Plan, Pack and Go – A Family Vacation on Florida's West Coast

Family vacations are a wonderful source of memories and tradition. While there are many exotic and beautiful destination choices, our family's favorite vacation spot is on the West Coast of Florida. For over 25 years we have made it a point to spend time on the sand bar beach strip just south of Clearwater Beach, Florida in Belleair Beach. We rent a three bedroom condo that is right on the beach. Renting a private condo allows us to save hundreds of dollars as it is less expensive than a hotel and we have all the amenities of home. We save even more money by stocking up at the local grocery so everyone can make their own breakfast and lunch. Best of all, we walk out the door and have our choice: a beautiful pool or the Gulf of Mexico. What more could you ask for?

This narrow strip of paradise sits with the Gulf on one side and the bay and intercoastal waterways on the other. This barrier island runs from Clearwater down to St. Petersburg. There all kinds of accommodations available from high rises and hotels to smaller condo complexes or beach cottages. There is something to fit any budget. It is quiet and uncrowded but yet close to lots of activities!

When we want a break from the beach the possibilities are numerous. A 45 minute drive to Tampa and we are at Busch Gardens for a day of fun. If we want to attack the Orlando scene we get up early and make the 90 minute drive. We can spend the day at any of the Disney, Universal or Sea World theme parks and be back at the beach by 10pm.

If we want to stay local, we head 5 minutes up Gulf Boulevard to Clearwater Beach for shopping or water fun. Centrally located in the beautiful harbor, there are boat rides, fishing charters, pirate ships, dinner cruises and even parasailing for the more adventurous. Prices are much more reasonable than in some of the larger, more commercial beach cities in Florida.

Perhaps our favorite tradition is our night at the Clearwater Phillies minor league ball field. Located about 15 minutes from the beach, their stadium is beautiful, clean and family friendly. Tickets are under $ 10 and the food courts are well stocked with the traditional ball field goodies at bargain prices. You sit close to the field and have a great chance to catch a fly ball! Players sign programs and balls for the kids. They have numerous special events throughout the season including fireworks! It has been a part of every vacation for over 20 years. Of course, you can venture into Tampa and see the Tampa Yanks play at the famous Legends Field.

While we eat home for breakfast and lunch, we explore the local cuisine at dinnertime! Always budget conscious with our big crowd, we seek out the family style restaurants. Our two favorites are in Indian Rocks Beach. Crabby Bills has to be the best seafood restaurant in the state. It casual and fun and family style. Long picnic tables covered with red and white table clothes set the ambiance. Nothing fancy but a party like atmosphere prevails. Beer and soda by the pitcher, fresh seafood on paper plates with great side like coleslaw, fries and hush puppies. It is the perfect family seafood restaurant. Stop into their fun gift shop on the way out!

The second family favorite is an Italian bistro, also in Indian Rocks, TJ's Italian Café. Casual with delicious home made Italian food. The pizza and strombolis are a must! It is an easy place to bring the kids no matter their age! After dinner hop next door to TJ "s Mom's Homemade Ice Cream Parlor for dessert!

What would a family vacation be without a round of miniature golf? Travel another 5 minutes south and you will see Smuggler Cove Adventure Golf right on Gulf Boulevard. Three courses with lots of "pirate theme" holes including waterfalls and an alligator pond.

Family vacations are a great part of establishing family traditions. While our kids are all older from 20-26, we still ALL look forward to our family vacation. We start in later winter, pick some dates and everyone works their vacation schedule. They are welcome to bring along their significant other or a friend. Planning early allows for use of airline miles and assures lower fares. So this August there will 10 of us making memories at our favorite vacation spot in Florida. It will truly be a fantastic family celebration!