Family vacations are one of those things you’ll never regret, but finding an affordable getaway that promises adventure, sandy beaches and culture all in one? It’s not impossible and you don’t even need a passport: we recently escaped to St. Petersburg, Florida (or St. Pete, as the locals know it) and we’re here to tell you that you can achieve your family vacation goals this year. Read on for eight very good reasons St. Pete should be your next trip.
1. The Beach
The perfect formula for a family vacation is to find at least one thing that makes each person happy. Or you can go to the beach (which makes everyone happy at once). St. Pete Beach is one of the most beautiful and accessible beaches in Florida (home to many gorgeous beaches!). Located on the Gulf of Mexico side (just a short ride away from the heart of St. Petersburg), the kids can scoop and splash all day, you can chill in a cabana (bring along that novel! We packed two!) or go paddle boarding and parasailing, all without having to so much as hop in the car. There’s truly something for everyone.
2. The Accommodations
St. Pete Beach has no shortage of beach-front or just-off-the-beach properties, from budget motels to grandiose palaces. Where you stay can make or break a family vaycay, but don’t get overwhelmed: just book a room at the Sirata Beach Resort. We stayed here on our recent trip and it gets a thumbs up recommendation from our family and all the families we met. Not only is it affordable (rooms start at just $159 a night) it’s right on the beach and extremely family-friendly. They just completed a renovation in January of 2019 and parents will find the rooms spacious and comfy, many with kitchenettes and awesome views of the Gulf of Mexico.
You will also find onsite: two heated pools, three restaurants (that range from sand-in-the-feet casual to fine dining) a jacuzzi, cabanas on the beach with drink + menu service and, of course, a wide expanse of white sand beach. This is one of the only properties along this stretch that actually owns a big piece of the beach and that means you have first-dibs on some of the finest scooping, chilling and splashing around. They even have a book library so you can fulfill that dream of reading in a hammock. Book online at sirata.com
Good to know: Rooms offer the option for you to log in with your own Amazon Prime or Netlfix account (all info is deleted upon check out) so the kids can watch exactly what they want when you’re winding down in the evenings.
3. The Range of Kid-Friendly Options
Should you find you’d like to venture off the beach, you won’t have to go far to please the crew. The Sirata Beach Resort has a Sprouts Kid’s Club game where you can all play together and an Extreme Gaming room featuring an Xbox-One. There are also daily crafts for kids! You’ll find a the newly designed Sprouts Splash Zone play area with a nice, high fence and chairs for parents to lounge.
Even the design of the hotel is fun for the kids: rooms offer either a beach view or a city view, there’s tons of art and hideaways to explore (they will love the poolside hanging chair garden.) You'll even find a playground right on the beach. Parents and older kids will appreciate volleyball, beach yoga and live music.
Don’t miss: The resort has bikes available for your use to explore Pass-a-Grille Beach or elsewhere. You can also arrange a boat excursion, dolphin cruise or parasailing tour with Suncoast Watersports from a kiosk located on the beach almost directly in front of the Rum Runners Bar & Grille. They say kids as young as three and kids-at-heart as old as 81 have embarked on parasailing adventures with them!
Good to know: The resort is also 100% pet-friendly!
4. Downtown St. Pete Arts District
On the grounds of the resort you’ll find two murals painted by local artist Derek Donnelly. If you like what you see then you must explore downtown St. Pete. Book a walking tour to see the amazing array of murals sure to wow the kids or just explore on foot. Saunter along Central Avenue North to shop artisan wares and dine on local gourmet treats before exploring even more art: you’ll find the Morean Arts Center which offers daily glass blowing demos, their Chihuly Collection which is right across the street, and Florida CraftArt —all less than five minutes from each other.
Don’t Miss: If you find yourself there on a weekend, head all the way down Central Avenue North to the waterfront to hit up the local St. Petersburg Saturday Market.
5. The Salvador Dali Museum
You can’t really have too much exposure to awesome art, right? Don’t visit St. Pete without bringing the kids to the whimsical, wonderful Salvador Dali Museum. From the sculpture garden to the main galleries, just the design of the museum itself will invoke their spirit of imagination. Be sure and visit the Education Room (main floor) where they can create a masterpiece of their own. And trust us, you haven’t really “seen” a Dali until you’ve seen one through the eyes of a 5-year-old.
6. The Food
We’re not going to lie: the food options at the Sirata offer enough range and variety that we were hard pressed to eat elsewhere. Foodie-loving locals come from all over to dine at the Compass Grille, the fanciest of the Sirata’s three eateries. But don’t think you have to bust out a suit and tie: it’s beach-fancy and kids are super welcome. They also offer a daily breakfast menu, starting at 7 a.m. Fresh local seafood is abundant on all the restaurant menus. Parents can’t go wrong with Harry’s Beach Bar (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.). It’s been consistently ranked as one of the Top 5 Florida Beach Bars and comes with a killer view and the aforementioned poolside hanging chair garden. Kids will find all kinds of easy-to-eat delights from pretzel bites to burgers. And Rum Runners Bar & Grille might be one of the best places along the entire of St. Pete Beach to catch the sunset (they’ll light a fire and you can order right from a cozy beachfront Adirondack chair: Ask for Rafiqa!)
Venture off property to eat at one place in St. Pete and we promise you will not be disappointed. FarmTable Cucina (179 2nd Ave N., St. Petersburg) is not only one of the best restaurants in the area, it’s arguably one of the best restaurants we’ve visited, period. With a menu by chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, the Italian-inspired dishes are comprised of locally grown and sustainably obtained ingredients, and you can taste it in every bite. It's casual, it's family style and yet it feels like a beautiful indulgence. Located above LOCALE market, you can pick up some Florida-harvested sea salt to take home.
Pssst: Wine Wednesdays mean bottles of wine are half-priced so hop a cab over from the Sirata and live it up.
7. Fort DeSoto Park
If you’re up for some further adventures, a short car ride away is Fort DeSoto State Beach where you can rent paddle boards and kayaks to explore the park and the mangrove forests with the kids. The waters are typically very calm and gentle. There are also tons of trails, including many that are stroller-friendly and cool things like old canons to explore. You will need a car or taxi to access this area.
8. An Excuse to Indulge
The iconic 1920s “pink palace,” the Don Cesar, is just a delightful 1.5 mile walk down the beach (or hop on a bike and cruise down in a few minutes flat) from the Sirata. The great news is you can book a treatment at Spa Oceana even if you’re not a hotel guest. You can treat yo’ self to a massage or a mani-pedi and then eat lunch in the rooftop garden patio.
Insider tip: Monday through Thursdays, non-hotel guests can gain access to the Don Cesar’s spa with a $30 day pass. This allows you use of the sauna, steam room and other spa facilities. Hotel guests can obtain this pass any day of the week.
Getting There & Around
Look for flights into Tampa, the nearest major airport and then arrange a car service to bring you directly to the hotel (for a fee). Sirata Beach Resort partners with Resort Transportation Services, 727-343-3303. They can pick you up at the airport and take you directly to the front door of the resort. They have booster seats, car seats and infant seats too. (Just request one when booking your ride.)
It is possible to experience St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach without a car. Once on site, you can use Free Beach Ride to get you a ride to places like downtown St. Pete or the Dali Museum. Ask the hotel concierge to hook you up. To get to the Fort DeSoto State Park you may need a cab or Uber since Free Beach Ride doesn’t take you all the way into the park.
If you rent a car, your stay at the Sirata includes overnight parking.
Looking for more ways to while away the days in the St. Pete area? Check out visitstpeteclearwater.com
Book online at the sirata.com for the best deals.
Portions of this trip were paid for by Sirata Beach Resort and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida but all opinions expressed here are the author’s own.