17 Best Gulf Coast Beaches for Families

Explore the top 17 family-friendly Gulf Coast Florida beaches! Perfect for fun, relaxation, and creating lasting memories. Ideal for family trips.

Tobi Miles
July 5, 2024
Explore the top 17 family-friendly Gulf Coast Florida beaches! Perfect for fun, relaxation, and creating lasting memories. Ideal for family trips.

When it comes to any family getaway, many factors are taken into consideration. A beach trip is a family favorite, but this vacation still needs planning. Thinking ahead is a parents' greatest arsenal. Determining what type of beach best suits their family is a number one priority.

Some families seek adventure, and some need R&R. The convenience of a trip to one of Florida's Gulf Coast beaches is that you can find both. The Gulf of Mexico coast's beaches have calm and warm waters for a slew of water-based activities, white quartz sand for relaxing and shelling, and eco-tours to natural areas.

When planning for your family's next holiday, here is a list of gulf beaches in Florida. Most beaches provide easy-to-access amenities, including beach rentals (chairs and more), water equipment (paddleboards and snorkeling gear), restrooms, and parking. Bring sunscreen, water shoes, and your camera to capture those family pics.

1. Siesta Key Beach

Credit: jonathansingel / Flickr

A lovely and fun destination for families, Siesta Key Beach, is located on the Gulf of Mexico shores near Sarasota. Families with kids of multiple ages can find a lot to do here.

The water is shallow, warm, and clear, which makes it an excellent beach for swimming. Spend a day in the sun playing in the sand, building sandcastles, and running from the white quartz sand down to the shore, where swimming and wading in the water are the ultimate pastimes.

The water is peaceful, which makes it a safe place for kids to play freely. Lifeguards are on duty throughout the year.

One of the best free activities for families of all ages and generations is a visit to the Point of Rocks tide pools. The area is close by at Siesta Beach Access Points 12 and 13. It's just a short walk to the Sea Wall and shelly rocky shore.

Time your visit with the low tide to view fascinating sea life, including crabs crawling, sea urchins, clams, and an occasional sea horse. Pack water shoes for tide pooling.

Other exciting activities at Siesta Key Beach include paddleboarding, fishing, and on-the-water sightseeing with an eco-tour led by experts.

Explore on paddleboards, in kayaks, or on a boat. Learn about coastal life and the abundant wildlife in this area, including manatees and dolphins. There are ample picnic areas, a playground, and tennis courts nearby.

The village of Siesta Key is just about two blocks from the beach. Even though the beach offers free parking, it's fun to take the kids on the free Siesta Key Trolley, which runs throughout the area from the resorts and various stops within the town.

2. Tigertail Beach

Credit: ~My aim is true~ / Flickr

Find Tigertail Beach on Marco Island in Collier County Park. Family-friendly activities are abundant on this beach, including water sports, seashell combing, and tide pooling. Look for sand dollars and seastars.

Families who want to raise the adventure bar must cross the salt-water lagoon as a pathway to the beach. Along the walkway past the playground and café, there will be information about the lagoon. You have two options – take a long-ish walk around to get to the Gulf, especially if you have a lot of gear.

Or head straight into the lagoon to walk 50 yards to cross it. The water hits about waist deep. Kids 8 years and older should be tall enough to make the journey.

Once you get across, some visitors have spotted hundreds of scurrying crabs as you make your way to the beach. Water shoes are recommended for this activity.

A popular spot for families during the holiday season when school is on break, Tigertail Beach caters to families on vacation. You can rent kayaks, stand up paddleboards (SUP), jet skis, and beach necessities such as umbrellas, cabanas, and beach chairs.

Other outstanding amenities include a concession stand for refreshments, restrooms, a grilling and picnic area, a volleyball court, and a playground.

Tigertail Beach is a barrier island, and it's always exciting to spot pods of dolphins. Stick around for the gorgeous sunsets to take that family holiday card picture.

3. Clearwater Beach

Credit: MartialArtsNomad.com / Flickr

Clearwater Beach is the final destination on Pier 60, one of Florida's state causeways. At this location, it's a working pier that welcomes vacationing families and locals to indulge in beach life.

Clearwater Beach maintains warm shallow waters in the Gulf. The waves roll in gently, which makes this beach superior for young families. There is a designated swimming area where jet skis and boats are not allowed.

The beach is composed of sugary fine sand and is a great setting to play sand volleyball and play in the sand playground. Rental companies are on hand to offer equipment, including jet skis. Teenagers 14 years and older can pilot their jet skis at this beach.

A lot happens off the sand and on the Pier that attracts kids and their families. Think street-fair vibe with street performers such as stilt walkers, local artisans selling their wares, like jewelry and spray paint art, and places to grab a meal or snack. Free family-friendly movies are shown Friday nights under the stars during the summer.

Fishing from the Pier is welcome; sunset boat tours, pirate-themed cruises, dolphin watching tours, and a "thriller speedboat" rides are also part of the fun.

4. Pensacola Beach

Credit: Matt Deavenport / Flickr

Sink right into the fine sugar-white sand at Pensacola Beach in Santa Rosa. The emerald-green Gulf water is inviting to both types of family members: relaxing and playing in the water.

You can't beat mellow swims in the water and strolls on the beach to the nearby boardwalk. The boardwalk is a nice break from the sun where you can shop or stop for fresh seafood at one of the restaurants.

There are eco diving and snorkeling tours for active family members. You'll observe different shipwrecks and a colorful world of marine life such as sharks, sea turtles, shrimp, octopus, and crabs. Dolphin watching tours are available too.

A fun way to discover Pensacola Beach is on land by walking the Footprints in the Sand Eco Trail. It's a unique and exciting way to learn about the Pensacola natural environment. The 8 ½ mile trail features 29 learning spots. It doesn't have to be done all in one day.

Some visitors walk, and some ride bikes. Learn about nesting sea turtles and their journeys back into the ocean. Study what shore birds live in the area and how they survive.

5. Navarre Beach

Credit: Britt Reints / Flickr

Navarre Beach is most well-known for its remarkable and bountiful marine life. However, even with all of the incredible aquatic science activities to do here, spend at least one vacation day on the sand and swim on the Emerald Coast.

No matter the kids' age, a day at Navarre Beach is ideal for the whole family to hang out. From building sandcastles to throwing frisbees, reading a book, or playing cards under a beach umbrella, the family can make memories together on the gorgeous white sand and in the sparkling turquoise water.

Navarre Beach has one of the best beaches for collecting sea shells. Stroll along the shore and look for sand dollars, conchs, and scallop shells.

Budding marine scientists and biologists love visiting Navarre Beach. There are three different places to explore sea life, the area's artificial reefs, and how to protect the ecosystem.

The Sea Turtle Conservation Center is a favorite. Kids will meet and greet Sweet Pea, the center's resident green sea turtle, while learning about her life and habitat.

The Navarre Beach Marine Science Station is geared toward school-age children to learn about artificial gulf reefs and marine preservation. And the third big attraction is Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary and Artificial Reefs, which accommodates snorkelers and scuba divers.

6. Vanderbilt Beach Park

Credit: Mickey Luigi Logitmark / Flickr

Vanderbilt Beach Park in Naples is a relaxing beach scene if you are a daytripper or tourist with children in tow. The turquoise waves are serene, and the vast white sand beach fits any crowd.

There are numerous water activities for all ages, such as banana boat rides, parasailing, windsurfing, wave running, jet skiing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. Parents know their kids best, and if thrill and adventure are on the agenda, booking one of these adventures may make them the coolest.

Swimming is awesome here. The water is a lovely temperature ranging in springtime at 75 degrees, summer tops at 89 degrees, and in the fall a nice 80.

Beach time on the sand is comfortable as guests appreciate the ocean breeze, play volleyball, build sandcastles, snack on an ice cream cone or sip on a frozen drink from one of the nearby cafes, and search the water for swimming dolphins. Early risers enjoy the quiet beach time and search for sea shells.

Amenities are aplenty at Vanderbilt Beach. Restrooms, foot showers, beach wheelchairs, life jackets, snacks for purchase, sand chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, and beach toys are available to rent. There is a parking fee of $10 per car.

7. Panama City Beach

Credit: Domenico Convertini / Flickr

A resort town beach on the Gulf of Mexico, Panama City Beach is not at a loss for keeping families entertained. There is so much to do. Where do you start?

On land, water, or in the sky, there are some fun experiences to take advantage of at Panama City Beach. If you have a few days to kick around and do it all, campsites and RV parks are available here too. There are laundry facilities, bathrooms, and showers in the campgrounds.

Rent bicycles for the entire family – cruisers for adults, bikes for kids, and tagalongs for little ones to sit and enjoy the ride. The coolest part is riding the bikes right on the beach. Some rental companies have gas-powered golf carts that you can use around the family in town.

Swim with the dolphins, cruise the water on a jet ski, and learn to scuba dive. Explore the underwaters of Panama City Beach, where octopus, rays, dolphins, turtles, and schools of grouper live. Airboat tours are perfect for speedsters.

Take in the sights sky high by parasail. You'll even get to dip your toes in the beautiful water below. Most companies offer a photo souvenir of you in flight.

8. Cape San Blas

Credit: Gary J. Wood / Flickr

Located off St. Joseph's Bay, Cape San Blas is part of the peninsula in Florida's Panhandle. It is a gorgeous destination where families can find peace, quiet, and fun.

White sand and warm sparkling blue water epitomize Cape San Blas on the Gulf side. The beach is a beautiful landscape to put down a towel and soak up the outdoor air. Most of the year, vacationers enjoy the easy breezy 70s and 80s here.

Children love the gulf water as they play with sand toys along the shores, swim the waves, and wade in the shallows amongst horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and conches.

Crabbing in the evening is also a good time. You'll catch Ghost Crabs running around the beach. Bring a turtle-safe flashlight to witness these little white critters. Catch them to get a close-up look, but please let them go.

Walking along with the Florida Coastal Conservancy is an interesting activity when the kids are up early in the morning. You might see turtle tracks and nests. Sign up in advance. While you are out and about, keep your eyes wide open in the distance for early morning dolphin swimmers.

Other trip highlights can include horseback rides on the beach. Rides at sunset are popular for families. Reserve this activity ahead of time. Many visitors remember the ride by prearranging a family photo.

Take a boat trip with your snorkeling gear and delve into the shore waters to scallop in St. Joseph's Bay. Learn all about scalloping at Scallop Cove, where you will also need a permit.

Lastly, bring along marshmallows for a sand bonfire. Cape San Blas allows visitors to dig a hole in the sand to build a fire. Remember to observe the rules before you leave the site.

9. Fort Myers Beach

Credit: Domenico Convertini / Flickr

It is safe to say Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island is the place for anyone. Its distinct soft white sands, tranquil water, and offshore sand bars make the beach a desired location for families. The sandbars are built by waves offshore, making them an accessible swimming destination.

Fort Meyers Beach is a good place for shelling. Collectors come to hunt nature's marine treasures such as whelks, conchs, scallop and clam shells, and rare shells, too. Rare finds include fragile paper figs, olives, and the rarest of them all, the brown speckled junonia.

Fort Myers Beach has maintained its position as one of the best places for Spring Breakers. Young adults in the family prefer vacationing here for the fantastic people watching, napping on the sand, and going out to dinners.

The younger ones in the family prefer participating in water sports. Whether paddling in your kayak or on your SUP, you're sure to see manatees and other nature indigenous to Estero Island. If you happen to be on the island when it is a full moon, reserve an eco-tour by moonlight. The waterscape has a different perspective at this hour.

Families must take advantage of the beach's proximity to Sun-N-Fun Lagoon. This waterpark caters to multi-generational families with waterslides, a lazy river, a family pool (4-ft deep), a pool for the little ones (18 inches of water), and a lot of good old-fashioned fun.

10. Sand Key Park Beach

Credit: jpellgen (@1179_jp) / Flickr

Outside of St. Petersburg-Tampa, there is Sand Key Park Beach. Take the Sand Key Bridge to this less traveled beach, which makes it attractive to family daytrippers on staycation. Families from the St. Pete-Tampa area often feel like they are worlds away while at Sand Key Park Beach.

The amenities are one of the main reasons families choose Sand Key Park. For one, you get two unique gathering areas in one location, a beach, and a park.

The beach features clean white sand and pretty emerald green waters to swim in. Seasonal lifeguards are on duty. When you don't feel like shlepping shade with you, it's easy to rent umbrellas, cabanas, and chairs. Sand Key Beach is also home to endangered sea turtles who come to Sand Key to lay eggs. You can look but don't touch.

All aged visitors like to explore Sand Key's rare salt marsh, where you can witness nesting Great horned owls, herons, the pink winged roseate spoonbills, sea turtles, and their hatchlings.

The park side of Sand Key Beach Park is where kids can find the playground. Fabulous visitor amenities include beach wheelchairs, changing stalls and bathrooms, outdoor showers, picnic shelters with grills, a dog park, and a few nature trails.

11. Fort Walton Beach

Credit: Domenico Convertini / Flickr

If you have little or big kids, Fort Walton Beach will treat everyone to their perfect vacation. Pristine white beaches and clear sky-blue Gulf waters are just one way to relish this Panhandle locale.

What makes this destination perfect for families is the span of adventure activities you can do in the Northern Gulf area. Check out a variety of artificial reefs to swim, snorkel, dive, paddleboard, and SNUBA.

The SNUBA experience is a blend of snorkeling and scuba diving, geared to swimmers 8 years and older. Underwater gems to catch sight include dolphins, sea turtles, tropical fish such as flounder, shipwrecks, and reefs. Families also like to rent pontoon boats or hop on a charter boat for the day.

Pick up a free turtle-safe flashlight from the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Welcome Center and plan an evening under the stars on the beach. Look for Ghost crabs and baby sea turtles.

Pique your family's interests by visiting the local Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, the Emerald Coast Science Center, and Indian Temple Mound Museum.

12. Bowman's Beach

Credit: Kenneth Cole Schneider / Flickr

Sanibel Island's Bowman's Beach is a winning location for a family vacation in Southwest Florida. Although it's one of the more popular beaches, you won't find it too crowded.

The beach has enticing smooth white sand that stretches for miles. It has the finest landscape for shell collecting. After a westerly storm, the perfect conditions are where the waves get swept onto the shore. If the fam is up and at it early, head out an hour before or after low tide when you may get first picks. Since the beach is super shelly, sand or water shoes are highly recommended.

Bowman's Beach has more than 250 shell species, including the horse conch (Florida's state seashell), Florida fighting conch, crown conch, cockle shells, and sand dollars. Shell collectors suggest searching higher up on the beach for shells bleached by the sun. Live shelling is not allowed.

It is easy to be in the moment at Bowman's Beach. Whatever activity you choose, such as swimming or floating in the calm gulf water, kite and windsurfing, kayaking, SUP, kiteboarding, surfing, or canoeing, it will be the right decision. Heads up that rental companies for equipment are not on this beach. You will need to find rentals in town.

The parking lot is about a 5-minute walk from the beach. Some families choose to bring a wagon to carry all of the gear.

However, once you get your family settled on the sand, the beach has much to offer, including public restrooms, shaded area picnic tables, charcoal grills, a playground, outdoor showers, and bike racks.

13. Venice Beach

Credit: duncan c / Flickr

When your kid has to come home with a shark's tooth souvenir, Venice Beach is a must-visit. Situated at the west end of West Venice Ave on the 101 The Esplanade, Venice Beach is appropriately known as the Shark's Tooth Capital of the World.

Shark teeth hunting is a thing. Venice Beach has millions of shark teeth that wash up on its white sand beaches yearly.

There is even an annual Shark Tooth Festival that takes place every spring at the Venice Airport Festival Grounds. If you time your trip to coincide with the festival, it's a fun day to see shark teeth of all sizes and types on display by fossil collectors.

Other cool things on Venice Beach include swimming, fishing, and boating. The Venice Municipal Fishing Pier is a great spot to catch snapper, redfish, and grouper. The pier gives you a great view when dolphin watching.

Boating excursions are available through local tour companies. Sailing, scuba diving charters, and sunset cruises will provide you with a first-hand water experience.

Venice Beach is also a haven for nesting sea turtles. Plan a stay from May to October, when you'll witness nesting sea turtles (Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Kemp's Ridley) nest.

The beach amenities rate highly at Venice Beach. Venice Beach offers free yoga classes on the beach at 8 a.m. daily. Free parking, lifeguards, food concessions and picnic areas, outdoor showers, restrooms, and sand volleyball courts are also available.

14. Barefoot Beach

Credit: Perry / Flickr

Barefoot Beach is another spectacular SW gulf coast spot to visit with a family. This beautiful beach is small and loved by the locals.

First of all, the setting is beautiful. You've got natural white sand and sparkling clear water where bottle-nosed dolphins swim in the distance. The water has gentle surf, ideal for swimming and wading, paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking.

When you paddle to the inland side of Barefoot Beach, you'll experience mangrove swamps and tidal creeks. There are shells galore on the shore and in the sand, even precious whole sand dollars.

Wildlife like gopher tortoises and nesting loggerhead turtles live at this beach. Explore the walking loop trail to see the butterfly and cactus gardens.

It's convenient to rent equipment and beach gear. Concessions on Barefoot Beach offers chairs, loungers, umbrellas, cabanas, canoes, and kayaks. Nicky P's Café on the beach provides the beach grub, which has everything from hot dogs and grinders to nachos and snow cones.

15. Henderson Beach State Park

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When you've packed the kids, the grandparents, and all of the essentials, where do you go now? The Emerald Coast. Henderson Beach State Park is one of the best family-friendly campgrounds with beach access and white dunes.

Henderson Beach State Park delivers an amazing location and fabulous campsite amenities. 60 campsites are furnished with water and electric hookups, a fire ring with a grate, and a picnic table.

The camping community has drinking water, hot showers, flush toilets, laundry, and dump stations. If you need firewood, contact the camp host. Tents, trailers, and RVs are welcome. Henderson accepts reservations up to 11 months in advance. It's $30 per night.

Campers, condo renters, or daytrippers come to Henderson Beach for the beach. You may have to pinch yourself to believe your eyes when they first see the shimmering emerald green Gulf water. The beach features white sand, which spans more than a mile long.

Spend your beach days lazing on the sand, swimming, bird watching, searching for shells, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, and so much more. You can walk the rolling dunes surrounded by dune rosemary, sand pines, scrub oaks, dwarf magnolia, stunted live oak, and sea oats.

16. Dry Tortugas National Park

Credit: Matthew Paulson / Flickr

Depending on where your starting point is, a journey to Dry Tortugas National Park is a ferry and seaplane type of trip. Often referred to as a state treasure, Dry Tortugas National Park is a large reef part of the southwest area of the Florida Keys.

Accessing this island is an adventure unto itself. Dry Tortugas is a car-free zone. Luckily there are ferries to catch or seaplanes to ride. Once you settle in, it's time to get busy by exploring the reef, the third largest on the planet.

The island's best swimming and snorkeling areas are on South Beach, Garden Key, and Loggerhead Key's northwest side. These areas are shallow, gentle, and protected. At South Beach, children and adults find this water the calmest, with rich marine life below. There are also old coal docks which are fun to poke around. The moat wall of Fort Jefferson is another exciting spot to snorkel.

There are many natural riches on land and in the water. But removing anything from this National Park is a no-no.

17. Mexico Beach

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A vacation to any beach is typically outstanding, but one that will give families the best memories is Mexico Beach. It's a friendly coastal town on the NW Gulf coast that embodies traditional beach life, exceptional seafood fare (fish tacos), and good old-fashioned outdoor fun.

Yes, Mexico Beach has all the usual beach activities in a beautiful setting. Fine sands, emerald-hued water, and unforgettable sunsets are the ideal backdrop to playing in the water, swimming to the sand bar, sea shelling, scuba diving, and boating. Mexico Beach employs the flag warning system – always check the flags to ensure the area is safe.

Vacations are a great time to try something new. Nearby in Panama City, you can learn how to kiteboard. Other local companies offer parasailing and dolphin watching charters. Sign up for one of the guided eco-tour tours by kayak, SUP, and canoe.

These tours are a neat opportunity to discover Mexico Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Nature experts will take you through local lakes, bays, and canals, where you can see manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, bald eagles, and pelicans.

Fishing is a big deal at Mexico Beach. The marina provides the fishing licenses and gear to use on the beach, at the City Pier and Canal Park, where you'll find red snapper and mackerel.

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
July 5, 2024 11:06 AM

Tobi Miles is a University of Florida graduate turned globe-trotting culinary explorer and digital nomad expert. As the founder of "Bytes & Bites," he combines his passion for international cuisine with practical advice on remote work, inspiring others to experience the world through food and cultural immersion. With 32 countries under his belt and a knack for uncovering hidden culinary gems, Tobi is redefining the intersection of work, travel, and gastronomy for a new generation of adventurers.

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