Fort De Soto Park, Pinellas County

For the camping enthusiasts who loves being on the water: Fort De Soto park in Pinellas County is a wonderful option! This is not a state park, but rather a county part and the largest in Pinellas County, Florida.  Fort De Soto Park actually is made up of interconnected islands. The park features beach access, canoeing/kayaking launch sites that lead to the inter coastal waterway and of course the Fort for which it is name.  Biking, bird watching and walking the trails are all great options as well.  All are including in the entrance fee to the park: $5!  We began going to this park for the beach.  It is conveniently located, clean and has restroom/shower facilities directly off the beach.  The showers are a big deal when you have toddlers with sand in all their crooks and crevices.  For our family, it was an easy day trip to the beach, as opposed to the over two-hour drive to the east coast of Florida.  On one such visit, I implored my husband to drive through the campsite and we just fell in love.  We had no idea that there were campsites ON THE WATER.  The campsite entrance  is a separate entrance from where beach goers are but its on the water- it is actually a key itself. It has 238 campsites with 85 of them on the water.

Once we took our tour, I began laying the plans for our FIRST family camping trip.  The weekend we picked just so happened to coincide with the weekend my brother, an avid camper, was visiting. So we just had him tag along!  We booked a campsite right on the waters edge because we were able to pull our boat right up to the seawall and dock right there. The nightly rate is $30 but for just two dollars more you can be right on the water. We absolutely loved camping here and plan to go back again, this time with our pop up camper! We were able to go fishing, kayaking, biking, and head to the beach! Plus the playground at the campground was conveniently located. If you leave the campsite and go into the park you have the fort (which I highly recommend taking a tour of),  kayak tours, paddle board rentals & more! Bike paths are abundant in the park. To go into the park is just $5 for the whole day!
Pros: Everything stated above plus it is kept clean and well maintained facilities.
Cons: Racoons- enough said there. Also the boat launch is a bit of a drive from the actual campground but they allow you to park your boat trailer and truck there free of charge.

Green Meadows Petting Farm

Green Meadows Petting Farm
1368 S Poincianna Drive Kissimmee, Fl.

I took my kids here last year when I found a Groupon by chance for two kids admission at nearly 50% off. I went with very little expectations and was pleasantly surprised!  We all had a great time!  The kids went in with little expectation as well and talked about it for weeks afterward.  So I bought another Groupon and I took them back again this year (and two friends as well).

When you purchase your tickets, they tell you it is a 2 1/2 hour walking tour and they are not exaggerating.  We arrived at 10:30 and we finished at 12:45, so please bring your walking shoes and prepare your kids for the walking.  (Since I live nearly 40 minues away, I knew the ride to and from would provide rest for my kids). You walk in groups with a tour guide explaining the animals habitat, life style and distinquishing features.  The tour guides are very knowledgable and will answer all the kids questions.  This is a very informal tour that encourages interaction with the animals when applicable.  The animals vary in range from typical farm Florida animals like chickens, horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep to one’s found on different continents like India (water buffalo). In addition, there are housed animals that kids can play with, like gerbals and hamsters, rabbits, snakes and turtles. Also, there are various peacocks roaming the grounds, which is both hilarious and slightly unnerving.  My kids treated it like a game of Where’s Waldo?  “Look there’s one!!!”

The good thing about the length of the tour is that it is broken up but both a hay ride and a train ride.  Also, if you time your travels right and pack a lunch, you could be finishing your tour just in time for lunch and then spend another half hour to hour letting the kids play on the various playground equipment  (which is exactly what I did).

The cost of admission is high ($23 adult, $20 per child) but when you consider what it cost to feed the animals and that all the extras that are included, it is worth it. For example the feeding of goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs & donkeys, the hayride, pony ride and the train ride are ALL included in the price of admission. There are no hidden costs and I appreciate that.
Pros: The shaded oak canopy keeps the heat off of you; the animals are well cared for, loved and fed. They allow you to bring food in from the outside for your lunch, and there is a snack shop available also.
Cons: It’s dirty and it smells but it’s a farm!
Insider Tip: Aside from packing your own cooler to save money on lunch, you can bring your own wagon or stroller if you think your kids won’t last the length of the tour on feet; also wear sneakers and socks!

Lake Worth Beach, Lake Worth, Fl.

Lake Worth Beach, Lake Worth, Palm Beach County, Fl.
We visited this beach in conjunction with our camping trip to John Prince Park.  My kids LOVE the beach and we natually rate the beaches and have discussions about what made it good.  My kids have gotten very good at comparing their favorite beach (New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County) to others.  After spending the day at Lake Worth beach, these are some of their notes:

  • Large beach with coarse sand which was just freshly pumped in so it was very clean.
  • The waves were small but water was warm!
  • There are private & public sections of the beach labeled with surf reports posted.
  • Also, BONUS, there is an Olympic sized pool across the street from the beach. It’s $5 pp. We didn’t use it, but it was packed.
  • Pros: Great parking at reasonable price; a playground at top of beach & sunblock dispensing stations.
  • Cons: Limited food choices: there is one pizza place & one ice cream shop within waking distance.  There are no trash cans on the beach, thus discouraging visitors bringing their own food.

John Prince Park, Lake Worth, Fl.

John Prince Park in Lake Worth, Palm Beach County, FL.
If you don’t like Old Florida camping with dirt sites and undisturbed nature or would prefer more creature comforts, then give John Prince Park a try. This is not outback woods camping. With paved sites, 5 playgrounds, all the amenities of “glamping” and even a fitness center & doggy exercise path, JPP is suburban camping. With views of Lake Worth, and the subdivisions that surround it, this is the equivalent of camping on Lake Conway in Orlando. This was a little funny to us because we a) are used to camping in woods and b) live right by lakes and have never seen a campsite set up on one side of it. But we made the most of it! The park is HUGE and well used by the surrounding community and the campground was pretty full so we weren’t alone.

Pros: The campground and park are well lit, very clean, has great water access for boating and fishing, different playgrounds, bike paths and even an outdoor fitness center. My kids LOVED the outdoor fitness center- we went everyday we were there!  The fishing locations were numerous, with both fishing docks, piers and just easy off road access.   We did not get to all of them, there are so many, but I also liked how well lit the park was, enabling us to do some night fishing.

Cons: Large iguanas; not very private sites b/c they have all been cleared out and paved.  As stated above, we are used to camping in Florida woods, with thick bushes and trees separating each site- this park is not like that.  This may not be a negative to some, but if you crave solitude and privacy while camping, then this park is not a good option for you.  Despite the park being immaculately clean, the restrooms need some updating.

Insider tips: There is no sea wall, therefore if you wish to bring a boat and pull it up to your site, you are pulling it up through bushes, weeds & growth. There is a boat ramp in the park (close to camping) but there is an $8 charge per night to keep boat on trailer in lot.

Pinellas County Heritage Village and Botanical Gardens

Pinellas County Heritage Village and Botanical Gardens: 11909 125th Street North Largo, Fl.
This indoor/outdoor museum was established in 1976 and features live demonstrations, reenactments and a walking tour of 19th century Florida historical buildings.
Originally part of Pinewood gardens, the county set aside 20 + acres to showcase and preserve the living history of Hernando, Pinellas & Pasco counties.  They brought in 24 real historical buildings including the house of seven Gables, an original general store, train depot, schoolhouse, church, and log cabin.
They are currently constructing a boat museum to chronicle the marine history in the Tampa Bay Area as well.
It is a walking tour with certain larger buildings offering docents on the hour and half hour. Because it is a walking tour you can go at your own pace, skip places that are crowded and come back to them later. It is also all outdoor, however the Florida Pines provide great shade and help cool off in the heat. Picnic tables are available at no cost, in fact the entire park is FREE.  Even parking was FREE.
At the edge of the park is a bridge, cross over it and you head into the botanical gardens which is also free. The botanical gardens were beautiful however we didn’t stay very long because the kids were tired.
I went with kids ages 4 1/2 up to 9 1/2. I would not take a child younger than the age of four here. Because of the walking, because it is outdoors, and because some of the buildings do not allow you to touch many things it could be a little boring for a younger child. However my 4 1/2 year-old loved the schoolhouse, as well as the train depot, post office, and garage. There was plenty of things to play with, touch, and manipulate that it kept her attention. In fact all of the kids had a blast!
Pros: It’s FREE!!
Cons: It’s far from Polk; getting there took me just over an hour. However on the way home I hit traffic on 275 and on I-4 and it took me just under two hours to get home.
Insider tip: Pack a lunch. There is no concession stand or place to eat in the park. It opens at 10 AM, so you can walk around for two hours, stop to eat lunch at one of the picnic tables and then walk over to the botanical gardens. You can make a whole day of it! We did! We loved it.