Spring Break Family Escapes in Florida
That time of year has arrived when hordes of college kids descend upon the Florida beaches in search of a paradise escape far from textbooks, exams, and professors. Spring Break has arrived! But what if you have kids and are looking for your own family escape- far from the party atmosphere? We’ve got you covered! I’m always in search of places to explore, new adventures and basically anything that will distract kids from their electronics and entice them to interact in the real world.
If you are young, in college and looking for the party atmosphere (hey, I was young once and I did as well!) Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Panama City Beach, Fort Meyers & Key West (Higgins Beach). Go for it! Make smart choices! And you can stop reading.
For families, however, here are some cool coastal places to enjoy this beautiful Florida weather that won’t break the piggy bank. Pack a picnic lunch, a fishing pole & even a tent and introduce your kids to the wilder side of Florida.
We loved this sleepy oyster-town, where the only thing open on a Sunday night was the local ice cream shop. Be sure to try the fresh oysters!
You can read about our adventures at Exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast with Kids
Best Nearby Beach:
St. George Island State Park
- Located at: 1900 E Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island, Florida 32328
- Contact: (850) 927-2111
- Fees: $6 carload (up to eight people)
- Camping (reservations required), fishing, swimming, hiking and lots of sandy beaches.
- Tips: Absolutely NO shade on this gorgeous, white sandy beach, so pack the sunscreen and bring shade. Also, island prices are higher than mainland prices- bring a picnic and if you are planning to fish, buy bait on the mainland. Our kids found loads of starfish here.
Restaurant to try:
Indian Pass Raw Bar
- Located at: 8391 HWY C-30A, Port St. Joe, Florida
- Contact: (850) 227-1670
- Tips: This place is an experience. It’s a cross between an old-fashioned soda shop and a local general store. Help yourself to the drinks from the cooler and check your items off on the handy menu at the table. Atmosphere & oysters!
- Indian Pass Raw Bar & Trading Post is open Tuesdays thru Sundays 12 noon to 9 pm.
And if you are driving that way, be sure to check out the awesome sunsets further down the road at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
- Located at: 8899 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, Florida
- Contact: (850)-227-1327
- Fees: $6 carload (up to eight people)
- Camping on the beach, cabins (reservations required), fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and hanging out. Bring your own boat or rent one of their kayaks & canoes to explore.
The Atlantic Coast
Yes, okay, I LOVE islands! And Amelia is no exception. My husband told me this place was prime shark-tooth capital of the world. Not sure if I totally believe that – I found one tooth when we were there!
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 per person 6 years and older to visit the inside of the fort
- Let the kids roam through the tunnels and barracks at this Civil War fort. Last time we were here, I took loads of photos and found out later that I forget my SD card! Will use my phone next time!
- Besides the Fort, there are nature trails, a bike trail, boardwalks & camping (reservations required on the camping!). And of course, beautiful beaches, which brings us to:
Fort Clinch State Park
There are several beach access points here- the ½ mile fishing pier is sadly closed due to the Hurricane Hermine and is due to be demolished. That, alas, was the only shade on the beach so it’s only sun and sand (you can still fish from the shore, though!) Bring sunscreen and go later in the day and early in the mornings.
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, and we got our car stuck in the soft sand here. I prefer no-car beaches due to the kid-safety factor. There is a parking lot by the old mini-golf place, and toilets!
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!) and wander along the street- to find the pirates. Great for selfie moments, these statues 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: I confess, we’ve been here due to work, and stayed at the Marriott Suites just a short walk from the beach. Great pool, good breakfast, and nice place. They have renovated other places along the beach front and I’ve been eyeing prices on Groupon which don’t seem bad at all!
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 Blackrock 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! (Though not sure if it survived this last hurricane!) 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!
Little Talbot Island State Park:
- 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!
If you are willing to face the crowds, Jacksonville Zoo 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, even penguins! We loved the cool Range of the Jaguar cave. The anteater was pretty funky too! Good for younger kids.
- Located at: 370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, Florida 32218
- Fees: Adults $17.95; Kids 3-12 $12.95
- + add on fees for train ride, carousel, etc. You can purchase an all-inclusive ticket, $25.95 for adults; $18.95 for kids 3-12 for all the add-ons.
- Contact: (904)-757-4463
For History Buffs:
It’s no secret that this oldest city in America is one of our family favorites. We’ve been coming here for years.
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: $10 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 (our favorite is the spooky room in the far northeast corner), fantastic views of the bay and old St. Augustine from the roof.
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 (350 A1A Beach Blvd, St. Augustine, FL 32080), so Anastasia State Park tends to be quieter.
Vilano Beach is touted as a good beach too- more crowded though as it is near the hotels/houses. 2725 Anahma Drive, St. Augustine, FL.
More to Explore:
Heading South? A1A is a beautiful beach drive. Fort Matanzas National Monument is closed at this time (but the beach up near the mouth of the river, right before it spills into the Atlantic is a neat place to check out). No facilities- just you and the water. Try going at low tide, when the island in the river appears! The current can get strong, so watch the kiddos!
Another great place to stretch your legs out is at Washington Oaks State Park
Washington Oaks 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!
The Space Coast:
You don’t have to be a nerd to hit the Space Coast. Not only known for it’s 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!
If you balk at the $10 fee, there are free public beaches further south. Just follow the beach road. Restrooms are icky though- I guess 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: $10 per vehicle
- My daughter and I accidentally found this beach. The boys went off on a charter fishing trip and I was 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! Camping on the beach has been banned due to hurricane damage, but they have other campsites, reservations required, as always.
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. (Seriously, they don’t have a physical address- I asked!) 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 boys fished at the causeway while us girls headed into the wild. 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!
And for the Space Geeks:
Okay, you can’t miss the space coast without checking out the rockets, and luckily, the former government complex received a vitality make-over, making Kennedy Space Center a fun-for-families of all ages adventure!
Kennedy Space Center
- Located at: Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, Titusville, FL 32899
- Contact: (855) 433-4210
- Fees: Adults $50; Kids ages 3-11 $40 (They do offer active Military, Brevard County Residents & Senior discounts- always ask!)
- Check out our family Adventures at Kennedy Space Center
- And Exploring Mars. If you are lucky, you might even see a launch! We saw a successful SPACEX rocket launch last time we were there!
Things to Know Before You Go:
- 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. I have to renew my own soon, and 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 and Priceline (no affiliate touting here). 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!
- Spring Break and 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 wild Florida 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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- How to Save Money During Your Spring Break Travels
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