I’m sharing our tips for visiting Clearwater Beach, including tasty restaurants, fun attractions, family friendly activities, late night hot spots, and our favorite Clearwater Beach hotel!
Plan Your Trip to Clearwater Beach!
This past March, right between our birthdays, Bryan had to go to a conference in Tampa. Since I am always looking for ways to travel and make our dollar stretch a little bit (his airfare would be covered by work), I thought it would be fun for us to make it into a short vacation. I mean, what better way to spend a March Birthday Week than in Florida!
Sometimes, we love going on vacation and seeing everything possible. This time, we just wanted to reconnect and recharge our batteries. We wanted sun, warmth and relaxation, so instead of staying in Tampa, we headed out to Clearwater Beach.
Stretched out along a narrow, 3-mile stretch of the Pinellas Peninsula on the Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach has the blue waters of the Gulf to the west and the bay to the east. It is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the country and sometimes even the best beach in Florida, and it’s not hard to see why with it’s white sandy beaches and gorgeous, clear water. The beach also has a good amount of shallow water which makes it a family friendly beach.
Clearwater Beach has a lot more to offer than just the beach itself, though. USA Today readers voted it “Best Beach Town in Florida” in 2013 which probably has a lot to do with so many fabulous activities. From sunbathing on the beach, diving into a sand volleyball game, renting a fishing boat, taking a dolphin watching cruise, parasailing, heading to the aquarium, or sailing away on a pirate boat (yes, you read that right) – Clearwater Beach has you covered! Your choices don’t end when the sun goes down either.
THE BEACHES AT OR NEAR CLEARWATER
Clearwater Beach is fabulous and fun loving! White, soft beaches, shallow waters making it a family friendly beach and clear blue waters where you can often catch sight of dolphins! Plus, you have a lot of additional attractions off the beach itself, such as Beach Walk shops, restaurants, bars, and Pier 60.
We spent a lot of time on the cool, white sand. They have lots of umbrellas, chairs and even cabanas that you can rent; they are not cheap but having one always makes a huge difference for beach day enjoyment. Plus, if you’ve flown into the area, renting is a convenient option to stay cool and protect your skin from the sun.
There is free parking in downtown Clearwater and use the Clearwater Ferry for a ride to the beach.
SAND KEY PARK
Head a little south of Clearwater Beach to Sand Key Park. It has all the amenities you need for a great family outing like cabanas, bathhouses, dog park, and playground. They even have beach wheelchairs which move easier on sand and float in water. It’s a little bit quieter than Clearwater Beach proper.
CALADESI ISLAND STATE PARK
North of Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island is one of the few pristine barrier islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast and is accessible only by boat. You can grab a ferry from Honeymoon Island where you might be able to spot dolphins! The island has lots of wildlife, boat docks, beach and kayak rentals, and a concession stand with beer and wine.
North of Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island a natural barrier island with four miles of sandy beaches and nature trails. There is a lot of wildlife to see and enjoy, including bird observation areas. There is a dog beach, too! You can swim, fish, and snorkel here while also having access to a concession stand and showers. This beach is also the launching point for the ferry to get to Caladesi Island.
CLEARWATER BEACH RESTAURANTS
We stayed at Hyatt Clearwater Beach which is right on the boardwalk which spans a lot of the beach and houses a lot of great waterfront restaurants. Grouper is a local staple, so you will definitely want to add that to your must eat list (if you like seafood that is). If you don’t like seafood, don’t worry. There are plenty of restaurant options.
CRABBY’S BAR AND GRILL
Located in the heart of Clearwater Beach’s Beach Walk, Crabby’s Bar & Grill has both indoor and outdoor seating available, making it a great place to take a break from the sun at lunch or enjoy a sunset at dinner! It’s also open to either 11pm or 1am depending on the day, making it great for late night food, too! We loved sitting outside at the lively Crabby’s Beachwalk Bar and Grill and the fresh shrimp we ordered for dinner.
FRENCHY’S ROCKAWAY GRILL
Enjoy open-air beachfront dining at this Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill location. You will definitely want to get a table before sunset to enjoy the amazing views and order the She Crab soup, Rocktapus, Grouper Nuggets, or a grouper sandwich (they have 6 different kinds!). You will also enjoy live music every day from local artists, a lounge area with games and pool tables, and two large bars where you can order up a tasty rum runner!
The Palm Pavillion is a laid back and casual local joint. They’ve been in business since 1926 and offer view of the Gulf and great seafood and steaks, chowders, smoked ribs, and burgers! With happy hour Monday through Friday, you don’t want to miss this Clearwater Beach restaurant. They also have a small list of grab and go items which are perfect for family beach days!
ISLAND WAY GRILL
Island Way Grill is a great restaurant if you are looking for fresh seafood as they catch their own seafood every single day. You’ll enjoy harbor views here, and I definitely recommend trying the sushi. It was so fresh and flavorful!
SHOR AMERICAN SEAFOOD GRILL
Located at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, we went SHOR for Bryan’s birthday dinner and definitely splurged. It was definitely worth it! Great seafood appetizers, fabulous surf and turf, and delicious desserts. I am still shocked this was a hotel restaurant. Plus, they are really dedicated to local breweries which Bryan loved as a craft beer guy.
SHEPARD’S BACKYARD TIKI BAR AND MARGARITA GRILL
Part of Shepard’s Resort, the Backyard Tiki Bar & Margarita Grill has great live music every day. You can get up and dance or simply sit back and enjoy the incredible sunset with a cool tropical drink. It is definitely a place for fun loving visitors. At night, you will find a nightclub feeling with dancing!
CLEARWATER WINE BAR AND BISTRO
Clearwater Wine Bar & Bistro is a European inspired wine bar and bistro, plus retail wine shop. They have an eclectic Mexican and Mediterranean menu with bold, fresh flavors: delicious flatbread pizzas, hearty pasta dishes, great meats & cheeses, and authentic Mexican recipes. The wine list has 60 wines by the glass, over 200 bottle selections, and a collection of locally brewed craft beers on tap. Plus, you do not want to miss their sangria if you are a fan!
If you have a dog along for your trip, they have a pet-friendly outdoor courtyard!
CLEARWATER BEACH ATTRACTIONS & SURROUNDING AREA
CLEARWATER MARINE AQUARIUM
If Clearwater Marine Aquarium doesn’t sound familiar to you, how about Winter and Hope? At only three months old, Winter was found stranded after becoming entangled in a crab trap line which cut off circulation to her tail flukes. She was brought to CMA for treatment of her injuries, but she did lose her tail. She is also the star of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. Her and Hope’s story has been an inspiration to so many people and you can visit them at CMA. Please keep in mind the aquarium is small. They do amazing rescue work though and it’s worth the visit to support their cause and, of course, see Winter and Hope.
Pier 60 is a 1,080 foot fishing pier and recreational park. It has a bait house, telescopes, covered pavilions, playground, and more! Every single day of the year (weather permitting), there is a Sunsets at Pier 60 festival. How fun is that? There is live music and crafter booths every night and on weekends they show outdoor movies. It really is the spot to be at night so you won’t want to skip this if you visit.
The pier offers great views of the beach, and we saw lots of people fishing off the pier as well. It made for a really nice walk in the morning with our coffee. I loved this sign on the boardwalk for how easy it was to find everything, but mainly because it references St. Louis which is where I was born!
CAPTAIN MEMO’S PIRATE SHIP
If you are going as a family, I think Captain Memo’s Pirate Ship is a must do Clearwater Beach attraction. The family cruise includes music, games and friendly pirates aboard their ship and the Pirates Ransom with entertainment. There is something for everyone in this world of swashbucklers and pirates, including amazing views of Clearwater Beach. The two-hour trip along the intracoastal waterway and Gulf of Mexico does have beer and wine on board.
Enjoy a day or night on the water aboard the Caribbean themed Calypso Queen! Docked in the Clearwater Beach Marina, this ship has daily sunset dinner cruises with a tropical island style buffet. They also offer daytime sightseeing cruises.
THE DALI MUSEUM
In downtown St. Petersburg, the Dali Museum offers an unparalleled collection of his work year round, including special exhibits that change out, too. There are daily guided tours and audio guides available with admission as well as children’s activities.
THE SUNKEN GARDENS
Sunken Gardens is a botanical paradise in the midst of the bustling St. Petersburg. It’s an 100 year old garden that’s home to some of the oldest tropical plants in the region. Meandering paths, waterfalls, demonstration gardens, a butterfly experience, and more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, it’s perfect for everyone!
GREAT EXPLORATION CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
Great Explorations Children’s Museum is the perfect place to let kids be kids and get out of the sun for a little while! Kids can launch a tennis ball to the top of the museum, create art masterpieces, or even join a workshop. It’s located next to Sunken Gardens, making it a great two stop day if you leave your Clearwater Beach hotel.
CLEARWATER BEACH HOTEL
We received a discounted room rate to stay at our top choice hotel, the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa. We absolutely LOVED our stay at this resort. It was our top choice when researching hotel because it was in our perfect location – across the street from the boardwalk and beach, near great restaurants, and close to Pier 60.
It also has amazing views! Depending on what side you are on, you can get views of the Gulf and/or the bay. From the balconies of our room, we got both. It was so fun to sit out there for a little bit every day and enjoy the views. Our room itself was gorgeous as well. We were upgraded to a suite, which means we had a large room with kitchen and two bathrooms (perfect for a big family), and I loved all the details (especially the seashell lamp).
The hotel also has lots of great amenities. In the room alone, they offer way more amenities than most hotels offer, including toothpaste, mouthwash, lip balm, and after sun gel. Plus, the resort has a pool bar, nice restaurant, bar, coffee and pastry station, a hot tub on a high floor with lots of loungers to relax with pretty draped lights for nighttime, and a good sized pool area with foosball and ping pong, indoor cabanas for rental, yummy food, and again FABULOUS views. Of all the beach locations we have been to, this is one of the best pool side views I have ever experienced.
We also had this view when we enjoyed lunch at Swim. The buffalo chicken sandwich is a must order in my opinion, and I’m a bit of a buffalo sandwich connoisseur. The sauce is baked into the chicken making it absolute perfection.
While I love being on the beach, I also really love having a bar, waiters, and bathrooms all at accessible distance. This felt like the best of both words. We had a great breeze coming off the Gulf and a killer view of the water and beach. Plus, we got to watch the pirate boat. 😉
WHAT I READ ON THIS VACATION
I always try to read as much as possible on vacations, so I like to end my travel posts by sharing with all of you what books I was reading. For this trip, it was All the Light I Cannot See and Girl on the Train. The former offers different perspectives of WWII than we normally get through a blind French girl and a young German boy forced into the war. The latter is a really fast mystery that has since been turned into a movie with Emily Blunt.