The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area offers 35 miles of beautiful beaches, and just about every water activity you can imagine. 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 includes camping on a barrier island, skim boarding, fishing from a pier, walking a coastal nature trail, flying a kite and looking for sea shells. No other Florida beach destination can claim two beaches in Tripadvisor's Top 10 List for 2021! St. Pete Beach is the #1 Beach in the U.S. and Madeira Beach is #9.
Explore 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, which touted its calm waters and many amenities. For good reason.
The park has beautiful beaches, camping sites, two fishing piers, sheltered picnic areas, playgrounds, kayak rentals, 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). Want to bring your dog along? Well, you can - there are three "Paw Playgrounds" here, one right on the beach.
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 Spanish American War-era fort for which the park was named. Then head back to the water for a nice dip, followed by a sunset cookout.
Visit Pristine Islands
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. Or take the family on to spot shorebirds and an 1887 lighthouse inside Anclote Key Preserve State Park, accessible by ferry from Tarpon Springs.
Choose a Beach the Whole Family Can Enjoy
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.
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.
Meet Winter the Dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Amuse Yourself at Active Beaches
When the sun’s shining, there's no better place to join a pickup game of touch football or beach volleyball than Clearwater Beach, which was named Trip Advisor's No. 1 Beach in America in both 2018 and 2019! 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.
Visit pretty Madeira Beach, Tripadvisor's #9 Beach in the U.S. for 2021, then stroll nearby John's Pass Village & Boardwalk, where you can fill an afternoon with shopping for souvenirs and chowing down on grouper sandwiches and ice cream. Boating excursions and water sports rentals of every description are available here at John's Pass.
Introduce the kids to a classic beach-town vibe in Treasure Island, marked by retro motels and one of the best beaches on the Gulf coast for flying a kite.
At least once on your trip, be sure 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 nearby such as the Palm Pavilion and Frenchy's Rockaway Grill.
Splash Right in at the St. Pete Pier
With everything from a splash pad to a marine discovery center, the St. Pete Pier is about as family-friendly as it gets. While it's not on one of St. Pete/Clearwater's famous Gulf beaches, it will still inspire hours of aquatic fun. And it's free! Take in sweeping views of downtown St. Pete as the little ones play on the huge playground. Rent some fishing gear from the bait and tackle shop at the pier head and see what's biting. Mosey down to Spa Beach, the stretch of sand skirting the gentle waters of Tampa Bay, where little feet are free to wade. When it's time for some food, head to Spa Beach Bistro, an open air restaurant wish a very kid-friendly menu. And be sure to get photos with the red pelican sculptures at the base of the Pier.
Romp at a Beach Playground
Young kids rarely resist a chance to climb, swing, slide or tumble. Take advantage of these beachside 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. John's Pass Village & Boardwalk also has a pirate ship excursion that kids love.
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 their 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." Or fish from a local pier, such as Merry's Pier in Pass-a-Grille Beach or Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach.
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 have teens or adventurous younger kids, try a WaveRunner or Jet Ski.
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.
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. Consistently named one of the U.S.'s top beaches (including TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach in America in 2021), 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.