A cool breeze washes across your face, and the only sound you hear is the soft rising and falling of waves against the shore, punctuated by the occasional squawking sea gull. The kids are quietly making sandcastles, and your partner is doing the crossword puzzle.
With award-winning beaches and endless opportunities for relaxation and fun, the sister towns of St. Petersburg and Clearwater—between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico—make for an idyllic getaway. Just 90 minutes west of Orlando, it’s the perfect place to wind down after energetic days at Walt Disney World Resort.
Here are some of the top reasons why families are choosing to spend several days in St. Pete and Clearwater.
America’s Best Beaches
With white-sand beaches that feel like you’re walking on powdered sugar, and clear blue-green waters that stay warm year-round, it’s not surprising that Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach were both recently named the top beaches in America (number one and number four, respectively) by TripAdvisor’s traveler community. In all, there are 35 gorgeous miles of white sandy beaches on the peninsula, where families can unwind, build castles, beachcomb, or do nothing at all. You’ll even find beaches that will welcome Fido: Fort De Soto Park and Honeymoon Island State Park. (Frisbees not included.)
Fabulous Activities for Families
Off the beach, the area offers plenty of different ways to entertain the whole family.
- See marine life. Remember Winter the Dolphin, star of the movies, “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2?” She lives here, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where marine biologists and veterinarians rescued her, in real life, 12 years ago. Children can meet her, visit a working animal hospital, and say hello to other rescued dolphins, sea turtles, and otters.
- Take a boat ride. You’ll find options to fit everyone’s pace—from a rollicking outing on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise (complete with face-painting and a deck-side dance party) to the Clearwater Marine Life Aquarium Sea Life Safari boat tour, where guides point out dolphins, sea birds, and other marine life. You can also take it slow and explore local waterways via pontoon, kayak, or canoe. Or, if speed’s your family’s thing, check out local powerboat tours.
- See art, make art. Check out the amazing art at St. Pete’s world-renowned Dalí Museum and also check their calendar for any upcoming fun kids’ programs. The Morean Arts Center offers free drop-in art studios for kids on Saturdays, and St. Pete’s Museum of Fine Arts has “make and take” art programs on some Saturdays, too.
- Chillax at a hotel with a kids’ club. There are lots of hotels with children’s programs, so the biggest kids in the family can have some down time for themselves.
- Tradewinds Resorts: Creativity is the vibe at the KONK club, where kids can make crafts, listen to pirate’s tales, or learn about marine life.
- Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach: Camp Hyatt’s the name of the game here, with beachcombing, arts and crafts, and swimming.
- Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach: At Camp Ridley, kids can go on nature walks, scavenger hunts, and meet the camp mascot, Ridley the Sea Turtle.
- The Don CeSar: Campers at Camp CeSar can have adventures on the surrounding beaches and gardens, hunt for seashells, compete in sandcastle contests, and make beach crafts.
The Social Scene on St. Pete’s Central Ave.
The main artery of St. Pete, along historic Central Avenue, is alive with activity—perfect for strolling and socializing with locals. Great bars and indie restaurants serve up creatively prepared fresh seafood, vegan fare, and cuisine from the islands. You’ll also find locally owned coffee shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and galleries that specialize in glass art. In fact, you can check out the Chihuly Collection and the Duncan McClellan Gallery, where the “Glass Coast” movement began, and even try your hand at making something out of glass at the Hot Shop at the Morean Art Center. Then dig into history and culture at the new James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art or head to Haslam’s—Florida’s oldest and largest bookstore for new and used books—to discover your next beach read.
Buzzy Craft Brews on the “Gulp Coast”
St. Pete/Clearwater has evolved into a craft-brewing mecca, with more than three dozen local breweries making artisanal beers with local flavors like key lime, dragon fruit, and passionfruit. There’s even a St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail and a special Gulp Coast Craft Brewery passport, so you know where you’re headed (and where you’ve been). It’s an hour-long drive from end-to-end, but there’s no rush to do it all at once: Many breweries have outdoor seating and feature live music, so grab your growler and give it a go.
So. Many. Festivals.
Because sometimes relaxing means wandering around with others who are doing the exact same thing, there are laid-back festivals nearly every weekend for lovers of food, art, music, and more. Come for the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, where world-renowned sand artists create dazzling sand sculptures. The Tampa Bay Blues Festival and the nationally known Clearwater Jazz Holiday feature headliners like Alison Krauss, Boyz II Men, and Chicago. There’s an all-local festival, Localtopia, and a Shine Mural Festival, which celebrates St. Pete’s 500-plus murals (and unveils new ones each year). And that’s just a sampling of the year-round festivals here. Because in St.Pete/Clearwater, festival season is always right now.
For more great reasons not to miss this magical part of the Gulf Coast, check out Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.