St Pete and Clearwater are the peanut butter and jelly of Florida. My state-based childhood means I’m always asked for the so-called “best place to travel in Florida” and the combination is, without a doubt, going to be my answer for many years to come.
At just a 30-40 minute drive from St Petersburg, Clearwater (Beach and City) has everything a picture-perfect Florida vacation could promise; dolphins, boats, seafood, an atmosphere perfect for spring breakers & families alike, the best beach in America, and more.
Read on to get acquainted…
Last year, TripAdvisor awarded Clearwater Beach the Best Beach in America and its not difficult to see why. The water is – eponymously – clear, shallow, and lines an endless expanse of white “sugar sand” (dubbed for its extremely fine texture) beaches. At almost every point on the palm-lined Beach Walk the ambience is as chill as can be, barring Pier 60 – a 1,080-foot fishing pier and recreational park for souvenir-searchers, playground-lovers, and sunset-watchers en masse.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
This ‘Aquarium’ is moreso a rescue center for marine life than a point-and-play attraction, and I could not love it more. While it lacks the glitz and glam of far less ethical – ahem – Ocean Lands in the State, buying a ticket to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is essentially investing in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other sea friends.
The big draw for the CMA is the permanent residence of Winter, the inspiring prosthetic-tailed star of “Dolphin Tale”, but the charm goes far beyond her story alone. As you will see in my upcoming vlog, the CMA even offers a complimentary boat shuttle (well worth the trip) between the main Aquarium and a separate exhibition that immerses guests further into the film’s creation – “Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure”.
If you walk across the Causeway from the Marine Aquarium towards Clearwater Beach, you’ll happen upon a gargantuan flock of boats (pirate ships and otherwise) offering dolphin tours. Why? This little stretch of the Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins far and wide. Dolphin spotting is a genuine guarantee.
My tour – provided by The Tropics Boat Tours – marked the first time seeing dolphins in their natural habitat (they particularly love to play in the boat’s wake) and I will never forget it.
Just remember to pack SPF. Booze is available on board and two hours sun-drinking without some is a oversight you really don’t want to make.
Though the beach and city have a phenomenal number of dining options available, nothing beats Crabby’s for me. It is low-key, high-quality, and boasts a shaded terrace with beautiful views of the beach. I recommend the coconut shrimp (wild caught royal red shrimp, butterflied, tossed in a sweet coconut breading & served with a spicy-sweet marmalade), fried pickle chips served with our secret sauce (I love you, America), and the blackened fresh Gulf Grouper sandwich washed down with a Dosarita (a Margarita balanced with a funnel of Dos Equis).
And seasonally…The Sugar Sand Festival
What may not be a year-round attraction is certainly worth working your year around, here. Pier 60’s Sugar Sand Festival brings a handful of the world’s best sand sculptors together to create truly elaborate themed sculptures from Clearwater’s sugar sand, water, and nothing else. This year’s theme – “FantaSea, a Magical Adventure Above and Below the Sea” – encouraged everything from life-sized a Bikini Bottom to an ode to Davy Jones and I have never seen anything like them.
There are actually three days left of 2017’s Festival so if it happens to be accessible, go down and vote for the winner this weekend – all voting donations go to Sandy Lane Elementary School, so you can even double-duty your charitable efforts.