Parents are often at their wits' end when it comes to figuring out things to do with their young'uns (not the teenagers, they're into "The Hunger Games,"). So we are going to run a general blog on children's activities in the Tampa Bay area as we come across them. Some of them will be free. Some won't. Some will occur repeatedly. Some won't. Here we go.
One of the best - and certainly one of the cheapest – places to take your kids is the beach. Typically, the only thing you have to feed, aside from your child, is the parking meter.
But we'd like to give you a couple of safety tips before we give you a run-down of the area's selections. Make sure you watch your kids like a hawk as they frolic in the surf. Make sure you have applied plenty of sunscreen on those kids -- and yourself -- before you start watching them frolic in the surf. And be careful about allowing them to use floatable devices in the water. While we don't have the same concerns here about rip tides that they do on the east coast, a nice wind can carry that float, with your kid on it, out to sea in no time.
Okay, here are our selections. (As an added bonus, we're including the number of parking spaces at each beach when that information is available).
First, we'll tackle the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico because, you know, you'd rather be swimming in the Gulf than in Tampa Bay or, say, a retention pond in Polk County.
It's easy to drive to because of Interstate 275, and it was recently named TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach. Now that the spring breakers have returned to school, and the snowbirds have gone home, it might not be that difficult an excursion.
There are several beaches in this beach city with public access -- the one on Pass-A-Grille, which is at the southernmost tip of St. Pete Beach, and which has 616 metered parking spaces, as spelled out in the 90s by Pinellas County and the state. (Their report is old, yes, but Pinellas is pretty developed, so we doubt there are that many more parking spaces now than there were then).
There are two farther north, the one across the street from the Publix supermarket in the Dolphin Village shopping plaza at 4655 Gulf Blvd. (235 metered spaces, per same report); and Upham Beach, at 6800 Beach Plaza (198 metered spaces). These are all solid family-oriented beaches.
For a more complete portrait of what the city has to offer, check out these web sites: The best of St Pete Beach and St Pete Beach Offical Site
Often also vying for best-beach-in-the-country is Fort DeSoto Park, which is in the same general area as St. Pete Beach. This is also a dog friendly beach. For info, go to: Fort DeSoto Park
There are 3,252 parking spaces, two dog parks, a fishing pier.
A few minutes north of the St. Pete Beach beaches is one NOT so family-oriented. This one is for the young and in-shape and partying crowd. It's called Sunset Beach and it stretches from 79th to 81st avenues in Treasure Island. But beware. There are fewer than 100 spaces.
There are two other municipal beaches in Treasure Island -- one at 104th Avenue (67 spaces); and another one at 112th Avenue (139 spaces). See Treasure Island Beaches
There are also three beaches in Madeira Beach: Archibald Park (120 spaces); County Park (104 spaces); and one at the southern tip of the city, across Gulf Boulevard from Johns Pass Village, with roughly 130 spaces. They are all mapped out at this web site: Madeira Beach Official Site
If you've noticed, we started at the southernmost point of Pinellas County and are proceeding north. We're not going to go into too much detail on the ones where access and parking is a little tricky. It's great that Indian Rocks Beach has 27 points at which you can get onto the beach, but parking is a little dicey. One at 1700 Gulf Blvd. has 79 metered spots. The city's web site is Indian Rocks Beach
In Redington Shores, there's a beach at 18200 Gulf Blvd., with 170 spaces. See:
Okay, now we have arrived at the big enchilada of the Gulf beaches – Clearwater Beach, where just about everybody goes. According to the city's web site, there are 803 spaces in lots of varying size peppered throughout the barrier island, plus 270 spots on the street. See the web site at: Clearwater Beach Offical Website
For a little less hustle and bustle, drive west over a resplendent bridge and go to Sand Key County Park, which is a combination park- and- beach, and which has 674 metered spots.
We're going to continue our tour north, with a quick jag to a couple of beaches known for their natural beauty.
The first is Honeymoon Island State Park, which can be reached by driving across the Dunedin Causeway. In addition to the beach, there is a park with several nature trails, and many shells to collect. According to that old report we have mentioned, there are 1,005 paved and 3,000 unpaved spots. There are various entrance fees to the park, depending on when and how you are arriving, but no parking fees per se. For more information, go to:
From that same causeway in Dunedin, you can take a ferry to Caladesi Island State Park, which is one of the only completely-natural islands off Florida's gulf coast. In addition to a luscious beach, there is a three-mile nature trail through the island´s interior and a three-mile kayak trail through the mangroves and bay. For more information, go to:
Back to the mainland. Farther north remain the only two significant Pinellas County beaches we haven't discussed, both of which are in Tarpon Springs. One is Sunset Beach, at 1800 Gulf Blvd., which has 70 paved spaces, according to that old report; the other is Fred Howard Park, at 1700 Sunset Drive, which has 784 paved parking spaces, and 100 additional unpaved ones on the causeway leading to the park. For more information on Fred Howard Park, go to: Tarpon Springs Area Beaches
Okay, we're going to continue north, into Pasco County, but with an advisory. We won't have the number of parking spaces. In a way, it doesn't matter as much, because the beaches in Pasco County are not so much final destinations for outsiders as they are for the locals. Ergo, there are fewer people fighting over parking spaces. And the locals already know about these beaches, so we're going to give you names, addresses, and the links, and that's about it. (And we are including only those parks where people can swim, because that's what people go to beaches for primarily).
Here's a few.
Here's the link for all of them: Visit Pasco
Here's one more:
Brasher Park, 4951 Koons Road, Port Richey, FL Brasher Park
Up to now, we've been discussing those pristine beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Now we are headed east, to beaches that do not overlook the gulf, but rather different bays. Like the Pasco beaches, some of these will primarily be of interest to local denizens, and not tourists. Others are for those that like to bring their dogs, which you can't do generally at Gulf beaches.
In Gulfport, there's a beach in the city's waterfront district, overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. It might be a good place to go if you're checking out Gulfport for other reasons. Here's the link: Gulfport Beaches
There is also a beach in St. Petersburg that overlooks Boca Ciega Bay. It's Maximo Park, at 6500 34th St. S., and while it has other attractive features, its beach is on the small side. Two other St. Petersburg beaches are located on the city's downtown waterfront – one is at North Shore Park, Second Avenue Northeast, and the other one is at The Pier. For information on all three of these beaches, see: Saint Peteresburg Beaches
There are also two rather popular beaches along causeways or bridges linking Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. People tend to like them because there are no parking meters to feed, they can bring their dogs, and they can drink their beer, preferably out of a can. One is the informally named Gandy Beach, which is on the south side of the Gandy Bridge. There's no link to give you because it's an informal place people know by word of mouth, not through Facebook. The other one is the Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach, which is on the western end of the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
On the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway is one of Tampa's few beaches - the Ben T. Davis Beach, at 7740 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway. This one has lifeguards from Memorial Day through Labor Day, according to Tampa's web site. So does Picnic Island Park, in Port Tampa.
Here's another one in Tampa, but it doesn't have lifeguards: Davis Islands Park, 864 Severn Ave.
For information on Tampa's few beaches, go to: Tampa Beaches
Looking for a guide to Athletic Summer Camps in the Tampa Bay Area? Then look no futher, If there's a camp out there designed for a particular sport, be it tennis, soccer, or bowling, we'll find it. Below we've listed several sports camps to assist you in keeping your kids active this summer. If you're looking for a summer camp designed for the Arts, we've got you covered there too. We recently wrote a blog about Arts & Music here: Summer Art Camps Tampa 2012.
There are a couple of nice sports camps at the Hillsborough Community College tennis courts complex at 3901 Tampa Bay Blvd. in Tampa. They are run by Tampa Tennis. One is a tennis camp, naturally. Players are divided into groups to address their skill level. The ages of the kids range from 4 to 16, and the camp is held Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon. You can pick a weeklong camp from June 11 through Aug. 17. During the same time period, Tampa Tennis also offers a sports jam camp, where attendees play golf, soccer, baseball, basketball and flag football, in addition to tennis. For more information go to: HCC Summer Camp 2012
The coaches at the University of Tampa have some great summer sports programs – boys' baseball camps, boys' basketball camps, girls' basketball camps, boys' soccer camps, girls' soccer camps, softball camps, volleyball camps. They are held at a variety of places. If interested, it's best to go to the website, which has links to the individual programs. The web site is: UT Sports Camp Summer 2012
Extreme Youth Sports has a summer sports camp, which you would expect with a company name like that. The interesting thing about Extreme Youth Sports camps is that the company has three locations, which we are going to give you, so you can decide which is closest to your home. The one in Tampa is at 4920 Newkirk Drive. The one in Brandon is at 1118 N. Parsons Ave., and the one in Riverview is at 13498 US Highway 301 S. It's our understanding that Extreme You Sports caters to specific neighborhoods. Included in the summer camp program is an array of offerings – karate, flag football, soccer, and kickball, among others. But there's also dancing and arts and crafts. The web site is: Extreme Youth Sports Summer Camp 2012 Tampa Bay
Okay, this is a sports camp of a certain kind. The Seal Swim School offers a program for children 4 to 12 years old that includes swim lessons. It runs from June 11 through Aug. 17, and you can either sign up for a week or the whole summer. We like this program because there are two counselors for every 15 kids. And there's extended care so you don't have to break your neck in traffic trying to pick your kid up by a certain time. The location is at 19501 Holly Lane in Lutz. Here's the web site: Summer Swimming Camp 2012 Lutz, FL
Now here are a couple of cool camps. Literally. They are run by the Tampa Bay Skating Academy. One is at the academy's Countryside facility at 27001 U.S. 19 N. and it's to improve your figure skating. There is one one-week camp in June, another in July. These are not for beginners; they are geared toward kids who are pretty good figure skaters to begin with. Now, to learn how to skate, you would have to go to TBSA's facility in Oldsmar, which is at 255 Forest Lakes Blvd. in Oldsmar. They have a cool ice skating summer camp for kids 4 to 12 and they welcome beginners for this one. It runs June 11 to Aug. 3, and the all-day camps are a week long. For more information, go to: Skating Camp Tampa Bay 2012
Speaking of skating, the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team holds a summer camp in Brandon, at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum, from July 9 through July 13. It begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. Each day is devoted to helping both boys and girls improve their hockey and power-skating skills, and to become more physically conditioned. For more information, go to: Tampa Bay Lighting Summer Camp 2012
Bayside Gymnastics and Cheerleading, at 4400 34th St. N., in St. Petersburg, has gymnastics summer camp for children 5 to 13 years old. Sessions start June 11 and run through Aug. 17, and both half- and full-day camps are available, with post-camp day care. Among other things, the children are run through a slew of gymnastics exercises, which should leave them stronger and more flexible. For more information, go to: Gymnastics and Cheerleading Summer Camp in St Pete
Another gymnastics school offering summer camp sessions is the Apollo School of Gymnastics, at 2140 Range Road, Clearwater. Here, too, you'll learn gymnastics, plus arts and crafts and other cool stuff. There is a field trip every Wednesday, and every Thursday is Splash Day, which sort of stands for outdoor water play. Full- and half-day sessions are available. The Apollo's web site is: Gymnastics Summer Camp - Clearwater FL
Clearwater Christian College, at 3400 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., has several sports camps, but it should probably be pointed out that the coaches emphasize these camps are in a Christian setting. Overnights are available. There is a one-week camp for girls' basketball (ages 8 to 17), for boys' basketball (8 to 17), and for soccer (8 to 17), and there are two one-week camps for female high-school volleyball players. For more information, and to register, go to the college's web site: Sports Camp in Clearwater
The Clearwater Community Sailing Center, at 1001 Gulf Blvd., in Clearwater has an excellent summer camp program with an emphasis on, you guessed it, sailing. Campers can be 5 to 17 years old, and at the end of the summer is a regatta, which is sort of appropriate. The weeklong camp sessions begin June 4 and end Aug. 10, and there's a week off in July. Windsurfing is also offered, as long as you are at least ten years old. There are a whole lot of other cool things about this camp. High-speed catamaran sailing is available. And there's a camp designed for disabled kids. Check it out at: Sailing Summer Camp
Eckerd College, at 4200 54th Ave. S., has one of the most impressive summer camp programs in the Tampa Bay area. Here you can receive instruction in sailing, water skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and saltwater fishing. The reason the college can offer such a stunning selection of water sports is that it is located on Boca Ciega Bay. Kids 6 to 17 can find something. Sessions run from June 4 through August 3, and they run in the afternoon or in the morning, but not both. For more information, go to: Watersports Summer Camps in St Petersburg FL
Get this. There is even a lacrosse camp in Tampa, though it lasts for only a week. It's run by GameBreaker Lacrosse Camps, a national company. There will be three groups of young lacrosse players – one group of kids in the third, fourth and fifth grades, another composed of kids in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and a third made up of kids in the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. The camps typically last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Tampa's week-long camp is at Anderson Elementary School June 11 through June 14. There are separate camps for both boys and girls. For more information, go to: Lacrosse Summer Camps in Tampa
The Indian Rocks Christian School, at 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo, has an impressive summer sports camp lineup and is one of the few, we believe, that has a wrestling camp. There are also a football camp, a cheerleading camp and a golf camp among the school's ten offerings. The camps last a week, and they start on June 11 and end on July 13. For more information, go to: Sports Summer Camps in Largo FL
Naturally, you would expect the Innisbrook Golf and Spa Resort, at 36750 U.S. 19 N., to have a golf clinic, and it does. It also has a tennis camp. They run from June 11 through Aug. 16. The tennis camps run Monday through Thursday, and there are sessions for children 3 to 10 years old, 6 to 10, and 10 to 18. The golf clinic is for kids 7 to 16. There is also an interesting session that incorporates tennis instruction, golf instruction and swimming. This one's for kids 7 to 14. For specific times and prices, go to the resort's web site at: Golf Summer Camps in Palm Harbor
For the aspiring martial arts practitioner, Martial Arts Advantage, which has two locations, has both half-day and full-day camps. One location is at 234A E. Bearss Ave. in North Tampa; the other, at 3311 S. Dale Mabry Highway in south Tampa. The first week of camp begins June 11, the last Aug. 13, and each week has a particular theme (we like ‘board breaking camp.'). You get a break in price if you register before May 11. For more information, go to the web site at: Karate Summer Camps Tampa
The Tampa Bay Rays are holding summer camps for baseball players, but not all of them are in the Tampa Bay area (one is in Port Charlotte). The camp that we know of that's local is the senior advanced camp, for children 14 through 17, that runs from June 18 through 22. It's at the Raymond Naimoli Sports Complex, at 7901 30th Ave. N., St. Petersburg, FL. For more information, go to: Tampa Bay Rays Summer Camp 2012
The University of South Florida has some great soccer camps and they're all over the place – at the USF campus, the West Chase soccer fields, the JC Handley complex in Brandon, the Wesley Chapel District Park, and the Fishhawk Sports Complex, among other places. There are also some outside the Tampa Bay area, but the ones in the Tampa Bay area run June 11 through July 25. For more information, go to: Summer Camps in Wesley Chapel
We're sure we missed some, but we think we nabbed more than we missed. If you know of any other great Summer Programs in the Tampa Bay area, feel free to comment below.
The following is a guide for Summer Camps in the Tampa Bay Area - more specifically summer art programs for kids. These summer programs geared toward the artistically-inclined child – a future Baryshnikov, a future John Coltrane, a future Marlon Brandon, a future Jackson Pollock. Now, there are weeks-long summer camps in the Tampa Bay area that include classes on the arts. We're going to leave those for another day. These camps focus on artistic activity exclusively. And here's the thing. While these don't start until June, you have to register pretty much now. In fact, one of them is already full. Go figure. So read, pick one, and sign up your loved one.
The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for The Performing Arts Summer Program in Tampa kicks off on June 11, with classes galore – including an intensive ballet class for children from the second through twelfth grades; musical theatre dancing, including tap, for children from the second through eighth grades; and a four-day class designed so children from second through fourth grade can explore all the instruments played in an orchestra and maybe decide to pursue one. For more information see: Patel Conservatory Summer Program 2012
The Tampa Museum of Art has a series of art classes for children ages 6 to 14, and the classes are all a week long. What's interesting about the series is that your child can go for either a half-day or the full day. Another thing that's interesting is that children close in age attend the same classes: One, for instance, is for kids 9 to 11, another for kids 6 to 8. These classes are for kids interested in drawing and painting, working with materials and mixed media. For more information, go to: Summer Art Classes at The Tampa Museum of Art
The Dance Center in Brandon has three interesting camps – the Ballerina Princess Camp for girls 4 to 6, Ballet Arts Camp for children 7 and older (for both the beginner and the experienced), and the Acrobatics Summer Camp. Registration has already begun, but the classes weren't full as of early April. The place is located at 161 East Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon. For more information, go to: Summer Programs at The Dance Center - Brandon FL
The Florida Academy of Performing Arts has an all-day camp for kids ages 5 to 9, from June 25 through June 29. Among the offerings are beginning guitar, beginning violin, and acting. There's a second camp for the same age group, from July 9 to July 13, with the same offerings. The academy also has two sets of all-day camps for 9 to 12 year olds. The first is from June 18 to June 22, the second from July 23 through July 27. The offerings are the same as they are for the younger set. The camps are held at the Music Showcase, at 402 Oakfield Drive, Brandon, FL. For more information, go to: Summer Camps at the Florida Academy of Performing Arts Brandon
The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, in downtown Tampa, is offering photography classes this summer for two age groups – 7 to 10 years old, and 11 to 15 years old. Each is five days long. The two week-long classes for the younger group begin on June 25 and July 16; for the older group, June 18 and July 9. You should really call them at (813) 221-2222, and check with their web site, for further information. Here's the web site: Florida Museum of Photographic Summer Program
Aspiring actors in the 8th to 12th grade age group (that is, students who are entering those grades this fall) are encouraged to audition for the musical, "Thoroughly Modern Millie Junior," which is being produced by Stage Works in downtown Tampa. Auditions are on April 15, May 6, May 20, and June 10. For their auditions, students should prepare a musical number in the style of the show, have a CD to go with it, and also prepare a monologue. The camp is from July 9 through July 27, with performances of the show on July 27, 28, and 29. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, just to impress upon you how important it is to sign up your kid immediately, we're going to mention The Tampa Theatre Film Camp, where kids from grades three to seven go to a one-week camp to learn the basics of film-making. According to the program's web site, all eight half-day classes are sold out. Don't believe us: Check out the web site: The Tampa Theatre Film Summer Camp
The Hoffman Institute at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater also has a series of arts-oriented summer programs which also begins on June 11. These are designed for children ages 8 to 18. Some are for kids as they prepare to join their high school jazz band. For others, such as a theatre production, children have to audition. Some are modeled after popular shows, such as "Glee;" others after classics, such as "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare. For more information, go to: Ruth Eckerd Hall Summer Camps 2012
In St. Petersburg, there's a summer theater program run at First Presbyterian Church by American Stage. There is one set of classes for children 5 to 12 years old, including some concentrating on comedy, clowning and mystery theatre. Another is for children 13 through 17 years old: one class is a short week-long session on improvisation, another is a three-week class culminating in a performance of a version of "Fiddler On The Roof." There are many, many more for both age groups, spread out over the summer months. For more information, go to: American Stage Summer Camp at First Presbyterian Church St Pete
The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg has an interesting camp, and, apparently, a popular one. It's called the Junior Docent Program. Yeah, we didn't know what a docent was, either, until we looked it up. In the museum business, a docent is someone who helps others understand the works of art they are seeing. In this one-week camp, kids 9 to 12 years old are exposed to the works of Dali in the museum, then, after the week, they give a presentation as to what they've learned. Sound far-fetched? Well, last we heard, the program was sold out, with folks signing a waiting list. For more information, go to: Summer Camps at The Dali
St. Petersburg College has a lot of summer programs, but the one that focuses exclusively on the arts is a musical theatre camp for grades six through twelve. It begins July 9 and lasts until Aug. 3, and culminates in a performance of "Godspell." The program takes place every day from 9 am to 3 pm, at the SPJ campus in Clearwater at 2465 Drew St. For more information, please see the college web site at:
SPC Summer Camps for kids
We love the name of this one: the Abba Dabba Theatre Summer Camp 2012. One of the camps is at Perkins Elementary School in St. Petersburg, the other at Seminole High School in Seminole. They are for kids four to 18 years old, and typically last a week or two weeks. The offerings are pretty cool, and include improvisation, acting and musical theatre. For more information, please see: Abba Dabba Theatre Summer Camps
Here's another one with a pretty cool name, and an appropriate one, too, considering what kind of camp it is: The Bravo Center for the Performing Arts. It runs its summer camp at Oakhurst United Methodist Church, at 13400 Park Blvd. in Seminole. It's for kids 6 through 17. There are two three-week camps, and they last from 9 am to 3:30 p.m. Here's a special bonus – pre-camp and post-camp day care is available, so you don't have to break your neck in traffic trying to pick up junior. For more information, please see: The Bravo Center for the Performing Arts
This camp is for the prospective circus performer. BB's Dance & Circus Arts of Tampa Bay runs classes during the school year, too, but from June 11 through August 17, it holds what it calls summer intensives on such topics as contortion, juggling, hand-balancing and trapeze. Anyone from eight up can take these classes, which run one to three weeks (depending on what part of the summer you're interested in) from 9 am to 3 pm. The place is in Clearwater, at 1610 N. Hercules Ave. For more information, visit: BB's Dance & Circus Arts Summer Program
The Largo Cultural Center has some cool summer theatre camps. One, for children 8 to 13 years old, is called "Seussical Jr.," and centers around the character, Horton the Elephant. That one runs from June 11 through June 30, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The other is for children 12 to 18, and runs from July 16 through Aug. 4. This one's called "The Music Man Jr.," and it's about a fast-talking con-man who eventually sees the light. For more information, go to: 2012 Summer Theatre Camp at Largo Cultural Center
Competition is pretty stiff in the bounce house industry. So says Patti Anselmo, who with her husband owns Florida Fun Jump, that fun place at 11238 W. Hillsborough Ave. where your kids can jump around on inflatables without getting hurt.
In addition to Florida Fun Jump, there are two other bounce houses in the immediate area, and Anselmo heard through the grapevine that at least one of them had a massage chair. Anselmo likes to stay competitive in her field, so she got one, too.
This is how it works. Someone sits in the chair, inserts a dollar, and feels the chair giving her or him a massage about the neck and lower back for two minutes, Anselmo said. Florida Fun Jump gets 50 cents for each dollar.
It's hard to tell how many people have put that dollar into the chair, which was acquired roughly a month ago. The business that owns the chair has yet to come by and take the cash out, so Anselmo has no way of knowing the number of adults who have actually been massaged by the automated piece of furniture.
What she does know is that some people have tried using the massage chair as a place to sit, but an automated voice urges them to put a dollar in once their derriere has landed. Apparently there's no such thing as a free ride on the chair – or an uninterrupted sit.
The chair isn't the only thing Patti and her husband have brought in so parents have something to do while their children play. Florida Fun Jump also has a treadmill, stationary bicycle, and an elliptical machine. Unlike the massage chair, however, they don't cost anything.
On the other hand, a buck for a massage ain't a bad deal, especially in this economy.