Family vacations are a wonderful source of memories and traditions. While there are many exotic and beautiful destination options, our family’s favorite vacation spot is on the west coast of Florida. For more than 25 years, we have strived to spend time on the sandbar beach strip south of Clearwater Beach, Florida at Belleair Beach. We rented a three bedroom condo that is right on the beach. Renting a private condo saves us hundreds of dollars as it is less expensive than a hotel and we have all the comforts of home. We save even more money by stocking up at the local grocery store 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 want?

This narrow strip of paradise sits with the gulf on one side and the bay and intercoastal waterways on the other. This barrier island stretches from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. There are all types of accommodations available, from skyscrapers and hotels to smaller condo complexes or beach huts. There is something to suit any budget. It is quiet and uncrowded, but close to many activities.

When we want a break from the beach the possibilities are numerous. A 45 minute drive from Tampa, 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 trip. We can spend the day at any of the Disney, Universal or Sea World theme parks and be back on the beach by 10 pm.

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

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

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

The second family favorite is an Italian bistro, also at Indian Rocks, TJ’s Italian CafĂ©. Casual with delicious homemade Italian food. Pizza and strombolis are a must! It is an easy place to take children regardless of their age! After dinner, head to TJ’s Mom’s Homemade Ice Cream Parlor for dessert.

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

Family vacations are a big part of establishing family traditions. While our children are ages 20-26, we are ALL looking forward to our family vacation. We start in late winter, pick a few dates, and everyone works their vacation schedule. They can bring their partner or a friend. Planning ahead allows the use of airline miles and ensures lower fares. So this August there will be 10 of us creating memories at our favorite Florida vacation spot. It will truly be a fantastic family celebration!

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