This year visitors to Pinellas County beaches might want to try being a local instead of a tourist during spring break. Whether they hail from across the causeway or across the country, there are some less-obvious offerings folks venturing to the beaches can enjoy.
We don't mean to knock miniature golf, that giant slide or chain restaurants. But it's worth a further look to enhance a day at the beach and avoid the crowds.
"March is the (busiest) month up to Easter," said Robin Sollie, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. "Most resorts are 90 to 100 percent occupied at this time."
Jim Caul, director of sales and marketing for the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, says this spring is stronger than last year.
"There has been an uptick in travel and we're starting to see the demand coming back," he said. "A lot of the hotels . . . are experiencing occupancy levels in the mid to upper 90 percents for the month of March as well as the month of April."
Here are some ways to spend spring break that most visitors might overlook.
. Caladesi Island
This uninhabited preserve off Dunedin offers 3 miles of empty beaches with great shelling, 3 miles of nature trails, shaded picnic areas, concessions, restrooms, showers and a playground.
Getting there is half the fun and pretty cheap. Starting at 10 a.m., a ferry departs every half hour from Honeymoon Island at the west end of the Dunedin Causeway, (State Road 586). A round-trip ticket for the 20-minute ride costs $14 for adults and $7 for kids. Children younger than 5 ride free.
You can also walk to Caladesi from the north end of Clearwater Beach.
m Lighthouse Donuts
215 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach
This small joint usually has long lines on weekend mornings as locals stop in for their favorite apple fritters and key lime-filled doughnuts with graham crackers sprinkled on top. There are seats inside and outside.
m Yoga on the beach
Beach Yoga Pinellas started about a year ago for locals who come regularly and visitors who can just drop in for one week or one class. Yoga enthusiasts of all levels bring a beach towel and do their thing next to the Gulf of Mexico. The cost for single classes is $15. Package deals bring the price down to $5 a class.
Classes meet mornings and evenings throughout the week at Indian Rocks Beach, Redington Shores, St. Pete Beach, Madeira Beach and Sand Key.
Tampa Bay Watch
3000 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde
It's work, but it's rewarding work in beautiful spots. Volunteers ages 15 and older can sign up on this nonprofit's website to help build oyster towers that restore habitats or shell bars that prevent erosion and improve water quality. One project is on Elnor Island, a 15-acre natural island at the east end of John's Pass between Treasure Island and Madeira Beach. It involves lifting 30-pound bags of shells so you're getting a workout, a boat ride and helping the environment. And you can pat yourself on the back at no cost at all.
tampabaywatch.org, (727) 867-8166
Egmont Key is another rare strand of undeveloped beach that lies about 30 minutes by boat southwest of Fort De Soto Park. It boasts one of the few working lighthouses in Florida, two forts from the Spanish-American War and a soldier cemetery. The little island has restrooms, concessions and beautiful spots for picnicking, relaxing and taking a mental vacation whether for a day or a couple of hours.
Boats to get there are operated by Hubbard's Marina and Island Boat Adventures. Often, people spot dolphins on the way.
Round-trip rates from Hubbard's are $20 for adults and $10 for kids 11 and younger. The four-hour Island Boat Adventures trip includes snorkeling and costs $39.50 for adults and $28 for children, those under 3 are free.
Ka'Tiki Sunset Beach Bar
8803 W Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island
Since 1982, locals have come to this spot on the beach to get a bite to eat, have a drink and enjoy music every night. Bands or singers play weekdays as well on weekends. And, of course, it has a thatched roof with palm fronds blowing in the breeze.
katikisunsetbeach.com, (727) 360-2272
, Industrial Arts Center
2902-A Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport
Nestled in the so-called "arts village courtyard," this hot shop opens to the public regularly so novices ages 5 to 85 can blow their own glass piece. Options include a paperweight, vase, bowl or ornament. Prices range from $35 to $65 per piece and take about an hour to create with one-on-one instruction from an artist. "Blow your own glass" is offered the first Friday and third Saturday of every month from 6 to 10 p.m. In honor of spring break, however, the IAC has extended hours the last week of March. A little glass chick, referred to as a peep, has been added to the project menu. Spring break hours are 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 27 and March 29.
industrialartscenter.com (727) 623-4920
Island Grille & Raw Bar
1110 Pinellas Bayway, Unit 206, Tierra Verde
You had me at "50-cent oysters every day from 4 to 6 p.m." This laid-back spot above a shopping center goes beyond oysters and appetizers with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu and views of the water.
islandrawbar.com, (727) 865-7670