Sandy beaches, wildlife, fresh seafood, water sports—all can be part of a St. Pete’s beach vacation. As most visitors to the area take a seven-night vacation, here are the top seven things to do that cost no more than a sand dollar.
These attractions include plenty of public beaches, outdoor recreation, and cultural activities for all types of travelers, free to visitors of all ages. They are scattered throughout the region, and appeal to a wide variety of travel tastes. Whether you choose to do one activity per day or pack several into a long-weekend getaway, these picks can help build a fun, affordable vacation.
Seven free activities
- Relax on the beach: The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area has 35 miles of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Most are available to the public at no charge, although some may have nominal parking or ferry fees. The choices are diverse, too. Visitors can plan any type of Florida beach vacation here, including spending time on family-friendly shores with kids’ activities and playgrounds, relaxing on more remote beaches that have hiking and biking trails, or choosing romantic spots featuring waterfront restaurants. Visit Florida’s Beach.com to get a synopsis of the beaches available.
- See wild birds at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary: The sanctuary, also a nonprofit avian hospital, hosts more than 500 birds throughout the year. Species include owls, pelicans, and rare woodpeckers, among many others. Visitors can also learn about the sanctuary’s education and rehabilitation programs. Admission is always free, and tours are available on Wednesdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information, check out the Seabird Sanctuary website.
- Celebrate the sunset in Clearwater Beach: Every evening, Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach hosts a free sunset celebration with live music and entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, and concession stands along the pier. There’s also a playground right on the beach for kids. The festival runs each night from two hours before sunset to two hours afterward. Schedules and information can be found on the Pier 60 website.
- Explore Fort De Soto Park: Located on the county’s southwestern tip, Fort De Soto Park features clean beaches; an extensive walking, biking, and rollerblading trail; nature trails with free guided tours; and a historic fort dating back to the Spanish-American War. This year, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. “Dr. Beach,” rated Fort De Soto America’s number one beach. The park has plenty of picnic areas, restrooms and water fountains, play areas, and a snack bar. Guests can also rent canoes or kayaks to head out on the water. There’s no charge to enter the park, however, you will need to pay 85 cents in tolls to get there. Find more details on the park and historic fort at Fort De Soto.com.
- Be Greek for a day in Tarpon Springs: “It’s impossible to get a bad meal in Tarpon Springs,” says George Billiris, man-about-town and owner of the Billiris Sponge Warehouse. Known for its Greek cultural heritage and the sponge industry, Tarpon Springs offers fine dining and casual restaurants (many Greek, of course), lots of gift and antique shops, historic churches, and the sponge docks. There’s no charge to enter the town or see the sights, although you may want to splurge on souvenirs, a sponge boat tour, or an authentic Greek meal. You also may be able to take in a sponge auction on the docks, free of charge, if one is scheduled for the day you visit. TarponSprings.com features area information, restaurant and attractions listings, and discount coupons.
- Try orange, grapefruit, or even carrot wine: Florida Orange Groves & Winery, the only citrus winery in the state, offers an unusual collection of citrus, tropical, vegetable, and berry wines. The winery is open daily for free tastings and tours, and also has an extensive gift shop. Get a pre-sampling of available vintages, directions, and more at FloridaWine.com.
- Explore the Pinellas Trail: The Pinellas Trail runs 47 miles along the county, starting in Tarpon Springs and ending in St. Petersburg. At no cost, visitors can bike, rollerblade, walk, or jog, stopping at interesting towns and beaches along the way. Spend an afternoon just off the trail in Dunedin, a Scottish town with antique shops, restaurants, and art galleries, or cool off in between stretches with a jump in the Gulf. Read the online guide to the Pinellas Trail to plan what you’ll explore.
When to go
St. Petersburg/Clearwater’s weather is sunny, warm, and hurricane-free from January through April, although it’s also when the prices are highest and the area is full of tourists. September through December usually experiences pleasant weather, the smallest crowds, and the most affordable rates of the year, particularly for accommodations. However, tropical storms and hurricanes can hit between September and November, so plan accordingly.
Getting to St. Pete
To get to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, fly into either Tampa International Airport, a half-hour drive away, or the smaller St. Petersburg airport. Low-cost carriers serving Tampa include Delta Song, JetBlue, and Southwest. Additionally, check SmarterTravel.com for last-minute airfares to either [% 61293 | | Tampa %] or [% 63433 | | St. Petersburg %]. The area is also about 85 miles west of Orlando, an easy drive away.
Once there, a car is necessary to get from point to point. If you’re flying, both airports host multiple rental car agencies with plenty of options. Many hotels and beaches charge a nominal fee for parking, so call in advance to budget accordingly. The county also operates a bus and trolley system, which serves the beaches and other stops throughout the area.
Where to stay
For accommodations, there are many choices, from four-star resorts to budget motels. The area also has a variety of B&Bs and rental condos or homes for those wanting a more intimate beach vacation.
Additionally, expect to pay more if you stay right on the beach. If you stay at a resort, inquire about per-day fees in addition to your room rate. For extra savings, consider a business-class hotel not on the beach. Many have discounts for week-long or weekend stays, have lower occupancy on weekends, and are generally cheaper per-night than their beachfront counterparts. Expect to pay anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars per night, depending on location, property class, and amenities.
Find a listing of area hotels on Florida’s Beach.com.
Whenever you visit, you’ll find St. Pete’s offers plenty of choices for a relaxed, inexpensive vacation. And by checking out the area’s free attractions, you may be able to take plenty of sand dollars—and real ones, too—home as souvenirs.