Having grown up in Florida, I am proud to call myself a Floridian. I love that Florida is the top vacation state in the country, and can easily rattle off a list of what makes it so great for family getaways. However, it is a big state! It can take a full day to drive from its northern border along Georgia down to the tip of the Florida Keys. So if you are considering a visit to the Sunshine State, you'll need to pick a general area to visit. Here's a guide -- by a local -- to help you determine where to go when vacationing in Florida.

South Beach, Miami.
South Florida
Famed for its wide stretch of beaches that have made their way into countless movies, South Florida is a popular destination for families, and one of the state's top destinations for visitors. From the vibrant and lively Art Deco style of Miami's South Beach to Fort Lauderdale's kid-friendly waterfront destination to countless small towns filled with charm and hugging the coast north of the Palm Beaches, South Florida is perfect for family vacations. If the miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline don't entice you, Everglades National Park wetlands are mere minutes away.

Main Destinations: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Boca Raton, Palm Beach

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Fort Lauderdale Beaches
For Art: Las Olas Boulevard
For Outdoor Adventures: Everglades Safari Park
For Culture: Little Havana
For Excitement: South Beach
For Little Ones: Miami Seaquarium

Places to Stay
Fontainebleau Miami Beach Fontainebleau Miami Beach
Turnberry Isle Miami Turnberry Isle Miami
Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

Florida Keys.
Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a string of more than 1,000 "keys" ("key" comes from the Spanish word "cayo," which is an island surrounded by coral reefs). Although there are tons of islands to see from the pleasure of a boat, the main Keys are connected by Highway US 1, which travels from Key Largo to Key West, the southernmost tip of the continental U.S. As typical of island life, the pace here is much slower than the mainland, and businesses will even close during sunset hours because the staff is out enjoying the nightly ritual of watching the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.

Main Destinations: Key West, Marathon, Key Largo, Islamorada

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Sunset at Mallory Square
For Art: Duval Street
For Outdoor Adventures: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
For Culture: Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
For Excitement: Southernmost Point
For Little Ones: Dolphin Research Center

Places to Stay
Southernmost on the Beach Southernmost on the Beach
Hawks Cay Resort Hawks Cay Resort
Islander Resort Islander Resort

Naples Island, Florida.
Southwest Coast
Nestled along the Gulf of Mexico, the beaches here are much calmer than the East Coast beaches, with sugar-soft sand that is so fine in some areas it squeaks beneath your feet and "sings." Visitors to this area can enjoy low-key city life in Tampa, Clearwater and St. Pete, while also being minutes away from quiet, nature-filled islands like Marco Island, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Kids may recognize Clearwater's aquarium, as it is home to Winter the dolphin that lost his tail, and bigger kids won't be bored with a trip to the coaster-filled Busch Gardens theme park.

Main Destinations: Naples and Marco Island, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Fort Myers

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Bowman's Beach
For Art: Marco Island
For Outdoor Adventures: Captiva Cruises
For Culture: The Ringling
For Excitement: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
For Little Ones: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Places to Stay
Hilton Naples Hilton Naples
Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort
Club Med Sandpiper Bay Club Med Sandpiper Bay

Kids playing in the sand at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Orlando/Central Florida
The number one destination in the U.S. for vacations and home to Mickey Mouse, Orlando and Central Florida is home to Disney World, as well as Universal Orlando's theme parks, LEGOLAND, water parks and the new I-Drive 360 attractions, including the Orlando Eye. Every child dreams of visiting Orlando, and at some point in your kids' lives, you should find the chance to fulfill their wishes and enjoy the spoils of this booming, fun-filled destination.

Main Destinations: Orlando, Disney World, Downtown Disney, Universal Orlando, Kissimmee

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Shingle Creek
For Art: Cirque du Soleil
For Outdoor Adventures: Boggy Creek Airboat Rides
For Culture: Epcot
For Excitement: Universal Studios
For Little Ones: LEGOLAND Florida

Places to Stay
Renaissance Orlando Resort at SeaWorld Renaissance Orlando Resort at SeaWorld
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
Disney's Art of Animation Resort Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Space Coast
The sleepy communities that line the Space Coast -- named for its Cape Canaveral Space Center location -- are often added as a side trip to an Orlando vacation, as its beaches are less than an hour away. The high-rise buildings and crowds from South Florida have yet to creep all the way up the coast, so families can enjoy wide-open expanses of beach and a hint of what beckoned out-of-state visitors to flock to Florida in the first place.

Main Destinations: Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area
For Art: Museum of Arts and Sciences
For Outdoor Adventures: Ron Jon Surf School
For Culture: Kennedy Space Center
For Excitement: Daytona International Speedway
For Little Ones: Brevard Zoo

Places to Stay
The Resort on Cocoa Beach The Resort on Cocoa Beach
Hampton Inn Daytona Beach/Beachfront Hampton Inn Daytona Beach/Beachfront
Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront Hilton Melbourne Beach Oceanfront

Panama City Beach, Florida.
Florida Panhandle
Nicknamed the Forgotten Coast, the Florida Panhandle follows along the top of the Gulf of Mexico, just below Alabama and Georgia, offering a touch of Old South to the area. Not only will you find emerald green waters with pods of dolphins playing just within eyesight, you'll uncover moss-draped trees and nature areas in sleepy communities. Between the condos of Pensacola and Panama City are Destin and the Beaches of South Walton, where "The Truman Show" was filmed to portray an idyllic town of colorful houses with white picket fences that actually do exist. Rent bicycles with baskets and leave the car parked while the family enjoys small-town shops and an atmosphere with sand-strewn pathways.

Main Destinations: Panama City Beach, Pensacola, Destin, Beaches of South Walton

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Cape San Blas
For Art: Tallahassee Antique Car Museum
For Outdoor Adventures: Gulf Islands National Sea Shore
For Culture: Fort Pickens
For Excitement: Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
For Little Ones: South Walton Beaches

Places to Stay
WaterColor Inn & Resort WaterColor Inn & Resort
Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

St. Augustine, Florida.
Northeast Florida
The northeast corner of Florida is where Florida came to life more than 500 years ago, as Ponce de Leon descended upon St. Augustine, convinced the area was home to the Fountain of Youth. Bordering Georgia, the area is a combination of city life with Jacksonville's booming population and skyline and slow Southern Charm, sharing barrier islands where wild horses run free and palm trees mixed with moss-laden oaks. Visitors get more than the beach as they learn about Florida's Spanish history and of the pirates that came ashore for safety and to bury treasure in the area's sand dunes.

Main Destinations: Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Amelia Island

Best Attractions
For Relaxation: Cumberland Island
For Art: Fernandina Beach
For Outdoor Adventures: Jax Water Tours Dolphin Safari
For Culture: Old St. Augustine Village
For Excitement: Whetstone Chocolate Factory
For Little Ones: Adventure Landing

Places to Stay
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Omni Jacksonville Hotel Omni Jacksonville Hotel
Hammock Beach Resort 1526

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Disney Family Vacations
Orlando Family Vacations

Written by Lissa Poirot


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