Welcome to a sand-lovers' paradise with no worries and a host of fun-filled activities for every member of the family.
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is ringed by a pristine coastline that contains every sand and water option imaginable for Mom, Dad and the kids. If any one beach activity begins to wear thin, just turn to a fresh one. The list of things to do to entertain your family is all but endless, from camping on a barrier island, skim boarding and hanging out on a pier to following a nature trail, flying a kite and exploring. Here you'll find whatever you're seeking--be that thrills, relaxation, the company of others or privacy.
Variety's the Name of the Game in Fort De Soto Park
When surveying the possibilities, start with one of the best: Fort De Soto Park, at the southern tip of the St. Pete/Clearwater area, was named the top family beach in the country by Parents magazine in June 2011, which touted its calm waters and many amenities. For good reason.
The Park has 243 family camping sites, two swim centers, two fishing piers, 14 sheltered picnic areas, scattered playgrounds, miles of recreation and nature trails, and a historic fort. A wide, paved trail runs for seven miles inside the park--bring your stroller or bike (you can also rent bikes and surreys inside the park)--and a seemingly limitless number of grills, picnic tables and shelters invites family cook-outs. Want to bring your dog along? Well, you can--there are three "Paw Playgrounds" here.
Here's one way to fill a day at Fort De Soto Park: Begin by sticking your toes in the sand and splashing among the gentle waves. From there, take the afternoon to hike the mile-long nature trail in the Arrowhead Picnic area and scout out the 105-year-old fort for which the park was named. Then head back to the water for a cleansing dip, followed by a sunset cookout.
Explore Remote Islands: Caladesi Island & Anclote Key
Head north to discover two of St. Pete/Clearwater’s undeveloped islands. The fun starts on the ferry that takes you to Caladesi Island State Park off of Dunedin. Once ashore, follow the nature trail to glimpse gopher tortoises and osprey, then dive in the clean, clear water to cool off. Nearby, take a family hike to spot shorebirds and an 1887 lighthouse inside Anclote Key Preserve State Park, also accessible by ferry (from Tarpon Springs).
Combine Fun With Safety at Fred Howard Park & Honeymoon Island State Park
There are a number of public beaches with lifeguards on duty. While they'll boost the safety quotient for everyone, they're particularly ideal for parents of young kids. Most county parks (such as Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs or Sand Key Park, south of Clearwater Beach) will station lifeguards, as will most state parks (such as Honeymoon Island State Park, off Dunedin) but for individual cities or towns, it's best to check before you go.
On a windy day, Fred Howard Park offers up calm waters, making it an ideal spot to windsurf. It has a dedicated windsurfing area and some practitioners of the sport regard it as the best place to windsurf on Florida's west coast.
At Honeymoon Island State Park, let the kids, and the family dog, play in the surf. There's a designated pet beach at the southern tip of the island and the nature trail that winds through the island’s slash pine forest makes a nice walk for the family and leashed dogs.
Sample Amusements at Clearwater Beach, John's Pass Village & Boardwalk and Treasure Island
When the sun’s shining, there's no better place to join a pickup game of touch football or beach volleyball than Clearwater Beach, voted the "Best Beach Town in Florida" by USA Today readers in 2013.
Parasailing is also popular here. You'll get great views of the Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife while harnessed beneath a parachute at heights of 400 to 800 feet. If you prefer to sightsee from a plane, visit Clearwater Flight Services. The company's Cessna leaves from St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport and offers sightseeing tours of Anclote Key Lighthouse, Gulf Coast beaches and St. Petersburg's famed Sunshine Skyway. The planes can accommodate up to three people and kids of all ages are welcome.
Just make sure that the family athletes conserve enough energy to experience Sunsets at Pier 60. The nightly mix of street performers, musicians and craftspeople at Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach earns props from everyone, as do the family-friendly meals and Gulf views at restaurants like the Palm Pavilion and Frenchy's Rockaway Grill.
Another day, stroll John's Pass Village & Boardwalk in Madeira Beach, where you can fill an afternoon with shopping for souvenirs and chowing down on grouper sandwiches and ice cream.
Introduce the kids to a classic beach-town vibe in Treasure Island, marked by funky motels and one of the best beaches on the Gulf coast for flying a kite and watching other folks do the same.
Romp at a Beach Playground at Constitution Park & Hurley Park
Young kids rarely resist a chance to climb, swing, slide or tumble. Take advantage of these beach-side playgrounds to give your kids a break from the water: the two play areas with rope ladders and climbable rubber turtles at the base of Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach; the playground on Sunset Boulevard, a short distance from the beach access at Constitution Park in Redington Shores; and the playground with swings and a jungle gym located across Gulf Boulevard in Pass-a-Grille Beach's Hurley Park.
Board a Pirate Ship
If the fully costumed swashbucklers manning the 70-foot, three-tiered Pirate's Ransom don't enthrall your kids, the cannons will. These are shot off regularly during two-hour excursions offered by Captain Memo's Original Pirate Cruise. These cruises leave several times a day from Clearwater Municipal Marina and offer your family organized onboard treasure hunts, face painting, water-gun battles, storytelling and dance programs. Pirates serve free soft drinks for the kids while adults can enjoy beer. Note to the budget-conscious: You can save a few bucks by ordering your tickets online.
The waters off Clearwater Beach abound with sailfish, black fin tuna, tarpon and other fish. Try your luck on a charter sport-fishing boat from one of ther local marinas (John's Pass and Clearwater Municipal Marina are good places to start). And don't worry if you’re a novice with a rod and reel – most marinas can recommend a captain or two who is particularly family-friendly. In fact, at Clearwater Municipal Marina, the Reel Deal's motto is "Kids welcome, adults tolerated."
Rent a Boat or WaveRunner
If you prefer captaining your own craft, several local marinas offer rental boats. Again, Clearwater Municipal Marina is an excellent place to start. Deck boats (also known as pontoon boats) are particularly good for beginning boaters. These small, sturdy vessels offer enough room for your clan to relax and enjoy life on the water. If you're a little more adventurous, try a WaveRunner or Jet Ski. They can travel at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.
Ride the Jolley Trolley
Clearwater's Jolley Trolley is an old-fashioned open-sided tram that travels throughout Clearwater Beach and the surrounding area. It makes regular stops along Mandalay Avenue, so you can get on anywhere and ride it from one end of the beach to the other, soaking up the sights. Clearly labeled trolley stops can be found on virtually every other block. Look for the brightly colored yellow-and-red trolley and hop aboard.
Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
You can also board the Jolley Trolley to visit venues like Sand Key State Park and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This aquarium specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured marine creatures and is home to Winter the dolphin, star of the hit movies Dolphin Tale and Dophin Tale 2. Check her out as well as her companion, Hope, and the otters and turtles.
Sand, Surf and Sunsets on St. Pete Beach
When you’re ready to get back to the basics of sand and surf, head to St. Pete Beach. Named TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach Destination in the U.S. – and No. 5 in the world – for 2012, it captures the essentials of an unforgettable beach vacation. And its southernmost tip, chilled-out Pass-a-Grille Beach, is one of the best places to sit, relax and enjoy the sunset with your family.