If you are a regular reader here, you know that I’m a beach lover. One of my favorite US beaches is also the #1 rated beach by TripAdvisor, Clearwater Beach Florida. We’ve talked about things to do in Clearwater FL, and the actual white sand beach itself is worth spending most of your time on. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Clearwater Beach Florida, including what to do while you are there and where to stay on the beach.
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A Guide to Clearwater Beach Florida
Location of Clearwater Beach FL
Located on a barrier island off of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach is part of the city of Clearwater Florida. As a barrier island, Clearwater Beach Florida can be accessed by a bridge. The top-rated Tampa Bay beach is often considered the best beach in the United States – even among the many beautiful beaches of the Gulf Coast.
It’s right on the Gulf of Mexico and is north of the other popular Gulf Coast cities of Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Naples, where you’ll also find some of the best beaches. St. Pete Beach is also nearby. Clearwater Beach is located away from downtown Clearwater, over a bridge.
If Clearwater Beach is your ultimate destination, you’ll have some options for flying in. Since it’s in the Tampa Bay area, the Tampa Airport is the most convenient because it offers flights from many US cities. There’s also the St. Pete – Clearwater International Airport which is served by Allegiant Air.
Parking can be challenging at Clearwater Beach, so if your plans include mostly staying at the beach, you probably won’t need a car. For our trip, we decided not to rent a car and instead used a ride-share service to and from the airport. We walked everywhere at the actual beach, including all the activities and restaurants.
Atmosphere at Clearwater Beach
There’s definitely a fun and exciting vibe at Clearwater Beach. We arrived on a Friday evening during spring break and were immediately swept up in the excitement of the weekend. I think April is the best time to visit, if you want the full experience.
It’s definitely an active place, especially in season. It’s also kid-friendly, with lots of things that children will enjoy. I think it’s the perfect place for a beach vacation.
If you prefer a quieter vacation, you may want to travel in the off-season or stay somewhere that isn’t right on the beach. It’s not that it was too loud, but it was definitely lively.
Dress is generally very casual, as you’d expect on a beach. Most of the restaurants are very casual, and you can just throw on shorts and flip-flops to go out.
The Beachfront at Clearwater Beach
There’s a good reason that Clearwater Beach is rated #1 in the country. That gorgeous white sugar sand is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s a clean sandy beach, with very few rocks or seaweed. There’s also plenty of sand for guests to sit on, even during high tide.
Guests staying at one of the resort hotels right on the beach will be able to walk out of their hotel on the beach. Although our beach hotel had an outdoor pool we spent most of our time on the sugar-white sand.
But, even if you aren’t staying on the white sand beaches, the public areas are easily accessed by guests. Clearwater Beach is famously open 365 days a year, with lifeguards on duty daily.
On a busy beach day (spring break and weekends especially), it can be challenging to find parking at Clearwater Beach if you aren’t staying there. There’s some public parking, and some of the hotels may offer premium parking to the public when available. The city of Clearwater keeps a website updated with current information about beach parking (it can be accessed here).
Hotels will likely have beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels available to guests (our hotel, the Hilton Clearwater, offered complimentary towels but chairs and umbrellas had to be rented from the hotel for the day). If you aren’t staying at a beach hotel, you’ll want to bring your own gear.
There are plenty of gift shops in close proximity that sell reasonably priced items, or you can even rent them from various vendors (here’s one). Traveling with younger kids? You may also consider bringing sand toys because that gorgeous, cool sugar sand is so fun to play with.
I absolutely love seafood, and when I visit a beach town, I am always excited about the food. When I visited Tampa several years ago with my kids we spent a day at Clearwater Beach. That day, we had lunch at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (one of the four locations of the Frenchy’s chain). I loved my fresh Grouper sandwich and dreamed of returning.
When we were in Clearwater Beach FL for a longer vacation, I knew that this is where I’d want to go first. We ended up eating at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill three times during this vacation. The food (especially fresh seafood) and drinks are delicious, and the menu has lots of delicious options.
My favorite items were crab fries and tuna nachos. While Frenchy’s does have four locations, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the beach is our favorite thanks to its perfect location.
We had another delicious dinner at Crabby’s, which was also within walking distance from our hotel. Crabby’s has three floors, with a bar on the first level, regular dining on the second, and outdoor seating on the third.
Another delicious option (especially for breakfast) is the Clear Sky Cafe. It’s located in Clearwater Beach but isn’t directly on the beach. There is some outdoor seating, and the breakfast menu is especially delicious. We ended up going twice – it’s the perfect spot for a hearty breakfast.
Activities on Clearwater Beach
In addition to the standard beach activities and water activities that you’ll definitely want to do while at Clearwater Beach Florida, there are lots of other fun things to do.
One day, we walked over to the various kiosks across the street from the beach (about a 5-minut walk) at the Clearwater Harbor Marina and booked a dolphin tour. There are lots of different boat tours, so I’d recommend doing some research online and booking the dolphin cruise that works best for your family. Here is one example that can be booked online.
We were hoping to see some dolphins, so we booked the Encounters With Dolphins tour. During that tour, we got to see some dolphins and then also went to a small island/sandbar to do some shell collecting.
If you enjoy shopping, there are also lots of fun shops along the beach, including Ron Jon’s surf shop and lots of gift shops.
During your trip, you’ll definitely want to visit the family-friendly Clearwater Marine Aquarium – a must-visit destination in the area. The aquarium isn’t right on the beach, but it is nearby.
Festivals on Clearwater Beach
We were thrilled that our trip to Clearwater Beach coincided with the famous Sugar Sand Festival. This 17-day festival takes place in April. It’s located on Pier 60, which is right on the beach, and offers food and drink vendors, local artisans, entertainment, and amusement rides.
The highlight of the festival is the tent which includes lots of gorgeous sand sculptures. This is a separately-ticketed event, but it’s definitely worth visiting. My kids loved it and it was one of the best things about our vacation.
There’s also the Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival, which is held 364 days per year (weather permitting). It runs from 2 hours before sunset to 2 hours after sunset each day. In addition to the gorgeous Clearwater Beach sunset, you’ll also get to see street performers, crafters, and more.
Hotels on Clearwater Beach
There are several different Clearwater Beach resorts and hotels that are located right on the beach. During our visit, we stayed at the Hilton Clearwater Beach. It was right on the beach, but we did have to rent a beach umbrella and beach chairs.
You can also find lodging options on the map below.
Have you been to Clearwater Beach Florida?
Additional Resources: Want to read more Gulf Coast travel tips and reviews? Click to read our post with destination recommendations, ideas on what things to do, hotel reviews, and more.