Heading to South Florida? These Florida cities are packed with so much excitement that it can be difficult to prioritize the fun. No worries, we’ve selected the 27 things to do in South Florida that we know will bring a smile to your face!
Whether you are visiting on the Gulf side or splashing in the Atlantic, this is your go-to list for South Florida fun! (For the gulf coast, click here.)
Lido Key Kayaking
Escape the every day by paddling the labyrinth of tangled branches in the mangrove tunnels of Lido Key. Afterward, head to the bay where it’s likely you’ll find manatee swimming up close and personal. This is the ideal place to see Sarasota (and marine life) from a new perspective. You can rent a kayak and self-adventure, but we recommend a ride with Kayaking SRQ.
Are you ready to join the circus? Get lost in banyan trees, find a hidden playground, and see European Old Master paintings all in a day at The Ringling. Don’t miss the museum where you can test your skills as a circus performer – walk the tightrope or stuff yourself into a clown car.
Key West Express
Yes, we think you should hang out in beautiful Ft Myers and experience all she has to offer. But when you’re done, jump aboard the Key West Express and take the FUN FUN FUN route to a day trip in Key West. Your jet-powered catamaran includes air conditioning inside with comfy cozy seating areas, exterior decks for the best views and some vitamin D, plus a full galley and bar.
You’ll have about 4-5 hours to explore Key West, or you can plan an overnight and take the Ferry back the next day!
We love its charm, the slow pace, and the fact that Sanibel Island is not overdeveloped. The opportunities to get out and explore the island’s mangrove ecosystem and its animal and plant life are plentiful. Shelling, kayaking, biking…It’s a getaway where you can truly get away!
Naples Botanical Gardens
Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the US, known for high-end shopping, world-class dining and pristine golf courses. But that’s not all they offer. The Naples Botanical Garden is world-renowned for it’s 170-acres of gardens featuring plants of the tropics and subtropics – from Florida to Brazil to Asia. You’ll find walking trails, a Butterfly Garden, and an interactive children’s area, too.
Clam Pass Beach
This beautiful beach access point is one of the most popular family-friendly spots in Naples, hidden behind Naples Grande Beach Resort. You’ll take a half-mile boardwalk stroll (or an awesome tram) through the mangroves to the beach.
You’ll find all the necessary beach staples – a picnic area, concessions, restrooms, and outdoor showers – plus you can rent beach chairs, cabanas, kayaks and more. But the real fun here is shelling, so be sure to stop by at low tide.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida offers guided nature walks Monday through Saturday from December to April at 9am – just show up!
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Gumbo Limbo is a tree…often called the “tourist tree” because of the red peeling bark. But it is also the name of a Nature Center that we were turned onto by our friends at Waterstone Resort and Marina.
Gumbo Limbo is best known as a rehabilitation center for sea turtles. And there’s plenty more to see. We enjoyed the various snakes, spiders, a blow fish, and even a moray eel!
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Maybe I’m biased, as my years of living in Japan have made me partial to their culture and lifestyle, but the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens should not be missed.
Be sure to make time for both the museum and the garden. There are classes, family fun days, and a tea house with opportunities to learn and watch a ceremony.
West Palm Beach
Lion Country Safari
Lion Country is a fantastic drive-through safari park! You’ll spend the first hour weaving in and out of the seven sections. You must keep your windows rolled up, as the animals get very close. A rhino blocked our way in the road for a long long time…until finally park workers gently nudged him out of the way. It was WILD and awesome — and I’ve never been that close to such a huge animal!
Afterward, park your car and take in the amusement park. There are more animals, rides, and a water park. We loved feeding the giraffe and cooling off on the water slides.
This 17-acre island playground was created from dredging, but has become a beloved hotspot for locals and visitors – for both day use or camping adventure. Swim at one of the many swimming beaches, take in the snorkel lagoon, and more.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Oh how we loved this park in Fort Lauderdale! Hugh Taylor Birch sits between the A1A and Intracoastal Waterway, and is known by the locals as “central park.” You can access the beach via a pedestrian tunnel, bike the 2 miles of the paved park drive, or do what we did and kayak through the coastal dune lake.
Don’t miss the Tarzan-evoking zulu fig tree in the main picnic area, with a crown spread of 173 feet. It’s gorgeous! There is a bar and restaurant here (yes, a BAR in the state park!) that is a perfect way to unwind after your paddle.
Mai Kai Restaurant
Is it a restaurant experience primarily filled with tourists? Yes. Should that deter you? No! We had an amazing time at Mai Kai – just be sure to make reservations early for the dinner show.
The Polynesian-themed restaurant opened in 1956! It’s the last restaurant/bar in existence carrying on the traditions and serving a wide variety of the original drink recipes of Don the Beachcomber (the godfather of tiki culture), and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Pro Tip: Get the Mai-Tai…and then get an Uber home!)
They are super kid-friendly, too…even bringing our boys a mocktail Pineapple Punch in giant pineapples!
Between Ft Lauderdale and Miami is Hollywood Beach. Hollywood Beach Boardwalk stretches for 2.5 miles along the Atlantic and was named one of the best beach boardwalks in the United States. It includes a playground, theatre, and plenty of luxury hotels (like Margaritaville!) We adore the large Downtown Hollywood Mural Project here, and spent well over an hour exploring it. While you’re in the area, don’t miss the Dania Beach Pier for a quieter ocean experience.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
We love the history here, as it was part of the Underground Railroad. You’ll see where runaway slaves and Black Seminoles secretly gathered in order to find safe passage to the Bahamas. Today, you can escape to the southernmost part of Biscayne Bay for beach fun, a lighthouse climb, and kayaking adventure. And Bill Baggs Cape is a great crowd-free place to watch the sunset.
Everglades National Park
There is plenty to do in the Everglades National Park, and we highly recommend one of your first adventures be an airboat ride! It’s a fun way to learn about this behemoth park!
Other ways to have fun? Kayaking, canoeing, camping, geocaching…the list goes on forever! We love the ranger-led programs, too. They are at the four different primary park entrances and usually free with your park admission.
If you do a guided tour – and we recommend you do – be sure to note the approved park tour guides. You want to be with someone the Park has ordained as a partner, so that you know that they are paying close attention to preserving the wildlife and environment.
If you are even remotely close to Miami-Dade, then you must make Miami Beach a priority. We are partial to South Beach, where you can take in the famous Art Deco design along Collins Ave, grab a Cuban coffee, and get your toes wet in the ocean.
Traveling through Miami with kids? No worries. Head over to South Pointe Park. The views are spectacular, and the vibe is much more laid back than you’ll find off Ocean Blvd. There is beach, a playground, and a splashpad. And, you could make an entire vacation of the kiddo experiences available at Loews Miami Beach.
Once a rock quarry, this area of Coral Gables was refurbished into a spring-fed pool in 1924. It is open to the public for a fee, and on a hot day, it is worth the price of admission! In fact, the Venetian Pool is the only swimming pool on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since its inception, the Wynwood Walls program has seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and have covered over 80,000 square feet of walls! Get the app before you go, and be sure to go early to avoid the crowds (and the heat.) Best of all, it’s FREE.
My favorite part of Miami (All of Florida??) is Little Havana and the tour we took through Miami Culinary Tours. I recommend the food and cultural tour, with SO MUCH food (Cuban sandwiches, empanadas, coffee, ice cream, guarapo, mojitos and more) PLUS stops at Domino Park and a cigar store where you can see them being rolled. It was insanely fun! If you do nothing else in Miami, make it this.
I was remiss in my research and only learned about this from my friends at Crazy Family Adventure upon our return…and I’m also cheating because this is within the Everglades (which I already mention above)…but it is SO COOL that it deserves its own line item. Biking with gators!!
Ride your bikes (or walk) along the 15 mile loop that is lined with hundreds of alligators! “It was crazy and scary and so cool!” says CFA. WOW! I can’t even imagine!
If you don’t have bikes, you can take the tram to the tower, which is at about the 7-mile mark. Climb the tower for panoramas of the Everglades, and then ride the tram back.
Robert Is Here
Robert is Here fruit stand specializes in rare and exotic fruits (though you’ll find your traditional favorites here too!) We tried Guanabana for the first time and LOVED it — it tastes like pineapple cotton candy. It’s often called the “Disney World of Fruit” – ha! We also loved the smoothies and milkshakes. The line can be long, but it’s worth it.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The main attraction at John Pennekamp is the snorkeling and scuba diving. Just off the coast of Cannon Beach in Key Largo is a Spanish shipwreck that offers a great diving experience. They have tours that go out and they also rent all the equipment you’ll need if you don’t have your own.
Another great activity at Pennekamp is kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. These are all for rent for a reasonable price and the 2.5 miles of mangrove trails offer a great spot to explore.
Ernest Hemingway House
The Hemingway House was the residency of Ernest Hemingway when he lived in Key West, and is now a museum. The stories about the 6-toed cats are true! Descendants of Hemingway’s original 6-toed feline roam the property (there is even a cemetery for those who have passed.) Some are shy, but others will take all the affection you can offer.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas includes seven islands about 70 miles from Key West. It’s one of the most popular Key West attractions, and rightly so. This half day trip can be made into a camping adventure for those who want the best experience. Otherwise, take in the fort, the beaches (some of the best in Key West), some snorkeling and shelling…then make your way back to Key West!
PS. If you’re not camping at the park, you need a place to lay your head. We highly recommend Havana Cabana Key West!
The Turtle Hospital
To see sea turtles up close and personal, then you’ll have to venture about an hour north of Key West to Marathon, Florida. Here you’ll find the Turtle Hospital. Turtles from all over the Keys and even mainland Florida are brought here for rehab and surgery. You can even watch a surgery being performed, so check with the Turtle Hospital for their surgery schedule. Our favorite place to stay in this area is the lovely Isla Bella Beach Resort.
Captain Tony’s was established in 1851 as an icehouse and then Key West’s first morgue. It also includes the “hanging tree” which was used to kill 16 pirates, plus a woman who killed her family. After several other transformations, it finally became a bar – said to have been frequented religiously by men who need no first name introductions – Hemingway, Capote, Silverstein, Williams and Buffet.
Robbie’s of Islamorada
Plan to spend a few hours exploring. You’ll want to be sure to feed the massive tarpon – that’s what Robbie’s is known for. Beyond that, shop at the little flea market outside, get the kids and icee, and pull up a seat on the marina with a large Trailer Trash Bloody Mary!
There are also plenty of watersports activities you can do here…jet skis, snorkeling, a sunset cruise, or kayak adventure. But we liked the laid back “like a local” vibe…and enjoying a drink by the water. Yes, it’s mostly tourists…but it feels like home.
And if you want to head UP the west coast of Florida on your road trip, we have some suggestions for you there as well.
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Disclosure: 365 Atlanta Traveler is a Visit Florida Digital Marketing Program Partner. Opinions here are all our own.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.