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Florida Family Vacations Beyond the Theme Parks

27 Oct 2014 – 01:32 PM EDT

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Florida family vacations don’t have to be all about roller coasters, Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse. There is lots to do in the Sunshine state. I’m a Florida native, so I should know. Here are some ideas that don’t involve a theme park.

Hit the beach. Choose from soaking up sunshine at either the Gulf or Atlantic coast. The experiences are very different – right down to the texture and culture of the sand. If Disney magic is a must, they offer a beachside resort in Vero Beach, just an hour and a half south east of Orlando. Singer Gloria Estefan owns Costa d’Este, an ocean front resort in the same town.

Explore the great beyond. Kennedy Space Center brings awe to people of all ages – from preschoolers through grandparents. See where iconic space shuttles have taken off, learn about the history and science involved in the NASA program and take part in simulation. A restaurant and snack stands are available. There’s enough to see there to fill up an entire day.

Get in touch with nature. There are many bodies of water in Florida besides the ocean. There are springs, rivers and lakes all over the state. Camp at one of the many state parks and spend your days hiking, canoeing, tubing, fishing and more. My family loves to take out paddle boats at Deleon Springs and then feast at the DIY pancake restaurant onsite.

Visit with animals. There are lots of animals to see in Florida. The mild climate makes the state a great place for animal sanctuaries, zoos and aquariums. Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach allows you to drive your car through on a safari where you’ll see giraffes, ostriches and more – including lion, of course. Wild animals are also plentiful – central Florida has bears and Ocala has monkeys.

Learn about the state’s history and culture. Learning while on vacation can be fun. St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city. Visit the fort, lighthouse and fountain of youth. Tarpon Springs is full of Greek history, while Miami is abounding in Latin culture.

Rent a house and relax. Escape the brutal winter. Rent a house or condo with a swimming pool and a hot tub to use as your base while you explore. We’ve found vacationing this way is much cheaper than staying in hotels. You’ll be able to cook your own meals (if you want) and have plenty of room to stretch out.

Florida family vacations offer something from everyone. Have you been to Florida? Let us know the fun spots you’ve visited in the Sunshine State in the comments below.