The ingredients for a perfect beach vacation include a destination that is easy to get to and, once you’re there, get around, as well plus plenty of dining options and activities beyond the surf and sand. Florida’s Clearwater Beach delivers on all those. This barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico is reached via a short flight to Tampa, and the island is compact enough to walk everywhere.
Where to go
The big draw in Clearwater Beach is, of course, the talcum powder white beach, which stretches for 2.5 miles and was recently ranked the top beach in America in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
If you need to do more than tan and swim, try indoor surfing at FlowRider, located inside the Surf Style shop ($30 for 30 minutes; 311 S. Gulfview Blvd., 954-924-9779).
Bike or hop aboard the Jolly Trolley ($2.25/cash fare, $5/unlimited day pass, FREE for age 5 and under) to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (admission $21.95, $19.95 seniors, $16.95 ages 3-12; 249 Windward Passage, 727-441-1790), a non-profit that rescues and rehabilitates marine wildlife. Its celebrity inhabitant, Winter, is a dolphin with a prosthetic tail that was in the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale.”
Get into the Florida spirit on board Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise (admission $36 adults, $33 seniors, $31 ages 13-17, $28 ages 3-12, $11 ages 2 and under; 25 Causeway Blvd., 727-446-2587). Adults will get complimentary cocktails and a boat dance party while the pirate crew keeps children entertained.
Celebrate the sunset at the nightly festival on Pier 60 (1 Causeway Blvd.), which starts two hours before the sun dips down and ends two hours after, weather permitting, and features street performers, artisans and more.
Need more? Take the Jolly Trolley to nearby Tarpon Springs, a heavily Greek community known for its sponge diving trade, art galleries and authentic Greek bakeries.
Where to eat
The dining scene on Clearwater Beach is a mix of casual beachfront cafes and fine dining in hotels.
Look past the ’70s decor at Post Corner Pizza and Restaurant (431 S. Gulfview Blvd., 727-461-7795) and order a crisp pizza, hearty Greek salad or a gyro platter.
For seafood, Crabby Bill’s (37 Causeway Blvd., 727-210-1313) is a casual spot for grilled grouper sandwiches and Gulf oysters, while Clearwater Beach institution Frenchy’s has several outposts but locals stick to Frenchy’s Original Cafe (41 Baymont St., 727-446-3607) for fried grouper cheeks and fish tacos.
And for a more upscale experience, sip on a mojito and enjoy sushi while taking in beach views from Caretta on the Gulf in the Sandpearl Resort (500 Mandalay Ave., 727-441-2425).
Where to stay
One of the newest places to stay is the Opal Sands (430 S. Gulfview Blvd., 855-335-1087), located at the tip of the beach. Decor is streamlined and modern and lucky guests might spot a manatee from their balcony. Don’t miss dinner at the elegant Sea-Guini. Larger groups or families will appreciate the kitchenette in every room at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa (301 S. Gulfview Blvd., 727-373-1234), another option for ocean views.