Clearwater Beach is no stranger to comparisons. Florida's beach aficionados have said it's like Miami, without the wild nights; like St. Pete's, without the claustrophobic crowds; like Fort Lauderdale, without the spring break mayhem. The assessments may differ, but they share one striking similarity: Clearwater always comes out on top.
Clearwater Beach's well-deserved reputation as one of America's finest beaches has lured countless families and couples to its broad, sandy shores and beachfront hotels, also making it one of America's most popular beach destinations.
Spread along a narrow, 3-mile stretch of the Pinellas Peninsula on the Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach straddles the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and tranquil Tampa Bay to the east. This location between the 2 waters, and Clearwater's proximity to Tampa, offer visitors ample activities.
Whether sunbathing on white sandy beaches, diving into a game of beach volleyball, renting fishing boats, taking a dolphin-watching cruise, parasailing, or heading to a mainland museum or aquarium, there's something to satisfy everyone in Clearwater.
The good times don't stop at nightfall; a trip to Clearwater isn't complete without watching a dazzling sunset at Pier 60. These nightly celebrations feature street musicians and performers, as well as local artisans' crafts.
Best Family Resort
Sheraton Sand Key Resort
Web site: www.sheratonsandkey.com
The sprawling, 10-acre waterfront resort offers ample recreation options for families and even special programs for kids. Watersports fanatics can rent Hobie Cats, Waverunners and boogie boards, while those seeking a more tranquil time can lounge by the beachside pool or whirlpool, and kids can play at the adjacent playground. From mid-June to August, parents can sign up their children (ages 5-12) for Kids Camp, which provides counselor-led beach and pool activities, walks through the park next door, and arts and crafts. This modern resort features 390 well-appointed rooms, casual and fine dining, and indoor and poolside bars.
Best Spa Getaway
Safety Harbor Resort and Spa
Web site: www.safetyharborspa.com
If it's the fountain of youth you've been searching for, look no further. The natural mineral springs that feed into Safety Harbor Resort and Spa's pools, spas and water coolers were originally discovered by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and thought to be the famed fountain. This nationally renowned resort is located on 22 acres along Tampa Bay, and its 50,000-square-foot spa and fitness center features saunas, steam, whirlpools, more than 60 spa treatments, and a variety of exercise classes and facilities. The resort features 189 guest rooms, complete with a daily carafe of mineral water delivered to your room.
Best Luxury Accommodation
Belleview Biltmore Resort
Web site: www.belleviewbiltmore.com
Heralded for its premier accommodations, the Belleview Biltmore has also gained fame as one of the Gulf Coast's most historic destinations, even earning distinction on the National Register of Historic Places. For more than a century, the Biltmore has played host to luminaries including British royalty, movie stars, heads of state and professional athletes. The 22-acre resort features a private beach club, Donald Ross-designed golf course, award-winning restaurants, a 14,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, and luxury Victorian accommodations.
Best Budget Accommodation
The Sea Captain Resort on the Bay
Web site: seacaptainresort.com
Don't let the low prices put you on guard: Guests of the Sea Captain Resort will enjoy lovely accommodations, a great bayside location and plenty of amenities. The resort is only 150 yards from the beach and boasts its own private waterfront on the bay with boat slips. Guests can fish from the resort's docks or pay a small fee to use a boat slip. The resort's courtyard offers a heated pool, shuffleboard courts and picnic areas with grills. Accommodations include standard rooms as well as suites and efficiencies that feature kitchenettes. Waterfront rooms have views of Clearwater Bay and the Clearwater marina.
Food & Drink
Best Fresh Seafood
Island Way Grill
Web site: islandwaygrill.com
Florida seafood can rarely get fresher - at the Island Way Grill, the restaurant's own boats make daily trips to bring back the freshest seafood selection. Daily catches typically include mahi, tuna, snapper and other local fish. The seafood is then prepared in an oak-and-citrus-fired open pit, which infuses the fish with a distinct and delectable flavor. Don't miss out on the grilled prawns, citrus-seared scallops with sesame lime sauce or the wok-steamed jumbo lobster tail with wasabi mashed potatoes. For dessert, indulge in a warm Molten Lava Chocolate Cake served with citrus mascarpone cream. Fun Fact: The restaurant is operated in partnership with NFL professionals Mike Alstott and Dave Moore.
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Frenchy's Rockaway Grill
Web site: www.frenchysonline.com
A Clearwater dining staple, Frenchy's serves up the true spirit of Clearwater Beach: surf, sun, sand and a darn good time. The restaurant is 1 of 3 Frenchy's restaurants in the area, but the only one right on the beach. Some of the favorites that make Rockaway a hit include the Super Grouper Sandwich, fresh gulf mahi-mahi platter and she-crab soup. When evening falls, grab a tropical drink and some friends and dance the night away with Frenchy's live music.
Best Local Hangout
Ted Peter's Famous Smoked Fish
Well worth the short drive from Clearwater, this roadside smoked fish restaurant has been serving hungry locals since the 1950s. The restaurant's outdoor tables and few indoor tables are always full, and people are even known to bring their own fish to Ted's to be smoked. Specialties include the smoked mullet, smoked salmon and mackerel platters, and the warm German potato salad. A meal at Ted's is best topped off with an icy cold beer served in a frozen mug.
Best Fine Dining
Bob Heilman's Beachcomber
Web site: www.heilmansbeachcomber.com
Diners seeking star treatment and first-class atmosphere inevitably find Bob Heilman's Beachcomber. The restaurant has been dazzling diners for more than 50 years with its crisp, linen tablecloths, fine china, artfully prepared cuisine and an award-winning wine selection. Heilman's dedication to freshness ensures that specialties such as the escargot espagnole and the charcoal-broiled prime NY sirloin strip steak are delectable. Adventurous eaters may opt to try the regional favorite, Everglades frog legs.
Best Action-Adventure Day Trip
Web site: www.buschgardens.com
At Tampa's Busch Gardens, families will embark on an unforgettable African-themed adventure filled with thrilling rides - including the nation's first 90-degree dive coaster - Serengeti Safari tours, Budweiser Beer School tours and live daily entertainment. Visitors seeking speed and heights can jump aboard the Gwazi roller coaster and experience 100-mph speeds and 7,000 feet of track, or hit the all-new SheiKra dive coaster, featuring 90-degree drops, water features, a loop and an underground tunnel. Nature lovers can take walking tours through special habitats and view zebras, rhinos, giraffes, lions, gorillas, chimpanzees and more.
Best Family Water Park
Web site: adventureisland.com
Visitors to Adventure Island can get wet and wild as they dive into this 30-acre park's wave pools, water slides and tube trips. The popular Paradise Lagoon features a 20-foot platform for "cliff" jumping, a cable drop, rope walk and slides. Folks seeking a more tranquil time can visit the Rambling Bayou, a half-mile tube trip through rainforest landscapes - complete with rain and waterfalls. Younger children can play at Fabian's Funport, which has a kid-friendly wave pool, bubbler springs and a water gym.
Best Educational Excursion
Web site: flaquarium.org
With 6 major exhibit areas representing Florida's habitats, more than 10,000 species of plants and animals, and a coral reef housed in a 500,000-gallon observation tank, the Florida Aquarium provides educational fun for adults and children. Activities at the aquarium include Swim With the Fishes, which allows a diving experience in the reef tank amid 1,600 species of sea life for people who aren't certified scuba divers. Land lovers can tour the Wetlands Gallery, where they'll encounter streams, marshes, swamps and mangrove forests. Younger children can tour a 24-foot-tall pirate ship and hunt for buried treasure in the Explore a Shore discovery zone designed specially for kids.
Best Seasonal Sports Lover's Activity
Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training Games
Web site: philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com
Take me out to the ballgame! After a long, cold winter of hibernation, baseball comes alive with the highly anticipated spring training games. Clearwater has been home to the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training since 1948. The team has trained at Carpenter Field since 1967, and now plays at the new Bright House Networks Field. Baseball fans can get their pre-season fill of the Phillies at Bright House, which features a 360-degree main concourse, 7,300 fixed seats, a tiki-hut pavilion in left field, group picnic areas and a kids play area.