Consistently ranked as one of America’s best beaches, Clearwater Beach feels much more like a throwback to another era, with its small-town feel, lively boardwalk, family-friendly attractions and casual cafes. The white sand beach, located on the Gulf of Mexico, is a stunning 3-mile-long playground with gorgeous blue waters and a legendary sunset.
Stay: Barefoot Bay Resort & Marina is a family-owned 16-room motel located on Clearwater Bay. It’s just a five-minute walk to the beach, restaurants, shops and Pier 60. The motel has a heated outdoor pool and guests can cook on the gas grill. Rooms, which feature kitchenettes, full-size refrigerators and sinks, are ideal for families.
Do: Every night (except for the Fourth of July) Pier 60 turns into a free party full of street performers, artists and musicians. Best of all: It’s completely free (except for access to the end of the pier, which costs $1). On most weekend nights, family-friendly movies play on a portable theater screen set up on the beach.
Dine: The family-owned Tin Can Cafe is a favorite with locals. The menu features breakfast skillet dishes, such as the country skillet with eggs, potatoes, peppers and onions, as well as pancakes and waffles. Burgers, sandwiches and heartier dishes like country-fried steak and chopped sirloin dominate the lunch menu.
Stay: The 400-plus room Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa overlooks the water, with many rooms offering balcony views. Guests can enjoy the hotel’s private beach or take a dip in the pool. Other draws include the Hibiscus Spa and Tommy’s Tiki Bar, the ideal place to enjoy a fruity cocktail and watch the sunset.
Do: Made famous by the movie “Dolphin Tale,” the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a must-see for families. For those not familiar with the movie, staff members rescued Winter, a dolphin, when she was hurt and made her a prosthetic tail. Winter now lives at the aquarium, which is a leader in marine rescue and rehabilitation.
Dine: There are five Frenchy’s restaurants in Clearwater. But at each one, diners will find the immensely popular super grouper sandwich, which Frenchy’s is said to have made famous. Start with a rumrunner drink and signature dishes like she-crab soup and the smoked fish spread before dining on the grouper.
Stay: Opal Sands Resort, which opened in 2016, is one of the most innovative properties on the beach. All 230 rooms face the water and have floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies. Amenities include a beachfront pool, hot tub, spa and four eateries. Guests can borrow bicycles and rent paddleboards and kayaks on-site.
Do: Clearwater is known for its excellent fishing, with grouper, snapper and mackerel making up the most common catches. Outfitters like FishEye Sportfishing offer custom fishing trips and supply everything you need, including a fishing license, rods, reels and bait. Some will even fillet and bag whatever you catch.
Dine: Caretta on the Gulf, located in Opal Sands’ sister property, Sandpearl Resort, is a AAA Four Diamond rated restaurant situated beachside. Diners can sit indoors in the glamorous dining room or dine al fresco on the patio. The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, fresh seafood and all-natural beef.
Wanna get away? Book a stay in Clearwater by visiting AAA.com/ClearwaterHotels.
By Kim Foley MacKinnon
Top photo: Clearwater, Fla., has a lively boardwalk, beaches galore and family-friendly fun. (sreenath_k / iStock / Thinkstock)