The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area is home to some of the world’s most stunning sunsets, picturesque beaches, and tranquil parks. Also commonly referred to as the Tampa Bay Area, it contains miles of sandy shores as well as world-class attractions. Below are Capt’ Craig’s top three, ‘must-see’ sites that are well worth the trip during your visit.
#1) Sand Key Park
This particular park is home to beaches, nature trails, as well as the base of operations for an artificial reef program. Furthermore, it hosts amenities for your pets with its own dog park so you can bring your furry friend along for the ride. For its human visitors, it houses a stunning salt marsh with viewing benches. This salt marsh acts as a nest and feeding site for a variety of species. Various wildlife that reside there include heron, roseate spoonbills, great horned owls, anhinga, and common moorhens. You’ll likely get the opportunity to glimpse some of these amazing creatures during your visit. Other amenities include:
- 2 bathhouses with separate changing stalls and bathrooms
- 2 beach wheelchairs available upon advanced request
- outdoor showers
- 2 picnic shelters with grills
- umbrella and cabana rentals
- kayak and bicycle rentals
- wide white sand beach
Special Mention: Sunsets!
Sand Key is the perfect place to watch the sunset in the area. From the amazing parks area you can get epic foreground with no buildings blocking the view.
More on the amazing Sand Key Park
The park goes even further by working to assist in sea turtle conservation through its existence as an annual nesting site for the species. Built and opened to the public in August of 1984 this 95-acre park truly has something for everyone, humans and other species alike. As a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida mainland, over 1 million people per year visit this life-sustaining natural environment.
Find Sand Key Park just over the bridge on the most southern, west side of Clearwater.
Fees/Pricing at Sand Key
There is not entrance fee, however parking is $5 per car, per day. Compared to the $3/hr parking found in many Clearwater/St. Pete area public beaches, this is actually a very good deal. You can also move your car around the park from the beach to the trails for no additional fee. The park also features large wheeled wheel chairs at no extra cost.
#2) The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium, located in Tampa, is a 250,000 square foot publicly operated, non-profit organization. It’s a conservation-based attraction that acts as a steward for our delicate environment. By the same token, through its various research and rescue programs, it also assists in restoring coral and sea turtle populations.
When compared to the Clearwater Aquarium, this amazing location inside the heart of Tampa is much larger and home to a much wider array of sea life. For the admission cost, the Florida Aquarium is far more worth the dollars spent.
More About Conservation: (The Mission)
The mission of the Florida Aquarium, as stated above, is conservation achieved through research, education, and outreach. Team members brings animals that need help, whether through injury or illness, the best care possible. When able, the facility releases those rehabilitated individuals back into the wild. However, this isn’t always possible, therefore they’re given a second chance at a good life by residing as in-home guests at the aquarium.
Consequently, the aquarium hosts a variety of both aquatic and terrestrial species. Here you can not only observe these fascinating creatures but learn what action you can take both for them and general habitat conservation. Additionally, to make these animals feel as at home as possible, there are a plethora of ecosystems on display in which these animals reside. The ecosystems are interactive and act as informational exhibits for adults and children alike.
Also take note that more of your admission fee to the Florida Aquarium goes to actually helping marine life in the Tampa Bay area. Learn more, including hours, directions and ticket prices here: https://www.flaquarium.org/
Admission Fee for the Florida Aquarium
Ticket prices are usually around $30 per person with discounts for children and seniors.
Parking Fees: Parking is free with ticket purchase as the time of writing this article.
#3) Wall Springs Park
Located in Palm Harbor, near the Clearwater area, is the historical natural spring of Wall Springs Park. Originally purchased on February 28th, 1884 by Charles F. Wall, this park plays host to viewing areas, boardwalks, and natural as well as paved trails. The 210-acre property is home to all sorts of critters, such as squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, reptiles, and various types of birds common in the Boggy Bayou area. Most impressive, it contains a 35-foot tall observation tower that provides an astounding wrap-around view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Within its Wall Springs Coastal Addition are a plethora of amenities, including:
- picnic shelters with grills
- 5-foot wide sidewalk connecting to Alt 9
- bike racks
- fishing with a saltwater license
- a pier
On average, the spring receives a flow of 2,917 gallons of water per minute, or 4.2 million gallons of water a day. It remains at a fairly constant 74 degrees and is connected to the Upper Floridian Aquifer. In an effort to preserve the ecosystem there is no swimming allowed, however, there are plenty of trails, fantastic views, and informational displays to thoroughly enjoy your time with.
Crystal Spring Swimming?
No, unfortunately swimming is not permitted at this spring however, if you’re looking for an amazing day on crystal clear spring water, the Chassahowitzka River located just an hour North of Clearwater features shallow water cave diving, picturesque views and even hidden rope swings. Visitors can kayak or SUP (Stand up paddle) the “Chaz” as it’s often referred by the locals.
Bonus Attraction: Salt Rock Grill
This restaurant is Capt Craig’s all time favorite place to eat, drink and even enjoy the occasional live entertainment. With a focus on ‘fresh’ everything from the food to the beers on tap are as local as possible. From perfectly cook T-bones to bacon wrapped scallops, if you’re looking for the best food the Tampa Bay area has to offer, look no further. Checkout their website for information on specials, hours and live bands. https://www.saltrockgrill.com/
Clearwater’s Best Inshore Fishing Charter
Why spend hours on a boat traveling to deep waters when you can hop aboard with Capt’ Craig and be on the fish in minutes? Craig Lahr of Skinny Water Charters has been mastering the local waterways for decades and knows exactly where to pull up and hook anything from Snook to Reds. If you’re planning a Clearwater getaway, be sure to check and see if Skinny Water Charters has availability to take you and family out for the fishing adventure of a lifetime.
The Tampa Bay area has an abundance of beautiful beaches, springs, and parks for visiting guests or residents. The sites above stand apart in their picturesque qualities and family-friendly amenities. From amazing creatures, phenomenal views, and outdoor amenities, you won’t regret a visit to any one of them.