Ft. Lauderdale With Kids: The Best Free Things To Do in 2022

Traveling to Ft. Lauderdale with kids is the perfect weekend getaway! While the beaches of the Florida panhandle are beautiful, and the hustle and bustle of Miami can be fun, Ft. Lauderdale with kids is actually the place to visit!  Maybe you are headed to Disney World for some fun, and are looking for a quieter spot to end your trip. Or maybe you’ve blown your budget on Mickey Pops and souvenirs.  Either way, the Boca Ft. Lauderdale area with kids is not to be missed for a low key, inexpensive, educational and relaxing family vacation.

ft. lauderdale beach

Why Visit Boca Ft. Lauderdale with Kids for a Family Trip?

When our best friends moved back to Florida, it only took us about 3 weeks before we missed them too much to stay away.  The kids have literally grown up together, gone to school, and homeschooled together for almost a decade. And sometimes you just need to see your bestie in person!!

So what do you do? You buy a cheap ticket on Spirit Air or Southwest (use those Southwest companion passes if you have them!) and you surprise them with a visit.  (Truthfully, the parents planned and the kids were surprised!)

Travel Tip: We flew a budget airline to get to Ft. Lauderdale with kids, since the flight was a quick one. We took only carry on backpacks (rolling carry on is an extra fee when flying budget airlines). The travel backpacks we take are below.  I choose these for a few reasons; they have adjustable fits for all size adults and kids, mesh backing to keep your back sweat free, chest and hip belts to remove the weight from shoulders, and they fit so much! I typically take out the hydration pouches and slide my computer or tablet into the inside back pocket.

backpacks in the airport

Things To Do In Boca Ft. Lauderdale With Kids

We LOVED visiting the Boca Ft. Lauderdale area with our kids.  We found that there were plenty of beautiful beaches (both public and private pay-to-park options), inexpensive accommodations, and so many hands-on (and FREE) science and children’s museums to visit.  We spent 3 busy days visiting with our friends, and here is what we did:

Ft. Lauderdale Beach: The Best First Stop

We are beach people. We love any type of beach, any ocean, for any reason. Hot, cold, winter, summer it just doesn’t matter. So when we landed in Florida the first thing we wanted to do is get our toes in the sand.  Getting to the beach in Ft. Lauderdale with kids is easy. When you drive out of the Ft. Lauderdale airport, the first beach is only about 10 minutes away. It is a public beach, costs a few dollars to park and boasts ample space for running down to the water for your first splash!

Tip: Bring a change of clothes in your carry on for easy access (the kids will definitely get wet here!).  Outdoor showers are available to hose off your perfectly sandy toes.

IMG 0505 Edited Ft. Lauderdale With Kids: The Best Free Things To Do in 2022

Sugar Sand Park

Half a day can be spend enjoying Sugar Sand Park. This is truly more than just a park.  This was one of our favorite all-in-one FREE stops in Ft. Lauderdale with kids. You’ll find an adorable outdoor carousel, a huge playground with water-misting magical creatures, and the FREE “Children’s Science Exploratorium.”

The Carousel is open Friday-Sunday from 10am-2pm and costs just $1 per person.  With 30 horses and 2 wheelchair accessible chariots, any lines move quickly and there is space for everyone. It was thrilling to watch even our tweens enjoy a ride!

The playground is one of the biggest I have seen anywhere! It is fully contained, with only one entrance in and out (love that safety measure).  There are wheelchair accessible swings, slides, sensory walls and climbing structures, as well as a central misting zone for cooling off on hot days.

Ft. Lauderdale with kids

Head inside to the FREE Children’s Science Exploratorium.  Here you will find two large indoor spaces with hands-on science exhibits. Younger children can move through these rooms by touching and trying each exhibit. Older children can engage in the solving of a series of logic puzzles using the clue cards at the front.  Solve each puzzle throughout the exhibit and your child can get their picture taken and put up on the Wall of Fame! We spent about an hour solving these puzzles, and my logic puzzle hating tween was the one who actually enjoyed it the most.  There are helpers setup throughout the exhibit to give you clues if needed.

Bonus: We met a lovely family from New Zealand who gave us travel tips for our upcoming New Zealand visit! Remember to talk to everyone!

IMG 0555 Edited Ft. Lauderdale With Kids: The Best Free Things To Do in 2022

Once you’ve had fun inside the Exploratorium, head out the back doors. You will find yourself immersed in a learning garden. You can also wind your way down various nature trails.  Our kids loved losing themselves in the Florida trails and building Chickee Hut style shelters with the fallen palm fronds.

What would a trip to Ft. Lauderdale with kids be without hungry children to feed? Need to feed your hungry kids after all this fun? We used these lunch boxes for snacks! We love to travel with these since they can handle both hot and cold options, and keep our food fresh for the whole day!

Red Reef Park for the Best Beach in Boca Ft. Lauderdale

After lunch we headed straight to Red Reef Park.  This is a private pay-for-parking beach. While the pay fee is steep at $35/day for a car (more for RV’s), you will find lots of wide parking, a few playgrounds, a beautifully maintained beach, and a fully manned lifeguard station.  We decided that the lifeguard was worth it, since it was just 2-3 days after Hurricane Ian had blown through Florida and the seas were still a but rough.

This beautiful spot offers picnic tables, bathrooms, and outdoor showers. Perfect for fun in the sun in Ft. Lauderdale with kids.

Ft. Lauderdale with kids

A super cool feature is the the newly completed artificial reef! There are 20 reef modules installed that attract fish such as Sergeant Majory, Parrotfish, Bar Jack, Spottail Pinfish, Molly Miller and more.

Drive through the Everglades to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation

From the Boca Ft. Lauderdale area, this drive will take you about 1-1.5 hours.  This is a fantastic educational and cultural opportunity, and well worth the day trip. As Worldschoolers, we like to take every opportunity we can to learn. Before heading out on this day trip, do a little age appropriate research with your children about the Native tribes in Florida, the Seminole people, and the history of this tribe.  Fun Fact: You’ll find that the Seminole tribe owns ALL the Hard Rock Hotels in the WORLD. Including in Las Vegas. (If you feel so inclined to add a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe, you’ll find going to Ft. Lauderdale with kids and eating here is a grand adventure!)

You can also read about and watch some cool videos about the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Everglades.  We did not plan ahead and book an airboat ride through the Everglades.  However, I highly recommend doing that if you know you are planning this day trip.  There’s no better way to feel and see an ecosystem up close.

Ft. Lauderdale with kids seminole reservation

On the Reservation, you’ll find the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museums.  This beauty is surrounded by a 1 mile boardwalk through the Everglades.  Check their website for Alligator Wrestling showcases, American Indian Arts Celebrations (usually in November), and more.

Across the road from the museum, and to the right of a big old parking lot were a handful of beautiful Chickee Huts.  These are the traditional shelters of the Seminole tribe. We learned that there was always a centrally located cooking hut, a nearby eating hut, and individual family huts surrounding those.  Chickee Huts are made like thatched-roof huts from Sable Palm fronds, and are open on all 4 sides.  While we were there we were lucky enough to watch a crew of men restoring one of the nearby Chickee Huts.  We stopped to watch, learn, and sketch in our nature journals.

The Museum of Discovery & Science

The Museum of Discovery & Science is a fantastic way to spend half a day in Ft. Lauderdale with kids.  This museum hold reciprocity with dozens of museums around the USA, so if you have membership to your local natural history or science museum, check with the front desk to see if you get free entry.

Ft. Lauderdale with kids

The IMAX movies here are fantastic and we loved seeing the Ireland Imax. The Museum of Discovery & Science has a variety of exhibits for all ages. The ground floor has open play areas for younger kids, and interesting weather and animal exhibits for the older kids. Your children will love standing in the Hurricane Simulator and climbing through a Megalodon Shark’s jaws.

The upper level had incredible space and aeronautic hands on experiments, human-body science, special installations like life-size Eric Carle exhibits, and 2 actual rides! yes, rides! We did the Toy Story Roller Coaster Simulator, which was NOT scary like a roller coaster and was enjoyable for ages 7 and up.

Bonus! Most Unique Ice Cream Stop (right near the FLL Airport) in Ft. Lauderdale with Kids

Ft. Lauderdale with kids jaxon's ice cream

Have you heard of Jaxon’s? If not, you absolutely MUST stop here on your way in or out of the Ft. Lauderdale airport. This family owned restaurant has been serving Ft. Lauderdale’s most outrageous desserts since 1956. And while the desserts are incredible, the history is even more so.  The Original Founder, Monroe Udell, was a Jewish man from Connecticut. He routinely went against the local Jim Crow laws in the late 50’s and early 60’s, hiring and serving the African-American community, while continuously being harassed by local KKK chapter members and the local law.  In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, Udell was finally able to run his shop without harassment and in the inclusive environment that he dreamed of.

Ft. Lauderdale with kids jaxon's ice cream

We hope you enjoy your family travel to Boca/Ft. Lauderdale. For maximum pleasure, and minimum melting, we recommend visiting in April/May or September-December.  Don’t forget to pack your dry toiletries in your carry-on luggage!