Though Clearwater is the smallest of the three cities that make up the Greater Tampa Bay Area, it has plenty to offer both residents and visitors. The seat of Pinellas County, Clearwater is a town of about 110,000 but it's surrounded by a four-county area that boasts a population of about 2. 7 million.
Indeed, this is in the middle of one of the fastest growing regions of Florida, but it still strives to retain its small town feel and continues to offer some of the best opportunities for vacationers to enjoy relaxing days and fun nights.
Not surprisingly, just like other places in the greater Tampa area, Clearwater is home to a number of top-notch beaches. As a matter of fact, "Dr. Beach" – a. k. a. Dr. Stephen Leatherman – has proclaimed several area beaches as among the top 10 in the country, often topping popular locations in places like California and Hawaii.
This year, beautiful Caladesi Island earned top honors. In 2006 and 2007, Caladesi took the number two spot. Caladesi is actually a state park but the beaches there seem miles away from any form of civilization. Accessible only by boat from Honeymoon Island, this is truly the beach for those who prefer to avoid the trappings normally found at other area beaches.
A natural paradise, Caladesi Island is perfect for shelling, hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and – of course – swimming. A wonderful three mile nature trail runs through the interior of the island and provides a great opportunity for visitors to explore the unique wildlife and birds that hang out on Caladesi Island.
Another of Dr. Beach's favorites is Fort DeSoto Park. This park covers five islands and offers about 7 miles of shoreline for water lovers to enjoy. Originally built for the Spanish-American War, Fort DeSoto visitors can canoe, kayak, or explore by bicycle. Two fishing piers are available and camping is allowed as well. And for day-trippers, there's plenty of room for picnics.
Clearwater Beach has also earned its share of accolades as well. Dubbed the best city beach in the Gulf region, this stretch of sand and water offers a plethora of activities including a variety of water sports. It's fine, white "sugar sand" also makes it a hit with visitors. The place is quite family oriented, boasting plenty of playgrounds, concessions, restaurants, shops, and more. Hotels and motels are abundant and range from reasonable to upscale. The local Jolly Trolley takes visitors from hotel to beach and to many other locales in the town, making it easy to get around.
Though beaches are certainly the area's major attraction, the entire region offers plenty to do when you've had enough of the sand and surf.
Museums are abundant in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg vicinity and many are appropriate for the whole family, if you're traveling with children. Kids will especially love the Great Explorations Museum, where the younger set can have tons of hands-on fun.
Adults who enjoy arts and culture might want to visit the Salvador Dali Museum, Gulf Coast Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, or the Florida International Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Also of interest are the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Armed Forces Military Museum, and the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum.
Nearby Tampa is also full of museums and is home to an excellent performing arts venue – Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center – where visitors can buy tickets for a variety of shows, from concerts to Broadway-style theater productions.
If you're a nature lover, this place will be right up your alley. Nature spots are abundant – some are well known but others a little harder to find.
Check out such local favorites as Boyd Hill Nature Center in neighboring St. Petersburg, a hidden treasure consisting of 245 acres stretching along Lake Maggiore. Three miles of trails and easy-to-traverse boardwalk take visitors through a variety of terrain and past some of Florida's coolest species of birds and animals. Also check out Brooker Creek Reserve and Weedon Island Preserve for similar experiences.
Across the water, the Honeymoon Island Nature Center introduces visitors to the flora and fauna of the barrier islands. A new arrival on the nature center scene, this venue offers hands-on exhibits, informative programs, and spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico from its location 14 feet above the ground.
If you'd rather explore via bicycle or skates, then you can peruse nature by traveling the paved Pinellas Trail. Running right through downtown, this trail is reserved for biking, hiking, and rollerblading and also winds through a variety of parks on its 37-mile journey along Central Florida's Gulf Coast.
When the sun goes down and the lights come up, vacationers have their choice of places to dine, drink, and dance. Clearwater Beach is home to a number of bar and grill establishments that offer not only good beach food but also a well-stocked bar and plenty of opportunity to move to the beat.
John's Pass in nearby Treasure Island is also the ideal place for adults looking for some after-hours fun and St. Petersburg is hopping at night as well. And because the area in general is such a melting pot, some clubs offer international music such as Flamenco or other ethnic favorites.