Beyond the theme parks, the crowded hotel-lined beaches, and the thumping music of spring break, Florida still has plenty of intimate small towns where families can relax and unwind. If you’re looking to spend more time with the kids and less time standing in lines, then look at the following four best Florida beach towns for family vacations. Each has the perfect combination of great beaches, family activities, and charming accommodations with an “old south Florida” vibe.
Tucked away between Panama City Beach and Destin, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, sits a little slice of heaven known as Seaside. A gorgeous sugar-white sandy beach and thriving town center with more than twelve restaurants and forty-one shops and galleries, Seaside won the title of the “Best Beach on Earth for Families” by Travel + Leisure magazine. Movie buffs might also recognize Seaside as the primary location for Jim Carey’s 1998 classic film “The Truman Show.” This intimate, master-planned community designed with vacationers in mind offers visitors everything they need to relax, unwind, and enjoy the vacation of a lifetime.
For daytime fun, learn to create three-foot-high sandcastles at Sandcastle School on the Beach or explore nearby Eden Gardens, a beautiful state park. Also, Mondays through Fridays at 3:30 pm, the Seaside Repertory Theatre puts on a free, original storytelling experience for children of all ages called “Stories by the Sea.” At night, stroll around Seaside’s beautiful palm tree-lined downtown and grab a bite to eat with the whole family.
Speaking of food, Emeril Lagasse recently featured Seaside on his cooking channel’s hit show “Emeril’s Florida.” Seaside restaurants serve everything from seafood to smoothies, all on or near the beach.
Staying in Seaside couldn’t be easier as well. While there are no large hotels or condos lining the beach, there are hundreds of luxurious cottages to rent, some with as many as six bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Seaside vacation rentals offer guests the perfect blend of modern comfort in an “Old World Florida” vibe.
Pristine beaches, a beautiful downtown with more than fifty shops and restaurants, and an abundance of lodging explain why USA Today named the intimate little hamlet of Seaside one of the “Top 10 Best Beach Towns in Florida.”
Anna Maria Island
More than just your everyday barrier island community, Anna Maria Island offers families beautiful beaches, plenty of history, and stunning sunsets. Located at the southern entrance to Tampa Bay, just twenty minutes from Bradenton by car, Anna Maria Island is home to the cities of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and the city of Anna Maria.
On your way over, stop at Adrenaline Row—the beaches of Palma Sola Causeway—and enjoy the calm waters of Palma Sola Bay. It’s the perfect place to relax and build sandcastles all day. Adrenaline Row also has horseback riding on the beach and kayak, paddleboard, or jet-ski rentals. For some quiet time away from the crowds try Bean Point Beach located at the northern tip of the island. This hidden gem features powder-soft white sand and sweeping views of Tampa Bay in a relaxed atmosphere.
When you get hungry, Anna Maria Island has restaurants that range from sophisticated and elegant to those with a “toes in the sand” laidback tropical vibe. Watch dolphins, manatees, and other sea life in Sarasota Bay while you dine or enjoy fantastic sunset views from any of the dozen gulf side restaurants.
To scratch the shopping itch, check out the Market at Coquina Beach, which is open every Sunday from November through July. It features unique arts and crafts, pottery, jewelry, collectibles, and much more from local artists and craftspeople.
Relax and put the car away for your entire stay on Anna Maria Island. A free air-conditioned trolley runs from the north end of the Island at Anna Maria City Pier, south to Coquina Beach, and back every 20 minutes from 6 am to 10:30 pm.
About halfway between Miami and Key West sits the “Village of Islands,” (six to be exact), known as Islamorada (pronounced I – La – Morada). The former year-round home to baseball’s Hall of Famer Ted Williams, Islamorada also stars in the more recent Netflix series “Bloodlines.” Cast in its role as the Rayburn Family Inn, the real-life Moorings Village and Spa gives viewers a true sense of this vacation paradise.
Best known for excellent sport-fishing, Islamorada also offers families plenty of options to relax and reconnect. Tiki huts and palm trees provide shade on the small sheltered beach at Founders Park. The bayside location means calm waters. It’s a great place to teach the kids how to swim and snorkel or just picnic in the shade. On the ocean side, Harry Harris Park has a great little beach, plenty of shaded tables, and a large play area for the kids. For a truly unforgettable experience, check out the Theatre of the Sea. This family-owned aquatic park offers a variety of up-close and personal shows and animal interaction programs where you and the family can swim with dolphins, sea lions, and even sharks.
More than 100 eateries cook up something for every palette on this little stretch of the Keys. Twenty-seven different seafood restaurants serve everything from Conch fritters to the world’s best Key Lime pie. Almost all have water views because, in Islamorada, you’re always near the water.
On Florida’s east coast about 190 miles south of Jacksonville, and 80 miles north of Palm Beach, the small town of Vero Beach offers family vacationers a rare combination of incredible beaches, classic Florida charm, and an endless supply of attractions to keep you busy for even the longest of stays.
From February to April, you can take a break from the beach and catch a spring training game. The New York Mets play just twenty minutes away in Port St. Lucie, while the world champion Houston Astros and the NL East champion Washington Nationals share “the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches” a little further down the road in West Palm. If the kids prefer freshwater swimming over the sand and surf, the family-oriented north County Aquatic Center has water cannons, slides, a water tree, and a huge water play structure. For some indoor fun, visit the St. Lucie County Aquarium. It features the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit, a living model of a coral reef ecosystem donated by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
For the bargain hunter in you, both the beautiful Beachside Shopping District and Historic Downtown Vero Beach area have a variety of shops that include clothing boutiques, sporting goods stores, thrift stores, and consignment shops.
Forget the long lines. Trade the crowded beaches for some family fun, and the glitzy hotels for a charming cottage. Whether you’re here for the pristine beaches in Seaside or the Key Lime pie in Islamorada, there’s no better place to make great memories than these four best beach towns for family vacations.