There are countless things to do with kids in Florida besides Disney and the Orlando area.
The west coast of Florida, stretching along the Gulf of Mexico, is a personal favorite place to go each year with my young kids to escape the cold of the Midwest. The crowds are manageable and the beaches are pristine with Siesta Beach being home to the most luxurious sand to have ever touched my toes.
We never run out of things to do and always find more to explore thanks to travel bloggers like the contributors below. We’ve collected 10 of the top places to visit in Florida with kids along its west coast.
Siesta Beach – Sarasota, Florida
Amanda from Toddling Traveler recommends Siesta Beach as an ideal place to visit in Florida with kids.
Siesta Beach in Sarasota is a can’t miss kid-friendly destination along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The beach itself is one of the best things to do in Siesta Key. The white quartz sand is soft and cool to the touch and the Gulf Coast water is bright blue and super calm. (Both of which make it perfect for littles.) Another highlight of Siesta Beach with kids is the awesome sandcastle playground. There are two playgrounds at Siesta Beach for different age ranges, making it perfect for kids of any age.
The beach has several amenities including restrooms, a cafe and rental items. Parking is free at Siesta Beach and fills up on the weekends, so be sure to get there early to get a spot. If you’re looking for additional beaches in Siesta Key, Turtle Beach and Crescent Beach are two options that tend to be less crowded.
Siesta Beach is also known for the beautiful sunsets, along with a drum circle on Sundays. While you’re at Siesta Beach, be sure to take the trolley into Siesta Key Village to visit one of several restaurants or ice cream spots. The trolley is free and super fun for families visiting Siesta Key.
Mote Marine and Aquarium – Sarasota, Florida
Marquita of Marquita’s Travels submitted Mote as a top family destination in Florida.
Imagine the unique opportunity to touch a starfish, a stingray, or even a shark. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida offers the aforementioned experiences and so much more. Not only is it an aquarium but it’s also a research institution, which means the exhibits are like none other- very interactive, educational, and fun. In fact, they have unique exhibits and programs curated specifically for kids of different ages, making it a great experience for everyone in the family.
When planning to visit Mote, be sure to block out a minimum of three hours, if not more, as the aquarium is huge. In fact, there are several buildings spread across multiple blocks. With that said, be sure to go to the building across the street from the main building. It houses manatees, sharks, and so much more.
The aquarium asks that tickets are booked in advance, online. When doing so, look into doing the Mote Boat: Eco-tour or Deep Sea Diner, super unique experiences that aren’t offered at most, if any other, aquarium.
Collect Shark Teeth – Venice, Florida
A family favorite for the Postcard Narrative kids.
Fossilized shark teeth are bountiful on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but they are especially dense in and around Venice Beach. So, if you’re seeking a relaxing beach day, park your family at Venice Beach and relax while the kids are well occupied on their hunt for a megalodon treasure.
Bring a kitchen strainer, rake the shoreline where the waves break, and keep your eyes out for anything black and shiny.
Like any treasure hunt, this can be hit or miss. We found nothing our first day then a dozen on the second and third visits. Not to worry, you don’t have to go home empty handed, all the local shops will sell them as souvenirs from “The World’s Shark Tooth Capital.”
Lovers Key State Park
Candice of CS Ginger shared this State Park as an exceptional place to visit near Fort Myers, Florida with kids.
Lovers Key State Park is one of the best Southern Florida beaches for kids. Lovers Key State Park is just outside Fort Myers which also has a bunch of family-friendly activities like dolphin cruises and exploring Sanibel Island. (More on Sanibel Island below.)
One of the best things to do in Lovers Key State Park is kayak through the canals. The canals provide about 2.5 miles of waterway trails that have very calm water. If your kids are old enough, they can paddle themselves or you can rent a tandem kayak. Kayaking is a great way to see the wildlife in the park, like manatees, alligators, and osprey.
After a morning of paddling, it is time to head to the beach. The beach is about 2.5 miles long and has really beautiful sand. At the beach, there are restrooms and a gazebo. This beach has beautiful shells which kids will love collecting as well. The waves are very calm here making it easy to enjoy playing in the water.
Be sure to also swing by the Visitor Center to teach your kids about the mangroves that call Lovers Key State Park home.
The entrance fee to Lovers Key State Park is $8 per car.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve – Fort Myers, Florida
Catherine from Postcard Narrative shared this favorite place to take kids in Florida.
This unique nature preserve is a wonderful place for a family walk. The fenced in, elevated boardwalks are perfect for letting the kids loose for a stretch break. A slough, pronounced “slew,” is a narrow wetland featuring slow flowing water and it is brimming with biodiversity.
With a little bit of patience you’ll likely spot an alligator from one of the observation decks on Gator Lake.
Despite its name, the trail is only 1.2 miles and is stroller friendly. To enjoy the park to the fullest, pack a picnic and some bug spray.
There isn’t an entry fee, but plan to spend $1 per hour on parking. There are clean restrooms near the parking lot.
Rookery Bay – outside of Naples, Florida
Lori from travelinmad.com submitted this kid-friendly destination.
One of the best activities in southwest Florida for kids of all ages is a visit to Rookery Bay and the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. Rookery Bay itself is an amazing pristine ecosystem at the start of the Ten Thousand Islands near Naples.
The National Estuarine Research Reserve there is dedicated to the conservation of this fragile ecosystem with a large part of their mission devoted to the environmentally friendly education of children.
Kids and families can explore the waters and islands of Rookery Bay on guided boat tours including sunset cruises, or through guided kayak tours led by naturalist guides who are also degreed biologists.
The Learning Center nearby is geared to kids and families. From the time that you enter, you’re under the guidance of a trained docent, who guides kids through the center stopping at each station to inform and answer questions. The many visual displays, interactive exhibits and nature trails are especially geared toward youngsters.
Kids will love the multi-level touch tank where they can touch some of the critters that occupy the Rookery Bay estuaries. There is also a wonderful mangrove aquarium with a climb-in bubble for a child to get a fish-eye view of the tank’s inhabitants.
Bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy in the lovely picnic area when you’re done with your tour.
Naples Botanical Gardens – Naples, Florida
Rebecca from Whatever Packs Your Bag submitted these Gardens as one of the best places to visit in Florida with kids.
Naples, Florida is the perfect destination on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast for families. It has the most beautiful white sand beaches, a lovely zoo the kids will love, the highly rated Children’s Museum of Naples, and the most amazing Botanical Gardens.
The Naples Botanical Gardens are located at 4820 Bayshore Drive. They are open daily from 9am to 5pm. You can buy tickets online, and children under 4 are free. Expect to spend 2-3 hours here, and they even have a spot to grab snacks or lunch Fogg Café.
There is a specific children’s area of the garden, that the kids can do a scavenger hunt in. There is a butterfly house that you can walk through and see tons of colorful butterflies. There is a lovely waterfall area. There is an Asian Garden area with tons of interesting plants to explore.
The Naples Botanical Gardens have unique and interesting exhibits all year round. You must check the website to see what is happening. Every year they have a holiday event the Night Lights in the Garden, they light up all the plants and statutes and play holiday music during the night event. They also bring in dinosaurs for a monthly exhibit, and they have a Lego statue event that have some epic Lego statutes that kids will be mesmerized with.
Manatee Park in Fort Myers, Florida
The kids will love spotting manatees in this refuge park where dozens of sea cows spend the winter months when the temperature of the gulf drops. Bigger kids might enjoy the thrill of renting a kayak to float above them and feel a burst of adrenaline when one of these gentle creatures bumps into their boat.
To enjoy the park from land, simply pay the nominal $2 per hour parking fee or $5 daily and walk the shoreline watching for manatees to break the surface of the river for air. Print this Manatee Activity Book for the kids to enjoy in the car.
Shelling on Sanibel Island
Megan from Red Around the World contributed this as one of the best destinations for a Florida vacation with kids.
Sanibel Island in Florida has some of the best shelling in the world. It’s just of the coast of Florida by Fort Myers and perfect for families looking for a little beach getaway. It does get very busy in the winter but that’s the best time to visit so just be sure to hit the beach early in the morning if you want better chances of finding better shells.
No matter what time you go, though, you’ll be able to find plenty. This is perfect for kids because they can play on the beach, make sandcastles, and collect shells. And there is such a huge amount of shells, there will be plenty for everyone. This is great for kids that are slightly older, maybe 5+, since it can involve a lot of walking (if you want) and are right by the ocean which can have strong currents around here. Of course, keep an eye on them no matter their age. There are a few beaches to choose from on Sanibel including Lighthouse Beach, Turner Beach, Tarpon Bay Beach, Bowman Beach, and my favorite, Blind Pass Beach.
If you look in the water, you can find some bigger shells, but if you’re sticking to the beach itself, you’ll be able to find mountains of smaller shells to dig through which will give kids plenty of chances to find lots of fun ones. If you do want to look for bigger or more rare shells, going first thing in the morning (sunrise) is best. If you’re just looking on the beach itself and aren’t too picky, anytime is fine but parking may be harder to find the later you go.
If you don’t want to worry about parking, staying on Sanibel and biking around is a good option but can be tiring if you’re trying to go all over the island.
The Everglades National Park
Victoria from Guide Your Travel shared the Everglades as one of the best things to do with kids in Florida
The Everglades are a beautiful national park you can explore with kids. There are lots of easy hikes to try with kids as young as 5 years old. The Bobcat Boardwalk for example is less than a mile long and is the perfect entry-level adventure for the whole family. There are lots of interesting birds to see and other animals; most popularly, the alligators. The path is secured and entirely on a broad boardwalk so it’s easily accessible for strollers.
For older kids, going on a kayak tour is highly recommended. Kids aged eight and up will love to paddle through the mangrove forests and spot different animals along the way. The tours are guided and very educational. Consider camping in the Everglades National Park If you love the great outdoors. Just make sure to bring plenty of mosquito spray.
If Miami is your starting point, you can reach the entrance by car in only 1 hour without having to worry about long car rides with antsy children.
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