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ST. PETERSBURG CLEARWATER
FLORIDA BEACHES AND FAMILY FUN

Story and photos by

What attracts more than one million international visitors to the St. Petersburg Clearwater area of Florida every year? Is it the 57 kilometers of wide white beaches? The 23 degree Celsius average temperatures? The spectacular Gulf of Mexico sunsets?

St. Pete Beach sunset
St. Pete Beach sunset
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bordering the Gulf of Mexico on Florida's west coast, the region of 26 resort communities calls itself Florida's Beach. Located just a half-hour drive from Tampa's Busch Gardens, it's a 1.5-hour drive from Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios Orlando.

Best beaches

With 361 days of sunshine annually, St. Petersburg Clearwater Florida beaches are undoubtedly popular. Caladesi Island, Fort De Soto Park beach, Sand Key Park and Clearwater Beach are four of 13 beaches given the Blue Wave Award by the Clean Beaches Council for environmental friendliness and water quality. Stephen Leatherman, Dr. Beach, has included them in his best U.S. beaches lists.

Visitors find many other beautiful stretches of powder-soft sand along the Pinellas coast and its eight barrier islands or keys. A series of 16 county parks provide change houses, washrooms and access to the beach for visitors not staying at waterfront properties.

Clearwater and St. Pete area beaches include Egmont Key, for snorkeling over the ruins of Fort Dade, Shell Key, for birdwatching, shelling and dolphin-watching and Treasure Island for kite flying and sand sculpture contests. Dogs are allowed off leash and in the water on pet beaches at Honeymoon Island and Belleair Bluffs Causeway.

Sand Key Beach
Sand Key Beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Seafood restaurants

John's Pass, a recreated fishing village of weathered clapboard shops and restaurants, joined by a boardwalk, is the focal point of Madeira Beach. Shops sell pink flamingos and small bags of white sand labeled "100% Florida Beachfront Property." Instructions read: "For couples who dream of making love on the beach — sprinkle lightly between the sheets."

John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach
John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Good seafood restaurants abound. October 15 to May 15 is the best time for delicious stone crab claws and Florida lobsters. Hurricane, a St. Pete Beach restaurant, is known for its grouper, served in tasty salads, sandwiches and chowder.

Gulf of Mexico cruises

From numerous open-air restaurants, you can watch pelicans dive off the pier and fishermen unload catches from their boats. The nautical atmosphere may even motivate you to rent a Seadoo and jet skis, board a deep-sea fishing charter or head out into the Gulf of Mexico on a cruise.

The Pirate Ship at John's Pass offers pirate stories, treasure hunts and dolphin watching, as it cruises through Boca Ciega Bay. Sea Life Safari Cruises picks up families at the Clearwater Beach Marina and Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Kids can see and touch sea urchins, crabs and sea horses. The two-hour cruise includes a stop at a barrier island so passengers can look for shells on the beach.

More adventurous boaters may prefer the Sea Screamer, the world's largest speedboat, which brings passengers on nature cruises from the Clearwater Municipal Marina. Show Queen offers dinner, buffet lunch and sightseeing cruises. Departing from Clearwater Beach Marina, the Starlite Majesty Dinner Boat features dinner with dancing, sightseeing and lunch cruises.

Things to do in St. Petersburg

The Pier, an inverted five-story pyramid perched on a land bridge jutting into Tampa Bay, has several places to eat. Admission is free. Families can go shopping, visit the aquarium and listen to live entertainment. A trolley offers transportation between the Pier and other sections of downtown St. Petersburg.

Tropicana Field, the first domed stadium in Florida, is the home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays and a location for other sports, concerts and special events.

Salvador Dali signature
Salvador Dali signature
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

St. Pete museums

Several museums in St. Petersburg offer family fun. Children shouldn't miss Great Explorations, The Hands On Museum. This is a museum where kids don't just look at the exhibits. They touch them, move them, explore them, and in the case of the climbing wall, actually become part of the exhibit. Great Explorations is near the Sunken Gardens.

Salvador Dali Museum features the world's largest collection of Dali art, outside Spain. Dali paintings, drawings and graphics depict his characteristic melting watches and haunting landscapes.

Other St. Petersburg museums include the Museum of Fine Arts, which displays paintings by French impressionists, and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. The Florida International Museum features Smithsonian Institution exhibitions.

Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa
Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Don CeSar

A fortune's worth of art also decorates the Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa at St. Pete Beach on Long Key. Dubbed "the Pink Palace," this bubble gum pink hotel resembles a Moorish castle. The 349-room hotel's historic setting and legendary service has attracted dozens of celebrities, including Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, Robert DeNiro, Carol Burnett and Tina Turner.

The Don Cesar is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can make appointments for history tours.

Pinellas Trail

From St. Petersburg, a 55-kilometer trail brings cyclists, walkers and in-line skaters through community parks to Tarpon Springs.

Walking along St. Pete Beach
Walking along St. Pete Beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located just north of Dunedin, Tarpon Springs is known for Greek restaurants and shops selling natural sponges. At the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, kids can pet the baby sharks and stingrays.

Now we know why so many visitors return year after year to Florida's Beach. The late renowned travel writer, James Michener, used to spend his winters in St. Petersburg. Few places can claim such an endorsement.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB: www.VisitStPeteClearwater.com

More things to see and do in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater & Tampa area:

Tampa Florida Museum Exhibit Blows You Away