Google “The Best Beach in the U.S.” and one name will be at the top: Clearwater Beach, Florida. The sand is ideal for both playing and sculpting. And the town of Clearwater is ideal for exploring, too. Headed to Clearwater, FL, and not sure what to see and do? Or maybe you’ve already been but want to venture away from that gorgeous sugar sand and explore? Here are the best things to do in Clearwater Beach and in Clearwater, FL: five must-see attractions.
Heading to the beach is such a soothing experience for me. I love sticking my feet in the sand and listening to the waves break on the shore. Yeah, it sounds like a scene from a movie, but oftentimes that’s exactly what I’m looking for at that moment. And I’m happy to do that for a while.
Then I get antsy and want to get out and explore what’s around. It’s my nature and I’m not apologizing. I want to go where the tourists go. Even more importantly, I want to go where the locals go. So, on a recent press tour, that’s exactly what we did. I found places in the city that I’m already wanting to visit – and I just got home! Here are my favorite things to do in Clearwater Beach and why you need to check them out.
1. Check out Sand Sculpting at its Finest
If you’re like I am, I start getting the itch for warmer weather right around April. And it turns out that April is ideal for visiting Clearwater, FL. The temperatures are moderate (I’m talking low 80’s during my entire visit) and the city kicks into high gear for an early summer season.
Mid-April is also the time of year for Clearwater Beach’s Annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival. What’s sugar sand? It’s that pristinely-white, sugary textured sand that has made Clearwater Beach “The Best Beach in the U.S.” by so many. And Pier 60 is the spot that pulls it all together.
The Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival is one of those yearly events that is just so fun and has so many cool things to check out, it’s hard to believe it’s free. There are nightly fireworks, sand sculpting classes, buskers showing off their talents, live jazz concerts, and Movies on the Beach.
Speaking of beach, we test-drove Motorola Talkabout T600 Two-Way Radios and have found them to be a great option for hanging out at the beach. They’re waterproof and float – so there’s no need to bring our cell phones. Other fun features are rechargeable batteries and a built-in flashlight. That comes in super handy for nighttime shelling on the beach!
If you want to check out huge sand sculptures by master sand artists, you will have to pay a small ticketing fee. Is it worth the cost? On word: yes. Each sculpture is filled with details that made me tip my head to the side with curiosity. Visit at night and the sculptures are colorfully lit to bring out the beauty.
2. Ohh & Ahh Over a Sunset
Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite times of the day. Not only are they beautiful, especially when watching them from a beach, they’re my daily pivotal points to take note. Clearwater Beach knows how gorg the sunsets are there. So why not make a nightly festival out of them, right?
Right. While any view along the beach will be stunning, the nightly Pier 60 Sunset Festival is a way to celebrate the beauty. And, if you’ve been on the beach all day, it’s the perfect way to end your visit. The festival is very laid back and is good for couples, families – you name it. Head to Pier 60 around dinner time and you’ll find local craftsmen selling their goods (most are beach-themed). Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shops in the area to buy souvenirs, but there’s something to be written about knowing a local made mine.
3. Check out a Superstar at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Remember that sweet movie, “A Dolphin Tale”? Winter the dolphin was the star in my eyes. And Clearwater Marine Aquarium is where you can visit to see the cutie. You’ll also have the opportunity to see Hope from “A Dolphin Tale 2”.
What I learned about Clearwater Marine Aquarium that struck me in such a positive way: it’s not a zoo. The animals that call the aquarium home are not there for your entertainment. Each lives there because it’s unable to go back to its original habitat. You won’t find animals on parade, either. What you will find are daily training sessions and self-guided tours of the facility. You’ll also find a positive way to teach the kids about being a safe consumer. No more plastic straws for this gal!
4. Take a Dolphin Watching Tour
Around Clearwater Bay, there are loads of opportunities to get on the water. You’ll find fishing excursions and everything from small pontoon boats to large, pirate-style ships. But if it’s dolphins in the wild you want to see, it’s dolphins you’ll get.
On my visit, we had two opportunities to dolphin watching. The first was at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and was ideal for folks that want educated about the Bay, too. What I loved about the Dolphin Adventure Tour was the fact that it stayed in the Bay the entire time and the waves were more moderate than a tour that heads out into the Gulf. Another point of note is the fact that it’s not just a “look, there’s a dolphin!” tour. It’s highly educational. The tour lasts just about 90 minutes and, during the time on the boat, you’ll learn about the whys and wheres of dolphins and Clearwater’s local dolphin population. What you probably won’t get is a close-up of the dolphins.
But maybe you want a “Dang, that dolphin is so close to the boat!” kind of experience. Then you’ll definitely want to check out Little Toot Dolphin Adventure. Because of its tugboat-style, the boat creates a huge wake – the kind that dolphins love to swim and jump in. If you want to check out the Gulf, Little Toot will do just that. Another perk: it guarantees dolphin sightings. If you don’t see one, your next visit within one year, is totally free.
5. Play Ball! Or Watch, at the Very Least
If you want an affordable, fun way to check out a local sports team, head to the Clearwater Threshers stadium. What’s a “thresher”, you’re asking yourself? No worries, I did the same thing. A thresher is a type of shark that lives on the surface of the water. Hunting in pairs, it uses its tail to thresh the water to tightly pack herd fish. Smart, eh?
Back to the Clearwater Threshers. The Threshers are a Minor League team owned by the Philadelphia Phillies. Depending on the day you visit, you’ll find promotions from $1 drinks and snacks to $17 Sunday Brunch tickets. Monday games offer $14 Feeding Frenzy specials with all-you-can-eat concession items.
I had the pleasure of taking a stadium tour during my visit and learned that this team is all about affordability in a family-friendly atmosphere. Not only is the stadium beautiful, there are onsite activities including a playground, to keep the kiddos occupied.
How to Get to Clearwater Beach, FL
If you’re headed into Central Florida for Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Orlando and want to head down to Clearwater Beach, it’s about a 90-minute drive in ideal traffic. When we visited, it was peak travel season so it took just under an hour. If you’re flying in, Tampa International Airport is probably your best bet. You can rent a car from there and it’s about a 30-minute drive to the beach.
Where We Stayed
I’m not giving props to Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach because it hosted The Kid and me, I’m giving props because it deserves it. Impeccable service, a 15-second walk to the beach and sugar sand, and one of my favorite hotel beds make the Hyatt Regency chain on my short list. Always.
Each room has a gorgeous balcony and views of either Clearwater Bay or Clearwater Beach. Mine offered both. If you’re all about leisure, you can rent a beach cabana across the street in the cute, little pink building. Or, if you want to really explore the city on something with a motor, head downstairs and rent a cool two-seater.
Disclosure: The Kid and I were hosted on a media tour by Visit Clearwater, FL to give you fine folks the scoop on what makes Clearwater Beach so amazing for families and couples. All opinions are my own! #MyClearwater #BestBeachTown