Family Vacations to St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida

Caladesi Island State Park Florida
Caladesi Island State Park (courtesy, St. Petersburg-Clearwater CVB)

Clearwater Family Travel Tips

  • Savor 35 miles of sandy beaches and splash in calm Gulf waters.
  • Create music, learn about wind, and let little ones dress up at Great Explorations.
  • Enter the surreal world of art at the Salvador Dalí Museum.
  • Discover how wounded birds fly again at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.
  • Bike, jog, stroll, and in-line skate along the Pinellas Trail.

Nicknamed the Pinellas Suncoast, the Clearwater area is located on Florida's west coast, bordered by Tampa Bay to the northeast and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. With almost 400 miles of shoreline, including 35 miles of soft sands, the region has some of the best beaches in the country.

Clearwater Beach, popular with families, has a covered playground, concessions, and free nightly sunset festivals with street performers and vendors. Caladesi Island State Park, located just north of Clearwater Beach, ranks high for its shelling and swimming. It also has a three-mile nature trail. The 1,100-acre Fort DeSoto Park, ranked as America's top beach for 2005, offers seven miles of undeveloped sands spread out on five islands.

In town, The Pier, jutting out into Tampa Bay, serves as a St. Petersburg's landmark and tourist hub. The five-floor dining-shopping complex includes an aquarium with lots of informative, hands-on exhibits, and educational programs. Outfitters rent poles for fishing along the seawall, as well as tandem bikes seating up to four and Segways (ages 13 and up) for tours.

At Great Explorations, gradeschoolers and young kids make music by slapping different length pipes, create poetry by sticking words on a magnetic board, and learn to navigate with wind by using toy sailboats. Great Beginnings, an area for ages six and younger, has puzzles, costumes, and other hands-on activities.

Older kids, especially teens, will appreciate the Salvador Dalí Museum. From his twisted handlebar mustache to his paintings of melting watches, Dalí's swagger appeals to break-the-rules adolescents searching for their own style. Look out for special exhibits that profile Dalí's life and work, as well as those of artists like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and others.

At the 245-acre Boyd Hill Nature Preserve along the shores of St. Pete's Lake Maggiore, look for 'gators sunning on logs, turtles by the shore, and butterflies in the garden. The boardwalk and trails cut through marsh, swamp, woodlands, and sand-pine scrub areas.

Animal-loving kids will also enjoy visiting the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary at Indian Shores. It's the largest non-profit wild bird hospital in the U.S., treating more than 10,000 birds each year, most of which have been hit by cars, tangled in fish lines, or otherwise hurt by humans. About 80 percent of the patients recover sufficiently to fly back into the wild. At any one time, several hundred recuperating seagulls, cormorants, pelicans, and other birds can be seen along with hawks, owls, and sandhill cranes whose injuries prevent them from ever returning to the wild.

Take advantage of the glorious Gulf Coast weather to bike, jog, stroll, and in-line skate along the Pinellas Trail, a paved 34-mile path that stretches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, a town known for its Greek heritage, sponge diving, and cafés.

Tip: Get out on the water by taking a boat to area state parks on Anclote Key, Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, and Egmont Key.

Recommended Side Trips: Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando, Sarasota's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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