Category Archives: Gulf Coast for Children

Anclote Key

Discovery Tour of Anclote River and Anclote Key

Boat Tours of the Anclote River

Odyssy Cuises boatThe river and island boat tour begins with a visit to the ticket booth on locally-famous Dodecanese Blvd, home of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. Lined with fun gift shops, fantastic Greek restaurants, and ridiculously stocked desert shops, Dodecanese Blvd is a perfect place to gather people together for boat tours. The city of Tarpon Springs was founded along the Anclote River, where sponge divers docked their boats. The sponge trade is still alive and thriving today, with a multitude of sponge diving boats docked at the edge of the river. Thanks to the active tourism at the Sponge Docks, a number of cruise companies have made the docks their home as well. Gulf of Mexico tourThe cruises have various themes, some explaining the sponge industry in detail, others putting emphasis on dolphin sightings, sunsets, and local wildlife. Thanks to the gentle currents of the Anclote River, all of the tours are guaranteed to be relaxing. And for scenery, an Anclote River tour cannot be beat.

 

Anclote River

Anclote River TourThe Anclote River begins far inland, winding through mangrove forests and low lying terrain where no homes are built. The river is fed by run off and by a multitude of springs, creating a constant flow toward the Gulf of Mexico. Rain and spring waters are not the only forces to affect the river, however. The Gulf of Mexico plays it part twice a day as tides rise and fall. According to local boat captains, the tides of the Gulf of Mexico can push up river as much as four miles, which is about a mile beyond the docks themselves. For those who know what to look for, the leading edge of the tide can be spotted as a small wave moving upstream. Anclote Key lighthouseThe width of the Anclote River between the Sponge Docks and the Gulf of Mexico ranges from less than 200 feet to over 1000 feet, making it fairly easy to navigate –or so says a passenger. Boats ply the river constantly, from small speed boats to large fishing and shrimping vessels. The tour boats are among the traffic that use the river, making their way from the docks westward, out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Heading out to the Gulf of Mexico

Ospreys on Anclote RiverWe were invited to ride on the Odyssey Cruises tour boat via local connections, which is to say, a couple of us from the Florida Beach Rentals office live in Tarpon Springs. Odyssey has a large pontoon boat which is perfect for carrying tour groups down the river. They offer multiple themes for their tours, including dolphin sighting, sunset cruises, and trips to Anclote Key, which is an island just off the coast. We pushed off the docks just after noon with the fascinating island of Anclote Key as our destination. The ride down the river was as entertaining as ever, with our tour guide pointing out wildlife and local features of the landscape. Anclote River ParkFlorida is home to some remarkable birds, most of the notable ones being large wading birds, though Ospreys, or fish hawks, are an exception to that rule. The ride down the river was roughly three miles, winding past commercial docks, restaurants, private homes, mangrove islands, and waterfront city parks. At the end of the river, the banks curved away and the mangroves dwindled to reveal the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Our destination was in plain view three miles out, the island of Anclote Key.

 

Anclote Key

Anclote Key, FLWe landed on the southern tip of Anclote Key, beaching on the region of shifting sands and sandbars. Tidal rivers ran across the island while the soft white sands the region is famous for covered the shores.  Despite being a land form in transition, plants had found purchase on the newly formed spit of land shooting off the southern end of Anclote Key. Seashells on Anclote KeyWe offloaded onto the sands, with several other island-hopping beach-goers already there to greet us. Odyssey Boat Tours gave us a time limit to play on the island and set us free. The passengers scattered, each choosing his or her own direction.  Anclote Key is a three miles long, far too much terrain for us to explore fully, so a search of the immediate area was the next best thing. Shelling on shifting sands of a sandbar was ideal. The tidal rivulets running across the sand made it even better. The shells were easy pickings. The springtime waters were a sparkling turquoise color, and the sand, as always, was as soft as talcum powder. Although we were given ample time to explore, it seemed too soon when the boat horn blew, rounding us up again.

 

Return to the Sponge Docks

Anclote Key beachOur return trip included a search for dolphins, though we had no luck on that day. It did, however, give us some appreciated extra time on the water. We arrived back at the Sponge Docks happy travelers. The overall tour was quite enjoyable. The boat ride put a number of us in the mood for the excellent deserts available just across the street, although I think some of us might have had that in mind all along. The tour seems a great idea for adding a pair of entertaining hours to the day. With an affordable price tag for this boat tour of the Anclote River, the Gulf of Mexico, and Anclote Key, it is an easy choice for a bonus activity during a vacation outing to Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.

 

Odyssey Cruises: 727-934-0547 rio@odysseycruises.net

 

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John Levique Pirate Days

Pirate Day Fun and Warfare

John Levique Pirate Days at John’s Pass

Happy Return of Piracy

Maidens au portPirate days returned to John’s Pass in Madeira Beach, Florida May 8th through the 10th. The pirate festival has become a well-known excuse to visit the already popular tourist destination of John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. The site is a well-known favorite for locals and visitors alike, due to its fun shops and great restaurants. The tourist-style shops sell nautical knickknacks, T-shirts, mugs, and lots of other touristy items. The restaurants are fantastic, some of them having dining docks on the waterfront. The ice cream and taffy shops add the finishing touch. The boardwalk and village are the perfect size for strolling, big enough to keep visitors looking but small enough so that you can see it all.

 

Pirates Everywhere

PiratesJohn Levique Pirate Days added a special buzz to the shopping and dining village at John’s Pass. Merchant tents lined the streets while the main parking lot had been converted into a tent with a stage for bands. A second performers’ tent stood at the other end of the street, with a fighting ring for pirate disputes and tents for visiting pirates. The streets were filled with visitors shopping, eating or just sightseeing. At every turn more pirates showed up, walking the streets in every directions, grizzly pirates, lady pirates, lone pirates, or packs of pirates. A lot of pirate paraphernalia was for sale in the merchant tents, for anyone wanting to join the fray.

 

Real Life Pirate Battle – Almost

Pirate shipThe pirate invasion of John’s Pass happened at noon. The battle, as it turned out, was between the pirate tour boat that docks at John’s Pass and the Hubbard’s Dolphin Tour boat. The two large vessels spun around the waters of the pass at surprising speed, shooting water cannons at one another. Added to the mix were cannon blasts that echoed off the shops of the boardwalk. SmPirate cannonsaller boats weaved into the battle, armed with their own water cannons, taking any opportunity to strike at the “invading” pirate ship. On the shore, more pirates fired cannons, ones much larger than those on the ships. The pass reverberated, literally, with the booming of cannon fire.

 

 Join the Pirates

John Levique Pirate DaysAfter the pirate show, it was time to return to the shops, the vendor tents, the shows, and a chance to dine on the waterfront. Despite the all the activity, the parking was reasonably priced and easy to find. Thanks to the small size of John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, it was not difficult to find the car again. The event was a lot of fun, which it always is. Visitors to this yearly festival are advised to check the online schedule. It will help guide you toward the times when bands are playing, when the pirate invasions and battles occur, and promotional specials offered by bars of John’s Pass. If you are living in the area, or you plan to visit in May, be sure to check this event out in the coming years. John Levique Pirate Days really is one of the best events of the year.

Pirate Battle Video

 

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Barrier Island Touring

Touring Barrier Island Heaven

Barrier Island Touring with Private Island Charters

Anclote River ParkWhen Private Island Charters extended an invitation to tour the barrier islands of the coast, the offer was impossible to refuse. The tour started at Anclote River Park, a well-known destination for Tarpon Springs locals. While the park is not so much a destination for tourists, it does have many positive draws. Aside from the boat ramp, it has picnic pavilions with lots of shade of trees around, a swimming beach, and a Native American mound site. We set off from the boat dock at the park and headed out the boaters’ channel at the mouth of the river.

 

North Sandbar

North SandbarOur first destination was the island that most locals call North Sand Bar. It is part of a long sandbar that has risen above the water. It now supports mangrove trees, bushes and grass, despite being very small. The sands are perfectly soft, and bright. A few people were strolling the island while a number of private fishermen worked the shallows around the island. It is a beautiful place, which is most often a peaceful place to enjoy near solitude on remarkable beaches. We took a tour of the island on foot after dropping anchor. With such an abundance of shallows, it is a great place for wading.  After circling the island on foot, which took only minutes, we waded out into the shallows of the sand bar. Then, with more to see ahead of us, we climbed back onto the boat and headed off for more island exploring.

 

Island Currents

Anclote Key sandbarNorth Sandbar nearly connects to Anclote Key to the south but is cut off by a strong current that flows between. Anclote Key is a three mile long island that is uninhabited. It is well established, with forests and grasses along its length. Visitors to the island can almost always enjoy solitude on its beaches. The island also has a lighthouse from the 1800s. While visitors can no longer climb the tower, it is nice for photographs as well as being an important part of local history. We cruised by the northern end of the island using the channel between the island and the sandbar. Because the day was slightly windy, we did not stop the Private Islands Charter boat on Anclote Key, due to the higher surf rolling onto its western side, which is where the beaches are.

 

Three Rooker Bar

Three Rooker BarThe next island to the south is called Three Rooker Bar. Maps vary on its name, refering to it as both an island and a sandbar. The sands of Three Rooker Bar are still moving about, with a channel currently cutting the island in half. According to locals, the island was split in half in the past but then reformed. A recent storm split the island again, and a strong current now passes between the two halves of Three Rooker Bar. We stopped on the southern half, pacing around its shores for a  while. The shelling next to the tidal current was fantastic. The flow of water between the island halves was as strong as any river, creating surf where it issued into the waters on the west side of the island. While we wanted to circle the island on foot, the southern end was roped off for the nesting birds. The trees on the southern end of the island were inviting, but we left them to the birds and their nests and returned the way we came. The return trip to the docks was a sun-filled ride across the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Island Boating

Private Island ChartersThe charter was a lot of fun, with Captain Todd going wherever requested. He explained that most excursions include dolphin sightings. The sites within reach are numerous, with even more locations either north or south of the places we visited. Honeymoon Island State Park is within reach, as is Howard Park, the Anclote River, and the northern Nature Coast. Captain Todd said that, while he has taken fishermen out, most his charters are booked by vacationers who want to see the area. The region of the Gulf of Mexico his boat plies is remarkable, with pristine natural islands, state parks, an historic river, and more. The choice is yours. You can ask to go where you like, or you can sit back and let Private Island Charters treat you to the treasures of the coast.

 

Private Island Charters: 727-534-8818

 

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No Roads Found to Caladesi Island

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Wildest Islands on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

If you would like to stay at a waterfront vacation rental with a private dock serviced directly by Private Island Charters call us at Florida Beach Rentals and we will do our best to accommodate you. (727-288-2020)

St Petersburg Florida

For the Love of Speed – Fast Cars and Fun on the Florida Gulf Coast

Festival of Speed

race carTwo automobile events hit the Tampa Bay area this spring. The first is the Festival of Speed. This event displays the high priced cars and boats we all would love to own. The car show runs from March 6th to the 8th and is held outdoors at Vinoy Park. Attend the Festival of Speed to see for yourself where auto meets art.

 

Grand Prix of St Petersburg

race carThe second exciting event for lovers of speed is the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. This race is held on the streets of St Petersburg, with the beautiful waters of Tampa Bay within view. Watch professional racers zip through the streets of one of America’s favorite vacation destinations. This event hold all the thrills you are looking for in professional racing.

 

Illuminated Light Parade

Set on the beautiful St Petersburg waterfront, the 2015 Illuminated Night Parade is a night time treat. This grand display of lights travels through the streets of St Petersburg, each float casting bright light into the coastal towers of St Petersburg, Florida. Enjoy floats, marching bands, dancers, and race cars in town for the Grand Prix of St Petersburg. This is definitely a great weekend to visit this Gulf Coast city.

St Petersburg Florida

Downtown, St Petersburg, Florida

St Petersburg Florida

Downtown St Petersburg, Florida

 

Downtown St Petersburg, Florida

Downtown St Petersburg, Florida

 

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Gasparilla invasion

Tampa Falls to Gasparilla Pirate Attack Again

Tampa Falls to Pirate Invasion

Jose GasparillaThe City of Tampa fell to invasion once again this year as pirates sailed into Tampa Bay. The pirate ship named the Jose Gasparilla sailed up the bay to the convention center where the pirates accepted the key to the city from the mayor. The ship was filled to the brim with pirates, every crow’s nest and deck filled with attacking buccaneers. With cannons thundering, the ship made its way from Port Tampa Bay up Seddon Channel, which ends in front of Tampa’s convention center. An armada of private boats and cruise boats surrounded it, filling the channel from side to side and end to end. The arrival of the ship was greeted by the screams of the capacity crowd along the waterfront.

 

Pirate Party of the Year

Gasparilla festivalThe Gasparilla Pirate Invasion first occurred on horseback, all the way back in 1904. The ship, Jose Gasparilla was added later, apparently being the world’s only fully-rigged modern day pirate ship. The festival is now over a hundred years old and as popular as ever. The streets swarmed with attendees, a large portion wearing pirate gear. Vendors were out in force, booths and carts providing plenty of food and souvenirs. Downtown Tampa parking lots switched from hourly charges to a onetime fee for the day to accommodate the event that filled Tampa to to the brim. The festivities officially began at 11:30 but would-be pirates began to appear in the streets as early as 8:30 in the morning. By the end of the Invasion, the streets were filled from side to side with Gasparilla revelers.

 

Gasparilla Pirate Armada

pirate armadaOne of the best parts of the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion each year is the armada of private and charter boats that accompany the arrival of the tall ship Jose Gasparilla. Charters from our own Clearwater Beach were among the flotilla, our camera capturing Starlite Majesty, The Tropics, Two Georges, Super Queen, and Calypso Queen. The boats arrived to the waters surrounding the convention center non-stop, most of them decorated with beads and other pirate gear. One boater had his own cannon. While the gun was only a foot long, it had all the explosive sound of a large cannon. Private boats cruised the shoreline throwing beads to the waiting crowds along the railings of the convention center. The result was a dizzying array of moving boats, loud music, cannon fire, and shouting crowds.

 

Tampa Waterfront

Gasparilla Pirate InvasionThe Tampa waterfront is a pleasant place to be any day of the year. The area has seen many improvements over the decades. Waterfront dining is the most popular attraction, second only to strolling the waterfront walkways. It is the site of a popular Fourth of July celebration, as well as many other events throughout the year. Amalie Arena and Curtis Hixon Hall are two sports and concert venues at the water’s edge for Tampa fun seekers. And, of course, the waterways of Tampa are a paradise for private boat owners to enjoy, a surprising number of restaurants catering to those arriving by boat. Gasparilla invasionAdding the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion to the Tampa Waterfront is a great idea for the city. The city bursts at the seams for the Gasparilla themed events that include the Gasparilla Kids Parade, the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, the regular Gasparilla Parade, and the nighttime pirate festival. If you are planning a trip to the Tampa Bay area, which includes Clearwater and Saint Petersburg, keep the end of January in mind for the dynamic Gasparilla Pirate Festival events.

 

Video of Gasparilla Pirate Invasion

 

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Fun Times at John Levique Pirate Days

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Kite Festival

Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition

Beach Kite Festival

kite festival Treasure IslandThe Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition flew over the Florida Gulf Coast again this January, lighting up the daytime sky with bright colors. The day started with mild breezes, not the kind you want for a kite competition, or for flying the giant sized kites. Fortune was on the side of the kite flyers, however, when the afternoon weather brought winds that were perfect for kite flying. The skies were partly cloudy, and it the type of day where some people wore shorts and others light jackets. Crowds lined the sidewalk, using the wall at the edge of the sand for seating. The turnout was fantastic, with the beach restaurants and bars filled to capacity. The large crowds lent an atmosphere of excitement to the event.

 

Sport Kite Competition

sport kitesThe completion portion of the festival was as fun to watch as ever. One of the events that drew the most comments was the children’s kite races, where youngsters, holding kites several times their size, raced across the sand. Other competitions included synchronized kite flying, sport kite flying, and flying sport kites to music.

 

Giant Kites

giant kitesWhile the sport kites were flying, all manner of non-competition kites were sailing over the beach at Treasure Island. The giant octopus kite was a favorite again. Many new kites made their first appearances as well. The kite receiving the most comments was the figure of a scuba diver with a shark swimming just behind him. A kite premiering at the beach was the image of a geisha with the flowing tail of the kite representing her dress.

 

Perfect Beach for Kite Flying

kite at Treasure Island BeachWith kites filling skies over the beach, it was easy to enjoy a walk across the sand. The combination of large, colorful, slow moving kites and racing sport kites created a mesmerizing effect.

The location at Treasure Island Beach was well chosen, the sand being wider than any other location on the coast. Plenty of fun shops and restaurants are nearby, as well as tourist activities like fishing charters and day cruises. The festival comes to the beach each year in January, providing a great excuse to get out to the shore at this great beach community.  If you are considering a trip to the Florida Gulf Coast for the winter, the Treasure Island Kite Festival and Sport Kite Competition is an event to keep in mind.

 

 

Treasure Island Kite Festival Videos

 

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Caladesi ferry port

No Roads Found to Caladesi Island

Reaching Caladesi Island

Caladesi from the airCaladesi Island State Park is a favorite destination for tourism, but how do visitors arrive to a location devoid of bridges and roads? Because of the remote location, arriving at the state park is an event even for locals. Caladesi Island was named when the barrier island stood alone, detached from other land masses. Thanks to a large storm, Clearwater Beach and Caladesi Island are now connected. Despite the land bridge, the northern reaches of the island are still a long way off. Only serious hikers succeed at the 1.5 to 2 hour walk from Clearwater Beach, especially in the warmer summer months. The solution for an easier journey is to enjoy a relaxing ride aboard the Caladesi Island Ferry.

 

Honeymoon Island Ferry Dock

Caladesi Island FerryThe secret to reaching Caladesi Island State Park lies within a second park, Honeymoon Island State Park. Honeymoon Island is a fantastic destination in its own right, with hiking trails, beaches, a dog beach, and a nature center. What Honeymoon Island also has is a set of boat docks where the Caladesi Island Ferry departs. In order to get to the docks, visitors must enter the state park, paying a low entry fee per car. The ferry ride is $14 for adults, $7 for kids, and free for kids under five. Ferry service begins at 10AM. To ensure everyone gets back to the mainland, the ticket office stamps the tickets with a return time, which is about four and a half hours later. A shaded pavilion offers ferry ticket holders a place to rest while they wait for the next ride to Caladesi Island.

 

Caladesi Island Ferry Ride

Caladesi Island FerryThe whole purpose of visiting Caladesi Island is to relax. The ferry is a perfect way to begin. The ride is smooth, traveling across an enclosed waterway which is protected from the Gulf of Mexico waters by the barrier island of Caladesi itself. The ferry passes between the mangrove shores of Caladesi Island and the palm-tree-lined Dunedin Causeway, which leads to Honeymoon Island. The scenery is always fantastic, which includes a chance to see local dolphins and manatees. The waterway is well-used by motorboats, kayaks, and jet skis, creating a lively summer-like playground 365 days a year. The ferry ride travels its last leg down a mangrove-lined channel. After a short, twenty minute shuttle, the ferry arrives at the docks on Caladesi Island.

 

The Docks at Caladesi Island

Caladesi IslandThe docks at Caladesi Island are the first impression many people have of the famous Gulf Coast destination. Awaiting disembarking guests is the Caladesi Island concession stand. The food stand offers a variety of snacks, along with some much-needed refreshments on hot days. Beyond the building, visitors will find trails that lead to restrooms, outdoor beach showers, picnic tables, a playground, and hiking trails through the undeveloped lands of the island. Naturally, the beach is the number one attraction. Behind the restrooms and beach showers are long, raised walkways, transporting beach-goers through the coastal mangroves and dunes. The reward for this easy stroll is a beautiful, white sand beach of the Florida Gulf Coast. CCaladesi Island aladesi Island Beach is a fantastic stretch of bright sand traveling north and south. The length of the beach is so long that walkers and hikers are sure to be pleased. With beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent, and the turquoise waters of the Gulf to play in, the destination is one to remember. The Caladesi Island Ferry makes reaching the island paradise so easy it would be shame for area visitors to pass it up.

 

Caladesi Island Ferry Video

 

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lighted boat parade

Tarpon Springs Holiday Lighted Boat Parade

Holiday Season in Florida

lighted boat parade in Tarpon SpringsThe holiday season in Florida might not have snow, but it does have plenty of holiday cheer. What we don’t experience with snow, we make up for with miles of seasonal lights and endless festivals. On the Florida Gulf Coast, the water plays a large part in our lifestyles, adding a dimension to events that is easy to appreciate. Holiday boat parades are popular, drawing lots of boaters and loads of spectators.

 

Snow Place like Tarpon

Snow Place Like Tarpon eventThe tourist town of Tarpon Springs, Florida, added an in-town festival to its yearly holiday boat parade. Snow Place Like Tarpon is a street festival held on the main street through Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Avenue is an interesting place on any given day, with old style buildings, multiple antique shops, a museum, and some great restaurants. For the Snow Place Like Tarpon event, Snow Place Like Tarpon holiday festivalmanufactured snow was blown from marquees, to fall on the people below. Vendors lined the curbs, with dancing girls in holiday outfits dancing in the streets. A snow slide occupied an empty lot filled with spectators. The vendors sold holiday crafts and lots of food, including great deserts. A holiday wagon ride was also running for the kids, as well as an outdoor movie screen showing Disney’s Frozen. Most importantly, Santa took Christmas wishes on the dock at the bayou. According to residents of Tarpon Springs, the crowds roving Tarpon Avenue were the largest ever to attend the event. Snow Place Like Tarpon ran from the antique district all the way down to Spring Bayou, where the holiday boat parade was scheduled to run at the end of the evening.

 

Holiday Boat Parade

holiday lights on boatThe holiday lighted boat parade entered Spring Bayou at the end of the evening events. The parade, illuminated the waterways of Tarpon Springs, thrilling happy spectators who had moved from the street festival down to the bayou. Onlookers lined the waterfront with beach chairs and cameras, cheering to the boats as they passed. The boats entered Spring Bayou with holiday music at high volume and their boat horns blasting. The reflection on the water added to the dazzle of the lights. The boat owners enjoyed the event too, turning back for a second spin around the shoreline. boat parade capture The lighted boat parade started and ended on the Anclote River, home of the famous Sponge Docks, the host marina being the docks at Captain Jack’s restaurant and bar. The boats returned by the same route, docking at the marina to enjoy nightcaps and banter about the parade. Snow Place Like Tarpon and the Tarpon Springs Holiday Lighted Boat parade made for a fantastic holiday themed night out in the famous tourist town.

 

Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs FloridaTarpon Springs is a small tourist town on the northern end of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida. It lies along the Anclote River, home of the famous Sponge Docks, the leading producer of natural sponges in the world. It is known for its Greek community, pioneers of the area’s sponge diving industry. Greek food is a must when visiting this city. Tourist souvenirs are of nautical theme, with sponges sold in every shop. Handmade soaps and kitchen seasonings are also a hit in Tarpon Springs. Boat rides cruise the river, with some taking tourists to the coastal barrier islands at the mouth of the river. Tarpon Avenue is known for its many eclectic antique shops. The city is also a favorite stopover for those on bike rides along the 38 mile Pinellas Trail. Tarpon Springs is forty minutes or less to the north of other famous Florida Gulf Coast destinations such as Honeymoon Island State Park, Caladesi Island State Park, and Clearwater Beach. If you plan to visit the Central Gulf Coast, put Tarpon Springs on your list of places to see.

 

Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade video:

Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade video (short version):

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