The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is famous for its calm, kid-safe Gulf waters (like you'll find around top-rated Fort De Soto Park) and for its fun family activities (like the nightly sunset festival at Clearwater Beach's Pier 60). But the area has much more to offer, too: attractions and activities that will entertain kids of all kinds, and stimulate and shape who they become.
You've seen them on TV and in aquariums, but it doesn't compare to seeing dolphins surface beside your boat. Amateur biologists can accompany a pro on Clearwater Marine Aquarium's Sea Life Safari Nature Cruise and learn about marine life. Back at the aquarium, don't miss Winter the dolphin, who gained global fame after being rescued from a crab trap. She lost her tail but has managed – amazingly – to survive under the aquarium's care. The dolphin has received a prosthetic tail from a local prosthetics company, and the aquarium has developed a program that brings disabled children and amputees to visit the dolphin for inspiration.
If you can't get enough of dolphins, take a thrilling ride aboard the Dolphin Racer in St. Pete Beach or sail among the beloved mammals on a quiet luxury yacht cruise from Dolphin Landings on St. Pete Beach. Want your own boat? Kayak the sunny channels and shady mangrove tunnels of Fort De Soto Park and look for wildlife.
One of Florida's oldest residents, the American Alligator, prefers freshwater and you may likely spot one gliding across Lake Maggiore at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg. An interactive exhibit there teaches about the wildlife and vegetation you can see along the preserve's paths. For a colorful biology lesson, visit historic Sunken Gardens, where velvety wings fill the air inside the butterfly garden.
Kids of all ages love ghost towns, and one with a beach is a recipe for hearty adventure and sweet relaxation. Wander the empty brick streets and let the kids climb ruins of the fort on Egmont Key, then hang out on its pristine beaches. The island at the mouth of Tampa Bay held a fort and town of 300 during the early 20th century. Today it crawls with box turtles and is still home to a working lighthouse. A ferry runs daily from Fort De Soto Park.
About the only thing that can compete with a ghost town is a ghost tale. By the light of a lantern, a cape-clad, costumed storyteller with Ghost Tours of St. Petersburg & Tampa Bay leads the intrepid through the shadows of St. Petersburg's supernatural history. Older kids are more likely to appreciate the history and not be too frightened. If you prefer the daylight, take the family on a fun-filled Segway tour of the St. Petersburg waterfront.
For other more scientific and cultural explorations, voyage on a sponge boat with the St. Nicholas' Boat Line in Tarpon Springs, or let the kids learn how to build a tree house (and climb to one) at Great Explorations, the Children's Museum adjacent to Sunken Gardens.
Future Sports Players
Whether they're aspiring athletes or simply sports fans, there are plenty of venues for kids to get their game on. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, not only gives kids a chance to watch the baseball pros but also has things to amuse them if they get restless. Kids can take swings against computer images of Major League pitchers or touch the smooth skin of a live Manta Ray swimming in the Rays Touch Tank.
Kids awe as the nation's top volleyball players spike the ball on Clearwater Beach. The nets aren't just for pros. Bring your own ball and sunscreen for a family game.
For a little nostalgia and a break on the wallet, try the retro-style St. Pete Shuffle downtown. Listen to music, enjoy the warm weather and play that classic game of shuffleboard – all for free.
There are pirates in these waters, and they might just be your kids – at least for a couple of hours. The crew on The Pirate Ship at John's Pass Village & Boardwalk and Capt. Memo's Pirate Cruise on Clearwater Beach indulge kids' swashbuckling fantasies as mom and dad relax to the backdrop of a Gulf cruise and possibly a sunset. Young pirates can get their faces painted, have water gun battles and hunt for treasure.
And when the kids just want to relax and be kids, there's always the beach and the business of building sandcastles, collecting seashells and bobbing in the waves.