The Getaway: Clearwater Beach, a laidback, family-friendly Gulf Coast town

A single visit to the white sands and crystal clear waters of Clearwater Beach is enough to make anyone understand why it’s frequently listed as one of the best beaches in the country. This laid-back seaside town has elements of both South Beach and Daytona Beach with plenty of boardwalk, bars and restaurants to keep visitors entertained. Situated on the west coast of Florida in the Tampa Bay Area, it’s the perfect place to catch mesmerizing Gulf Coast sunsets. 

What To Do

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is, first and foremost, a non-profit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine animals. Here, you’ll encounter nurse sharks, otters, sea turtles, stingrays and a variety of subtropical fish. You can also tour their animal hospital. Famously, the aquarium is home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the popular Dolphin Tale films.

Of course, a trip to Clearwater Beach is incomplete without a day at the beach, so plan accordingly. With shallow water and wide shores of soft, powdery sand littered with seashells, you can wade far into the ocean with ease.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, get a bird’s eye view of the Gulf Coast aboard an excursion with Parasail City.

What To See

Located in the Clearwater Marina, set sail aboard aboard Little Toot, a family-friendly, dolphin watching tugboat. You’ll cruise through Clearwater Harbor and along the coast where the small tugboat’s wake attracts dolphins who get so close to the boat you’ll swear you can almost touch them.

Every evening Pier 60 hosts a sunset celebration festival that begins two hours before the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the perfect way to end the day watching street performers, buying souvenirs from local crafters and catching the famous Clearwater sunset.

Where To Eat & Drink

Frenchy’s is something of a local legend in Clearwater. What started in 1981 as a single restaurant has become a local mini-chain of five restaurants spread across town. The original is a small, down-to-earth, diner-like restaurant serving fresh fish, seafood gumbo and boiled shrimp. Today, crowds flock to the sprawling oceanfront, tiki-style Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill to enjoy frozen drinks, live music and fresh, casual beach bites.

Health-conscious travelers will enjoy fresh, organic eats at Basimo Beach Cafe. This off-the-beaten-path eatery is a favorite amongst Clearwater locals adhering to a gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan diet. Breakfasts here are delightful, featuring everything from poached eggs to bagels and fruit smoothies. Plus, it’s the place to go to get your cortadito fix.

Clearwater Beach is all about kicking back with a few pints and beer lovers will feel right at home at the Bait House Tackle and Tavern, where local brews, like 3 Daughters and Coppertail, flow freely. Cork N Brew Bistro is a great option for those who prefer a pinot noir option in addition to an IPA.

Where To Stay

Located on the south end of Clearwater Beach, Opal Sands Resort (pictured at top; nightly rates from $269) is a short walk to many of the area’s best attractions. The 230-room resort opened in February 2016 boasting spacious rooms with private balconies, a zero-entry oceanfront pool and beach service. Dine at onsite restaurants Sand Bar and Sea-Guini, and opt for an afternoon of pampering at Opal Spa.

Why Go

Clearwater Beach offers a relaxing, comfortable seaside getaway with a totally different vibe than Miami Beach. There’s lots of small-town charm, laidback beach bars and luxurious accommodations. It’s worth noting that Clearwater Beach holds the Guinness World Record for most consecutive sunny days in a year, marked at 361, reassuring potential tourists there’s little chance a vacation will get rained out.

Logistics

  • Clearwater Beach is a five-hour drive via I-75 to the I-275 from Miami.
  • Flights from Miami (MIA) depart several times a day to Tampa Bay (TPA) on American Airlines. Round-trip rates are as low as $77 on a one-hour, non-stop flight. Clearwater Beach is a 45-minute transfer from TPA. 

 

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