This post was written in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA.
A year’s worth of pent-up vacation energy is going to come out this summer, which means now is the time to plan your family’s summer getaway. And once you’ve decided that you’re going to get out of town with the family, the question becomes where, exactly, you want to go. While every family is different, there is one destination that can meet every family’s needs: Florida.
There’s a simple reason the Sunshine State works for everyone: the wide variety of attractions available for visitors to try. Here are just a few of the many different kinds of Florida destinations every family should consider.
Get away from it all—or head to the middle of the action
The only way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, is by boat or seaplane, making it one of the most remote parks in the national park system. And once you’ve arrived, there’s plenty to do, including snorkeling around coral reefs and shipwrecks, exploring a 19th-century fort, and overnight camping, which, absent nearby light pollution, affords the opportunity for some truly impressive stargazing.
If that kind of escape from civilization isn’t your thing, then South Beach is probably more your speed. It’s a busy, world-famous thoroughfare that’s chock full of great architecture, restaurants, people-watching, and, you know, beaches.
Get moving—or relax and recharge
The pros make it look easy, but learning to surf can be challenging. It requires spotting the right waves, knowing when to paddle, and the balance and strength needed to pop up and stay standing through the wave. Florida is full of great surfing destinations and instructors who can get you going. New Smyrna Beach, a premier spot for surfing, is known to locals as the “wave magnet,” and it’s home to a cadre of instructors who can help your family hang ten in no time.
For many families, though, a vacation is all about relaxing, not working to learn a new skill. They should check out Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park just outside of Gainesville. It’s home to a natural lazy river, and it’s hard to imagine a more relaxing activity than floating through the wooded area on the crystal-clear waters.
Ponder surreal artwork—or contemplate the expanses of space
For creative types, it’s hard to beat The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. It’s home to 2,400 of the famous surrealist’s works across media from throughout his career, the largest such collection on the continent. It’s housed in a beautifully designed building that reflects its namesake’s fondness for impressive, original shapes and patterns.
Other families may be drawn to the science and history of space exploration impressively documented at The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Rocket Garden is exactly as cool as it sounds, and interactive exhibits like astronaut training simulators, a realistic shuttle launch experience, and space-themed indoor play area pair nicely with in-depth exhibits on topics such as mission control, the Apollo program, and the International Space Station.
Brave big rides—or fly down big slides
Thrill seekers should experience Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a theme park in North Tampa that’s home to 10 roller coasters, with an 11th opening later this year. Among those rides are a coaster with a spinning car, a 335-foot freestanding drop tower, Florida’s tallest launch coaster, and a more kid-friendly option inspired by Grover from Sesame Street.
Of course, on a warm summer day a water park can provide more refreshing thrills. Universal’s Volcano Bay is a massive water park centered on a 200-foot-tall volcano. It’s home to the tallest drop capsule slide in the world, a water coaster, multiple wave pools, and four different raft rides. And if you want to visit during the winter, you can: it’s open year-round, and every drop of water in the park is heated.
Experience natural splendor—or admire man-made wonders
The third-largest national park in the contiguous United States, Everglades National Park truly has to be seen to be believed. Cycling around multiple dedicated trails, slough slogging (hiking off-trail through muddy terrain), and boating through the famous “river of grass” are among the ways to explore the park’s 1.5 million acres.
If your family gravitates toward human history more than ecological history, Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine is worth the trip. Construction on the oldest masonry fort in the United States began in 1671. It’s made of coquina, a sedimentary rock made mostly of seashells, which you can still see on the walls of the fort. Along with the impressive edifice, the history of the fort, which has been controlled by four different governments in its history, is deep.
Take in a stock car race—or spend the day at the ballpark.
Even if you’re not a NASCAR diehard, a visit to Daytona International Speedway is worthwhile. There’s nothing quite like the intensity that comes from a loud, warm day at the most famous racetrack in the United States.
If you prefer grass and dirt to asphalt, Florida has plenty of baseball stadiums to visit. You can check out the major leaguers playing in St. Petersburg and Miami, sure, but the experiences abound as well at Florida’s smaller parks. The Grapefruit League hosts 15 big league teams for spring training every year, and as the major league season gets going those parks (located near both coasts throughout the state) become home to minor league affiliates, a less-expensive and just-as-fun way to experience America’s pastime.
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