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Family Vacation in Tampa/St Pete


The greater Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater area is a great place for a family vacation.  There are many attractions, activities, and entertainment options for adults and kids alike. 

Outdoor Activities

St. Pete/Clearwater Area Beaches
When I think of the Florida Sun Coast, I think of the beaches.  Clearwater and St. Pete offer a variety of wonderful beaches for beachgoers of all ages.  The local icon is Clearwater Beach, just off of Route 60 (also known as Beach to Bay).  This long and wide white sand beach is adjacent the large Clearwater Pier and Pier 60 Park - which offers a nice covered playground for kids as well as pay-for activities nearby such as a giant inflatable slide and trampoline-bungee jumping for kids.  There are dozens of restaurant options nearby from the ultra-casual seafood diner to the eclectic gourmet.  Parking can be tight and almost all spots are meter parking.  We have always loved eating at Frenchy's Salt Rock Cafe - and they are family-friendly.

Clearwater Beach, Florida
View of Clearwater Beach from Pier 60

Other beaches in northern Pinellas County include Honeymoon Island Beach Park just west of the Dunedin Causeway.  The beach here is narrow but runs the length of the island and offers different sections for families, pets, and even a boat launch marina where the ferry to Caladesi Island departs from.  The draw here is the wonderful views of the sunset, and the Dunedin Causeway which is a welcome launch point for Jet Skiers and kayakers. 

Caladesi Island State Park is a jewel located just north of Clearwater Beach.  There are no roads leading to Caladesi, the only approach is by water - by boat, ferry, or kayak.  If you venture this way, you more than likely will have most of the beach to yourself - it is spread out and there is plenty of powdery-white sand for everyone.  Also, you will find probably the largest assortment of gigantic sea shells on this island - great for the beachcomber in the family.

Another "neighborhood beach" is Howard Park, Dunedin, located just north of Honeymoon Island.  This is one of our favorite beaches in the area.  Although a smaller sized island beach, the austere beauty is remarkable.  Just south of the uber-popular Clearwater Beach is Sand Key - connected by a tall causeway.  Sand Key offers more beautiful white sand beaches, big resorts, and some great kayaking opportunities.  Check out our article on Kayaking at Sand Key, FL.

Continuing south, you will come to Madeira Beach and John's Pass - a busy touristy district built around the drawbridge and boat channel.  Here, you will find tons of stores, dozens of ice cream parlors, and a variety of waterfront dining opportunities (we recommend dinner at the Friendly Fisherman).  Also, across the street on the coast is a wonderful strip of white sand at Madeira Beach.  Here the beach buttresses up to the jetty at the edge of the pass.  Enjoy building sand castles here as sailboats gracefully navigate the channel right next to you.  The beach is especially nice as there are no towering hotels or mega-resorts next to the beach.

Even further south are the wonderful beaches of Pass-A-Grille Beach (view map) and St. Pete Beach.  PAss-A-Grille is one of our absolute favorite beaches in Pinellas County.  Finally, at the southern end of Pinellas County just prior to Sarasota is Fort de Soto Park (view map).  Here you will find pristine beaches (pet friendly, too) with huge areas to explore as well as a preserved old fort, waterways to kayak, abundant kids' playgrounds and a large campground right on the beach!

Pinellas County Parks
Pinellas County offers a huge assortment of parks and playgrounds for families, kids, and even pets.  Some of our favorites are in North Pinellas: John Chestnut Park offers numerous playgrounds, a butterfly park, kayak launches, a boat ramp, and scenic trails all located at the edge of beautiful Lake Tarpon.  Anderson Park is located off of Highway-19N on the opposite bank of Lake Tarpon and offers sweeping views of the lake from its two playgrounds and picnic facilities perched at the top of rolling hills.  Wall Springs Park is located right off of the Pinellas Trail along Boggy Bayou near Tarpon Springs with covered playgrounds and beautiful trails that crisscross this coastal area.

Nature Walks
Brooker Creek Nature Preserve is located off of Keystone Road in Northern Pinellas County and offers miles and miles of walking trails through wooded areas, picnic facilities, and a learning center.  One of our favorite (and lesser-known) nature areas is Starkey Wilderness Park in southern Pasco County.  Located just north of Trinity, Starkey Park offers hiking trails, cabins for rent, unimproved camp sites, and children's playgrounds.

Indoor Activities

Summers can get quite hot and humid in the Tampa-St. Pete area.  Want to stay indoors?  There are plenty of activities that will engage your kids' minds as well as entertain the whole family. 

Museums, Aquariums, and Zoos
One of our favorite places to go is the St. Pete Children's Museum (also known as "Great Explorations"), located at 1925 Fourth Street North, St. Petersburg, FL 33704 (
official website) - right next to the Sunken Gardens attraction.   Here kids can explore fully interactive play areas, make believe sets, and engage in building, science, and imaginative play.  There are lessons in science - with air pressure, sounds, pulleys, robots, motorized cars; make-believe in fire-fighter, grocery store, news-caster, pizzeria, and doctor scenes; and a huge two-story tree house and ship that kids can climb in and play.  Fun for all ages from toddlers to grade-school.

The Tampa Glazer Children's Museum is due to open up at the end of September 2010 in downtown Tampa.

St. Pete Kid's Museum
Great Explorations Kids Museum - St. Petersburg

I bet you haven't heard of the Armed Forces Military Museum located in Largo, FL (official website).  Plan on spending about two hours in this incredible local museum.  This is not your typical stuffy-boring museum, either!  Your kids will love this place as you get to walk right through the exhibits with vehicles and scenes all around you.  Start off by walking through a WWI trench (I mean you really get to walk though the trench!) and continue into the Pacific Theater of WWII then progress through the US Military's history in warfare.  Dozens and dozens of authentic tanks, trucks, ambulances, and life-sized scenes like the deck of an aircraft carrier and the Sainte Mere-Eglise Church all wait to be explored!

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa is a must-see place.  This aquarium is conveniently located downtown at Channelside, adjacent the pier where the cruise ships dock and a short trolley ride from Ybor City.  The Tampa Aquarium offers a ton of exhibits, interactive displays and a wonderful outdoor mini-water park for kids complete with pirate ship and water canons - an especially popular attraction in the middle of the hot and humid summer!

Another gem that many visitors will miss is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (official website).  Not your typical aquarium, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a rescue facility - a place where rescued marine animals are brought for rehabilitation and medical care.  While at this facility, they are taught tricks and perform in regularly scheduled shows for visitors.  One of our favorites is the dolphin show that is performed several times daily.  Also on display are several different species of sea turtles, sting rays, and sharks.  The world-famous tail-less dolphin named Winter finds her home at this aquarium where they have outfitted her with a prosthetic limb.

The Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa is a famous attraction (official website).  This zoo offers tons of unique opportunities such as a chance to feed the giraffes, a kids petting zoo area, and many interactive areas that get you and your kids up close to the animals.

Another wonderful attraction, lesser known, is the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in North Pinellas County (official website).  Located in Palm Harbor, this sanctuary gives you the opportunity to watch numerous primates and even help feed them!

Tampa-area shopping offers everything from the most exclusive to the open-air market.  The Tampa International Mall, located on Spruce Street near Tampa International Airport, offers some of the most chic and sought-after fashion stores such as Tiffany, Coach, and Movado.  Additionally, the outdoor patio bar and restaurant area is often packed with upscale clientele enjoying fine establishments such as the Cheesecake Factory, Bar-Louie, and more. 

St. Pete has a wonderfully exotic Saturday Farmer's Market with curios, fresh produce, handicrafts, gourmet baked goods, and scrumptious prepared food to eat.  Check out the official website.

Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL
Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL

Spring Training Baseball
Each spring, Tampa, Dunedin, Clearwater, and Sarasota are home to numerous Major League Baseball spring training teams.  At the top of the list, Tampa is home to the Yankees (at Steinbrenner Field) and Clearwater is home to the Phillies (at Brighthouse Field).  Springtime is your opportunity to watch pro teams, enjoy the great weather, and visit fan-friendly stadiums that allow you to get real close to the players for autographs and photo ops.

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