Choose Fun in Clearwater Beach
A one-place-fits-all vacation destination
Never buy one-size-fits-all clothes – they usually don’t. It is, however, possible to find a one-place-fits-all vacation destination. My pick? Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Define your style and you’ll find your place of enjoyment.
► Luxury Lover
You go first class, leave planning hassles to others, love great service and don’t mind paying for the extras.
Start with sugar-fine white sand, a gentle blue ocean and a balcony overlooking the Gulf. I stayed at the AAA Four-Diamond-rated Sandpearl Resort. I loved my room – but if you want more space, suites with more amenities are available.
From my balcony, I could see dozens of yellow and white beach chairs with umbrellas, perfect for sunning, reading or just watching the waves come in. Cabanas are available around the climate-controlled, year-round swimming pool.
The Spa offers pampering and then some, with a full menu of massage, skin treatments, body treatments, mani-pedis and waxing. If you can’t decide what you want, choose the La Petite package – a tapas-style selection of three treatments.
Several in-house tours are available, from learning about the hotel’s environmentally sensitive LEED certification to a cooking demonstration or tours of the art collection.
Of the several eateries on the property, Caretta’s is the fine dining option – Clearwater Beach’s only AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. I was hooked from the first taste of their king crab and corn chowder; rich and wonderful with big chunks of crab, roasted corn and scallions drowned in decadent, thick soup.
For other excursions, the concierge can arrange anything and everything, on or off-property. Whether it’s making a spa appointment for you, arranging a trip to St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum (take your credit card – the gift shop is amazing) or chartering a deep-sea fishing outing, just ask and you will receive. Even a thoroughly unusual request – a guest wanted a helicopter to fly his party to Sarasota for lunch – was accomplished on short notice.
► Going Retro
You love finding vintage places – and saving a buck or two. You loved “Happy Days,” and a burger and chocolate malt sounds gourmet to you.
Sure, you can find burgers on Clearwater Beach, but grouper’s the big thing here. You can get it fried, grilled, blackened or broiled, on a sandwich or not, in tacos … you can even order fried grouper cheeks. Who knew that was a thing? Lots of other seafood delights to choose from await, too: For an extra-special treat, stone crab season runs from mid-October to mid-May.
For a throwback accommodation, check out the Blue Wave Motel Suites. It’s just a short walk from Pier 60 and the beach. Built in 1948, the facility has been completely remodeled but retains its Art Deco roots with porthole windows in the doors. Suites accommodate two to seven people, and feature full kitchens. Check out a bike for exploring or join the evening party on the rooftop deck.
Another cool choice is the sunny yellow Barefoot Beach Resort and Marina. The closest I could get to finding out the original date on the facility was, “It’s been here a long, long, long time. It’s real Old Florida.”
Like Blue Wave, you’ll find up-to-date amenities. This pleasant little place has a pool, and is located right on the Bay, just a quick jaunt from the Gulf. And you can rent paddleboards, kayaks and jet skis right here at their marina.
► Family Fun
You want a place where the kids will have a great time, and one that doesn’t involve long lines and short rides. You’d also like them to give their thumbs a rest and take a break from electronics.
The beach is the biggest attraction in Clearwater Beach. The city’s planned for visitors – lots of public beach, convenient restrooms and spots for showering off the sand – just look for the happy turtles.
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring beach toys, as there are plenty of shops where you can rent or buy anything from buckets to bikes. For older children (48 inches and up), Surf Style has a FlowRider indoor wave machine where they can safely learn to surf.
A definite “must do” is a visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This facility specializes in marine rescue and rehabilitation and is the home of Winter, the star of the film Dolphin Tale. In case you missed the movie, it’s the story of an injured dolphin and how she was fitted with a prosthetic tail.
In addition to seeing the animal hospital, there are also tanks of small marine animals such as starfish and sea urchins, stingrays and sharks – and, of course, dolphins. The aquarium also offers tours including the Sea Life Safari, with a net pull for an up-close look at some of the bay’s inhabitants, and a stop on a small island covered with seashells.
Many more tour options are available at the marina, with vessels ranging from Little Toot, a replica tugboat, to a pirate ship and a shark boat.
Some accommodations, including the Sandpearl, have extensive planned activities for children. Captain Bligh’s miniature golf offers picturesque holes. Pier 60 is a hub of activity with a bungee jump and a giant inflatable slide. And there’s a covered playground – offering fun and shade.
► Party Animal
You just get going when the sun goes down. You’re up for live music, great drinks and a good time.
True confession: I’m a morning person. But reliable friends who stay up past 10 p.m. tell me that Shephard’s Resort is a real hot spot. Their tiki bar and concert stage overlooks the beach and Gulf. For dancing and great DJs, visit their WAVE Nightclub, and go for Margaritas at SALT – they offer more than 100 different tequilas and a number of craft beers in their open-air bar.
You can’t beat the view from the 10th floor rooftop of Jimmy’s at the Edge Hotel, which features a 24-foot fire pit and 300-square-inch projection TV. Toucan’s Bar and Grill is another spot for a late night adult beverage, and stays open until 3 a.m.
If you’re not a real night owl, you can find live music at Palm Pavilion afternoons and early evening. Caretta’s has easy listening music on weekends from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. The Watercolour Lounge at the Marriott is open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
The biggest bargain on the beach is the Sunset Festival at Pier 60, where all sorts of entertainment can be found two hours before until two hours after sunset, and the day’s last rays always get a round of applause. – Elaine Warner