Movie star dolphins, cool art, independent shops, nightly festivals and legendary hotels are just some of the uplifting reasons to take your kids to St.Pete/Clearwater this year. Emma Kirham reports
Where better to escape the UK drizzle than a break in sunny St. Pete/Clearwater on Florida’s Gulf coast? A short hop from Tampa airport and you are greeted by miles of gentle waves, warm waters (a few degrees warmer than the Atlantic coast) and white powder-sand beaches. Clearwater Beach has been voted the best beach in the USA two years running now.
It’s also home to the impressive Clearwater Marine Aquarium, always a hit with kids. The star of the show here is Winter the Dolphin, who was rescued at two months old, and now sports a state-of-the-art prosthetic tail and takes the lead in two Dolphin Tale movies.
For an exciting swashbuckling adventure, sign up for Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise on Clearwater Beach. Aboard the Pirate’s Ransom take in the views from the deck whilst young buccaneers compete in games and a treasure hunt. Be warned, this two-hour sunset cruise gets booked up well in advance.
Another great place to catch the famous Floridian sunset is at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach with a nightly festival, open two hours before and two hours after sunset. There’s entertainment a-plenty with street food, buskers and craft stalls, and don’t forget a blanket as there is also a free after-dark cinema screening family-friendly movies. All you need to buy is the popcorn.
For culture vultures and foodies, the jewel in the crown is the fiercely independent city of St. Pete which campaigned and won to remain free from chain, fast food restaurants. St. Pete is far too cool for them and has shaken off its old adage of ‘God’s Waiting Room’, making it a hotspot for families. It’s brand new $80 million pier is opening in the spring, and will be the southeast Florida’s largest waterfront playground bringing entertainment and dining, as well as a marine-themed playground featuring a giant wooden Kraken with tentacles for the little ones to scramble over.
A short walk away to Downtown St. Pete and you’ll notice many of the old apartments buildings have been torn down and old homes have been restored, making way for interesting independent shops, coffee shops, bars and restaurants, along with cool public art and a very laid-back family-friendly feel.
In the ‘Sunshine City’ of St. Pete, art is all around, and it’s your opportunity to introduce your kids to the delights of surrealism, being home to the famous Dali Museum on the Tampa Bay waterfront, holding the biggest collection of his art outside of Spain. The recently opened James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art has hundreds of contemporary and traditional works taking families through the rich and diverse heritage of the American West.
Strolling around St. Pete you can’t fail to notice the plethora of colourful and instagrammable murals adorning every available building. With more than 70 urban murals in the small EDGE area, it’s worth booking in with local art legend Derek Donnelly for a private tour to hear the stories behind the eye-catching and sometimes provocative works.
Just one more gallery that definitely needs a visit before hitting the beach is The Chihuly Collection. Dale Chihuly’s awe-inspiring giant installations have hung over the canals of Venice and last summer in London’s Kew Gardens, his impressive permanent collection resides here in downtown St. Pete.
When you have had your fill of culture, head south to St. Pete Beach and to the four-star Don CeSar Hotel. The historic Art Deco pink palace overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and has been the stomping ground of celebrities past and present from legendary American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald to pop star, Justin Bieber. The Beach House Suites are perfect for families and the wide white sandy beach of St. Pete Beach is seldom crowded and right on your doorstep.
How to get there
Fly from London Gatwick to Tampa from £159.90 one-way with Norwegian Airlines.
Where to stay
Don CeSar Beach Suites costs from £149 up to £523 in high season per night with breakfast for 2 Adults + 1 Child (0-6)
Guided mural tours
Florida CraftArt holds mural art tours with local artists, £14 adult, £8 (aged 6-18), free for under 5s.