Sunset celebrations and famed finned actors – Clearwater Beach is both a beach getaway and a wildlife adventure.
Clearwater Beach was the toast of the Florida Gulf Coast and was quite the Hollywood spectacle in 2011 and ’12, thanks to the major feature-length film Dolphin Tale that was produced here and based on the town’s famous dolphin, Winter. But now, things seem to be finally getting back to normal – that is, if normal means flame-throwers on the boardwalk, giant art displays in the middle of the city, and surfing indoors.
White powder sands and crystal blue waters – it’s all right outside your hotel room at the Sandpearl Resort. Kick back in a private poolside cabana with tropical cocktails or comb the resort’s beachfront – just feet from you room – for shells.
Once your bags are down, make an afternoon stop to see one of the city’s biggest celebrities – Winter, the dolphin and star of Warner Brothers’s Dolphin Tale who now lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Little Toot dolphin tours lets visitors get up close with Winter’s wild brethren on narrated 40-foot tugboat excursions into the Gulf of Mexico.
Flame-eaters and break-dancers share the stage at Pier 60 every night. Much like Key West’s Mallory Square sunset celebrations, the event features performing artists alongside the epic gulf sunset.
For a different sort of view of the Gulf, rent a bicycle to cruise over the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. You’ll pass over the Intracoastal Waterway and catch glimpses of boats heading for shore. For a less urban ride, make a day of it by hooking up with the 42-mile-long Pinellas Trail that connects St. Petersburg with Tarpon Springs. This path dips and turns under a canopy of trees and sashays by nine art pieces that pay tribute to the path’s history as a former railroad trail.
No worries that you’re on the placid gulf or even on the beach for that matter. You can now ride waves inside at Surf Style, a 50,000-square-foot store packed top to bottom with beach and surf ware. The real draw, though, is its new FlowRider that lets you surf in man-made waves propelled up and over a soft rubber surface to create a fantastic curl. If you’re not ready to try it yourself, it also makes for great spectating of the thrills and especially the spills.
Just south of the “Welcome to Caladesi” State Park sign and tucked on the beach is something locals call The Shell Tree. This giant bare arbor – a result of years being exposed to the wind – is done up with thousands of shells, slid onto the branches through cracks and holes, like a seaside Christmas tree. But its popularity isn’t its accessories, but that each one represents a wish left from a past visitor.
In the 1880s, Caladesi Island was a private island. Today, it’s one of America’s most amazing, untouched beaches with pristine sands and a draw for swimmers, sunbathers, and beachcombers. Getting there is tricky, so visit Honeymoon Island State Park first where you can pick up a 20-minute ferry ride to this barrier island. Or, take the Jolley Trolley to the northernmost stop on Clearwater Beach, for a half-hour walk at low tide.
Where to Stay Sandpearl Resort