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Beach bliss

Find your perfect Florida holiday

Clive Wedderburn June 6, 2016

Award winning coastlines, year round sunshine, a vibrant arts scene, mouth-watering cuisine and multiple activities for people of all ages; seriously – what’s not to like about Florida’s Gulf Coast?  We take a look at two Hayes and Jarvis favourites you really ought to put on your bucket list.

Tampa

Tampa is that very finest of things – a coastal city enriched with culture bursting with exciting things to do.   

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens is another fantastic reason to visit Tampa. Only 30 minutes’ drive from the beach this colossal African-themed amusement park is home to over 2700 animals, plus exhilarating rollercoasters including the Falcon’s Fury, and the Adventure Island waterpark.

Tampa wildlife

Animal lovers will find plenty to do in Tampa.  The Florida Aquarium is the perfect place to explore and learn about the mysteries of marine life, while Lowry Park Zoo – ranked the number one zoo in the USA by Parents’ Magazine – is full of animals from all over the world and a hospital that tends injured wild manatees.

Eating out in Tampa

For fantastic Spanish and Cuban cuisine head to Ybor City and the historic neighbourhood called La Setima (7th Avenue) to find some of Florida’s oldest restaurants, including the Columbia Restaurant which has been in the same family since 1905. There are also plenty of waterfront restaurants including Jackson’s Bistro, Bar & Sushi for American/Asian cuisine. North of downtown, Ulele offers guests magnificent sunsets over the Hillsborough River.

Party with pirates

During Gaspirilla season Tampa’s civilised image is ruffled by hordes of pirates descending on the city from all over the world. Expect swashbuckling buccaneers and madcap floats from January to March.

This friendly invasion reaches its peak when the tall ship Jose Gasparilla, escorted by a flotilla of small boats, docks in Tampa Bay and the pirate captain demands the mayor hand over the key to the city, signalling a victory parade through Tampa. The Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza and Gasparilla Pirate Fest takes place on 21 - 28 January 2017.

Tampa Riverwalk

Take a stroll along the four kilometre Tampa Riverwalk, a peaceful pedestrian passage that links key sights and attractions including the Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa Museum of Art, many restaurants and parks. Look out for Coast Bike Share, similar to Boris Bikes, as a convenient way to get around town.

Into the wild

For outdoor adventures explore the Hillsborough River area, an unspoilt estuary that’s perfect for exploring by canoe. There is so much wildlife to see including blue herons, wood storks and snowy egrets, also alligators, manatees and turtles near the Apollo Beach area and the TECO Manatee Viewing Center.

St. Pete / Clearwater

St. Pete/Clearwater is situated on a sun-drenched peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from Tampa Bay. Not only is it just 90 minutes from Orlando’s spectacular theme parks and a mere 30-minute drive from Tampa International Airport, but the destination also offers some of the best shorelines in the US. TripAdvisor’s number one and fourth best beaches in the USA are found here, Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach. With an average of 361 annual days of unadulterated sunshine you’ll soon appreciate why Florida is called the Sunshine State.

Eating out

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill offering open-air beachfront dining on Clearwater Beach is renowned for its freshly caught grouper. Or, if you’d like to hang out with the locals, try Palm Pavilion and their signature dish of ‘Gator Bites seasoned, dusted and fried to perfection and served with spicy Thousand Island sauce.

Or sun-gaze with a craft beer, burger and buffalo wings at Woody’s retro restaurant on St. Pete Beach. For casual dining and cocktails, Tate Island Grill provides live music and delectable Gulf Coast cuisine. 

If you’d like to extend your evening, St. Pete/Clearwater is renowned for its lively nightlife – perfect for evenings spent dancing under the stars.

Things to do in St. Pete/Clearwater

You’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do in St. Pete/Clearwater. Activities include safari sea-life cruises, kayaking and paddleboarding on the warm waters of the Gulf, fishing and cycling plus all the golf courses you can handle.

The Beaches of St. Pete/Clearwater

With 35 miles of spectacular award-winning white-sand beaches, you are sure to find the perfect spot to soak up the sun. From the pristine Caladesi Island in the North to Fort De Soto State Park in the South, there is a wide variety of amazing beaches where families and couples can play or relax next to the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

For nature lovers wanting isolation and perhaps to spot the odd osprey silhouetted against cloudless skies you’ll find paradise on Honeymoon Island State Park. With just a short boat trip away, why not also visit Caladesi Island, a castaway sand island, a perfect spot to enjoy all of the natural surroundings.

Clearwater Beach has fantastic amenities from volleyball to watersports with seafood restaurants lining the shoreline. Madeira Beach has that classic boardwalk vibe. A stroll along ‘Mad Beach’ will take you past shops and restaurants – rent a jet ski here or charter a boat for the best game fishing. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous there’s always Jetlev – rocket powered flight thirty feet above the water on St. Pete Beach. For a more laid back approach, just head for Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach and experience musicians, performers and beautiful sunsets with a cocktail or two for company.

Voted TripAdvisor’s No.1 Beach Destination in the USA Clearwater Beach is popular but with an attractive small-town vibe.

Shell Key Preserve is found in the mouth of Tampa Bay and is the perfect spot to spy migrating and nesting birds – a perfect sanctuary with no facilities but the one Mother Nature provides.

Arts districts

For culture vultures there are five Arts Districts to explore in downtown St. Petersburg including the Waterfront Arts District which is home to the Museum of Fine Arts, and the stunning Dali Museum housing the largest collection of the surrealist master’s work outside of Spain.

The Pinellas Trail

Explore the Pinellas trail by bicycle – nearly 38 miles of scenic pleasure linking many communities, including Tarpon Springs, a small fishing town that’s almost a throwback to an old Greek fishing village. Or explore the delights of Dunedin, the Scottish inspired artist community for gallery-hopping and antique shopping.

 

Visit our Florida pages for more inspiration for your holidays in the Sunshine State.