clearwater beach discoverd
I had long wanted to visit the west coast of Florida, particularly the beach stretch of towns just outside Tampa. But, like many I think, dismissed the area as just a beach vacation for families or for retirees. There had to be more to story though, especially having ranked consistently some of the best beaches in the US. And there had to more of an approach to visiting the area other than just the beach. Turns out there is.
Depending on where you're cruising in from, there's some great rates flying right into St. Pete/Clearwater Airport and for others always to Tampa. Either or, find your best rate and both position you smoothly for the trip. On a Thursday evening arrival grab something easy near the airport, get some rest and shuttle back to grab your rental in the morning. Driving in the area is very smooth and easy and in most cases just straight shots from here to there. First stop to the trip in the morning is just a quick 20min south to downtown St. Petes for some arts. A surprisingly diverse waterfront city.
After exiting the 275 into downtown the first to-do, before breakfast, is some excellent urban art viewing. Take a right and to get yourself on 1st Ave N from the Edge District to the Grand Central District and loop back on 1st Ave S. Really a very dense and impressive viewing of murals to start the morning. Then its breaky time on Central Ave, St. Pete's artisanal line-up of yum. If you're hungry its Maple St. Biscuit. I however, chose to keep it light and funky at Banyan Cafe. Offering local coffee, tasty bites and a great soul filled environment with a connected art gallery to view when your done.
Then its on to the arts finally for the day. Just shortly down the street on the waterfront is the Dali Museum. A must and a real real pleasure for museum and art fans alike. A modern achievement in architecture houses the historical development of Dali's work. A very very cool visit. And to finish, modern light bites and a refreshment for lunch on the ocean view patio. After, just a quick drive up the street and your on time for check-in at the funky Avalon or Hollander Hotel. Take your pick by style. Both share amenities, good vibes and an all around great value. Drop the bags and get some pool time with a refreshment before dinner.
Depending on the mood at this point options include: staying around the hotel for dinner on the outdoor deck; a short walk to the waterfront for drinks & apps for sunset on the rooftop at The Canopy; or a short walk back to Central Ave for several choices of quality grub and a lively environment. Either is a pleasure and really just depends on your mood. That said, you really shouldn't miss a walk along the waterfront for sunset. St. Pete is a very charming city to walk with a southern essence. But you'll be grabbing a waterfront walk in the morning if not.
Up around 8am for a cup to go and a walk along the waterfront to the Saturday morning market. A great morning to start the day. Your farewell to St. Pets before heading on for your beach drive. After checkout its basically a straight shot to St. Petes beach and up you go to Clearwater. You might stop and enjoy the scene at John's Pass or just simply play some tunes and enjoy a very funky throwback drive of an experience. Like a Floridian PCH. But retro color and style lined from your left to right for miles. Then within under an hour you arrive at the end of the line at Clearwater Beach.
So hear me out on my suggestion for where to stay. As you cross the bridge and enter Clearwater Beach you'll first be greeted by the strip option. A list of high rise hotels and dense, lively action up to Pier 60 and the Hilton Hotel. Then the magic begins to happen. From this point on things become a relaxed beach town with low rise business, beach cafe's and motels. The simply easy going vibe that one only needs their feet, or a beach cruiser, and a towel to transfer to and from beach-pool-refreshment-repeat. Where all you need is steps away at a beachy convenient store or a sidewalk bar stool. And to stage your easy days there is Hotel Cabana.
Really a motel, in a good way, they all really are in this area. Recently renovated, clean, easy, with a great motel style pool area. No elevators, no half mile walks before ever exiting a hotel, no crowds, just steps to easy going beach days. Your very own beach hideaway. Between the pool, the softest beach sand ever, like flour, you'll enjoy great pull up seafood lunch and drinks at Beach Fire Grill and dinner sunsets at Frenchy's. Your days will read much like the friendly and easy going nature of an Adam Sandler vacation movie. With all the mix of characters included.
When your ready to pull yourself out of your lazy beach-living-haze its time to head back into town. This can be quickly accomplished daily with a quick walk or you might choose to rent a beach cruiser during the stay. Town is a carry over vibe from whats been said now just add commercialized, crowds and lively energy. A great breakfast stop is Another Broken Egg Cafe then afterwards walk along to grab a picture of Frenchy's Oasis Motel. A throwback picture grab truly fitting of the vibe of the area, along with a lunch or refreshment stop further at Bait House. And for any water activities its all at your access at the small marina. Everything is just easy access. Easy like a beach town vacation should be.
But every lazy beach vacation must come to an end. And on that such evening I suggest, do sharpen your beach lazy self up with your leather slip ons, sunset drinks and apps at The Sandbar at the Opal Sands Resort. A refined take on the friendly beach vibe and an ideal sunset to end the trip on. To top it off you wouldn't go wrong to have dinner here just up the steps. Next morning its just a quick straight shot across the water to the airport. A nice last drive to enjoy.
Please let us know your thoughts below.