Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Family Adventures: The Best of Florida
Fun and free things to do in the sunshine state
Florida is best known for its theme parks and touristy Orlando. I’m sure you’re already picturing mouse ears and magic wands while trying to figure out how much money you have to save if you’re traveling this way! And yes, Disney, Universal, Sea World, and any combination of theme parks could easily keep you busy for weeks and cost you a small fortune. Of course you would have a great time and make plenty of memories. However, that is not the only Florida attraction.
In looking for our own family adventures I was not able to find a great list of free or cheap adventures for a family in Florida. Which is what encouraged me to start this whole blog in the first place.
We live in central Florida on the East Coast. There are very few weekends (if any) that we are not out and about. As a family we stay active and I am always looking for new places to see on a tight budget. I will share with you some of my favorite locations for must see adventures. If I could plan your dream trip: you could start up in the panhandle and work your way down this way, having a couple days in the theme parks and then lots of time to explore some of the amazing beaches, Kennedy space Center, some of the hottest spots on the East Coast and West Coast, enjoying a few days in Miami before going down to the Keys. Of course for this itinerary you would have to fly in to Pensacola and fly out of Miami.
Let this list serve as my favorite free or cheap family adventures and you can plan however you see fit!
Florida caverns state park, Marianna Florida
For five dollars a vehicle every day until sundown you can check out this park featuring great trails and areas to play. The highlight of this place is definitely the caves! For $10.75/ person you can go on a flashlight tour into the caverns. They are about a mile long and 45 minutes but how awesome to see and hear about how the limestone caves formed and learn about stalagmites (rising from the ground) and stalactites (dripping from the ceiling). Since the electricity was knocked out during the hurricane last year, the flashlights are necessary, but a cool side effect to keep it even more authentic!
The Springs: There are so many cool Springs….
Our favorite = Rainbow River: As a family rafting down the rainbow river was one of our favorite adventures! For $15 a person you can see real Florida, and get completely caught up in the beauty all around you. Bring your coolers, pack your lunch and spend your money on those rafts! Float away leaving all your troubles behind! The water is cool and on a hot day this is oh so satisfying!
Here is a local summer favorite: Bob’s River Place
This little hidden gem is located in Branford Florida on the Suwanee River. It’s a privately owned swimming hole with rope swings, tree houses, waterslides, and a backyard feel for hanging in the river with all the amenities of home. They charge $10 a person to get in and you are free to bring in your coolers full of food and drinks however no alcohol. You can barbecue and grill out, sing karaoke, float in the river, or wander and explore native Florida. It’s like a theme park without the long roped off lines, and the people just self-regulate. It does not feel like a theme park, but there’s a nice crowd every day that will join you on a raft to play king of the Island! Big fun.
This whole city is pet friendly and scenic to stroll through. Art, cafes, bars, shops and museums line the streets and all along the water front runs a park with huge trees to climb. It’s a little bit historic, it’s a little bit urban and a little bit secluded. Great upbeat energy and nice place to just go wander. Picnic areas, great places for playing ball or flying kites!
The Salvador Dali museum is right there and while it’s not the cheapest, there are discounted tickets in every local hotel or tourist book. It is an interesting museum with an outside maze, cool interactive displays and awesome exhibits. Surreal art and examining some of the illusions really make the brain happy!
Fort De Soto Park: if you like historical significance this is the place for you! All of the weaponry available to climb or take pictures with tells a story. Kids just like to pretend they are in the winning battle, or blind the cannons. And the beach is one of the highest rated in the country. And it’s free to drive right in. Although a bit out of the way.
Clearwater Beach and Pier 60 is also close by and this is a very cool family spot. Spend time taking in the sites, but whatever else you do- catch the sunset. Watch the sun sink suddenly and the sky’s dramatic transformation with the crowd.
The Venice Fishing Pier at Brohard Park is right in the heart of shark's tooth country if you want to go treasure hunting! Searching for sea glass and shark teeth are often rewarding. You can find them in many locations all around the peninsula at many beaches, and the Sarasota area claims to have more than any other stretch of shore line! I will say the beaches there are different. This is not “you’ve seen one beach you’ve seen them all” No, not all beaches are the same!
St. Augustine: while this little gem of a city is not free, with a little planning you can make it inexpensive. There are several days during the year that the Castillo de San Marco‘s is free. National park week is held once a year but there are also national holidays that offer free admission throughout the year. Anastasia State Park is also close by and this stop is great for all water sports. Enter for $8.00 per vehicle and you have the shore line with all the cool trails and trees at your disposal. Visitors can also hike the coquina quarries by the entrance. Camping is available. With out spending a dime, you can wander the streets and explore history walking through time. There are all kinds of historical relics and cannons line the roads, it feels like its from another era. There is a wooden play ground we always parked behind, right by the visitor’s center. Even when my boys were 12 and 13 they were still running around playing here! Great place to explore!
The St. Augustine lighthouse is 12.95/ adults and 10.95 for kids. Historic tower, keeper’s house, look out building and nature trail are all included and provide views of the whole area that you will appreciate.
The Pier: there may be nicer beaches, (in fact the farther South you get the clearer the water gets) but if you’re in the area it is definitely worth a stop. For many coming to stay in the Orlando area it’s the best option and it does not disappoint. Kids can run around the pilings and parents can have a drink at the tiki hut at the end of the pier. Cost: whatever you eat or drink. The sun is free and the view is magnificent. Great pictures, and awesome souvenirs.
A1A water Sports offers a variety of rentals. If there is a launch while you are on the space coast, rent a bike and ride up to Jetty Park to enjoy the view. Feeling the rumble of the rocket blast off while watching it soar into space makes you appreciate our technological advances and believe anything is possible! If you are trying to stick to the budget, you can walk to the park. Crowds to accumulate in the area however, which is why bikes are my favorite way to see the launch. Especially the night launches!
Do you like water sports? Have you ever paddle boarded?
The first time I paddle boarded was in the Keys, and it was a challenge due to the current and many boats creating a wake – If you are in the area, a great place to learn to SUP is Turkey Creek. A series of water trails/ canals that wind through the back side of the Indian River provide a wakeless flat paddling experience. You will see a ton of wild life, manatees, turtles, birds, and fish, maybe an alligator! Scenic and quiet. Once you feel confident, try paddling out to some of those barrier islands. There is a whole different experience on a semi secluded island, many have different features making them attractive. Sunken boats, tide pools, exploring or setting up a hammock to relax are all perfectly viable options. If you don’t want to paddle out, kayak or canoes are available at many locations. But this is a GREAT way to spend a Florida vacation.
Sebastian Inlet: fishing off the jetty, snorkeling through the tide pool, wave surfing at the Ocean: so many great things to do here. $8.00 per car. And a day of watching the boats go by while enjoying all the collide of the Indian River and Atlantic Ocean. If you are looking for a place to lay on the beach and read a book or walk all around enjoying the view, this stop has it all! If you are lucky you will see some of the areas most treasured wild life also. Dolphins, manatee, sea turtles, and sharks are all locals.
If you have younger kids (or need some air conditioning mixed with learning):
The Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach will give many hands on learning opportunities daily. I think they charge $2.00/person. When there are events it varies a little. Walk along the lagoon, learn about mangrove trees and many other species native to the area. Interactive displays are designed to help children love learning about nature. Butterfly gardens, tools for water exploration and aquariums for beach life make everything interesting. On a hot day it’s nice to have the air conditioned options but still feel you are in Florida and able to explore. They even have story times. They do offer pontoon boat tours if you would like to know more, of course for a small fee! Yes you will most likely see dolphins and manatees!
Miami- the free tram is the first thing I need to tell you about. The Metromover! It runs from 5 AM to midnight seven days a week. There are 14 stops in its circle and you can get on and off again seeing much of the down town area easily. Riverwalk, Bayfront Park, and other places are close by and fun to see and take pictures. Wander, explore, see the skylines and enjoy the view which is ever changing and moving along.
Wynwood Walls- this is an area that artists use to display their talent. They graffiti the area and over 40 huge murals by different artists line the streets. But it’s not just the walls. There are messages on the sidewalk, iconic figures around the bend, Great places for selfies, and so much excitement. Mixed in with places to eat, or drink, or snack, it’s just a great place to experience.
South Beach - of course. It’s South Beach. Enjoy the traffic. Drive slow with the windows down and take in the whole scene. Tons of people, music, cars, fashion, and sports in every direction. Park and walk the strip. Go to the beach and enjoy the sand and sea. It’s a high traffic area but because it is a fantastic hub that brings together the old, the new and the future in a few blocks.
Museums- The Miami children’s museum is free the third Friday of the month from 3 to 9.
Frost art museum (Florida international University‘s Modesto Mediq campus) is always free
Perez art museum is free the second Saturday of the month
And there are lots of ways to get discounted tickets for many of the attractions/ museums you may be interested in. Check out cultureshockmiami.com for discounted tickets for students. They offer a good deals for lots of no activities. Teens 13 to 22 can buy tickets for five dollars and get a second ticket for the same price.
Heading a little further south is the Bill Braggs state park on Key Biscayne. For the $8.00 / car entry fee. You can gladly spend an entire day loving life! Be careful though it’s not attached to all the other Keys. It’s separate - And the Light House is the oldest structure in the vicinity, offers a couple of free tours a day on a first come first serve basis and the view from the top is stunning! The tours are informative and interesting for the entire family. The Beach at Bill Braggs Makes many top 10 lists and really is as good as they say.
The Keys :
I asked my kids if they wanted to recommend their favorite thing about the keys what would it be and they all said the same thing. Since this is a very rare occasion I feel confident recommending Robby’s of Islamorada to everyone. Here you can feed the fish (huge Tarpon) yourself if you are feeling brave enough! it is definitely a tourist trap. There is lots of arts and crafts and food and drink for a price. I would say to steer clear of all of that but definitely buy a bucket or two and go feed the tarpon. With the rest of your day go to John Pennekamp Coral reef State Park. For eight dollars a vehicle you can enjoy your entire day in the water or on the water. With any variety of water sports but I strongly recommend snorkeling to see the most beautiful fish underwater. Depending on how old the kids are bring goggles and or nets and just go play in the water. There are also Charter boats to go out snorkeling and we have done this as well. While it is not the cheapest option it is worth every penny if you have a family of strong swimmers.
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