Travel | Curious about Clearwater Beach?

By Debi Lander
mail@floridanewsline.com

Travelers head to Florida for sunshine and world-class beaches. We locals enjoy the nearby Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra beaches, but TripAdvisor’s list of Top Beaches for 2019, 2018 and 2016 gives Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast the number one ranking. Here’s why you should consider making the four-hour drive, especially off-season. 

Sink your toes into sugar white sand that’s as soft as powdered sugar and doesn’t burn your feet. The Gulf Coast owes much to the Appalachian Mountains for the steady flow of quartz crystals they send downstream and to the rivers that replenish the smooth, soft, white beaches all along the Gulf Coast.

Aptly named, Clearwater boasts clean, turquoise water, warm even in winter at temperatures generally hovering around 70 degrees. The wide-open beach runs two-and-a-half miles, offering a fantastic walkway perfect for strolling. Strategically placed buildings along the path include beach bars, bistros, coffee shops, and of course, restrooms. Lifeguards remain on duty throughout the year, and the Beach Lifeguard Station offers specially-built beach wheelchairs. 

Although the main draw remains the inviting, family-friendly beach, visitors find plenty to do, with water activities and fun adult water toys abounding. Spend a morning or afternoon on rental jet skis, stand-up paddleboards or kiteboards, available at the main marina or at hotels. Look into the variety of boating and fishing charters.

Save time for a stop at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the set for the 2011 movie “Dolphin Tale,” starring Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. Another actor, however, stole that show. The film tells the story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail, but was saved by researchers who created her a prosthetic one. Winter’s story of survival spawned a 2014 sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2.” This Winter added to the many visitors the other winter already brought, providing funding for a massive expansion due for completion in 2020. The Aquarium showcases other rescued animals, a petting tank, and educational shows — but don’t be surprised to spot Winter swimming without her tail. Apparently, it tires her out — she can’t wear it all day long. 

Catch a dolphin cruise for up-close views of dolphins and manatees in the wild. Choose from a variety of vessels — a family-friendly daytime cruise (with booze), a boat looking like a giant shark with open jaws, or a pirate ship. The Aquarium’s Sea Life Safari includes a naturalist who describes sea creatures from a net pull, then releases them. 

Kids and adults love to search for more than 200 six-foot dolphin sculptures painted and displayed around the city on the Clearwater Dolphin Trail. 

Capture sunset at the Pier 60 Daily Festival (milder than the one in Key West) with vendors, street performers and nature’s colorful show. Clearwater boasts some 240 sunny days per year. Every April, Pier 60 hosts the Sugar Sand Festival that attracts sand sculptors from around the world. 

I was surprised and delighted with the quality of food served on the StarLite Majesty sunset dinner cruise. The meal began with cocktails, included three courses, then dancing with a DJ. At sunset, everyone stopped to revel in the luminous glow. The evening ended on the upper deck gazing at the night sky and city lights. 

Great getaways include great food, and Clearwater Beach offers a variety of locally owned, non-chain restaurants. Don’t miss tasting some grouper while in the “Grouper Capital of the World.” My favorites included breakfast at Crabby’s, lunch at Badfin’s, Cooter’s or Pearly’s, and for a fancier night out, The Beachcomber. 

Visit Clearwater Beach and see why it was named Top Beach. 

Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.

 

Photo courtesy Debi Lander

Clearwater Beach is a great place for a stroll.