What makes a great family destination? Well, a family of course. We all define family differently. Rick and his wife, Denise, have two 20-something daughters. My husband, Ralph, and I have a grown daughter and two granddaughters. No matter who makes up your family, Clearwater Beach is a great place to spend your family vacation.
They don’t call Clearwater Beach the sugar sand beach for nothing. The sand is truly that, sweet sugary sand otherwise known as nature’s pedicure. A walk along this magnificent stretch of beach will do wonders for your sole/soul.
Getting around the area is easy and inexpensive, as you can catch the Jolley Trolley just about anywhere on the beach. It runs from 10am to 10pm Sunday through Thursday and until midnight and Friday and Saturday nights. The trolley costs $4.50 for a daily pass (kids 5 and under free) or a $20.00 for a weekly pass that includes unlimited rides, including all connections.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the movie, A Dolphins Tale. Preserving marine life through education, research, rescue, rehabilitation and release, the aquarium has numerous programs to get up close with marine life. We had the pleasure of getting wet with Winter on a recent visit. This was not a swim-with-the-dolphins kind of experience but instead more of an educational and interactive one. We got to assist Winter’s trainer on the encounter platform in the pool. The aquarium offers several different hands-on experiences where you can have similar, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list moments.
Viewfinder Tip: Ditch the rental car and get around Clearwater on the Jolley Trolley.
Water is everywhere in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, so there’s no better way to experience the coast than by hopping on a boat. There are many excursions to choose from. I’m not a fan of rough seas or fast boats so the Tropics Boat Tour was the perfect fit for me. The outfitter offers several different trips daily and guarantees Bottlenose Dolphin sightings. The trip I took brought me back to 1964, when one of my favorite television shows was “Flipper.” The tour also was informative, as the captain shared tidbits and facts about the natural wonders – and celebrity mansions – along the Gulf Coast.
For the more adventurous types like Rick, there’s the Sea Screamer. With dual twin-turbocharged diesel engines, this is the world’s largest speedboat. Zipping past the beaches and resorts, spraying its passengers with mist from the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea Screamer is an exhilarating mix of comfort and speed.
If you want to get physical, try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing). For beginners, many outfitters offer lessons (on average, you’ll be standing in about 15 minutes). Anyone can do this activity, even if you’re not strong or fit. This, of course, is music to my ears.
While Clearwater Beach is renowned for its glistening white sand, the region does not have the best waves for surfing. Perhaps this explains the Flowrider, a jet-propelled attraction that creates waves to give you the experience of surfing. The Flowrider is encased by glass and located smack dab in the middle of the SurfStyle surf and souvenir store, which means you’re pretty much on display every time you give it a try. Since Rick has vowed to try surfing again, I thought this would be the perfect place for him to start.
Finally, Clearwater Beach is great fun at night. “Sunsets at Pier 60” is daily festival that celebrates, well, the sunset. This nightly celebration is a free, family-friendly event that takes place in Pier 60 Park in the center of Clearwater Beach. There always is a healthy complement of buskers (street performers) such as magicians, fire-eaters, stilt walkers, break-dancers, performing pets, and more. You’ll also find musical entertainment and artisans selling their wares. If you happen to be there on Friday or Saturday night, the pier also shows movies on a jumbo screen. “Sunset Cinema,” as it’s called, is a great place to picnic under the stars. Another benefit: it’s totally free.
How do you make the most of a family vacation on the beach?