Top Florida Coastal Towns to Visit
Ditch those busy Florida beach destinations and rediscover the real side of Florida, where life is slower, ice cream parlors on the main street are the hot-spots and fishing poles are trendy. Here are the best Florida coastal towns your whole family will love.
Pack a picnic lunch, a fishing pole & even a tent. Build a sand castle, dig for crabs, watch the sunset and introduce your kids to the wilder side of coastal Florida.
Best Coastal Towns in Florida for a Family Vacation
Yes, okay, islands are cool, and Amelia Island in Northeast Florida is no exception. This place is supposedly the prime shark-tooth capital of the world, and with beaches, a historic fort to explore, ice cream parlors downtown and neat state parks, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
Best Place to Explore:
Fort Clinch State Park
- Located at: 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
- Contact: (904) 277-7274
- Fees: $6 Carload (up to 8 people)
- + $2.50 per person to visit the inside of the fort
- Let the kids roam through the tunnels and barracks at this Civil War brick fort. Several areas are set up in period style and manned by docents in costume, which makes for a neat experience for the kids.
- Besides the fort, there are nature trails (Willow Pond Trail was a family favorite), a bike trail, boardwalks & camping (reservations required on the camping). And of course, beautiful beaches to explore and do some shore-fishing.
Read More: 12 Things You Should Know About Fort Clinch State Park
Fort Clinch State Park
- There are several beach access points here- on either side of the fort for St. Mary’s Inlet, and by the Atlantic jetty.
- Due to location, these beaches are less busy than the ones in town. Bring sunscreen and plan for early mornings and late afternoons.
- There are other public beaches in town, which are great too, but Fort Clinch seems to be the cleanest- and if you are lucky, you may even see the wild horses of Georgia’s Cumberland Island across St. Mary’s Inlet!
Best Public Beach:
Main Beach Park
- Located at: 32 N Fletcher Avenue, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034
- If you are staying in a hotel at this end of the island, chances are this is the place you’ll be catching the sunrise.
- Hunt for seashells, sharks teeth or just build sand castles.
- You can drive on this beach, but we got our car stuck in the soft sand here.
- There is a parking lot by the old mini-golf place and toilets, and a skate-park nearby at the north end.
Best Place to Escape the Sun:
- Located: in and around Centre Street, Fernandina Beach 32034
- Contact (Visitor Center) (904)-277-0717
- It’s hard to drag kids off the beach, but when they are starting to turn red, a parent has to do what they have to do- directly opposite the beautiful beaches is historic downtown, loaded with art galleries, kitschy shops and the more kid friendly- ice cream parlors and pirates!
- Grab a scoop of Superman (seriously it tastes like Fruit Loops- but the kids love it!) at the ice-cream parlor.
- Wander along the street to find the pirates. Great for selfie moments, these statues are thoughtfully placed along the street. At the end of Centre Street is the marina, where you can hop a ferry to Georgia
Places to Stay:
There is everything from 5-star resorts with their own golf courses to cozy B&B rooms, AirBnB rentals to camping.
Marriott Suites: Spacious suites- perfect for families with older kids who need their space. Good breakfast. Fire pit outside and swimming pool. It’s a walk up Sadler Road to Main Beach.
Comfort Inn: Situated right at the Fort Clinch State Park main gate, this hotel is a short walk way from a skate park and Main Beach. Hot breakfast. Swimming pool.
Best Park Off the Island:
Big Talbot Island State Park
- Located: State Road A1A North, Jacksonville, Florida 32226
- Contact: (904) 251-2320
- Fees: Honor box system $3 per vehicle to use Black Rock Trailhead, Bluffs Picnic Area & Big Pine Trailhead; $2 per person for George Crady Fishing Pier
- Big Talbot Island State Park comprises of 7 different parks, from sandy beaches to salt marshes. Hike, kayaking, swimming, fishing and exploring. We took the Blackrock Trail to explore the cool tidal pools and followed the beach north and found Boneyard Beach- sun and salt bleached trees that kept us busy climbing through and on. There was even a shell of a mine 🙂 (The things you find on the beach.) Though there is no camping at this park, you can head a little south to the nearby Little Talbot Island State Park to camp out.
Read More: Big Talbot Island: Florida’s Natural Playground
How to Plan the Best Family Beach Day Ever
Little Talbot Island State Park
One of Florida’s last undeveloped barrier islands, Little Talbot is a swathe of gorgeous sugar sand beaches and sand dunes on the Atlantic Coast.
- Located at: 12157 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32226
- Contact: (904) 251-2320
- Fees: $5 per vehicle (up to 8 persons)
- + Campsites extra(reservations required)
- Beach, fishing, and sun. No shade on beach, so pack the sunscreen!
Best Zoo Experience:
If you are willing to face the crowds, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens is a great place. A cute little train goes around the park. Splash area for kids when it gets too hot (bring a change of clothes). Tigers, Giraffes, manatees and even penguins! Kids will love the cool Range of the Jaguar cave. The anteater is pretty funky too! Good for younger kids. String ray touch & feeding tank. Feed giraffes, boardwalks over animal habitats and more.
- Located at: 370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, Florida 32218
- Fees: Adults $24.95; Kids 3-12 $19.95 (2020 prices)
- + add on fees for train ride, carousel, etc. You can purchase an all-inclusive ticket, $29.95 for adults; $22.95 for kids 3-12 for all the add-ons. (2020 prices)
- Contact: (904)-757-4463
America’s oldest city is a family-favorite any time of year. Park in the old city parking garage at the Visitor’s Center and walk through the cobblestone streets- or use one of their hop-on hop-off trolleys to get around. Purchase a 1 to 3 day trolley pass at the Old Town Trolley or Red Train Tours kiosks in the old city. You’ll get a map of the town with their stops and a little sticker to wear and use their trolleys. The best thing about the St. Augustine trolleys? When the kids get weary, you can just sit and do a whole narrated tour while they nap 🙂 Afterwards, hop off on the south end of St. George Street and head north to find a ice cream parlor for an afternoon treat 😉
Coolest place to explore:
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- Located at: 1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084
- Contact: (904) 829-6506
- Fees: $15 adults 16 years and older – ticket good for 7 consecutive days. Kids 15 and younger free but must be accompanied by an adult.
- Explore the barracks and gun powder rooms (kid- favorite is the spooky room in the far northeast corner), fantastic views of the bay and old St. Augustine from the roof.
- If the (paid) parking area at the fort is full, head across the road to the city parking garage to find parking.
Read More: Exploring the St. Augustine’s Historic Fort
Anastasia State Park
- Located at: 300 Anastasia Park Road, St. Augustine, FL 32080
- Contact: (904) 461-2033
- Fees: $8 per vehicle (up to 8 persons)
- + camping extra (reservations required)
- One of my most favorite beaches, you can hike around to the point for a view of Matanzas Bay and historic St. Augustine.
The crowds usually prefer the nearby (free) public beaches of St. Augustine Beach and the St. John’s County Fishing Pier, so Anastasia State Park tends to be quieter. Both provide toilet facilities and outdoor showers to wash off the sand.
- St. Augustine Beach: 350 A1A Beach Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32080
Vilano Beach is a good public beach too. Cross over the bridge on the north side of St. Augustine to reach this public beach. Outdoor showers & toilet facilities.
- Vilano Beach: 2725 Anahma Drive, St. Augustine, FL.
Read More: Best Things to Do in St. Augustine for Families
Young Again: Rediscovering Florida’s Fountain of Youth
More to Explore:
Heading South? A1A is a beautiful beach drive.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Hiking & history. Take a short hike through the hammock and a free boat ride from the visitor’s center over to historic Fort Matanzas. * Boat rides have been suspended due to dock damage. Check their website before visiting (Feb.2020 news)
- 8635 A1A South, Saint Augustine, FL 32080
Best Beach Nearby
Need a swim? There’s a beach located just north of Fort Matanzas. The Atlantic side is great for fishing, but the Matanzas River side is a family-day out. At low tide an island appears in the river and families set up beach chairs there, splash in the water and hang out. The current can get strong, so watch the kiddos!
Another great place to stretch your legs out is at Washington Oaks State Park
Worth a Visit
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
- Located at: 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd, Palm Coast FL 32137
- Contact: (386) 446-6780
- Fees: $5 per vehicle (up to 8 persons) Honor system box.
- Trails through the main park with flower gardens, wetlands, and one massive oak tree. On the beach side of this state park, you can clamber over huge coquina rock formations by the sea- bring shoes- these rocks can tear up delicate feet!
Titusville (Florida’s Space Coast)
You don’t have to be a nerd to hit the Space Coast. Not only known for NASA and SPACEX rocket launches at Kennedy Space Center, this coast has gorgeous long sandy beaches, nature trails, fantastic fresh seafood and fishing opportunities.
Smyrna Dunes Park
- Located at: 2995 N. Peninsula Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL
- Contact: (386) 424-2935
- Fees: $10 per vehicle
- This park encompasses the entire tip of the New Smyrna Beach Peninsula. Explore the 1.5 dune boardwalk. Fishing, swimming, shark-tooth hunting. Facilities to changes out of those wet bathing suits too!
- Bring Fido to the dog park on the west side of this beach.
If you balk at the $10 fee, there are free public beaches further south. Just follow the beach road. Restrooms are icky though- (it’s a you-get-what-you-pay-for deal)
Canaveral National Seashore
- Located at: 7611 S. Atlantic Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169
- Contact: (321) 267-1110
- Fees: $20 per vehicle- good for 7 consecutive days
- My daughter and I accidentally found this beach. The boys went off on a charter fishing trip and w e were actually looking for the Dunes Park and got turned around- apparently, if you are at New Smyrna Beach, either end of the island gets you to a fabulous beach! Beautiful beaches here- but bring your own food & drinks.
Head into the wild:
Hop over the causeway bridge in Titusville into wild Florida at Merritt Island National Refuge.
Merritt Island National Refuge
- Located: The refuge begins on the east side of Max Brewer Causeway Bridge in Titusville, FL. The visitor center is actually 4 miles into the park.
- Contact: (321) 861-5601
- Fees: $10 per vehicle for Black Point Wildlife Drive & boat ramp use
- Locals love this place. You can chuck your pole out anywhere and fish. Nature trails- bring the bug spray, this area is mosquito central once you leave that Florida sun for the deep woods trekking.
- Of course, you can always take the wildlife viewing from the comfort of your own car from the 7 mile Black Point Wildlife Drive (one-way traffic). Drive slow.
- The visitor center is a great stop especially for kids- boardwalk nature trail over wetlands, neat nature displays inside. And the only toilets for miles.
Kennedy Space Center
You can’t miss the space coast without checking out the rockets. Luckily, the former government complex received a vital re-imagining, making Kennedy Space Center fun-for-families of all ages. Take a rocket shuttle launch simulation. Witness the thrill of the Apollo 8 launch. Explore your Mars options for the future and more.
- Located at: Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, Titusville, FL 32899
- Contact: (855) 433-4210
- Fees: Adults $57; Kids ages 3-11 $47 (They do offer active Military, Brevard County Residents & Senior discounts- always ask.)
- If you are lucky, you might even see a launch. We saw a successful SPACEX rocket launch last time we were there.
Read More: Family Adventures at Kennedy Space Center
Exploring Mars at the Kennedy Space Center
Best Zoo Experience
- 8225 North Wickham Road, Melbourne, FL 32940
- Contact: 321.254.9453
- The only zoo where you can kayak through the animal exhibits.
- Hand feed giraffes, sting-rays, lorikeets and more. S
- plash area for kids, so bring swim suits or a change of clothes.
- Cool playground and discovery zone.
- Train around zoo.
- Zipline and aerial obstacle course.
- Fees: Adults: $24.70; Kids (3-11) $14.70
- Added fees for zipline, kayaking and giraffe feeding.
Learn More: Family Adventures at Brevard Zoo (Video)
Gulf Coast Fun
Although it has seen more-than it’s fair share of hurricane activity in the past few years, Apalachicola is a small gulf coast town worth the trip. You won’t find the crowds of Panama City Beach or Pensacola here, but bring a pole, a sand bucket and shovel and rediscover the relaxed style of old Florida.
- Famous for oyster-farming, be sure to try some while you’re there. Raw oysters are available, but even our kids prefer them steamed with cheddar cheese and jalapenos.
- Wander the historic downtown for eclectic shops & galleries.
- Stop for an ice cream at The Old Time Soda Fountain. ( 93 Avenue B, Apalachicola, FL)
- Just a drive from downtown Apalachicola is St. George Island.
- Gorgeous sugar-sand beaches. The picnic pavilions and boardwalks suffered a hit from Hurricane Michael but East Slough Beach Rec Area is open for day use.
- 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island FL 32328
- Contact: 850.927.2111
- Fees: $6 per vehicle
- Other areas are undergoing hurricane-restoration work. Call ahead to learn more.
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
- 10 miles of sugar-sand beaches, hammock hiking, fishing, kayaking opportunities and more, St. Joseph Peninsula stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico like a hitch-hiking thumb. Hurricane Michael exasperated a portion of the peninsula, creating an island. Hurricane restoration is underway at this park, please call ahead.
- 8899 Cape San Blas Rd. Port St. Joe, FL 32456
- Fees: $6 per vehicle
Places to Stay
Best Western Apalach Inn
- 249 US-98, Apalachicola, FL 32320
- Contact: 850.653.9131
Read More: Exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast with Kids
Located on Florida’s Adventure Coast, Weeki Wachee is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, offering hiking, biking, fishing, swimming and more.
- Live like a local and spend the day hanging out at the Hernando Flats, or do like a tourist and find out about the local Florida mermaid population.
- Charter a boat or captain your own and head out to Gulf of Mexico from the marina to the Hernando Flats- an area of shallows and sea grass near the stone jetty. Good for snorkeling, scalloping (in season), and just lazing about in the warm gulf waters.
- Bring your bike to tackle the 10-mile Good Neighbor Trail from Brooksville to the Withlacoochee State Trail, or cycle a portion of the Suncoast Trail, a 41-mile paved trail from Brooksville to Tampa that runs along the Suncoast Parkway.
- Dine on fresh seafood at a number of restaurants along Shoal Line Boulevard to Hernando Beach, and Commercial Way (Highway 19)
Alfred McKethan Pine Island Park
- 10840 Pine Island Drive, Spring Hill, Florida 34607
- Parking fee is $5.
- Willy’s Tropical Breeze Cafe on-site offers food & drink
- Swimming, fishing, changing rooms and (outdoor) showers
- Open from 8AM-8PM, this is a good place to catch a Gulf sunset- you may even seen a dolphin or two.
Best Place to Spot a Mermaid
Weeki Wachi Springs State Park
- 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee Florida 34606
- Contact: 352.592.5656
- Adults $13; Kids 6-12 $8
- Catch Florida’s live mermaids in action in an underwater theater at the main spring, where talented ladies have been performing underwater acrobatics and feats since 1947.
- Nature walk through the park.
- Boat ride along the Weeki Wachee River
Best Swimming Hole
- Buccaneer Bay is located inside the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, ride water slides straight into the springs. Lazy River
- They are open 9am-5pm 7 days a week June 1st to May 11th but will open March 1st for seasonal hours (weekends & holidays). Check their website for up-to-date times.
- Admission is included in Weeki Wachee State Park entrance fee.
Best Places to Kayak
Weeki Wachee offers two very different paddle trails, one on the lush and shaded Weeki Wachee River, and the other on the open Gulf Coast through salt marshes. Also, paddling, swimming and fishing can be enjoyed on the Chassahowtizka River, located north of Weeki Wachee.
Read More: Kayaking the Weeki Wachee River
Kayaking the Florida Coastal Trail on the Adventure Coast
Paddle Adventures on the Chassahowitzka River
Family Trip Tips:
- Pack sunscreen-And use it. Ditto for bug spray if you are heading off-beach. We’ve had a balmy winter, and are ripe for the onslaught of mosquitoes.
- Get a fishing license. Before you throw that pole, make sure you have an up-to-date Florida fishing license. It only takes a quick trip to the local Walmart. Then you can carry your pole anywhere- really, fishing in Florida is that easy.
- Check out deals on hotel rooms. We use Groupon, Priceline & Booking.com. Camping at the State Parks throughout Florida must be made through Reserve America. Yeah, bummer, we know, but you can use the maps to view the campsites for the best pick- you know, the one NOT right next to the toilet.
- Traveling with kids can get expensive. Consider a trip to the local supermarket and packing a picnic lunch. We do bread rolls, luncheon meat & cheese & don’t forget the mustard & mayo. A bag of chips or grapes never goes amiss either 😉
Exploring Florida’ coastal regions makes for an affordable family adventure. Introduce your kids to the natural abundance of resources, rich culture & wildlife that this state has to offer.
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