Need weekend family travel ideas in Florida? Us too.

Labor Day weekend is a great time for families to travel. Of course, this weekend (whenever the first Monday of September falls on the calendar) is seen as the last hurrah of summer, the last chance for summer fun. Where we live in Florida, we’re going to have summery weather through November — although an extra day without work or school is a great excuse for a getaway.

These are the ideas my family has come up with for a Florida weekend trip. These are all trips we’ve taken before — some with the kids, some before kids. We still don’t know which one we will do!

Roseate spoonbills gather in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Roseate spoonbills gather in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #1: Space Coast

Drive to Merritt Island and visit Kennedy Space Center during the day. Then at night, take a kayaking tour of the bioluminescent waters of the Indian River Lagoon area. The next day, visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We love the 7-mile Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, where we have spotted all kinds of birds and even a bobcat. As a bonus, visit the flagship Ron Jon Surf Shop.

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #2: Silver Springs

Visit Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. This was once one of Florida’s original tourist attractions, which has now become a state park. Enjoy the beautiful freshwater springs and Silver River, where we might even get a glimpse of the wild monkeys that live there. The monkeys aren’t native; they’re descendants of those that escaped a long-ago “jungle” attraction. I’ve seen them before, and they’re cute, but potentially dangerous. The monkeys can be aggressive, and they carry the herpes virus. As a bonus, visit the nearby Ocala National Forest. We especially enjoy walking around the forest’s Juniper Springs area.

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #3: Mermaids in Weeki Wachee

Yes, another couple of state parks with freshwater springs, because the water is cool while the temperature is hot! Go to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to see the mermaid shows and play in the water. Like Silver Springs, this was once also an early Florida tourist attraction. The next day, drive an hour north to Rainbow Springs State Park to go tubing down the Rainbow River, a 2-hour float. Poke around the quaint city of Dunellon before heading home.

Weekend family travel idea in — oops! — Georgia #4: Cumberland Island

OK, so this one isn’t in Florida — it’s just barely over the state line. Get a head start by staying the night near St. Marys, Georgia. Then take the first ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, on an island offshore. This mostly undeveloped barrier island is reached only by boat and is north of Florida’s Amelia Island. Walk the seashore’s trails, see the ruins, hang out on the beach, and hope to get a glimpse of the island’s wild horses. There are camping and an inn on the island, but we would probably return to the mainland for the night before driving home.

Dunes of Cape San Blas, Florida

Dunes of Cape San Blas, Florida

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #5: Cape San Blas

Cape San Blas is a beautiful, extremely narrow peninsula between Tallahassee and Panama City, sticking out in the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches here are gorgeous. It’s a bit of a drive for us, so we would probably arrive in time to see the sun set over the Gulf. The next day, we’d be in T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. We’d play on the beach, hike the trails, or gather bay scallops while they’re in season. (Check dates and regulations before scalloping.) The nearby towns of Port St. Joe and Apalachicola are good for poking around, too.

Family pit stop in Islamorada, Florida Keys

Family pit stop in Islamorada, Florida Keys

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #6: Florida Keys

Realistically, I have to tell you that the hotels and campgrounds in the Keys on this holiday weekend are already booked as of now. Most places here require two or three nights’ stay for holiday weekends, to boot. So if we choose the Keys, it will be for a day trip only. If we were doing a weekend, though, we would drive to Key West in time to see the Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square. We would stay the night there, then make our way back up the mile markers. In the lower Keys, we would stop in at Boondocks for mini golf and lunch, then Bahia Honda State Park. Farther up the island chain in Islamorada, we would stop at Robbie’s so the kids could feed the tarpon. In Key Largo, we would take a snorkel tour or visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park with our paddleboards. And of course, we’d pop in to Blond Giraffe for chocolate-covered frozen key lime pie on a stick and their beautiful Keys garden complete with chickens.

Kayaking in Marco Island, Florida, makes for a fun weekend for families

Kayaking in Marco Island, Florida, makes for a fun weekend for families

Weekend family travel idea in Florida #7: Marco Island

The red tide that has plagued Florida’s Gulf of Mexico from central-western to southwestern Florida reportedly hasn’t bothered Marco Island much. We would start at Tigertail Beach and take our paddleboards around the lagoon or spend some time on the beach. After lunch on the island, we would then explore the mangroves of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve at the kayak launch. We have launched in Rookery Bay and seen dolphins and ospreys while we made our way to Keewaydin Island, a place where boaters like to anchor and party (but where kayakers can land and have lunch with shy fiddler crabs).

As for hotels or campgrounds to stay overnight, our family realizes we are planning this Labor Day weekend getaway last minute, so we will take what we can get within budget.

Who knows what we’ll choose? How about you?