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There’s no shortage of opinions about which destination in Florida is perfect for a vacation. Everyone from your grandma to your co-worker seems to know the place to go. But these recommendations are often based on limited knowledge of the entire state, and with little regard for each family’s unique needs. So what are the best family beaches in Florida, and how do you know what’s right for your next trip to the Sunshine State?
Ciao Bambino’s staff has traveled the entire state and knows it all, from the popular hot spots to the hidden gems (and the vacation destinations you might opt to avoid). Each Florida beach destination has its own unique characteristics and vibe. Our favorite regions are described below, along with our go-to suggestions depending on the ages, interests and accommodation preferences of your family.
At a glance: Expect slightly cooler weather but warm, laid-back hospitality in the northern regions of the state.
Twenty years ago, Scenic Highway 30-A, which runs east of Destin to west of Panama City Beach on the Gulf Coast, would not have ranked on our list of best beach areas. Not because the beaches weren’t fantastic, merely because there wasn’t much here at all. But South Walton County has done a fantastic job of appealing to those in search of an upscale family-friendly beach experience as this corridor of the Emerald Coast has developed. The draw here is the stunning sugar-white sand and calm, crystal-clear water, unobscured by high-rises (there are only two along the entire 24-mile highway). The beaches are expansive, making it easy to carve out plenty of space for tossing a frisbee, playing soccer or undisturbed sand castle building for younger kids.
Tucked away from the bustle of the better-known cities at either end of the Panhandle region, we prefer the quieter and more picturesque 30-A communities like Seaside and Rosemary Beach for a family-friendly stay. With wide sidewalks and hundreds of miles of trails, it’s easy to bike or walk around and between these communities, adding to the calm, stress-free atmosphere.
Perfect for: babies and toddlers, school-age kids, teens, beach lovers
Where to stay: Private home rentals are the norm on 30-A, but WaterColor Inn & Resort in the WaterColor community offers everything a family could want from a relaxed beachfront property. It is perfectly located in our favorite part of the Panhandle region.
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If you think you’ve been there, done that when it comes to Florida’s beaches — but you haven’t ventured to the northern Atlantic coastal area — think again. Around St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, you’ll find beautiful, natural shores that haven’t been overrun with high-rise development, and there is plenty to do off the beach as well. The overall aesthetic here is more Lowcountry hospitality, less typical Florida tourist trap. Downtown St. Augustine is very quaint, and the historic fort offers an introduction to the state’s Spanish influence.
Nature lovers enjoy visits to Anastasia State Park to admire the ancient sand dunes and explore the tidal marshes. Be advised that water temps will likely be a bit cooler than the Gulf of Mexico beaches as well as those farther south in Florida. But the tradeoff is vibrant wildlife, like osprey, eagle and spoonbill sightings.
This area also appeals to families who love to take day trips. Historic and incredibly charming, Savannah is about 2 hours from Amelia Island. A day spent on isolated and dramatic Cumberland Island is sure to be a top vacation memory, and it is only a quick ferry ride from the area. And Georgia’s Golden Isles, a string of stunning barrier islands, are also within striking distance for those who want to do a little beach hopping. Using Jacksonville as the anchor airport in this region makes it easy to get here from most major U.S. cities.
Perfect for: school-age kids, history buffs, nature lovers
Where to stay: The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island. It doesn’t get more away-from-it-all than a luxury resort with 13 miles of quiet beachfront, and yet their dedicated children’s programming means no one will get bored.
At a glance: While Orlando looms large when considering the middle of the state, don’t sleep on the wonderful beaches and communities found along the Gulf.
This has long been a popular spot in Florida for families on the hunt for a fun beach vacation. And with good reason: there’s something for everyone in this region, especially those who want city amenities like sporting events, zoos, art districts and museums to break up their days on the beach or by the pool. Value-oriented families are usually drawn to Clearwater Beach, where the sand is brought in, making it particularly fine and enjoyable. Pier 60 and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium make for kid-friendly outings. Those who prefer 5-star hotels will want to head a bit farther south to the St. Pete Beach area, where there are more high-end properties to choose from.
One perk we love about this area is that while there are urban activities, it’s also quite easy to get immersed in a more natural environment. Honeymoon Island State Park consistently ranks as one of the best beaches in America, and here families can enjoy a reprieve from the beachfront development of most Florida shorelines. Cross the causeway to get to this gem, and know that services on the island are limited, but it’s a wonderful spot to enjoy the surrounding beauty undisturbed. Nearby Dunedin is a delightful, artsy beach town with lots of microbreweries.
If staying in this area for a week or more, consider a day trip. Orlando is just a 90-minute drive away, so it is definitely possible to incorporate a day or two at one of the theme parks in your vacation plans. Sarasota is 45 minutes south with gorgeous natural beaches. Marine wildlife lovers would enjoy a day at Venice Beach, which offers a chance to hunt for shark’s teeth, and it is only about an hour south of St. Petersburg.
Perfect for: multigenerational trips, families who want variety
Where to stay: The Don CeSar. While this region has several impressive luxury resorts, we love the iconic Don CeSar’s beachfront location, fun pool area and great dining.
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At a glance: Warm weather, sunny skies, lively beaches and grand resorts are the draw for families heading to the southern tip of the state.
While it might not immediately come to mind as a family-friendly destination, don’t dismiss the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area of Florida. Yes, it has a reputation for robust nightlife, but for families who want to be busy from morning well into the evening on and off the beach, this region has lots of appeal. Parks along the beach are plentiful, with playgrounds for younger children and volleyball courts for older kids and teens to socialize. There are countless interesting restaurants and cultural landmarks to visit when you need a break from sun and sand.
Perhaps the best bonus of all is that a day trip into the Everglades is doable from this area, and it is one of the most interesting excursions for families anywhere in Florida. Thrill seekers will enjoy airboat rides through the swamp and animal lovers will delight in the chance to see hundreds of alligators. It is truly one of those quintessential Florida experiences.
Transport connections into this area are easy, with direct flights from just about every airport in the U.S. If you’re taking a cruise around the Caribbean, consider tacking on a few extra days to enjoy the many beach resorts here, as most ships depart from the ports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Perfect for: active families, teens, cruisers
Where to stay: Acqualina Resort and Spa, Miami. You’d be hard-pressed to find a luxury beach resort in Florida that caters to families better than the Acqualina. Its compact footprint balanced with a plethora of activities and amenities means there’s something for everyone without complicated logistics.
Families who would much prefer to hunker down in a luxury resort, making the most of everything it has to offer, might want to head a bit farther north from Miami along the Atlantic Coast to West Palm Beach. Posh and polished, The Breakers has long been the grand dame resort of south Florida. Parents who want to bliss out on stress-free accommodations and logistics will love this option.
Perfect for: babies and toddlers, weekend getaways, resort lovers
Where to stay: The Breakers. With a more than 125-year history, the Breakers is the original iconic Florida beach resort. Families still enjoy its historic charms, now enhanced by all the modern amenities on which it has built its longstanding reputation — including fabulous children’s programming.
While no two Florida beaches are created equal, rest assured that there is a great destination that’s perfect for your family to discover on your next vacation here.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout except where noted.
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