Your Guide to Free Family Fun in Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater is the smallest and northernmost of the three main cities in the Tampa Bay Area, which also include Tampa and St. Petersburg. The city of Clearwater has a walkable downtown, and there's also Clearwater Beach, which is on the barrier island just off the coast of the city. Explore both locations on your trip for an inclusive look at the area. Both offer a variety of attractions and activities, including a number of free options.
Head to the Coast for Sun, Sand and Sea
Hitting the beach is undoubtedly the most popular free family activity in Florida, and Clearwater Beach is one of the most highly regarded beaches in the state. In fact, it took the number one slot on TripAdvisor's 2016 list of Top Beaches in the U.S.; it was bumped to number four in 2017, but that's still pretty impressive, considering it's a nationwide ranking.
The fine white sand and shallow, shimmering Gulf of Mexico water make for an ideal family day at the shore. Also, you and the kids can stroll along Beach Walk, the Clearwater twist on a boardwalk. It's a scenic beachside promenade with public art, stores, restaurants and other stuff to see and do.
Fortunately, there's beach weather almost all year round in Central Florida. The water's a little on the cold side from roughly October through April, so just jump right in (rather than wade) to acclimate.
Stick Around for Sunsets at Pier 60
Just because the sun's going down soon, that doesn't mean your family day at the beach is over. Sunsets at Pier 60 is a free-entry, family-oriented festival at Clearwater Beach. It's held daily all year long by the Pier 60 Visitors Center (1 Causeway Blvd., Clearwater, FL), though it does shut down if the weather isn't accommodating.
You and the kids are sure to enjoy the buskers and other performance artists, like musicians, magicians, stilt walkers, escape artists, jugglers or fire-breathers. There's food and drink (not free), artisan vendors displaying and selling their work, a free outdoor family movie screening every Friday and Saturday evening, and more.
The fun kicks off two hours before sunset and lasts for four hours. The hours change seasonally, so check sunsetsatpier60.com to see the times while you're in town. Remember, even though it's Florida, it can still get chilly around sundown from about mid November through the end of February.
Explore Downtown's Cleveland Street District
Get to know Clearwater's urban core, the Cleveland Street District in downtown. It's a pedestrian-friendly place to wander around, with stunning views from the 30-foot bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor. There are plenty of shops, boutiques and eateries to investigate, but you don't have to spend any money to pass a few pleasant hours with the family.
The district frequently hosts free special events, like concerts, art festivals, street parties and yoga in the park. The main library branch is here too (100 N. Osceola Ave, Clearwater, FL), with a large children's area and its own kid-centric special events, many of which are free and open to the public.
If you can make it to the Cleveland Street District after business hours on the last Friday of any month September through June, you'll catch “Blast Friday,” a huge family-friendly street party. Check out what's happening during your visit at the Cleveland Street District website.
Have a Family Adventure at Moccasin Lake Park
On the west side of Clearwater, there's a 51-acre nature preserve called Moccasin Lake Park (2750 Park Trail Ln., Clearwater, FL). It's a picturesque park full of majestic, moss-draped oak trees that's free to visit and offers numerous activities for the whole family.
Hike the nature trails; keep your eyes peeled for the many bird species, gopher turtles, alligators and other wildlife; enjoy a sheltered picnic; and check out the interactive educational displays. The Moccasin Lake Environmental Education Center is a great stop, where you'll see birds of prey, aquatic wildlife, reptiles, amphibians, a butterfly garden, a plant display (including poisonous plants) and more.
Dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Regular park hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday; trail access stops 45 minutes before closing time.
Ride a Miniature Recreation of a Historic Train
Full disclosure: The Largo Central Railroad ride (101 Central Park Dr., Largo, FL) isn't exactly in Clearwater, but it's only about 4 miles and 10 minutes' drive from downtown. If you're visiting the area on the first full weekend of the month, this is a fun, unique, free experience for the family (there's no cost to ride, but donations are welcome).
Largo Central Railroad maintains and operates trains that are true-to-life, one-eighth scale models of various trains from periods of U.S. railroading history. Each mini train can pull about two dozen passengers, which they do along a 1-mile track around Largo's idyllic Central Park. The track runs through a tunnel and over a lake and waterfall.
Kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult, but it's not like you won't want to ride. They do cancel runs if there's significant rain. In Central Florida, rain is most common during the summer months, and it typically hits in the late afternoon or early evening. Train rides are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so arrive earlier to avoid risk of cancellation.
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Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.