It only took my husband and I a few hours to fall in love with Clearwater, Florida. Our weekend getaway helped us understand why so many choose to go back to Clearwater Beach year after year.
Gorgeous turquoise water and white sandy beaches
The clear water matches it’s namesake and the white sand is soooo soft that it feels like pillows for your feet when you walk down the beach. During our visit, the water temperatures were warm enough to swim in the ocean comfortably.
If you prefer to spend most of your vacation time on the beach, you will discover plenty of lounge chair rentals available along with water sport rentals.
Location, location, location!
During our visit, we stayed at the gorgeous Wyndham Grand Resort located in the heart of Clearwater. Our balcony gave us views of both the Gulf of Mexico and the bay.
The property location is extremely convenient to everywhere you would want to be. You can truly park once and not use your vehicle until you leave if you want to. The only way that you can park your vehicle at the resort is by the complimentary valet which sets the tone for vacation mode. It was so wonderful to melt into my bed (Simons Beautyrest Cape Brenton Pillowtop Mattress) after full throttle days filled with fun. I even called the resort to find out the what type of mattress it was and they said that it’s a pretty common question and that you can even buy them online. The bed is that memorable! The Wyndham is steps away from the beach and a short distance to the pier, downtown shops, and the marina where you have multiple charters and tour options.
Where to Eat
One of my favorite parts about visiting a destination is trying out the local food. We had a lot of fantastic options to choose from and we were both very happy with each of the restaurants that we selected during our visit. In fact, we wouldn’t change a thing…except maybe the amount of time we had in Clearwater because we loved the area so much.
Located on the beach, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill is known for their Grouper Sandwiches, Grouper nuggets and their She Crab soup. So, of course, we opted for all of the above.
The only variation was that we ordered the Reuben version of Frenchy’s World Famous Grouper Sandwich. There is dining available inside, you can sit at the outside bar, or enjoy a table with a view of the beach. Frenchy’s has multiple restaurants in the Clearwater area that each have their own personality. We opted for the beach location because you can’t beat those gorgeous turquoise views while you are eating.
The Bait House
Located on the bay, this tiny gem is worth discovering. You can’t go wrong with fish tacos…ever! We noticed the Bait House during a walk and decided to give it a shot. The inside has a little store where you can purchase bait and tackle. There is a small covered bar area and table seating on the deck. There is an additional deck where you can drink if you are waiting for a table. Dollar bills from previous guests cover just about everything that you see.
It’s always a good sign when customers want to wallpaper a restaurant with their dollars. We opted for fish tacos made with the fresh catch of the day while enjoying the beautiful bay views and relaxed atmosphere. When I said fresh, you cant get any more fresh than fishing boats bringing you their catch directly to your dock every day, it’s that fresh.
I found out about Pearly’s from an online article about great cheap eats in Clearwater. Located about a block off of the strip, this Clearwater gem only has outdoor seating available with colorful chairs and creative tables.
Their blackened fish tacos are served with chips and mango salsa were a highlight of the weekend. We even considered going back to Pearly’s for another meal, but decided to check out a few other options.
Clear Sky Cafe came highly recommended by the man we met at the visitor center. You know it’s good when a local says that they eat there 3 times a week. After our meal, we understood why. We ate a late dinner on the side outdoor patio. The atmosphere was cozy with live music playing in the background.
For appetizers, we ordered the Tuna Guacamole (Ahi tuna, fresh avocado, ponzu sauce served with wontons)….AMAZING!!! For our entree we ordered….. big surprise…..fish tacos. I ordered the blackened shrimp and my husband ordered the Mahi tacos. Perfect meal for our last dinner in Clearwater. I don’t think that you can wrong with any of their menu options.
It’s not vacation without ice cream, right??? There were many options to choose from for ice cream and we ended up at Ice & Cream Creamery. Their ice cream is fresh and locally sourced. I had visions of eating my ice cream on the beach but it melted super fast…which meant that I had to eat it even quicker.
You have multiple options to see dolphins in Clearwater. I’ve had a special place in my heart for dolphins every since I was a little girl and I was so happy to experience them in a variety of mediums.
There are more than 120 dolphin sculptures on the Clearwater Dolphin Trail located throughout Clearwater. It’s fun to discover the creativity and personality that local artists designed on each one.
Take a Ride on the Sea Screamer
I still get giddy every time that I’m fortunate enough to see a dolphin in the wild. The Sea Screamer dolphin boat ride did not disappoint.
We took the 4pm ride on the Sea Screamer that gave us some history of the area along with the best part, which was the dolphin sightings on the world’s largest speedboat. They even played Van Halen’s song “Jump” each time the dolphins jumped our boats wake. The boat ride gives you another perspective of the area and it’s perfect for all ages.
Get inspired at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
During our 90 minutes Sea Safari tour, we were educated about the local ecosystem, saw several dolphins in the bay, collected sea shells on a man-made island, witnessed a data collection where they gather samples from the ocean. This tour inspired us to treat sea life with a sense of wonder and respect.
The butterfly ray (pictured above) was collected for data and released at the end of the day. The daily data collected helps monitor the health of the ecosystem. The tour was a great mix of education and hands on learning.
Learn the heart behind Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The movie “Dolphin Tale” about the dolphin name Winter who lost her tail, put the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on the map, but they were advocating for sea life long before the media and movie shared their story. It is truly such a special place.
The mission of rescue, rehab, release, and passion behind it, is evident with every volunteer and staff you encounter at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. In fact, the walls are filled with success stories of animals that were able to be released. The permanent residents are the ones that would not have the survival skills to make it on their own.
During your visit, you can partake in an interactive educational talk, watch a short film, learn more about scenes from the movie filmed on location, check out underwater viewing of the animals, and explore exhibits. This is a working animal hospital with a goal of releasing the animals whenever possible which makes it unlike a typical aquarium experience. There are also limited behind the scenes experiences available so make sure that you book in advance if possible because they fill up quickly.
Explore Pier 60
Walk down the pier for another perspective, pay an additional dollar and you can walk to the very edge and get a closer look at the fishermen’s catch of the day. Kids will also enjoy playing at the nearby covered playground and open green space.
Sunset is celebrated 364 days a year at Pier 60 two hours before and two hours after – weather permitting. You can find unique souvenirs from artisans, entertainment by street performers, and free outdoor movies that begin at dusk on the weekends. (Check the calendar for the schedule)
Clearwater Visitor Center
Whenever possible, I try to stop at the local Visitor Center when I’m visiting a destination for the first time. They are a great resource for local events, attractions, and local restaurants. We asked for restaurant recommendations and the best way to make use of our time during the weekend. We booked a boat tour and dined at two restaurants based on his wonderful recommendations. The Clearwater Visitor Center is conveniently located within close proximity to Pier 60.
Shops on the Strip
There are plenty of shops to choose from to find the perfect souvenir or pick up something to use during your visit. Make sure that you cross the road at the crosswalks because they do enforce ticketing for jaywalking to help keep pedestrians safe.
If you don’t want to worry about finding parking during your visit you have several affordable options. The Jolley Trolley makes multiple stops along Clearwater Beach for a low fee, Florida Free Rides runs from 9am to 3am 7 days a week and operate on sponsors and tips, and the Clearwater Ferry is convenient for visiting the Aquarium.
Chase the Sunset
Each sunset and sunrise is so unique. I try to do my best to adjust my schedule so that I have time to watch them whenever I’m near the ocean.
On our last night we decided to explore a bit more around the area. Another up and coming area in Clearwater is the Cleveland Street District with restaurants, shops and events.
On our way back to the Airport we made a stop at Tarpon Springs. This recommendation came from a senior citizen at the gym I attend. He said that the area was known for their natural sponges that were caught by divers.
The area is very Greek which means fantastic food. Unfortunately, we were between meals but we mustered up enough space in our stomachs to try the Baklava.
We began and ended our visit to Clearwater at the Orlando/Sanford Airport. We found earlier flights that allowed us to have more time on Florida versus flying in later closer to the destination. This also gave us the opportunity to test drive the KIA Optima PHEV during the 2.5 hour drive. This was my first time driving an electric hybrid and packing light for the weekend with only a backpack in tow. We discovered that the vehicle exceeded our expectations in space and luxury with fantastic gas mileage. (We never had to fill it back up!)
Thanks again to Visit Clearwater Beach for hosting my visit and KIA for providing our loaner vehicle. All opinions are my own.