We were recently invited to check out Clearwater Beach, Florida and I jumped at the opportunity since I had never been to Florida’s Gulf Coast. What I found was a beach resort so easy and inviting it made me wonder if I would ever go back to Miami again.
The first thing to love about Clearwater is how easy it is to get to. Direct flights from NYC and other metropolises to Tampa are plentiful and inexpensive and a 30 minute shuttle or taxi ride from the airport will have you at the beach. (Check out my recommendations on where to stay in Clearwater Beach.) Depending on what you plan to do on your vacation, you may not even need to rent a car. There are many free or low cost transportation options available even for going to neighboring towns.
If you love big waves, the Gulf Coast is not for you. What you will find are sprawling white powder-sand beaches, gentle waves and water that tends to be a few degrees warmer than the Atlantic on the other side of Florida, making the beaches better for families with young children or anyone who doesn’t need the motion of the ocean.
Clearwater Beach is half an hour from Tampa and two hours from Orlando, so it can also be a good home base for trips to the big attractions like Busch Gardens and Disney World. Playing all day at the amusement parks and coming home to the beach sounds like a great vacation to me.
Clearwater is not a big city like Miami, but there is plenty to do. Of course, you may be happy just lounging in your beach chair and playing in the sand and water. But if you get tired of that, here’s my list of the the top things to do with kids in Clearwater Beach on your family vacation. I recommend all the activities on this list, but I’ve bolded the items that are particularly special must-dos:
- Rent a Fun Coup, a road-ready pint sized car, and tour the town.
- Enjoy the mini-carnival atmosphere at Sunsets at Pier 60 with street performers, musicians and crafts for sale.
- See Winter, the dolphin from Dolphin Tale, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, see the dolphin show, and learn about marine animal rescues.
- Take a dolphin cruise. Several run regularly from the Clearwater Marina. Kids might particularly like the shark-themed Mega Bite or getting wet on the Sea Screamer.
- Haul in a big one on a half-day fishing expedition.
- Rent a pontoon boat to explore the intracoastal waters and visit Shell Island.
- Or take the Sea Life Safari Eco-Tour, led by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where kids can handle live sea creatures pulled up in nets, see dolphins and look for shells.
- Test your surfing skill at the indoor flow-rider at Surf Style.
- Explore the Mexican East Gateway District for authentic Mexican food and hit La Feria de la Nieve for delicious Mexican ice cream.
- Kids over 14 can drive a rented jet ski with a parent or younger children can ride.
- Go snorkeling at Indian Rocks Beach, 8 miles south of Clearwater.
- Enjoy free cinema under the stars on Friday and Saturday evenings.
- Kids will have a blast in the playground and on the inflatable amusements at Pier 60 (bounce-castle and water slide tickets available for purchase)
- Book an expedition to swim with the manatees at Crystal River.
- Stow away for some rollicking entertainment aboard Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise. Arghh.
- Stop in for the famous grouper sandwiches at Frenchy’s.
- Take to the skies on a parasail.
- Have a mini golf competition at Captain Bligh’s Landing adventure mini golf.
- Go to a game of the minor league Clearwater Threshers.
- Get around Clearwater for free (but do tip your driver) with Florida Free Rides.
- Plan your visit to coincide with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in October or the Sun ‘N’ Fun Festival in April
- Take a day trip to St Petersburg to visit the Dali Museum
- Then visit the Chihuliy Gallery at the Morean Arts Center or participate in free family arts programs from 10am-4pm on Saturdays (families with kids ages 5-10).
- Take the Jolley Trolley to Tarpon Springs to learn about sponge diving and eat Greek food in the Greek village.
- Hop over to Caladesi Island State Park, an island voted one of the top beaches in Florida.