Like most everyone else, we hadn’t traveled as a family for over a year. We were steeped with wanderlust and longing for our next adventure. So, as soon as we were vaccinated, I started to make plan.
But, a yearlong hiatus from traveling, a global pandemic, and enough stress and anxiety to last a lifetime had changed me. I was no longer footloose and fancy free, snagging the first flight to anywhere so long as it was a good deal.
I used to be up for anything.
Paris with a five-year-old with food allergies? Oui!
Rome in a heatwave so hot the gelato melted before it was passed over the counter? Ciao!
Iceland during an arctic windstorm so strong it'll blow your car door off? Halló!
London public transport with a pack-n-play, jogging stroller, and car seat in tow? Bloody fantastic!
Vacation Planning Paralysis
After a year out of the planes, trains, and automobile loop, I'd lost my carefree, my que sera sera, my cool.
Instead, I found myself in vacation planning paralysis.
Would a city be too busy?
Would the beach be bustling with bikinis and board shorts?
Would there actually be people?
On a plane?
No really, would there actually be people?
Living, breathing, people in 3D that I’d need to sit near? Stand beside? Talk to?!
I obsessed over the pros and cons of each option.
Hawaii? Too humid. Too tropical. Too far.
California? Too crowded. Too Covid-y.
Caribbean? Too risky. Too touristy.
Just before I closed my tabs, called it quits, and began to mourn the death of my cool, accepting the fact that I’d never travel again and start to say things like, “those were the good ol’ days,” I paused. I heard a call to a place that felt like home. I’d gone there every year growing up until I felt like I’d outgrown it, seen all there was to see. But something told me to look back, examine it from a different angle. Maybe those were the good ol’ days.
So there I was, finding my flatlining free-spirit in... Florida.
Indian Rocks Beach
First, though, I had to decide where in that gorgeous gator-filled state we would land.
Ft. Myers Beach? Been there a hundred times.
Miami? I’m not sure I’m allowed back.
Clearwater? I heard it was nice when the beer bonging spring breakers are gone.
Indian Rocks Beach? Now, wait just a second.
With a few clicks and a credit-card, we were on a flight to Tampa where we rented a car and drove the 30 miles over to Indian Rocks Beach, a quiet stretch of sand just south of Clearwater. To say it was the perfect location for a low-key beach retreat would be an understatement. The sand is sugary white and soft. The waves are gentle and the waters warm and shallow. And, with hardly any crowds (and not a high-rise hotel in sight!), we often felt like we had all that glorious shoreline to ourselves, and the stingrays and dolphins.
While the beach alone is enough to get you there, our accommodations would be enough to make you want to stay. Forever. Our Gulfside Pavilion at Indian Rocks Inn was a two bedroom one bath poolside beach house just steps from the sand. We literally couldn’t get any closer to the ocean if we tried and the heated saltwater pool shared with only a handful of other people on the property was the perfect break from the beach. We spent most our days in a breezy current consisting of beach house, pool, beach, repeat. With just six units on site and a strict no-partying rule, the Inn was never noisy or full of knuckleheads—a pleasantly surprising side of Florida I’d never explored when I was one of the said knuckleheads.
Indian Rocks Inn
For families, the Indian Rocks Inn has everything you need. Full-sized kitchens with all the necessities, beach towels, sand toys, a sea kayak, fat-tire bikes, beach loungers and cabanas, and pool floaties. There’s even a beer fridge in the office they keep stocked with local brews, a shuffleboard court, and FREE laundry! Parents: you know how huge this is. Parking is easy and onsite and the folks who work there could not be nicer. Corey and Janet make sure your trip is special starting with an initial call before you even get there to learn about your family and your needs. They even left us a bottle of wine in the refrigerator, t-shirts, beer koozies, and eco-friendly cups upon our arrival!
I’m not sure we would have left the beach house at all, but on the two days the weather took somewhat of a drizzly turn, we did venture out beyond the paradise bubble. One of the days, we hit up Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the tale-less dolphin. We were with a legit Dolphin Tale fan, so this was a must for us. While there are better aquariums out there when it comes to captive sea life, this one focuses on dolphin rescue which made it unique and educational. Just don’t go expecting to see a big, black-lit tanks. For that, you’re better off at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.
On the other rainy day, we did the two-hour drive to Orlando to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yup. We did Universal during Covid-19. Clearly, the Gulf had washed away my paranoia and I was game for rolling the dice with the weather and the crowds. I’ll save that adventure for another post!
If you’re on the fence about traveling now or lost about where you’ll go on your first trip post-pandemic, I cannot recommend Indian Rocks Beach and the Indian Rocks Inn enough. It was exactly what we needed to ease back into our old travelling routines without having to worry about a thing once we got there. Honestly, it was the most my family had relaxed since the start of the pandemic and I’m already dreaming of going back. This time, I won’t hesitate for one second.
Where to stay
Gulfside Resorts: You can’t go wrong with Gulfside Resorts. If you want to hear the waves from your window or have your feet in the sand within seconds of shutting your front door, stay at Sarah’s Seaside, Indian Rocks Inn, or the Narrows. We stayed at the Gulfside Pavilion in Indian Rocks Inn where we went from beach house to pool to sand and surf all within a stone’s throw of one another.
Where to eat
Kooky Coconut: This tiki hut looking, laid back, grab-and-go, was walking distance from our beach house. They serve up a mean Cuban (they say it’s the best in Clearwater and we would agree!) and the tuna stuffed avocado hits the spot after a day in the sun.
Guppy’s: A bit more upscale than Crabby Bills or PJ’s Oyster Bar, this seafood restaurant did not disappoint. We tried the coffee-dusted sea scallops and bacon-wrapped swordfish with cheddar grits. With our family food allergies, going out can be difficult, especially at a seafood restaurant, but our waiter made sure we were safe without ever seeming annoyed.
Tropical Ice Cream: Across from the beach with 70 flavors, this place was a much needed treat after a hot day! The best part: an allergy menu is posted in a couple of locations inside the parlor so we knew exactly what was safe to eat before ordering. Superman ice cream for the win!
What to do
Clearwater Marine Aquarium: Home of Winter, the tail-less dolphin! This aquarium is less full-fledged aquarium (i.e, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago) and more of an educational center for dolphin rescue. Don’t go expecting to see tons of fish and sea life. But, for what they lack in large, beautiful displays of tropical fish and ocean wonders, they make up for in large, beautiful dolphins, each with its own inspirational story and incredible journey. For Dolphin Tale fans, it’s a must. For the rest of us, it’s still pretty cool. Bonus: They offer free admission to teachers and one guest Monday-Thursday!
The Florida Aquarium: This aquarium is what you’d expect: coral reefs and jellyfish; stingrays and sharks; seahorses and octopus. Albeit on the smaller side, we did this aquarium before our flight out of Tampa and easily killed a couple hours. Perfect for littler kids, this aquarium also comes with a huge outdoor area with playground, splash park, bayside picnicking, and restaurant onsite.
Indian Rocks Beach: A short drive south from busy Clearwater Beach, this beach is so chill that there were even a few days where we felt we had it all to ourselves. Gently waves and shallow waters make it awesome for ocean first timers.
Our stingray friends just outside our beach house!
We received a complimentary upgrade at Indian Rocks Inn in exchange for this post. This did not influence my opinions.
This blog will contain occasional affiliate links and sponsored posts. This does not affect my opinions, and I only feature products that I already own or genuinely would recommend regardless of an affiliate relationship. Thank you for supporting Adventures in Mom Jeans.