St. Petersburg, or "St. Pete" as the locals call it, sits between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. On the Bay side, downtown St. Pete is laid out on a square grid of numbered streets and avenues, making it easy to find fun things to do both kids and parents will enjoy - The Pier, Great Explorations and more. Long narrow barrier islands create the western border of St. Petersburg, and here's where you'll find white-sand family beaches.
The Pier - This entertainment complex juts out into Tampa Bay from downtown. There's an aquarium, lots of restaurants, a food court, shops, surrey bike rentals and dolphin watch boat tours here.
The Dolphin Queen
sets off for 90-minute cruises through Tampa Bay every day of the week. They guarantee you will see dolphins, but you may also get a glimpse of sharks, rays, and manatees as they pass by the coast guard station and bird sanctuary.
The Pier Aquarium
is the highlight for younger kids. Smaller than other area aquariums, it's entertaining for an hour or so, with eight tanks of sea life including a touch tank.
Tropicana Field - The Tampa Bay Rays call this baseball stadium home. You can go to afternoon or evening games during the April-October season, and purchase tickets in advance online. Kids get to run the bases after Sunday games. Check out the Rays Rookies Kids Club page on their web site.
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center - Start your visit to this 3,700 acre preserve at the exhibits in the natural history center. Guided nature walks follow an elevated boardwalk over tidal flats and saltwater ponds, look for fish in the water and shorebirds. Climb the wooden staircase up to the observation tower, you'll be treated to great views across the Bay to the City of Tampa.
Great Explorations Children's Museum - This children's museum has exhibits and activities for toddlers as well as older children, including a climbing wall, a raceway where kids build their own race car, an interactive vet's office, a supermarket and firehouse. It's a great alternative to outdoor activities, admission is reasonably priced.
- Next door to the museum is a four-acre botanical garden where kids can feed the koi fish or visit the flamingos, parrots, and four-foot-long alligator snapping turtle. (Buy a combination ticket for the museum and gardens.)
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve - If your family enjoys nature walks, there are three miles of trails and boardwalks. Take a guided nature walk, then visit the bird of prey aviary, picnic areas, playground and gift shop. It opens early so you can enjoy the outdoors before the midday heat.
St. Pete Beaches -
You may be surprised to find chilly waters off the gulf coast, but the temperature does drop from November through March. It's usually not enough to deter the enthusiasm of kids, who can still dip their feet and play in the sand. Be sure to bring lots of sunscreen to last the day, water, sunglasses and hats, snacks, insect repellent, and sand toys. If you're not staying on the beachfront, prepare to find a parking space, feed a meter, and walk a short distance with all your gear to the beach.
Fort De Soto Park Beach
- A beautiful clean beach with sand dunes on crystalline blue waters. A sandbar separates the beach from deep water, leaving a shallow pool perfect for toddlers. Amenities include shaded picnic area, snack bar, and restrooms with showers. There's no admission fee, only tolls on access roads. Fort De Soto was originally an outpost during the Spanish-American War, and you can still visit the old fort
and see the huge cannons.
- There are actually three beaches on this island: Treasure Island Beach is the wider, more developed middle beach. Sunshine and Sunset beaches are the quieter stretches at either end. You can rent a cabana as a home base and source of shade. There are also covered picnic tables, a sundry shop, and volleyball nets.
- This wide beach is frequented by local parents, a sure sign of kid approval. It's just north of St. Pete Beach, offering a break from the row of hotel towers. There are no lifeguards on duty, but the Gulf of Mexico waters are relatively calm. The Seaside Grille offers quick, casual meals.
St. Pete Beach
- Running nearly five miles along sparkling clear water, this soft, white sand beach is great for long walks. It's lined with hotels, most notably the historic pink Don CeSar Resort, where you can enjoy a special lunch even if you're not an overnight guest. You have to find public access points between the buildings to reach the beach. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and there are playgrounds on the beach.
- The southernmost beach, just south of St. Pete Beach. It's a quiet, relaxing vibe here and few crowds. Public amenities include bathrooms, outdoor showers and a snack bar serving kid-friendly fare. At the end of the day, the famous Hurricane Seafood Restaurant is a great place to eat grouper sandwiches on the roof and watch the sunset.