St. Pete/Clearwater is known for its unblemished stretches of sand and the sense of relaxation they impart. But depending on how adventurous your kids are, lying on the beach all day may not be their style. Here are options for families of all thrill levels, with many located in Clearwater Beach, also known as USA Today's 2013 "Best Beach Town in Florida."
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. Leaving several times a day from Clearwater Municipal Marina, these cruises 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 our 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."
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.
Clearwater's Jolley Trolley is an old-fashioned open-sided tram that travels throughout Clearwater Beach and the surrounding area. With regular stops along Mandalay Avenue, 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.
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 movie Dolphin Tale. It takes just the right amount of time to check out the dolphins, otters, turtles and other animals residing here, leaving you plenty of time for other fun.
Spend the afternoon at the beach, and then head to Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach for the nightly sunset festival. Watch fire-eaters, contortionists, trained dogs and others perform their tricks. Buy a burger or hot dog from the concession stand on site, or enjoy family-friendly meals and Gulf views at restaurants such as the nearby Palm Pavilion or Frenchy's Rockaway Grill.
Parasailing is popular on Clearwater Beach. You'll get great views of the Gulf of Mexico while harnessed beneath a parachute, with rides running from heights of 400 to 800 feet. You'll relish the quiet, take in the shores of Clearwater Beach and spot wildlife such as dolphins and the occasional loggerhead turtle swimming underneath you.
If you prefer your sightseeing in 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 even St. Petersburg's famed Sunshine Skyway. The plane can accommodate up to three people, and there’s no age limit for kids.
When surveying your options, why not start with one of the best in the nation? Fort De Soto Park, at the area’s southern tip, has received a steady stream of accolades over the years. In 2011, Parents magazine named it the nation's top family beach, praising its calm waters and many amenities.
A day at Fort De Soto Park is a full day. Start by sticking your toes in the sand and splashing among the gentle waves, but understand that you can branch out to nearly any activity from there. Hike the mile-long nature trail in the Arrowhead picnic area and scout out the 105-year-old fort for which the park is named. Canoe, kayak and bike rentals are also available. Return to the water to cool off, and then plan a sunset cookout.
Families with younger children appreciate a good playground. Whether a break from the water is needed, or to burn some energy, kids rarely resist a chance to climb, swing, slide or tumble.
At Constitution Park in Redington Shores, the playground is just a bit down Sunset Boulevard from the beach access. At Pass-a-Grille Beach, Hurley Park sits right across Gulf Boulevard from the sands of the Gulf of Mexico, and has swings and a jungle gym to go with its pavilions, showers, basketball courts and baseball field. These are just a few of the available beach playgrounds.