Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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Central Florida may be home to Florida’s famous theme parks, but it also boasts a long list of other attractions the kids will enjoy. You can get up close to Florida’s local wildlife, indulge in a day of water sports on a picturesque stretch of beach, or go on an outdoor adventure to enjoy the vast range of beautiful landscapes found in the Central Florida region. From mermaid shows to science center activities and outdoor recreation, here are the best things to do with the kids in Central Florida.
A combination of outdoor adventures and Old Florida attraction, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is world-famous for its unique underwater theater and enchanting mermaid shows. It’s also a great place to enjoy outdoor adventures, as its crystal clear 72-degree waters are perfect for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. There’s also an on-site water park called Buccaneer Bay, where you can slide down thrilling water slides.
Both kids and adults will be fascinated by the collection of space-related artifacts at the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville. An exploration of this world-renown museum reveals different Mission Zones, from the Heroes & Legends display that celebrates space program pioneers to a behind-the-scenes tour of the spaceflight facilities and a look at the actual space shuttle Atlantis.
You’ll find an abundance of family fun at the kid-friendly Orlando Science Center, as it showcases an exciting range of experience-based opportunities to learn about science and technology. Take a walk through the DinoDigs exhibition hall to see prehistoric displays, get up close to reptiles in the NatureWorks area, and visit the observatory to get hands on with a telescope for a galaxy gazing adventure.
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa consistently ranks among the top aquariums in the country, and it certainly is impressive with its diverse collection of animal and plant life species on display. Take the kids to explore the aquarium’s maze of sea turtles, moray eels and stingray exhibits. Make sure to stop by the popular shark tank area, then venture past alligator-infested waters before observing the playful otters.
Paynes Prairie Preserve in Micanopy features 20,000 acres of diverse ecosystems and is designated as a Florida National Natural Landmark. It’s a great place for the entire family to enjoy nature with its forest trails, scenic lake areas and picturesque wetlands. You can observe wild bison and horses roaming throughout the area from the 50-foot-tall observation tower, or go horseback riding, hiking or camping.
You’ll find 870 square miles of dramatic landscapes at Safari Wilderness Ranch in Lakeland. This attraction is a blend of ranch, safari and theme park all in one. The kids will delight in seeing the exotic animals roaming past leafy bay trees and cypress domes on customized Vehicle Safaris, where you can spot eland, red lechwe, sitatunga and springboks. If you’re looking for something really unique, the ranch also offers kayak safaris, llama treks and camel safaris.
If you’re looking for animal encounters, Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa has plenty, from manatees and tigers to monkeys, rhinos and African elephants. This expansive park stretches across 60 acres, where some of its most popular exhibits include feeding giraffes from a feeding plateau, touching stingrays and taking a jungle safari ride through the park. There’s also a petting zoo for the little ones to enjoy, where you can feed playful goats and watch educational shows.
You’ll find miles of sugary white sand at Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde. It’s an ideal spot to dig your toes in the sand or indulge in the wide array of outdoor activities available. The beach is popular for swimming, seashell collecting and kite surfing, while those who want to explore the mangroves can kayak through the paddling trail. It also is home to Dog Beach where you can bring your four-legged friends and boasts 238 campsites for overnight adventures.
One of the most unique state parks in the Sunshine State, Lake Kissimmee State Park is where cowboy heritage comes alive. You’ll find living history demonstrations and an 1876-era cow camp with early Florida “cow hunters” sharing fascinating tales of Florida’s cowboys. Spend a day boating or canoeing along the lake, hiking the trails, or spotting wildlife such as white-tailed deer and bald eagles.
One of Florida’s oldest attractions, Gatorland has been entertaining visitors since 1949. Considered the “Alligator Capital of the World,” it holds the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators and offers the chance to get up close and personal with some of Florida’s fiercest wildlife. You also can go on a zip line adventure over the park or climb the observation tower for a bird’s-eye view of the alligator habitats.
Take the kids to the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa for an afternoon of exploring a collection of interactive exhibits. You can sculpt a masterpiece in the Artsmart room, learn the basics of banking in the Central Bank or learn how to launch a rocket. Spark your curiosity in the Design + Build exhibit, or head to the Global Cafe to celebrate worldly cultures in an African Drum Hut.
Perfect for a sunny day, take the kids out to Bok Tower Gardens to admire the beautiful flora and fauna. Famous for its 205-foot singing bell tower and majestic 60-bell carillon, nature-loving families can spend an entire day meandering through the grounds to discover swan-filled pools, scenic trails and a colorful collection of azaleas and camellias.
Get out on the water at the family-friendly Orlando Watersports Complex. Not only is it a lovely escape from the Florida heat, but water enthusiasts of all ages can get in on the fun. There are two full-size cable systems and a boat lake equipped for beginners and experts alike, where you and your family can enjoy a full day of wakeboarding, wakesurfing, knee boarding and tubing.