If you’ve been searching for a tropical, island-style beach vacation that doesn’t require a passport, say hello to Clearwater Beach, Florida. Located on the west central coast of Florida, this slice of paradise offers miles of white sugar sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, a subtropical climate and a laid-back resort town vibe. We recently visited this coastal gem—home to gorgeous beachfront resorts, family activities galore and year-round sun—and came back with plenty to report. Scroll down for the full scoop.
The 411 on This Pedestrian-Friendly Resort Town
Located 20 miles west of the Tampa International Airport, Clearwater Beach sits on a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. The resort and residential community, which is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, was built around the idea of being pedestrian-friendly. Leave your rental car at the airport and take advantage of Clearwater Beach’s parks, restaurants, shops and attractions that all lie within a strip less than two miles long, easily doable by foot.
Psst! For those families who like to bike, scoot or stroll, Beach Walk—a half a mile winding beachside promenade—runs along the beach and acts as a sort of linear Central Park, giving the entire resort area an intimate yet casual feel.
Play on America’s Number One Beach
Clearwater Beach has been named America’s number one beach many times over, and there’s a good reason why. In addition to its pedestrian-friendly vibe, Clearwater Beach offers long, wide stretches of warm gentle waters perfect for swimming, cool powdered sugar like sand ideal for playing and walking on and a variety of casual waterfront eateries that happily welcome families donning swimsuit cover-ups and flip-flops (we told you this was a laid-back beach town). Whether you’re looking to dig your toes in the sand and chillax with a good book, catch a few Florida rays or swim, surf, parasail or jet ski, Clearwater Beach has something for everyone.
Psst! Along Beach Walk you will find a number of turtle showers to rinse off those sandy hands and toes.
Visit Pier 60
In the midst of Clearwater Beach is where you will find Pier 60, an iconic 1,080-foot fishing pier and recreational park. If you’ve got a crew of little anglers, stop into the pier bait house and pick up everything you’ll need to reel in a mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, flounder or other fish (depending on the time of year). The pier is a popular spot to fish during the day and its many lights make it ideal for night fishing, too. Once you’ve reeled in the big one, head over to the playground, one of the largest beach playgrounds on the Gulf, and take advantage of the covered play structures, slides and swings. Feeling a bit adventurous? At the entrance of Pier 60 you’ll find a bungee trampoline, giant inflatable slides and a climbing wall. But the best part? The pier’s nightly Sunsets at Pier 60 festival. Gather on the pier and catch a spectacular sunset surrounded by a carnival-like atmosphere (think: street performers, artisans, musicians, local artists) two hours before sunset and two hours after sunset (typically from 6 p.m.-10 p.m.). It’s the perfect way to cap off your day at Clearwater Beach!
Meet Local Movie Stars Winter & Hope
If you’re looking for a fun activity that will both educate and entertain your kids, head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This amazing aquarium, which is home to two rescued bottlenose dolphins (Winter and Hope) and Herald the sea turtle (aka Mavis) from the Dolphin Tale movies, is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals, public education, conservation and research. If you’re thinking this is not your average aquarium, you’re right! Step inside and see the work the aquarium is currently doing to rehabilitate rescued dolphins, sea turtles, river otters, stingrays, nurse sharks, pelicans and seahorses as well as learn about marine life conservation through hands-on activities. Other highlights include hand feeding the aquarium’s resident stingrays and puffer fish, getting up close and personal with marine life in the touch tanks and witnessing the work of the aquarium’s medical team as they perform routine physicals and emergency surgeries.
Psst! To make your visit even more memorable, add a Life Safari Boat Tour to your experience. During this 90-minute, scenic eco-boat cruise, you will have the opportunity to observe data collection in action during a net pull, get your feet wet on Shell Island, see local wildlife above and below the water and participate in an onboard “show and tell.” Don’t forget your camera!
Visit a World-Renowned Art Museum
If you’re hoping to do a bit of exploring beyond Clearwater Beach, St. Petersburg is located just 24 miles away and offers award-winning beaches, top-rated restaurants, shopping and the world-renowned Salvador Dalí Museum. This whimsical museum, which houses the largest collection of Salvador Dalí’s works outside Europe, is where you can view thousands of his paintings, prints, photographs, posters, textiles and sculptures. During your visit, be sure to hit the Education Room where your little artists can create a masterpiece of their own or plan your visit on a Saturday when kids ages 4-11 can discover the creative world of Dalí through games, puzzles and arts and crafts during DillyDally with Dalí.
Psst! Be sure to download The Dalí Museum App, so you can access the museum’s Augmented Reality technology which highlights aspects of Dalí’s impressive masterworks and brings his complex canvases to life. Your kids will love it!
Hit the Dolphin Trail
A fun way to explore the Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg area with kids is to hit the Dolphin Trail. The public art pod is made up of more than 120 six-foot tall colorful dolphins, all designed by local artists using a variety of elements (think: glass, ceramic, decoupage, fiber art). Spot them with the interactive map, take photos with your favorites and tag them #clearwaterdolphins.
Psst! The most famous dolphin of all, Winter from the Dolphin Tale movies, can be found at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Take a Sunset Cruise
If you’ve got a crew of sea lovers, a sunset cruise is a fun way to see the entire Clearwater Beach area and the Gulf of Mexico as well as catch a breathtaking Florida sunset. The Tropics Sunset Celebration Cruise is a two-hour experience that will take you from Clearwater Bay through Clearwater Pass to the beautiful Gulf of Mexico (weather permitting). During your adventure, your crew will point out interesting facts about the natural wonders of the Gulf Coast as well as popular sights along the way. If you’re lucky, you may even witness the legendary green flash!
Psst! A complimentary sunset champagne toast is included for all guests 21 & over.
Stay at This Beachfront Property
Centrally located in the heart of Clearwater Beach is where you will find the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. This gorgeous resort, which opened its doors in 2017, boasts 343 luxuriously appointed guest rooms with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway. For Dolphin Tale fans, the resort offers a unique feature: Winter the Dolphin-themed bunk rooms which include bunk beds for the kids and a king bed for mom and dad. Book this room and a portion of the cost will be donated back to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to support the care of Winter and other rescued marine animals. How cool is that? Planning a multi-family vacay? The resort’s two bi-level presidential suites offer three bedrooms, separate dining and living areas, private terraces and plenty of space for kids to spread out. And if that isn’t enough, the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach also offers a spacious pool overlooking the beach, a full-service spa (which welcomes kids ages 13 & up), a 24-hour fitness center, multiple dining options, easy access to Beach Walk and Pier 60 and complementary use of the clam shell cabanas and lounge chairs on the beach in front of the resort.
Dine on Delicious Food
Clearwater Beach isn’t only about spectacular beaches and stunning sunsets. There’s the food! Whether you’re craving Mexian fare, Asian-fusion cuisine or a good ol’ grouper sandwich, Clearwater Beach offers a fantastic mix of top-notch eateries. Consider: Ocean Hai and DocK’s Pool Bar & Grill at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill for open-air beachfront dining and the best grouper sandwiches in Florida, Marina Cantina for Mexican cuisine highlighted by fresh seafood caught directly from the restaurant’s own fleet of boats and Columbia Restaurant for traditional Spanish cuisine dating back 110 years.
Getting There & Around
Look for flights into Tampa, the nearest major airport, and then arrange a car service to bring you directly to the hotel. Once in Clearwater Beach, you can easily access the area’s shops, restaurants and local attractions by foot or take advantage of public transportation, the vintage-style (and totally fun!) Jolley Trolley or golf cart cabs.
Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach
100 Coronado Dr.
Clearwater Beach, FL 33767
Looking for more ways to spend your days in the Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg area? Check out visitstpeteclearwater.com.
—Kristina Moy (all photos courtesy of the author)
This trip was paid for by Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.