Each spring as the days stretch longer and the air grows hotter, my children start hinting that a beach day is needed. Perhaps begging for a beach day is more accurate. Ft. De Soto Park is one of our favorites. At the southernmost end of Pinellas County on the west coast of Florida, Ft. De Soto offers more than just a beach. A historic fort, camping opportunities, and family-friendly amenities put Ft. De Soto at the top of our list of beach destinations.
Heading away from the busyness of town, across the water to the first of five keys that make up Ft. De Soto Park, the van is full of excited chatter and the smell of salt air. The kids can’t wait to burst from their seats and run down to the water. With seven miles of coast and three miles of white beaches, Ft. De Soto attracts plenty of visitors but still isn’t overly crowded.
The children rush into the water and laugh themselves silly as the waves push them over while my husband and I find a comfortable spot on the sand. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Besides birds and fish, we’ve seen dolphins leap in the distance and found sandbars carpeted with live sand dollars. We’ve even witnessed a school of stingrays swing through the shallows – just remember to shuffle your feet! When the kids have finally worn themselves out playing in the water we seek out a picnic spot for the lunch we brought.
The park’s picnic tables and covered pavilions away from the glare of the sun and grit of the sand (who wants sand in their lunch?) are one feature that draws us to the park. We pack sandwiches, but available grills make hamburgers and hotdogs another option. A bit of grass and shade are a nice contrast to the beach. Just don’t forget to bring your shoes; many of those nice trees drop prickly cones and the crushed shell pathways can be hard on bare feet. Spacious bathrooms give us an opportunity to shower off and change before lunch.
After lunch, a short stroll brings us to the snack stand where we buy ice-cream for dessert. The attached gift shop is also handy in case you forgot your sunscreen, or like us got all the way to the beach before realizing one child had forgotten her flipflops!
Exploring the fort is our next stop. Ft. De Soto, constructed over a hundred years ago, was originally built for defense during the Spanish-American War. The builders made use of locally available supplies by constructing the foundation and walls from a unique mixture of shells and concrete. The real attraction for my kids, however, are the enormous guns. Traditional playground equipment is available in the park; the canons, however, hold much more appeal for my kids and they climb all over them. From atop the fort, the panoramic view of the park and Gulf is spectacular.
Before the day is done, we return to the beach for one more splash in the ocean, one more breath of salt air, one more moment to relax in this beautiful place and enjoy a magnificent sunset over Florida’s west coast.
Our visit is just a quick trip, but the park holds days worth of adventure. Take a ferry boat to the nature preserve on Egmont key, or visit the Quartermaster Museum for more historical insight. For overnight stays, campsites, including waterfront locations are available.
Ft. De Soto’s miles of white sandy beaches and endless blue ocean are exactly what you’d envision when dreaming of the perfect beach destination. Add to that great camping, a hundred-year-old fort, and plenty of family-friendly amenities and you’ll find Ft. De Soto Park is certainly a beach with more!