When it comes to family-friendly cities in the Sunshine State, there’s plenty to do and see beyond Orlando. From Naples to Delray Beach, here are some fun family hot spots worth exploring around Florida’s coast.
Naples boasts more than 10 miles of white sandy beaches along the Gulf coast, offering plenty for families to do. This includes The Naples Zoo, where you can feed giraffes or take a boat ride and spot primates in the trees. The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (C’mon) is a great way for kids to play and escape the sun for a bit, while Naples Botanical Gardens has 170 acres of cultivated gardens and preservation land. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center recently opened the fun and educational “Little Explorer Play Zone” designed for children age 18 months to 5-years-old with animal stories, crafts and activities. In the late afternoon, grab a beach blanket and have a family picnic to watch the area’s brilliant sunsets, clapping along with the other onlookers as the sun drops beyond the ocean line.
Delray’s two-mile-long beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming and sandcastle building, while Atlantic Avenue is great for shopping, restaurants and getting an ice cream cone. The area also offers families the chance at a little friendly competition during a round of mini-golf at Putt’n Around or strawberry picking at The Girls Strawberry U-Pick, which also offers train rides on the Strawberry Express for $3. During the ride, you’ll see swans, exotic birds, a giant tortoise and a variety of trees and foliage for everyone to enjoy. Boca Raton is just nine miles away, and home to the Children’s Science Explorium within Sugar Sand Park. This interactive science center is especially fun for children 5 to 12, offering exhibits and programs that get kids excited about science.
Where to Stay: Delray Beach Marriott
Who needs a theme park when you have the free David F. Bolger Playspace at The Ringling Museum in Sarasota? The large museum grounds also have a secret garden on the property and a pier with water views, plus lots of space to run around and take photos. We discovered this gem on our way to Orlando; my boys loved the playground and I enjoyed stretching my legs and exploring. There are also paid exhibits on the property that include the Circus Museum and tour of the Ringling Bros’ winter vacation mansion. Parents Magazine also picked it as one of 10 Trips to Take Before Your Kid Turns 10.
The quaint island of Sanibel has earned the reputation for being the ultimate spot to collect seashells. Hit the beach with a bucket, shovel and small net at low tide for the best picks. Just be sure to leave any live Conch shells on the beach or risk breaking the state’s strict shelling laws. You can also safely view specimens at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, which also has a colorful kid’s lab with puzzles and books. Bowman’s Beach is the quietest and most remote stretch of sand in Sanibel with a historic lighthouse and rustic boardwalk. When my boys were just 5 months old, we visited the J.N. Ding Darling Refuge where we enjoyed an open-air shuttle ride and explored the mangroves estuary and area wildlife. The Education Center also includes a children’s area with interactive exhibits. Be sure to eat at the over-the-top Bubble Room in nearby Captiva, which is filled to the rafters with Hollywood and Christmas memorabilia, lights, bubbles and trains. It’s like an eclectic piñata exploded inside.
Where to Stay: Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa
For more family-friendly places to visit in Florida, check out Florida Buzz Blog’s Family-Friendly Spring Break Ideas.