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Florida: Secret Family Vacation Places – Indian Rocks Beach, Crescent Beach, and Steinhatchee. 742FLTommysBeachCanoe to a rookery in Indian River; hunt for shark’s teeth along the Gulf; learn to surf; ride an airboat; feed manta rays on Hutchinson Island or go scalloping in the bay. Florida delivers on one-of-a-kind experiences for families when sunshine and beach sand is not enough. Relax and enjoy the easy pace of life in Florida.
 
Indian Rocks Beach: Leaping Dolphins, Beach Trolleys and Miles of White Sandy Beach. Located between Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg Beach, Indian Rocks Beach is one of our favorite secret spots on the Gulf. In the 1920s the barrier island community was a secret weekend getaway for wealthy Tampa residents, and today it offers three miles of the friendliest beach in Pinellas County. The easy-paced island atmosphere is just minutes from plenty of intense fun.  High energy activities in the area include some of the best family fun in Florida.  Ride the Sea Screamer in Clearwater; investigate the Clearwater Marine Aquarium; sail away with Captain Nemo. Bonus points: Beach Trolley Service runs between St. Pete to Clearwater making it easy to explore the area. Need to know:  Indian Rocks Beach has a stretch of beach on the Belleair Causeway reserved for canine beach bums. Family vacation base: Tommy's on the Beach is a vintage vacation spot from the 1950s/60s, freshly renovated in a colorful pink, yellow, and white retro style. You might expect to see Annette Funicello or Frankie Avalon sunning in the courtyard.  Each vacation rental unit has a fully furnished kitchen with microwave & dishwasher, iron & board, all linens, towels and beach towels, gas grill, private deck or patio, beach chairs & umbrella, local telephone, full size futon, and free wireless internet access. Not far from the beach you’ll find a hammock under the trees in the yard.  Guests have access to plenty of beach supplies including beach chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards, noodles, ice chests and fishing equipment. Bonus points: Tommy’s is within walking distance is a delightful European bakery, shops and a movie theater. Location on the planet: Tommy's on the Beach 2302 Beach Trail Indian Rocks Beach, 33785. (727) 463-1976 or www.tommysonthebeach.com

Florida: Steinhatchee: - Fishing, Kayaking, and Wildlife Viewing. Located along Florida's Big Bend a.k.a. Florida's Natures Coast, Steinhatchee – the community – takes its name after the Steinhatchee River known by the earliest residents as “esteen hatchee" meaning river (hatchee) of man (esteen). It is one of the state’s secret “green spots” a backdoor to Mother Nature’s best work. The inshore and offshore fishing is excellent; snorkeling for bay scallops can’t be beat; stone and blue crabs are in abundance. It is possible to spot alligators, turkeys, hogs, panthers, black bear, deer, eagles, and many species of birds.  Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are popular within more than 100,000 acres of Preservation 2000 lands.  Family vacation base: Steinhatchee Landing Resort, a unique retreat of homes and villas resembling a 19th Century Southern village, is located just minutes from some of the best bay scalloping in the United States. Establish base camp in one of the 36 Victorian and Florida “Cracker”-style cottages. Relax on the 35-acres of unspoiled landscape shaded by towering pines and magnolias, reminding guests of the Original Florida. The Steinhatchee River flows into the Gulf of Mexico just three miles upstream from Steinhatchee Landing Resort. The unique ecosystem found in this area of the Gulf, known as Apalachee Bay, is a breeding ground for bay scallops, and each summer, thousands of residents and visitors alike comb the waters for these tasty critters. The Landing offers a variety of adventure activities, including canoeing and kayaking, bicycling, hiking, tennis or simply relaxing by the riverfront pool. Location on the planet: Steinhatchee Landing Resort 203 Ryland Circle Steinhatchee, FL 32359. Toll-free 1-800-584-1709, (352) 498-3513 or www.SteinhatcheeLanding.com

Crescent Beach: Surfing, Biking, and Fishing. Anastasia Island, the barrier island just east of St. Augustine remains one of our secret family vacation retreats. While the historic city has plenty to offer families once you cross over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (a.k.a. The Matanzas River), there is no need to leave. Uncrowded and laid back, no high rise buildings buffer the beach zone. Miles of lovely hard-packed sand make beach hiking, bike riding, and sand volleyball almost too good to pass up. When the tide is out residents and visitors drive along the ocean’s edge, sometimes parking against the sand dunes that frame the land. The beach itself stretches for miles allowing visitors with a beach pass to drive ever- so-slowly along its edge. Unlike other beaches in Florida which have mounting restrictions on beach use, Crescent Beach is a family-friendly, dog-friendly, all-purpose beach. Bonus points: On the island but away from the beach you’ll find plenty of ways to fill your vacation days. Climb to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse; tour the St. Augustine Alligator Farm; rent kayaks from Coastal Outdoor Center or visit Marineland. Family vacation base: Our family has had the good fortune to enjoy several remarkable beach rentals. We have sipped ice tea on the beach; watched dolphins at play, and walked for miles on one of the best beaches on the planet. Finding the ideal vacation rental can be a challenge but we can recommend two companies that have great choices and offer exceptional service - St Augustine Beach Vacations and Beach Property Rentals. Need to know: Many of the beach houses are pet-friendly with prior approval, just ask. Location on the planet: Beach Property Management, 5120 A1A So., St. Augustine, FL 32080. (904) 471-8110 or www.bpmstaug.com and St. Augustine Beach Vacations (352) 262-4513 or www.staugvacations.com
 
Jensen Beach/Stuart: Manta Ray Feeding, an Awesome Lighthouse, and a Liquid Heart.742FLJensenHouseofRefuge The southernmost section of Florida’s Treasure Coast is uncrowded, easy-paced and naturally beautiful. From the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway to the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee family vacation treasures abound without long lines, massive parking lots, neon signs and traffic. Lake Okeechobee, the 730-square mile "liquid heart" of Florida, is awesome just because of its size. It is the second-largest freshwater lake in the continental United States, second only to Lake Michigan. Not far from the beach is The Elliott Museum which showcases American creativity and includes area history as a bonus. On the beach The House of Refuge Museum, is Martin County’s oldest building and was once a refuge for shipwreck victims. Bonus points: A dreamland for the curious, Florida Oceanographic Coastal Science Center on Hutchinson Island showcases the sea and shares insider information about marine life. Most thrilling is the chance to feed and pet stingrays in the aquaculture pavilion. Innovative summer programs include turtle walks, seining clinics and snorkeling adventures. Family vacation base: One of our favorite spots is The Caribbean Shores Resort in Jensen Beach has "Key West" 1950’s style atmosphere. The 26-unit resort on the Indian River Lagoon, has motel rooms, one bedroom suites and colorful one and two-bedroom cottages overlooking the mile wide Indian River Lagoon. Fish off the 300' pier, bring your boat or enjoy the complimentary canoes and kayaks. Location on the planet: The Caribbean Shores Resort and Cottages 2625 NE Indian River Drive Jensen Beach, Florida 34957.  Toll-free 1-877-585-0085, (772) 334-4759 or www.caribbeanshores.com

Content researched and assembled by FTF; images by Tommy’s at the Beach and Stuart CVB. Copyright 2011.
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