So the weather is getting dreary, the temperatures are dropping and you are getting restless – what’s the solution? Sun, sand and a whole lotta fun! If you are in the mood for an affordable beach getaway that is as pretty as it is hassle free, look no further than Clearwater Beach, located just west of Tampa on the Gulf coast of Florida. Clearwater Beach is a destination which meets all the important criteria for a quick 3-5 day vacay:
FLY: your destination must be easily accessed and relatively cheap to fly to. Clearwater Beach fits both criteria! St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport (PIE) is a small airport and is the closest to Clearwater Beach. It is super easy to navigate and is great for families and older folks who dread the hassle of a larger airport. Rental cars are literally just steps outside baggage claim. Also, this airport serves smaller carrier Allegiant Air which offers direct flights to Clearwater Beach from 28 cities. Keep an eye on their fares – you may be shocked at how inexpensive your flight can be! Additionally, Tampa International Airport (TPA) is just 20 miles from Clearwater Beach and offers 15 major carriers from which to choose. Shuttles to the beach run about $50, making this airport an affordable choice as well.
STAY: you need to have plenty of choices and rates must meet your expectations. Clearwater Beach boasts a great selection of accommodations, from luxury hotels boasting outstanding Gulf of Mexico views and every amenity imaginable, to cozy, locally-owned beach motels where you never have to get out of your swimsuit. There are rates to match every budget, so spend only what you can afford because you are going to be on the beach and enjoying the local attractions most of the time anyway!
DINE: lots of restaurants should be close by, in all price ranges. You will notice, on your drive from the airport to the beach, that Clearwater offers all the chains you are familiar with, including McDonalds, Subway, Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill to name a few. Maybe you are interested in trying some of the local fare closer to the beach? Try the fresh grouper sandwich or out of this world crab soup at one of the iconic Frenchy’s locations, or fill up on a very nice buffet at Shephard’s. Italian favorite, Gondolier, can be your go-to for delivery – the Gondolier Special pizza is loaded with fresh ingredients served on a tasty, traditional crust and the Caesar salad is delivered crisp and cold. These local restaurants, along with others, are good and affordable.
PLAY: there needs to be lots to do, on and off the beach, day and night. Again, Clearwater Beach hits the mark in all categories. Its public beach, with iconic wooden Pier 60 which stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico, is just what the doctor ordered. The city keeps this much-photographed beach really clean, perfect for taking a morning stroll or plopping your behind in a beach chair under an umbrella enjoying a great novel. The pier is a popular place to watch sunsets, too. Take a swim in warm Gulf waters and if you’re lucky you will spy some dolphins! The winding promenade is so nice – very wide and meticulously clean, a wonderful Beach Walk. This great public beach is wheelchair-friendly and open year-round. And did we mention how friendly everyone is? You’ll have to go out of your way to find someone who won’t give you a smile and a little of that southern hospitality. Families are welcomed with open arms, and since the beaches don’t allow alcohol the atmosphere is mellow. What to do during that short afternoon rain shower? Try the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine life. The Aquarium is also home to the dolphin Winter, star of the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale.
Sand Key Park on Gulf Blvd is another quintessential Florida playground. Clean and pretty, this park offers an outstanding soft sand beach, ample parking, walking paths, grills for barbequing and benches for relaxing and enjoying the warm breeze and local birds.
Sunset Cruises are offered at Clearwater Municipal Marina, along with fishing and sailing charters, dinner cruises and dolphin tours. More of a daredevil? Try your hand at parasailing or rent a jetski for some real water action. The Calypso Queen is docked at Clearwater Beach Marina - take a narrated tour of the harbor in the afternoon, or enjoy a sunset cruise offering dinner and dancing in a Caribbean atmosphere.
Not in the mood to be mellow all the time? Clearwater Beach offers some fun nightlife options, too. One of the most well-known is Shephard’s Beach Resort. This cool hotel offers great rates and accommodations with kitchens, but it’s also known as the place to party. Two large tiki bars are located on the beach next to the swimming pool, and live bands perform from afternoon through the evening - where else can you party like it’s Spring Break and not feel completely out of place if you’re over 30 (or even 50)?? The resort is a lot of fun – and the bars offer tvs to watch your favorite sports events as well. Another evening option which is perfect for a special occasion is to attend a concert at Ruth Eckard Hall, a state-of-the-art performing arts center, which offers fabulous concerts starring popular musicians. Check the Hall’s schedule ahead of your visit to see who’s on stage.
If you are visiting for a few days, consider a day trip to Caladesi Island, reached by ferry. This romantic little isle offers unspoiled beach, nature trails, picnic areas, beach chairs and umbrellas, playground and restrooms. It’s like having your own personal island!
Another way to really relax during your getaway is to ditch the car keys and let someone else do the driving. If this sounds good to you, the Jolley Trolley is a fun way to get around, offering service along the beach as well as a coastal route on Fri, Sat and Sun between Clearwater Beach and dowtown Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Buy a pass good for unlimited rides. An interesting environmentally-friendly transport option is Florida Free Rides - this service offers free rides in colorful open-air electric vehicles (don't be a Scrooge - drivers work for tips!).
Keep in mind that Clearwater Beach is in close proximity to another playground, St Petersburg, with its own variety of hotels, restaurants, shopping areas and great beaches, and only a half hour drive to the south.
So, it’s pretty obvious that Clearwater Beach meets the criteria for a quick getaway – don’t pack too much, because it’s super casual, and don’t forget the sunscreen and your Ray Bans. A few sunny days at the beach are guaranteed to put that smile back on your face!