Tampa, St Pete’s and Clearwater – new Florida favourites
There’s no doubt about it, Orlando is spectacular and I doubt anyone could actually get bored or tired of it as there’s just so much fun to be had in the world-class parks dotted around the city. And really, who could ever grow tired of Disney? However, if like me, you’ve been numerous times and the kids are getting bigger, maybe it’s time to look at other parts of the Sunshine State.
There’s something really magical about the Florida vibe and it’s one of my favourite places in the world. Every holiday I have had there has been simply amazing but I felt it was time to check out some of the other Florida hotspots now that I’m middle aged with teenagers who were starting to act too cool for Mickey & co (even if I was still spellbound by my Disney friends)!
We’re all still hopelessly in love with Florida but it felt like the right time to move on from Orlando and perhaps try something slightly more grown up but still have access to some thrills and spills if we want them. This year we opted for the gulf coast resorts of St Petersburg and Clearwater on a twin centre beach holiday and we found the ideal solution to our dilemma. We’re a family of sun worshippers and love nothing better than chilling by the pool or splashing around on the shore but we also like a bit of action and this holiday gave us the perfect combo of beach life and city biz. And, dare I boast, but I actually had two weeks of harmony and not a cross word was said among my travelling companions which includes two temperamental teens – good work I hear you say!
So, our first port of call was Clearwater – a beautiful spot on this sun-kissed peninsula which separates the Gulf of Mexico from Tampa Bay. I was dazzled by the crystal-clear waters (yes it lives up to its name) as they lapped at the sugary soft sands of the award-winning beach. Even the name Clearwater just conjures up lovely images of an idyllic spot, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that this paradise was less than two hours’ drive from Orlando – and this is a good point actually.
Tampa is the closest international airport for Clearwater but if you’re tied to Orlando flights due to dates or regional departures from the UK, don’t be put off. We flew into Orlando and drove here. It was honestly no trouble. The roads are easy to navigate and the passing scenery was pleasant. All I would say is perhaps have an overnight in Orlando to get a sleep after the long flight and when you get up the next morning, you’ll be more refreshed and ready to hit the road. We drove straight from the airport but if truth be told, we were exhausted and I wasn’t even doing the driving.
Our base in Clearwater for our first week was the Marriot Suites on Sand Key. A stunning hotel with beautiful views and a calm, happy and chilled vibe about the place. I was happy to spend my time hanging around the pool but the boys went off in search of adventure most days. From the adjoining promenade, there are jet skis for hire and across the road you can enjoy some fun in the sun on Sand key beach.
If there’s one thing you should not miss is the mind-blowing sunsets seen from Clearwater beach. By early evening, everyone gathers on Pier 60 to watch the dazzling display of colours in the sky as the sun goes down on another perfect day.
Rich pinks and purples blend with fiery orange, casting the most amazing light across the beach. Sunset on Pier 60 is almost a ritual and a must for anyone who visits these shores. There’s also a handy (and very cute!) trolley bus which leaves from the hotel and takes guests over to the Pier.
As well as lazing around on the sugar white sands of Clearwater’s magnificent beaches, there’s also plenty of fun to be had if you’re looking for a change of pace.In under an hour, you can still get your fix of rides and high octane fun – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
For our second week, we moved on to St Petersburg (or St Pete’s as it’s affectionately known) which was roughly 20 miles away. Although the beaches were as beautiful and the chilled, tropical vibe was similar to Clearwater, there was also a different flavour to this resort and it definitely appealed to me.
I must admit to liking a little injection of culture on any of my holidays and I wasn’t disappointed here. Surprised maybe, but pleased to find so much focus on cultural activities and history. Along with its spectacular beaches, St Pete’s is also home to the world-famous Salvador Dali Museum, and there seemed to be a real thriving arts and culture scene here and this is reflected in the number of fine attractions and museums on offer such as:
- The Museum of Fine Arts
- Salvador Dali Museum
- St Petersburg Museum of History
- The Florida Holocaust Museum
- Morean Arts Centre
You don’t even have to visit a gallery to see some astonishing works of arts – stroll around downtown St Petersburg and admire the outdoor paintings or take the Mural Tour of St Pete’s and hear the stories behind the creation of each one.
There are some great hotels in this neck of the woods but we chose the Beach House Suites by The Don Cesar. A stunning beach front location and beautifully furnished accommodation – highly recommended. The view from our room is something that I still miss today! I got used to waking up to the sound of the water lapping at the beach and gazing out over the turquoise blue waters as I enjoyed my first coffee of the day!
These two resorts really hit the spot for us this year and we might go back next year – or if the Florida bug is still biting, we might travel further south and ‘do’ Miami or the Keys – both are firmly on my bucket list.
If you need any help booking a Florida twin centre take a look at some of these tour operators who offer Clearwater and St Petersburg.
I am a travel crazy mother trying to suit the needs of a family of thrill seekers and culture vultures, there’s no where I won’t go. I dream of travel and I live to travel, all whilst holding a day job and organising my family.