In addition to its dreamy beaches, the Sunshine State is packed with historical and cultural attractions that make for plenty an educational family vacation (we’re looking at you, St. Augustine and Little Havana). But when you’re traveling with a toddler on vacation, simple entertainment is priority number one. Keep toddler vacations focused squarely on active fun with a good balance of beach and pool time, fun natural playgrounds and comfortable family resorts where you can prioritize nap time when needed. Follow our lead to the best Florida vacations with toddlers.
1. Vero Beach
With the perfect mix of natural beauty and attractions just made for inducing toddler fun, Vero Beach, along Florida’s storied Treasure Coast, is full of family appeal. Put the joy in your toddler’s stay from the start by checking in at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, where Goofy and the gang make appearances at the regularly scheduled character breakfasts (with Mickey Mouse pancakes!) and you can celebrate sunset with a bonfire and S’mores. A visit to the outdoor playground and kids discovery center at the Environmental Learning Centeris a must, and if your little one can be coaxed into a life jacket, they might even enjoy a short kayak trip out into the Indian River Lagoon. The esteemed Vero Beach Museum of Art is well worth a visit, too, thanks to special hands-on exhibits that put toddlers in touch with their blooming creativity.
Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
2. West Palm Beach/Palm Beach
West Palm Beach is at its most pedestrian and family-friendly on and around Clematis Street, where sweet treats in whimsical surrounds beckon kids and adults alike at the iconic dessert spot, Sloan’s Ice Cream. With a great kids’ club, beach and a family pool fronting the ocean, The Breakers Palm Beach is an ideal base for a family stay to remember. Take your littles to Manatee Lagoon one day for the chance to spot surfacing sea cows. And a trip to the Palm Beach Zoo is always a crowd-pleaser, too, with the chance for kids to feed flamingoes and get up close to exotic animals like koalas.
Recommended Hotel: The Breakers Palm Beach
3. Anna Maria Island
With no chain shops and restaurants and an appealing retro Florida vibe, there’s just so much to love about a family vacation to this cheerful island north of Sarasota on the state’s Gulf Coast. The Creme Brûlée French toast at the cute little island restaurant Ginny’s and Jane E’s Cafe is as much of a guaranteed toddler-pleaser as you can guarantee at that age. Next up, hit the Rod and Reel Pier to toss out a line with your little one and scout for dolphins. Then rent a surrey bike from Beach Bums for a fun pedal around the island. Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club is a super comfortable base of family operations, with suites with full gourmet kitchens, separate living and sleeping spaces and pleasant marina views.
Recommended Hotel: Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club
With the beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater within about 30 minutes of its international airport and tons of urban appeal for families, Tampa is a great place for a Florida vacation with toddlers, mixing beach time with cool city attractions. A stroll along the city’s Riverwalk is a good way to get the lay of the land downtown. Close by, you can head out on a dolphin cruise and admire the Florida-centric exhibits at the wonderful Florida Aquarium, or release some of the toddler energy with the fabulous interactive exhibits at the Glazer Children’s Museum. The perfect base for it all is the Tampa Marriott Water Street, within walking distance of most of downtown’s highlights and with spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the river.
Recommended Hotel: Tampa Marriott Water Street
5. Cocoa Beach
Nesting sea turtles, wildlife drives to spot alligators and manatees at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and rocket launches from nearby Cape Canaveral all add up to make Cocoa Beach a top contender for a Florida family vacation with toddlers. When you’re not building sand castles on the beach with your toddler, there are several oceanfront parks and playgrounds for a picnic or burning off some energy. For a comfortable family hotel close to everything, stay at the Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach and be sure to show your kiddos the onsite Shark Pit Bar & Grill’s amazing aquarium, filled with reef sharks and colorful tropical fish. The Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral is another good option.
Recommended Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach
Orlando, of course, is the most obvious family vacation destination in Florida, with all that the theme parks offer. But for toddlers, you can really have just as much fun basing in downtown Orlando at a central hotel like the Marriott Orlando Downtown or in the pretty suburb of Winter Park (check out The Alfond Inn for a boutique family stay) and exploring all of the city’s great park’s and playgrounds. Start at Lake Eola Parkin downtown Orlando, where you can take your toddler out on a pedal boat shaped like a giant swan, feed the resident real swans and play at the waterside playground. The weekly farmer’s market in Winter Park, held every Saturday at the old train depot, is a fun place to push the stroller among flower and food vendors. Then surprise your kid by hopping aboard the SunRail commuter train for the quick ride along the rails to downtown Orlando.
Recommended Hotel: Marriott Orlando Downtown
7. Winter Haven
About an hour south of Orlando is Winter Haven, home to LEGOLAND Florida Resort. The Florida theme park, designed for children ages 2 to 12, is perfect for toddlers. Highlights for tiny tykes include DUPLO Valleythe LEGO Creation and Building Zones, and the live shows. Book a stay at LEGOLAND Florida Hotel or LEGOLAND Beach Retreat for shuttle service and early entry to the park, plus complimentary breakfast and onsite swimming pools.
Recommended Hotel: LEGOLAND Florida Hotel
8. Fort Lauderdale
With a slower pace than Miami and a fun system of water taxis for getting around, set your sights on Fort Lauderdale for your vacation with toddlers in tow. The huge suites at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort have full kitchens and multiple bedrooms that make a stay here feel like bedding down at your own private beach condo—and they’re right across the street from the beach and within walking distance to the water taxi dock, too. Las Olas Boulevard, lined with restaurants (including a kid-pleasing creperie, La Bonne Crepe), is a welcoming place to push the stroller in search of your next great meal. And when they’re done with the beach, take the kids to the excellent shaded playground at Florence C. Hardy Park.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
9. Key West
The end of the road in the Florida Keys, Key West is, without a doubt, a playground for adults. So parents might be surprised to learn just how great a trip can here can be with you’ve got a toddler in your entourage, too. They’ll have a blast chugging around town on the Conch Tour Train. And The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is the place to blow their little minds while surrounding them with all manner of fluttering winged beauties in the walk-through exhibits. The island’s best beach is at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, where you’ll find plenty of shady spots to picnic and play with water views. Base at Casa Marina Key West, a Waldorf Astoria Resort and you’ll love the two outdoor swimming pools and easy beach access.
Recommended Hotel: Casa Marina Key West, a Waldorf Astoria Resort
Longtime travel writer and adventurer Terry Ward lives in Florida with her husband and young son and daughter. She’s constantly on the lookout for the next Scandinavia Airlines Kids Fly Free deal to save money on flights to Norway, her favorite place to visit both in the winter (Northern Lights!) and summer (Midnight Sun!). A travel writer since 2001 (read: long before the kids came along), she’s written for such publications as Endless Vacation Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Scuba Diving Magazine, among many others. Find Terry on her website, Terry-Ward.com.