I was born just a stone's throw from Southsea seafront and lived there until I was nineteen, returning to visit my parents most summers and some Christmases after that. Following many years abroad I came back to live in Southsea in 1999, first in South Street and then in a flat in Festing Road, funnily enough just a few doors down from my parents' first house. I moved away again in 2002 but returned in 2007, and I feel that my link with Southsea will carry on for some time yet.
My first home in Festing Road was next door to a bed and breakfast place, and I remember that every summer they had parties of senior citizens come to stay. This was in the fifties, and I think at that time Southsea did have a reputation as being a holiday destination for the older generation. It has never been a major resort, perhaps because it has a shingle beach with only a few sparse patches of sand. It does now, however, offer quite a number of activities for the younger generation.
Walking down to the end of Festing Road we come to Cumberland House, which houses a small natural history museum and a butterfly enclosure. The highlight of the museum is a model dinosaur; I can't comment on the butterflies as one of my sons had a phobia of flying insects and we had to steer well clear of them! On leaving the museum you can walk through Cumberland gardens with its lawns and flower beds and find the Canoe Lake just outside. It is quite small, but in summer you can take pedal boats out on the lake. There is a cafeteria where you can sit and enjoy refreshments indoors or out, or just stop and buy an ice cream before going slightly further east to the rose gardens. I have heard that recently this is not such a peaceful place as it used to be; it must be ten years since I last took my mother there in a wheelchair. If you have young children, don't miss the model village which is just next door. My sons insisted on going there every summer, mainly to see the model railway.
Going further east would take you to Eastney and the Royal Marines Museum, and eventually to the ferry to Hayling Island where there is another popular beach. The ferry is a small one as the journey only lasts a few minutes.
Going west from the Canoe Lake brings you to South Parade Pier with its amusement arcade. The Victory Bar on the pier has been one of Southsea's main venues for live music but is apparently threatened with closure. Continuing west, you have the choice of walking along the promenade or through the rock gardens which lead to the Pyramid Centre. On a wet or cold day families can enjoy the indoor swimming pool here instead of the beach.
About another hundred metres west are the D-Day Museum and Southsea Castle. The castle was built by Henry VIII in 1544. I used to take my sons there when they were young and I thought they enjoyed the cannon on the flat roof, but they confessed to me later that they found the whole place quite spooky. They must have preferred the D-Day Museum, easily spotted by the tanks just outside. Here you can see the wonderful Overlord Embroidery that tells the D-Day story. Made over a period of several years at the Royal College of Needlework, it is actually longer than the Bayeux Tapestry.
The next port of call for families would be the Blue Reef Aquarium, which I often visited when it was the Sea Life Centre.
It is relatively expensive but a great place for children in wet weather. You might be lucky enough to see the fish being fed in the open-top tank. There is a cafeteria as well as a gift shop.
If you continue along the promenade past Southsea Common you will reach Clarence Pier, where there is a funfair in the summer. From here you could take a hovercraft over to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, but the car ferry leaves from Portsmouth.
Crossing the common, the imposing Queen's Hotel stands before you on the corner of Osborne Road with its small shops and restaurants. Walking down here will lead you to Palmerston Road, Southsea's main shopping precinct. Apart from W H Smith, Boots, Dyas, Costa Coffee, Heidi's, Laura Ashley, Monsoon and Past Times, there are branches of Lloyd's, Halifax, Natwest and Barclay's (Barclay's is on Osborne Road). The two department stores, Debenham's and Knight and Lee (a branch of John Lewis), may not be there much longer. Debenham's has opened a store in Portsmouth, and following the demolition of Portsmouth's ugly Tricorn, John Lewis are planning to build a store on that site. I believe there are plans to keep the Palmerston Road area alive with perhaps a leisure centre. Just round the corner from Knight and Lee is Waitrose, Southsea's main supermarket, next to which is a multi-storey car park. Don't miss the fascinating little shops on nearby Marmion Road, where you can stop for a drink or lunch at the Greenhouse Kitchen, a vegetarian cafe. I can recommend their smoothies, coffee and sandwiches.
Some of Southsea's residential areas are quite affuent, but many large old houses have recently been bought up for renting out to students at Portsmouth University, particularly in the area surrounding Albert Road. Albert Road is a series of small shops, cafes and pubs, and is the location of the Wedgewood Rooms, a live music venue, as well as the King's Theatre. There are branches of Tesco and Somerfield alongside new age shops, hairdressers, Indian restaurants and florists.
Southsea is of course very close to Portsmouth's Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower, as well as Commercial Road shopping precinct and Portsmouth Guildhall. There are plenty of bus services: number 6 every ten minutes to Gunwharf and the Harbour Station, or the 17/18 bus to Commercial Road and Portsmouth & Southsea railway station, also a ten-minute service.
Although not a major resort as I have said, Southsea obviously has its attractions for all the family and is worth a visit at least for a weekend.