Southport is one of those places that is very special to me being that it was my hometown for many years. The latter part of my teens were spent here and it is where I brought my first baby home to, on a chilly Autumn day over eleven years ago. I know the old Victorian streets like the back of my hand and nothing says “home” like the smell of the salty sea air, the tinkle of music from the Victorian carousel and the vague tones of friendly scouse that you hear out and about.
Although it’s often thought of as an upmarket town with good shopping, plush 5* hotels and a tiny bit of the la-di-da, I personally love it for the opposite side of things. For me, I’d say that Southport is probably best described as a slightly nostaligic and kitsch seaside town. Not in an over the top way like its Blackpool neighbour – but just in a warm and familiar way that will remind you of happier, more innocent times. A bit of a forgotten gem if you will, which is a real shame as there is an awful lot to offer, particularly for families.
Anyone who really knows Southport, knows that this partially sleepy seaside town bursts into colour and life with sparkle, razzamatazz and good old fashioned family fun once the holiday season begins and that is without a doubt the best time to visit.
So come with me, grab your bucket and spade and let me show you around my favourite haunts, the best place to eat fish and chips and the loveliest family friendly places in this, my favourite of all seaside towns.
Well you can’t have a seaside holiday without it can you?! Southport beach is a wide, shallow, flat and extremely clean beach with sea that is sometimes miles out and sometimes all the way in. If you love a paddle then it might disappoint when the water is nowhere to be seen but if you want to ride donkeys, build sandcastles and play games then this is a perfect choice for you. We think it is an especially good beach for very little ones as it’s so flat and clean – so long as you avoid the donkey’s route that is!
The marine lake
A hot contender for my all-time favourite Southport space. This is the jewel in the seaside crown and from this central hub you can access an array of brilliant activities with the children. Hire a little boat and bob across the lake for a happy half hour, delight the littlies with a ride on the miniature “choo-choo” railway, throw yourself into zorbing if water walking is your thing or simply take a little stroll, ice cream in hand around the edge and soak up the buzzing atmosphere.
The old carousel
This age-old, Victorian gem is like a shiny beacon to all babies, toddlers and older children alike. Sitting pride of place at the entrance to the pier it boasts jewel coloured horses, carriages and an array of classic, super sweet, seaside tunes. This is a carousel that has been twirling and delighting families for generations and therein lies the charm. I rode on it as a child and (too many) years later it is still an absolute delight to ride with my own babies on the exact same horses. Yes, of course you can partake in the gaudy penny games that are shouting at you from the arcade behind, but the look of wonder on their little faces as you twirl around and go up and down on the carousel creates a particular moment of magic that will stay with you and them for a long time to come. It might also just distract them long enough to forget the arcade games!
Kings Gardens play park
Over the past few years, Southport has been given a rather lovely facelift and as part of this the council have built an incredible play area called King’s Gardens. A really large play park sitting next to the beautiful marine lake (and a conveniently located ice cream van!), Kings Gardens is a real draw for families from far and wide.
There is a separate fenced off area for the very little ones but if you have a tiny, free-spirited toddler like Sophie, they will be equally delighted with the dizzying heights of the older play area, fort-like bridges, rope swings, sand play and grassy verges. Just try not to peep “be careful” every two seconds like yours truly. My little girl is fierce and independent but I’m not sure this Mama is ready for it yet!
That said, we have and do wile away many happy hours in this park before cooling off with the obligatory seaside ice cream.
Fish and chips by the sea
Again, if you can resist, avoid the fish and chip shops that pave the path to the sea because they pale into comparison when it comes to The Swan chippy. This is where the locals really go for proper fish and chips. It’s only a few minutes walk from the pier, tucked down some obscure little back roads on Stanley Street. It looks like nothing from the outside but don’t be fooled – this is some of the best fish and chips you can buy. Eat in and have a pot of tea and a slice of bread and butter or take your chippy tea up to the beach, sit on the wall and take in the breathtaking vista. On a good day you can see as far over to the left as the Welsh mountains and as far over to the right as Blackpool and the Lake Disrict beyond. It’s a pretty good view for a chippy tea.
Avoid the tacky looking sweet stalls that pave the roads up to the pier and instead look for the old-fashioned sweet shop, hidden away in the back of the Wayfairers Arcade, about half-way down Lords Street. This sweet shop is an absolute treasure trove of wonders for little people and big alike.
They sell every type of confectionary you can think of, all packaged up in the traditional sweety jars you’d remember from your childhood. The fact that it’s so well known despite being hidden from sight should tell you how good it is! Sophie doesn’t eat sweets just yet as she’s so young still but I absolutely love taking Zak in. He gets £1 to choose exactly what he wants and we often spend quite some time in there marvelling at the choice on offer. I always go for the same thing in the end – a ¼ of pear drops! Sometimes the traditional ones are the best.
Café and cake
Fancy resting your weary legs after a long day? Or maybe you’d like a spot of cake to keep you going? As you’d imagine, there is no shortage of places to refuel but step back from the bustle of Lords Street (the main street) and take a pew in A Great Little Place. That is exactly what it is. A cosy, artisan café with comfy sofas and friendly staff. They serve homemade, fresh cakes to die for (we recommend the ginormous bakewell tart cake!) as well as a light menu with sandwiches, specials and pannini’s throughout the day.
The nicest thing about A Great Little Place is not just the warm welcome you receive, but that it is also an award winning social enterprise created to make a positive difference to the lives of people with autism. If you are planning on visiting Southport then you can have a look at their website and locations here. My mother, sister and I have been bringing our children / grandchildren here for several years and nothing is too much trouble, the children are always welcome no matter how noisy (!!) and it’s a real home from home for us. Note that there are unfortuantely no baby changing facilities however so you will have to go old school and change them in the pram or pop across the road to M&S where they have some decent changing facilities.
Splashworld Water Park
If splashing is your thing then look no further. This is a brilliant indoor water park that makes for a fun and action packed day out with the family. Splashworld boasts an excellent range of water slides ranging from the superfast, speedfreak type, right through to a lazy river, bubble spa and dedicated baby and toddler play area. This is one of the reasons that it makes such a good day out for us. With an eleven year old and a toddler, it can be really tricky to find something for everyone but Splashworld really ticks all of the boxes. For more information you can visit the website here.
If action and older activities is your thing then why not head over to Southport Pleasureland afterwards. It’s not massive but there are plenty of rides, spills and thrills for all ages. Our top tip is to splash out for an unlimited ticket to save any unnecessary arguments and meltdowns.
Afterwards why not head on over to the impressive restaurant/cinema/bowling/laser tag complex that is Ocean Plaza. Here you’ll find every eaterie from Frankie and Benny’s right through to McDonalds and Nando’s. This is just five minutes by foot and will be a definite crowd pleaser with older children.
Hesketh Park is about a mile from the main drag but we walk to it often. If that’s too far for you then there’s plenty of parking around the perimeter or you can hop on and off the local buses that go right past. This is a particularly lovely option for a really hot day because once you are inside the park gates, you are cocooned in a shady oasis of trees, flowers and windy paths that stretch out around the lake.
There’s a lovely children’s play park at the bottom of the hill that the children can run over the woodland hill to, a café selling the basics (meaning sugary treats and coffee for mama), toilets if you must and open green spaces for children to run and use their imagination. Zak loves to whizz down the hill from the observatory on his scooter and at the bottom there’s a perfect picnic spot near the rose gardens to take a breather.
There are so many more lovely places to visit in Southport but these are my all time favourites. I really hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it and will think about taking a trip to the seaside very soon.
Until next time