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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A string of idyllic islands off the southern tip of Florida, the Florida Keys boasts an array of both indoor and outdoor activities that the entire family can enjoy. From exploring underwater parks to observing native wildlife in a nature conservatory, the kids will delight in a day of snorkeling, meeting marine mammals and riding a conch train. Read on to discover a list of the top things to do with the kids in the Florida Keys.
Located in Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the nation’s first underwater park that stretches 70 nautical miles. Explore the mangrove swamps, tropical hammock forests and seagrass beds on a kayak, canoe, paddle board tour, or don a pair of flippers and go snorkeling past colourful coral reefs and tropical fish. The kids will delight in cruising in a glass-bottom boat and marveling at the natural wonders below.
The Key West Aquarium is one of Florida’s oldest aquariums, delighting visitors for decades with its hands-on exhibits. Home to a 20,000 gallon, saltwater Coral Reef and Predator Reef tank, kids have the chance to touch and hold living starfish, sea cucumbers, horseshoe crabs and conchs in the Tide Pool Touch Tank. Make sure to gaze at the aquarium’s collection of large tanks that display eels, lobster, seahorses and jellyfish and watch the shark and stingray feedings.
A combination of history and an underwater world full of marine life, don’t miss a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. Explore the park’s seven islands and the historic Fort Jefferson National Monument, then visit bird sanctuaries teeming with native birds. There are great bathing beaches to soak up the sunshine and kids can snorkel in the coral reefs just 10 feet from shore.
A laid-back escape from the bustle of Key West, Smathers Beach is a great place to bask in the sunshine. The largest public park in Key West, you’ll find plenty of family-friendly amenities, including picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a range of water sports rentals. There’s also a bike trail and sidewalk that runs the length of the beach where you can walk or go on a bike ride.
Home to one of the nicest beaches in all of Florida, Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key is a great place to escape the city’s bustle. The clear, warm waters of the large stretch of beach is ideal for families who want to spend the day swimming, fishing or snorkeling, while campsites and rental cabins offer the perfect setting for an overnight adventure. There are also scenic hiking trails and a nature center that offers ranger-led activities and talks.
The kids will light up when they see the colorful gardens swirling with butterflies in the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where they can also see colorful birds, koi fish, pink flamingos and turtles. Filled with flowering trees, waterfalls and tropical plants, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world with its peaceful atmosphere, while a Learning Center offers the chance to learn about the lifecycle and behaviors of butterflies.
You won’t find any boring exhibits at the Key West Shipwreck Museum, as kids will be captivated by the artifacts on display from various shipwrecks. Watch a live storytelling presentation, then tour the museum to see 17th and 18th century objects and climb up the 65-foot lookout tower for spectacular views of the southernmost key. There is a scavenger hunt for kids and a tour guide that tells engaging real-life stories of famous shipwrecks.
A scenic way to explore Key West, hop on the Conch Tour Train for a ride around town. You’ll discover parts of town that you normally may not know about on a 30-minute adventure where you’ll make a pit stop for ice cream and kids can wear a junior conductor hat while onboard. The brightly colored train has been delighting visitors since 1958 and share insight into the area’s historic district and points of interest.
Home to the largest collection of Civil War sea-coast cannons, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West is a great place to learn about the region’s history while enjoying a picturesque stretch of beach. Spend a day swimming, snorkeling and picnicking on the beach, then hop on a guided tour to learn about the significance of Fort Taylor. If you need to cool off, head to the beachside cafe for ice cream.
A non-profit education and research facility, the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key gets you up close to beautiful sea mammals. The entire family can enjoy a memorable day of interactive with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions during narrated sessions, while the little ones can cool off in the children’s sprayground. You can also sign up for a “Researcher for a Day” program.
Take a break from the heat and explore the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, located next to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Learn how to protect and conserve the ecosystem in South Florida and offers interactive exhibits. See the reef tank filled with living coral and tropical fish and marvel at the replica of an underwater ocean laboratory, then learn what life is like for scientists that live beneath the sea during research expeditions.
One of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world, the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada has been in operation since 1946. The lush lagoon houses a collection of animals, from dolphins and sea lions to sharks, turtles and alligators, many of which were rescued after being injured in the wild. Here you can watch reptile, parrot and sea lion shows, relax on a beach, go on a bottomless boat ride or swim with dolphins.