Paradise Coast: Florida’s Best Beach For Kids (With No Theme Parks!)
Like the Paradise Coast? Read about central Florida beaches.
My family has settled in to New York City from the UK. While we love the city, its winters feel eternal to us. To escape, this February we jetted with the two kids and my parents to Marco Island, the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands along the well-named Paradise Coast.
Marco Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, is full of pretty water inlets and some amazing sandy beaches. It’s on the fringes of the Everglades, too, so you can see a whole variety of wildlife that 4YO and 6YO just loved. It’s close to the pretty town of Naples and an easy drive from Fort Myers.
We hired a villa with a heated pool (always make sure it’s heated; Florida is chilly in February!) from Marco Escapes. We loved that the staff told us the good beach locations and family friendly places to eat.
The island was jam packed with family friendly places to eat and our personal favorite (which rivaled anything NYC can offer) was Doreen’s Cup of Joe. The breakfasts in this place were awesome – so good we went twice. Crunchy French toast was the order of the day as far as both parents and kids were concerned.
My parents also loved the relaxed vibe of the Paradise Coast and were happy hanging out with the kids by the pool (which means I actually got some reading in). It was a very chilled out week, the perfect antidote to juggling work and kids in a New York Winter.
Highlights of the Paradise Coast
Tigertail Beach (top): We hired Kayaks and explored. Everywhere we looked, fish were literally jumping out of the water. It was incredible to kayak past them as they leapt up. Bird enthusiasts would be in their element here: There were pelicans and all kinds of wading birds everywhere. There’s a little café by a playground where you can cool off with a well-deserved beer and watch the kids run around (Have they thought of everything?).
Naples Zoo: My kids (4 and 6) were most taken with the Florida Panthers and the zoo was a perfectly manageable size. Just a 40 minute drive from Marco Island.
The Children’s Museum of Naples My 4YO loved everything here. There was lots of imaginary play, a tree house, an area about the seasons, a fantastic space exhibition and a fun maze. If we lived in Naples it would be our go-to rainy day destination.
Airboat Trip: The highlight of the week for the kids (and the grown-ups, too!) was a 30-minute trip through the Everglades on one of those famous airboats. It had the right combination of speed and fun and was over before they started to get fidgety. I highly recommend Jungle Erv’s Tours. Our ticket included a boardwalk walk where we got to hold Alligators (baby ones!!) and learn about them in detail. It was a great day out and an easy car ride from Marco Island. And for something completely different:
Sidetrip to Miami Beach
We also squeezed in a night in Miami Beach. It had to be done!
The Grand Beach Hotel (one of two in Miami) is in a family manageable area just a stone’s throw from the craziness of South Beach. Rooms are well laid out and easily sleep 2 adults and 2 small kids. There are two bathrooms too, so the kids felt like they had their own area. The swimming pool was the perfect size for splashing around, and check out the cute kids-only lounge chairs on the beach. When Mom or dad wanted a break, we took some along time at the adults-only pool (and bar, ahem) on the 7th floor). And yes the parents went for a wild night out in South Beach too (thank you, grandparents)!
Fort Myers is closest, but you can get to the Paradise Coast from Miami or Tampa, too.
This area of Florida is such a great, relaxing way to spend a week with the family‑plenty of sun and fun but no theme park crowds and hype. We will definitely be back!
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