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KeeKee's Corner
Top Florida Family Vacations Beyond the Theme Parks

FROM ROCKET LAUNCHES TO SUGAR SAND BEACHES IN THE SUNSHINE STATE

When it comes to family-friendly vacation destinations in the United States, Florida is at the top of the list. With its warm weather, beautiful beaches, endless attractions, and sun year-round, the Sunshine State is a great adventure any time of year.

While theme parks may be the first thing to come to mind when you think of Florida vacations, there are lots of other fantastic family destinations. Let’s explore some of the great options.

GET LOST IN SPACE
Rocket ships, moon rocks, and astronaut training! Kennedy Space Center is a must-see destination for any family looking to explore the exciting world of space exploration. It’s located in Merritt Island on Florida's east coast, also called the Space Coast, an hour from Orlando. With interactive exhibits and simulators, Kennedy Space Center allows visitors to experience the history of space travel, the science behind it, and the stories of those who dared to go where no human had gone before.

Not to mention viewing areas where you can witness real launches into space for different missions. Launch dates and times can change due to weather and other factors. Check the Kennedy Space Center website or contact the visitor information center for the most up-to-date information on launch schedules and viewing opportunities.

At Kennedy Space Center, guests can journey through time with guided tours of the space shuttle launch pads, the Apollo/Saturn V Center, and other iconic spacecraft from the past. They can also get up close and personal with rockets, spacecraft, and historical artifacts. From the Rocket Garden and IMAX Theater to the Shuttle Launch Experience and Planet Play, this amazing attraction has something for everyone.

In addition to touring the facilities, families can also participate in educational activities that bring the space age to life. The "Meet an Astronaut" program gives visitors a chance to hear inspiring stories from current and former astronauts. The Interactive S.T.E.A.M. programs provide a hands-on experience building and launching model rockets. And you can get a unique view of Earth from the rooftop observatory.

And you can add sun to your fun at Cocoa Beach, less than 30 minutes to the south.

Skiing in Tahoe

TASTE THE ORANGES
Florida’s official state fruit is the orange. The official beverage? Orange juice, of course! The state flower is the orange blossom. So naturally, visiting a citrus grove is a great Sunshine State vacation activity.

When you visit a citrus grove, you’ll find that some include tours of the packing house, others have a walk through the orange groves where you can hand-pick fresh oranges from the tree, and nearly all include retail stores where you’ll find orange souvenirs like orange blossom honey and candies.

Family sledding in Vermont

EXPLORE MOTHER NATURE’S THEME PARKS
Mother Nature offers incredible parks to explore in Florida, with 3 National Parks and 158 state parks. Here are some of the top parks for families.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: These incredible natural springs are best known as warm winter havens for manatees. This 210-acre park north of Tampa offers a unique opportunity to see Florida's native wildlife up close, including alligators, river otters, various bird species, and fish teeming in the crystal-clear waters. In addition to the daily manatee education programs, the kids will love seeing the manatees and fish from the underwater observatory. Your family can also enjoy the elevated boardwalk trail and a boat tour.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: This park has been famous for its underwater mermaid shows since the 1940s, which are a delight for families. You can paddle along the crystal-clear waters of the Weeki Wachee River, surrounded by lush vegetation, and spot manatees swimming below. The kids will also love Buccaneer Bay Water Park, which features water slides and a white sandy beach for swimming. It’s also north of Tampa.

Falling Waters State Park: Located on Florida's Panhandle in Chipley, about an hour northwest of Tallahassee, you’ll find Florida’s tallest waterfall, which plunges into a 100-foot-deep sinkhole. Families can enjoy hiking trails through the park's scenic landscapes and explore the sinkholes and caves. The facilities for picnicking and camping make it a great spot for a family day out or an overnight stay.

Florida Caverns State Park: Also, in the Panhandle, you can explore limestone caverns full of stalactites (the ones that hang tight from the ceiling), stalagmites, flowstones, and draperies in this park. The park offers hiking trails and opportunities for geocaching, adding an element of adventure to the visit.

Everglades National Park: Located in South Florida, it is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The park consists of 1.5 million acres of wetland, sawgrass marshes, and tropical hardwood hammocks, home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles like the alligator. It’s full of outdoor activities for families, like kayaking, canoeing, boating, hiking, biking, fishing, bird watching, and airboat rides.

Biscayne National Park: South of Miami, you’ll find this National Park, which is 95% water. Families can explore its aquamarine waters, full of colorful coral reefs and marine life, by guided boat tour, canoeing, snorkeling, or diving.

KeeKee Building Snowman

SANDCASTLES AND SUNSETS
With 1,000 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to make part of your vacation, from the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf Coast.

The east coast of Florida is the Atlantic Coast and begins outside of Jacksonville with Amelia Island and St. Augustine, home to Ponce de León’s “Fountain of Youth” discovery. Historical highway A1A continues south along the coast through Cocoa Beach to West Palm Beach and down to the bustling beaches of Miami.

The west side of Florida is the Gulf Coast on the Gulf of Mexico. You can’t beat the soft white sandy beaches, the clearest waters, and the gorgeous sunsets of the beaches highlighted below.

Florida Panhandle:  Here, you’ll find the beaches of Destin to the historic St. George Island. There’s an abundance of family-friendly attractions and activities. Visit the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, explore the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, Blue Angels Naval Air Station, and Big Lagoon State Park.

Clearwater Beach:  Clearwater Beach, north of Tampa, is another great choice for families. Its wide beaches, shallow waters, and warm climate year-round make it popular. The Clearwater area has plenty of kid-friendly activities, including mini-golf courses, an aquarium, and a family pirate cruise.

Siesta Key & Longboat Key:  Minutes from downtown Sarasota, you’ll find Siesta Key Beach, which consistently ranks among the best beaches in the United States, and Longboat Key. Sarasota is also home to a vibrant arts and culture scene. Families can visit The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Circus Museum. (Sarasota used to be the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus.) At Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, kids can learn about marine life and conservation efforts while seeing sharks, manatees, sea turtles, and other aquatic creatures. The whole family will enjoy the water sports and dolphin-spotting boat tours. You can get to Sarasota via the Tampa International (TPA) airport (about an hour north) or the local Sarasota International (SRQ) airport.

Florida Keys:  At the bottom tip of Florida and the final stretch of A1A is the Florida Keys. Your family can road trip and explore this unique island chain of keys from north to south: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Key West, and many smaller keys in between. Water sports abound here, like snorkeling, diving, fishing, and paddle boarding. Kids will love getting close to the wildlife on John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park glass bottom boat tours and visiting The Turtle Hospital in Marathon or the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.

Whether your family is looking for a leisurely beach, active or sightseeing vacation, or a combination of all three, the Sunshine State has great options with something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

Florida Vacation Adventure Awaits!


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