It’s no secret that The Sunshine State, and particularly its Gulf Coast, is known for its outdoor activities and unique wildlife. Florida’s gulf coast is an animal lover’s paradise that is perfect for families with children to visit and connect with the natural world. That being said, if you do need a rainy day activity, you won’t be out of luck. There is plenty of adventure at the local museums where the kids can visit a lunar base or pretend to be a ship captain. Whether you want a beach day or somewhere to escape the heat for a bit, here are the 11 best kids attractions for your vacation.
Where To Go With Kids On Your Gulf Coast Vacation
1. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Mermaids don’t just exist in Disney World and fantasylands; they are very real if you happen to be visiting Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Continuing a tradition started in the late 1940s, park guests can watch an underwater performance with live “mermaids” as they flip their fins, dance, and tell stories. Children will be enchanted by this unique show that has historically hosted famous audience members such as Elvis Presley and Arthur Godfrey. Ticket prices are affordable at only $13 per adult, and $8 per child, with free admission for guests 5 and under.
Location: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, Florida 34606
2. Glazer Children’s Museum
If you are looking for a place to keep your children busy all day, then the Glazer Children’s Museum is here for you. With more than 170 interactive exhibits, your little ones can pilot a cruise ship, splash and explore at the giant KidsPort water table, or make-believe they are firefighters or veterinarians. There is even a special exhibit called Tug Boat Tots that caters to the 3 and younger crowd.
Pro-Tip: Admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.
Location: 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, Florida 33602
Sanibel Island is the perfect place to encourage your kids to put down the technology and just interact with the world around them. This quaint little town is well known for its abundance of seashells and sand dollars, and even has the only dedicated shell museum in the United States, The Bailer Matthews Shell Museum. There are no flashy tourist traps here; just basic beach day activities like biking and boating that will be enjoyable and relaxing for the whole family.
Location: Sanibel Island is located on the west coast of Florida and accessible by land or by air.
4. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a great place to educate your children on animal conservation and have fun at the same time. Unlike a zoo, the wildlife park allows visitors to view native animals in their natural environment, and even rehabilitates injured manatees for re-release in to the wild. Your family will become experts on Florida’s local, non-human residents thanks to daily scheduled educational programs and a narrated boat ride, which are both included with your ticket purchase.
Location: 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. Homosassa, Florida 34446
5. Captain Memo’s Original Pirate Cruise
What kid (or adult) would pass up the opportunity to climb aboard a real pirate ship and cruise the high seas for a day? Since the answer is probably “nobody,” be sure to make time for Captain Memo’s Original Pirate Cruise if you are traveling near Clearwater Beach. This two-hour boating adventure involves a costumed pirate crew, prizes, and music. And for the 21+ family members, there is complimentary beer and wine. If you want to cruise with younger children, you don’t have to worry about them getting scared; these pirates are all guaranteed to be friendly.
Location: 25 Causeway Blvd, Clearwater Beach, Florida 33767
Panama City Beach is a great family destination if you need assurance that your kids will never have a moment of boredom. Along with its remarkable white sand beaches, there is no shortage of entertainment. Visit Shipwreck Island Waterpark, with slides that range from having a 65-foot drop to kiddy slides for toddlers. You can also stop by PCB’s Coconut Creek Family Fun Park to attempt escaping the human maze, or Barnacle Bay for mini golfing.
Try to avoid visiting from March to May as that is prime season for college students going wild on spring break.
Location: Panama City Beach is located in Bay County, Florida.
7. Lee County Manatee Park
During the winter months, Manatee Park is a refuge for Florida’s famous manatees and a prime spot for catching a glimpse of these animals in their natural habitat. The park has several viewing areas where the water is shallow and the manatees are easy to spot while in season. And if you really want to try to get up close, you can even rent a canoe. There is also a children’s playground, and picnic tables if you want to bring your lunch and make a day of it.
Location: 10901 State Rd 80, Fort Myers, FL 33905
8. Museum of Science & Industry
The Museum of Science & Industry has an entire section called Kids in Charge! that was specifically designed for kids 12 and younger. One of the must-see (or must-experience) exhibits is Mission: Moonbase, which is a simulated future base on the moon that visitors can help to manage and ensure its smooth operation. Also, don’t miss seeing an IMAX movie in the Dome Theatre; a ticket to one of the shows is included in the price of admission.
Location: 4801 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33617
9. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Walking the boardwalk through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, you may be lucky enough to spot one of several endangered bird species that make their home there. Not to mention, alligators and snakes also live here. Your family can walk the more than 2 miles of boardwalk trail built just over the swamp at your own pace, and it is stroller-friendly if your little ones can’t handle all the walking. You may want to bring binoculars and compete to see who can spot the most different species.
Location: 375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples, Florida 34120
10. Sarasota Children’s Garden
Sarasota has a unique take on the traditional botanical garden, and it’s just for kids (and their parents). This two-acre garden has winding paths that will take you through an enchanted forest of dragons and fairies. You may even run in to some of your favorite fairytale characters like the 3 Little Pigs, or a hobbit from Middle-earth. If you have a longer trip planned during the summer, you can also sign the kids up for the summer camp where they will make magic potions, build houses for fairies, or learn to paint with natural dyes.
Location: 1670 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida 34236
11. Southern Star Dolphin Cruise
No Florida vacation could be complete without at least one jaunt out on to the water. Departing from Destin Harbor, the South Star Dolphin Cruise is a two-hour ride to search for dolphins and learn about them. You can also relax and enjoy the ride with music and refreshments from the snack bar. Since children are considered special passengers here, they even have the opportunity to drive the boat, which will be an experience they won’t soon forget.
Location: 100 Harbor Blvd, Destin, Florida 32541
This article was written by Paula Ashlee Berg.