One of my favorite things to do when visiting the Tampa Bay area is to grab a book, pack a lunch, and head to one of the many fabulous beaches. Here are some tips on my top picks: Clearwater Beach, Sand Key Park, St Pete Beach, Fort De Soto Park, and Honeymoon Island State Park.
I have three adult sons and this is the family favorite when they are visiting. It it is typically more crowded, but to them that means more fun. The main beach area has a cafe and souvenir shop, ample bathrooms, and a playground for the younger kinds. It also boasts Pier 60, a 1,080-foot fishing pier. You have to check out “Sunsets at Pier 60” at least once. It’s a Clearwater Beach tradition offering a variety of crafts and entertainment from 6 – 9 p.m. each night. You can also find numerous restaurants and shops all along the the palm-lined Beach Walk Promenade.
Sand Key Beach
Just 2.5 miles down the road from the hustle and bustle of Clearwater Beach is the peaceful paradise of Sand Key Park. Here you will find plentiful parking, beach cabanas, large bathhouses, a dog park, and a playground. They offer beach wheelchairs to make it more accessible to all. You can also rent umbrellas, bicycles, and kayaks.
The park is pretty important to the local environment too. It is the base of operations for the county’s artificial reef program. In addition, sea turtles lay their eggs on a portion of the beach, and the nearby Clearwater Aquarium watches the nests and keeps statistics on them.
St Pete Beach
I love to spend a lazy Sunday at St. Pete Beach by starting with brunch at the Don Cesar’s Sea Porch restaurant. Their Cinnamon Monkey Bread is the best, but you really need a few people to share it with. It comes out nice and hot with a generous slather of warm toffee sauce over the top. On the Sea Porch menu you can find dishes such as Steel Cut Oatmeal Brûlée, Cuban Bread French Toast with plantain foster, four Sous Vide Eggs Benedict, to name a few. Afterwards, I head out to the beach and rent an umbrella and beach chair. Just one mile south of the Don Cesar is the longest undeveloped stretch of public beach in the county, known as Pass-a-Grille.
Fort De Soto Park
If you want to stay in a campground close to the beach, then Fort DeSoto is the spot for you! With its beaches, playgrounds, picnic areas, camping, watersports and even a historic fort that kids love to explore, it is the perfect spot for vacationing families. In fact, Fort De Soto’s North Beach was named America’s best family beach by Parents magazine in 2011. It’s not a surprise with all the amenities like bike, kayak and canoe rentals, two fishing piers, a paved bike path, historic fort, boat ramp, and dog beach.
One of my favorite activities here was a terrific snokeling trip from the Fort De Soto pier to Egmont Key, a Florida State Park with secluded beaches and a lighthouse that has stood since 1858. The ferry (a pontoon boat) provides a fully narrated tour, providing insightful information about the key and the wildlife you might spot along the way, including dolphins and rare birds.
Honeymoon Island State Park
North of Clearwater Beach is Honeymoon Island, a Florida State Park located on a barrier island across St. Joseph’s Sound. Visitors can swim, fish, and snorkel in the warm waters of the Gulf or take a ferry to Caledesi Island. Caladesi boasts 3 Miles of pristine beaches accessible only by boat creating an unspoiled paradise. Shelling is particularly good here, as the Gulf currents deposit an incredible variety of seashells on the shore.
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