and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. You can easily swing by Sloppy Joes, made world-famous by Ernest Hemingway, for a pina colada and keep on moving. I recommend a house tour in the morning while the kids are on their best behavior, and a promise of a Conch Train ride and tour after. Kids love riding the train, and you and your kids will learn about the history of the town.
Hemingway Home and Truman’s Little White House
We learned about Ernest Hemingway’s life and writing in his 18th century home built by a well-to-do marine architect and salvage wrecker. Hanging out with direct descendants of Hemingway’s extra-toed cats and learning about his often rocky relationships with his four wives were highlights. At Truman’s Little White House, we learned about why Harry Truman chose Key West as his “home away from home” and about his life and time in the White House. It’s an excellent and informative tour.
Ocean Key Resort in Key West
A perfect location in Key West, Ocean Key Resort and Spa is adjacent to world-famous Mallory Square. Take in the street performers, buy fun drinks in pineapples or coconuts, eat fresh made guacamole and chips, and buy seashells with your name as you watch the beautiful Key West sunset. Choose a room with a balcony facing the ocean and take in the view, or just jump in the pool at dusk and catch the sunset.
Hot Tin Roof, Ocean Key’s Tennessee Williams themed restaurant, offers top-notch dining with accommodating kid-friendly options. From the outdoor covered balcony of the restaurant, we enjoyed the buzz of Old Key West with live music from sunset pier below and ocean views. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in the seafood paella entree and cap off the evening with key lime pie and a mojito.