Editor’s note: This article first appeared in G&G Jr., created by the editors of G&G in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The special issue is packed with articles, quizzes, games, pirate jokes, and more to inspire kids to explore and preserve the coastal South. Click here to receive a complimentary digital issue.
Build a Sand Masterpiece
The beaches in this part of Florida are filled with sand that’s as white and fine as grains of sugar—perfect for sandcastle construction. If you’ve always dreamed of building a castle big enough to inspire oohs and aahs from other beachgoers, the local experts at Beach Sand Sculptures offer two-hour lessons that will help you take your skills to the next level.
Learn How to Surf
South Padre Island, Texas
There aren’t any monster waves to shred at this laid-back beach, but the shallow waters, sandy seafloor, and gentle, rolling swells make it perfect for beginner surfers. The South Padre Surf Company offers one-hour lessons and three-hour surf camps for kids at Isla Blanca Beach Park.
Hunt for Shark Teeth
Millions of years ago, Florida’s sandy beaches lay at the bottom of an ocean that was filled with prehistoric sharks. Over time, the water receded and the sharks died out, but their fossilized teeth remain. Venice Beach, which has thick layers of fossils, is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. If you look carefully, you can spot the shiny black teeth hidden in the sand. The luckiest hunters might even find a tooth from a megalodon, the biggest shark that ever lived.
Spot Wild Horses
Cumberland Island, Georgia
It’s believed that horses were first brought to Cumberland Island over five hundred years ago, and by the time the island became an official National Seashore in 1972, the remaining animals had become feral, or wild. Today between 125 and 175 wild horses live on the island, which is nearly uninhabited. Take a camping trip here, and you can see them roaming the wide, empty beaches and trails.
Explore Under the Sea
Key Largo, Florida
Off the coast of Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the country’s first underwater park. Strap on a snorkel and mask to see living brain-shaped corals, colorful fish, squid, eels, and rays. There’s even a nine-foot-tall bronze statue called Christ of the Abyss, which was sunk beneath the waves more than fifty years ago and is now covered in algae and seaweed. Every year, hundreds of scuba-diving couples get married in underwater weddings beside it.
Protect Baby Sea Turtles
Jekyll Island, Georgia
When baby loggerhead turtles emerge from their eggshells, they face a treacherous journey. As the tiny turtles scramble from their sandy nests to the sea, they have to avoid predators like raccoons, seagulls, and crabs. These animals can also steal the eggs from the nest. On Jekyll Island, where loggerheads come ashore to lay their eggs every summer, you can become a turtle biologist for a night. Sign up for a ride with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Sea Turtle Patrol Team to see loggerhead nests up close, collect important information about their habitats, and learn more about how you can help them survive.
Watch a Rocket Launch
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Look up! At Cocoa Beach, part of Florida’s Space Coast, you can watch a rocket blast off into the sky. Rockets launch regularly from two nearby locations: the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Look online at spacecoastlaunches.com to find out when the next countdown begins.
Fly a Kite
Okaloosa Island, Florida
The breezes here are so good that there are two kite-flying festivals: the Kitty Hawk Fly into Spring in April and Fly into Fall in September. Watch as the pros steer giant kites and pull off crazy dives and stunts, or ask them for tips. You can also learn to make your own kite.
Swim Alongside a Manatee
Crystal River, Florida
In wintertime, hundreds of manatees swim to Kings Bay, the headwaters of the Crystal River, where warm springs keep the water a toasty seventy-two degrees year-round. This is the only place in the country where you can swim with wild manatees—friendly, curious animals that can weigh up to a ton.
Fill Your Bucket with Seashells
Sanibel Island, Florida
Some say Sanibel is the best place to collect shells in all of North America—strong ocean currents and the shape of the island create ideal conditions for shells to wash up on shore. At low tide, you can pick up dozens of different kinds of shells of all shapes and sizes all along the beach. Just be sure to throw your souvenir back into the water if a creature is still living inside!
Maybe (Just Maybe) Find a Real Treasure
Vero Beach, Florida
In 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships carrying gold, silver, and jewels sank off the coast near present- day Vero Beach, and people have been uncovering treasure here ever since. In 2015, a ship captain and his crew found 350 gold coins worth $4.5 million! Rent a metal detector to comb the beaches—you never know what might turn up on the Treasure Coast.
Enjoy an Epic Sunset
Key West, Florida
In the southernmost city in the continental United States, you can see the sun rise and set over the water every day. Do as in-the-know locals do and head to Fort Zachary Taylor beach, on the west end of the island, in late afternoon to catch the most spectacular views. Afterward, join jugglers and dancers for the nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square.