It is no mystery to many Florida’s Gulf Coast is a beautiful place to visit with wonderful weather. We were lucky enough to spend 5 weeks in this area after our first child. This afforded us with the opportunity to hit up every town in that area: Clearwater, Tampa Bay, St. Pete’s, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, New Port Richey, Hudson and Indian Rock to name just a few.
We found ourselves quite surprised by the diverse options of places to explore. Quite often, none of these activities required a theme park admission and many of them included exploring Florida’s beautiful natural outdoors. If you’re looking for kid-friendly activities in Florida’s Gulf Coast, consider our suggestions below.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
If you are looking for manatees, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the place to go! The park is a manatee sanctuary with even an underwater observatory. There are also a ton of other wildlife here, including alligators, bald eagles and, our favourite, Lu the hippo.
The park adventure starts with a fun boat ride where volunteers give a little history lesson about the park. After that there are no shortage of things to do with trails for hiking, geocaching, birding and tours to keep you busy.
Consider bringing a lunch for a picnic to make a whole day of it. A concession stand is available for those who would like to buy lunch.
The park is open every day of the year from 9 am to 5:30 pm. Admission costs only $13 for adults and $5 for children aged 6-12. Kids age 5 and under are free!
Weeki Wachee State Park
If you’ve ever wanted to see a live underwater mermaids show, Weeki Wachee State Park is the place to go! At this park, live performers dress up as mermaids and perform several shows throughout the day over the natural hot spring.
If the live underwater performances are not your thing, there are animals shows to learn about domestic birds and reptiles. You can take a boat tour for a chance to see some wildlife, including manatees. For those looking for more physical activity, rent a canoe or kayak to explore the river at your own pace. On warmer days, bring your swimming gear to enjoy swimming in the Buccaneer Bay swimming area that is fed by the natural hot Springs. A sandy beach and water slides are included in this area giving plenty for the kids to enjoy.
The park is open 365 days a year from 9 am to 5:30 pm. With admission set at $13 for adults and $8 for kids aged 6-12. Kids age 5 and under free.
We found the farmer’s markets on Florida’s gulf coast to be really great and enjoyable. Visiting a farmers market is a great way to see real communities when you are travelling. The Tampa Bay Markets website has a great list of local markets not just in Tampa but also the surrounding areas.
We visited the Fresh Market at Hyde Park Village and met some wonderful local farmers and a few great foodie finds. Plus there were some stands that focused on kids and a few activities and samples for the kids too. Then at the end of the day we took our delicious finds back to our apartment and had a great dinner.
During the spring training its easy to grab a ball games in Florida. Our beloved Toronto Blue Jays spend spring training in Dunedin. Or if you are going to be in the Tampa Bay area you can see New York Yankees at their spring training stadium. Games are usually cheaper then when the teams are playing at home and the ball diamonds are often smaller allowing you to see more of the action.
The beaches on the Florida’s gulf coast have been labelled as some of the best in the world. If you are looking for beaches with lots to see and do, you can head to Clearwater Beach that feels like it goes for miles with its beautiful white sand. There is also a boardwalk and lots of restaurants and shops to enjoy during your visit. If, however, you are looking for a quieter beach, head to Honeymoon Island State Park for their beautiful beaches. Still not enough? Take a ferry to Caladesi Island for beaches that have been voted the best in the world.
Tarpon Springs is a town that boast not one but two awesome facts. First, it has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US (according to Wikipedia). Secondly, it is also known as the ‘sponge capital of the world’.
Because of these two cool facts, there are two things that are a must for every visitor of Tarpon Springs… eat Greek Food and buy sponges! But there are also lots of other things to do in Tarpon Springs too. There is a small aquarium for the little ones to enjoy or hop onto one of the boat tours and explore the waters.
Eat Some Local Grub
Florida’s Gulf Coast have some local ‘delicacies’ that you might not find at home. If you have ever wanted to try alligator, this would be your chance. Personally, we passed up that opportunity in favour of a catfish supper with hush puppies. Be sure to go to Ron’s BBQ Pit-Stop in Hudson for a memorable meal and experience.
There are lots of great restaurant along the coast. Many of them with incredible waterfront views. But there are also lots of great places to grab some fresh seafood and make your own feast at home too.
In summary, Florida’s Gulf Coast makes a terrific family vacation destination. It is not completely tourist driven, like Orlando, and offers plenty of hidden gems to explore.
If you’re considering a longer stay or planning to limit your stay to Tampa, consider buying a CityPASS that gives you admission to all the major attractions of Tampa for one-low price.
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