Miles of pristine, powdery-soft sand and calm crystal clear waters have placed the Florida Gulf Coast towns of St. Pete/Clearwater on many of the USA’s “Best Beaches” lists. Combine that with world-class art museums and restaurants alongside fun attractions, and you’ve got a perfect destination for your next family vacation. Here are the best things to do in Florida’s St. Pete/Clearwater with kids.
Planning a vacation that will keep both culture vultures and beach bums happy? Just a half hour west of Tampa International Airport, the towns of St. Pete and Clearwater have the best of both worlds. If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful beaches, you’ll find the town of St. Pete has an amazing art scene and vibrant downtown with hip restaurants. The Busch Gardens Tampa Bay amusement park is also just a few minutes from Tampa International Airport. Here are my 6 suggestions on what to do in Florida’s St. Pete/Clearwater with kids.
1. Choose a kid-friendly beachfront resort
Although there’s plenty to do away from the shore, the main reason to vacation on Florida’s Gulf Coast is for the coast. That means staying at a hotel that’s on the beach is a must. Our home base in St. Pete was the Sirata Beach Resort. Sirata has a long list of family-friendly amenities. Two pools, daily kids crafts and games like scavenger hunts, table tennis competitions and volleyball tournaments guarantee kids will never complain about not having anything to do. A playground in the sand means Mom and Dad can relax, while still keeping an eye on the little ones. When the kids need a break from the sun, there’s a free Xbox gaming lounge.
Affordable on-site restaurants and bars mean you can happily spend the entire day on the property. Make sure and ask for a room with a balcony overlooking the Gulf. Could there be a nicer way to relax after getting the kids down for a nap or bedtime?
2. Celebrate Sunset
Florida’s Gulf Coast towns know how to make the most of another one of their assets— sunset at the beach. Nightly sunset parties are a tradition in St. Pete and Clearwater.
Sirata Beach Resort celebrates with an hour of nightly free wine, beer and rum punch for guests starting a half hour before the sun sets. I don’t know about you, but after an hour of drinking, I’m ready to call it a night. Not spending money on liquor is a BIG savings.
3. Sample Local Seafood
When I’m in Florida, I do like the locals and eat seafood. There are lots of great options but we went with Cassis American Brasserie, a cute French cafe in the heart of downtown St. Pete. I highly recommend trying their Gulf Coast bouillabaisse, served in a traditional Le Creuset bowl.
Of course you can always drink your seafood. Come to their build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and you’ll know what I mean.
Cassis also has an incredible selection of sweets, including not-to-be-missed home made ice cream ($4.50 for two scoops) and Parisian-style macarons. Tres magnifique!
4. World Class Art
St. Pete has first-class cultural credentials. The Salvador Dali Museum, a stunning, geodesic domed glass structure, is a modern masterpiece overlooking the St. Pete waterfront. My daughter loved viewing the surreal masterpieces with the complimentary headsets.
Down the street is the Museum of Fine Arts and across the street is the Chihuly Collection, showcasing the glass artist’s vibrant and delicate creations (not a good choice for anyone with small children or clumsy family members).
5. Get out on the water
Florida’s Gulf Coast is filled with dolphins. You’re not going to see them from the shore. You’ll need to get out in a boat for that. We took the Sand Dollar Island Dolphin Tour with Sun Coast Water Sports ($30/child, $40/adult). It leaves right from Sirata Beach Resort. On the half hour boat ride to uninhabited Sand Dollar Island we saw LOTS of dolphins. Then we had an hour to relax on Sand Dollar Island before heading back.
6. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Remember the 2011 movie, “Dolphin Tale” about Winter, the dolphin who gets caught in a trap and damages her tale? The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is where Winter lives. It’s a working marine veterinary facility where you’ll see examination rooms, along with plenty of props from the Hollywood movie. Kids can also feed stingrays and watch trainers attach Winter’s prosthetic tail.
Beautiful beaches, an amazing art scene and Clearwater’s celebrity, Winter the dolphin, make a trip to Central Florida’s Gulf Coast a perfect fit for families. You’ll head home in a Sunshine State of mind that hopefully lasts until it’s time for your next trip to Florida!
What are your favorite beach destinations? Do you have any undiscovered Florida beach towns to recommend?