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Things to Do in Clearwater FL

Recently named the #1 beach in America, Clearwater Beach and the town of Clearwater has so much to offer for families. This year, for the kids’ spring break, we headed to the beach to enjoy warm weather, the gorgeous sugar sand, and the beautiful crystal clear water. If you are considering a trip, here are some fun things to do in Clearwater Fl with kids. 

This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us. All opinions are my own. We received complimentary admission to Busch Gardens. 

Things to do in Clearwater Florida, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, dolphin experience boats, seeing beautiful sunsets, and exploring the beach.

Things to Do in Clearwater Fl

Clearwater Beach is located on a barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s part of the larger city of Clearwater, although the beach is located over a short bridge. 

Location of Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is about 20 miles and 35 minutes (with limited traffic) from the Tampa airport. We flew in through Tampa on a Friday evening, and were easily able to get to our hotel on the beach. However, on a Saturday afternoon, it took us over an hour and half to get from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to the beach. During peak times, the bridge is a huge bottleneck and traffic backs up. If you aren’t staying on the beach, I’d definitely recommend arriving early if visiting on the weekend. 

Clearwater Florida is located on the Gulf of Mexico, north of Sarasota, Naples, and Fort Myers. 

Clearwater Beach from the Hilton

Clearwater Beach

Of course, going to the beach is one of the top things to do in Clearwater FL. We purposely stayed at a beach hotel, so we were easily able to walk about onto the white sand right to the gulf. However, if you are staying away from the beach, you can still easily access the public areas. Lifeguards are on the beach 7 days per week, 365 days a year. 

The sand on Clearwater Beach is famous – it’s the softest white sugar sand, and actually feels a little cold as you step on it. I’ve been to a number of sandy beaches through my travels, but I love the sand in Clearwater the best.

If you aren’t staying at a hotel on the beach, you’ll want to bring along your own supplies, like beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels. There are some vendors at the public entrances who offer a service to bring your supplies up and down the beach for you.

Keep in mind that parking is at a premium, especially on beautiful beach days. If visiting during the spring break season, you may consider the park and ride program offered through the PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority). See more information about beach parking here

Pier 60 sunset

Pier 60

Pier 60 is located right in the center of Clearwater Beach, and is the location of the various festivals hosted by the beach during the year. The Sunsets at Pier 60 Festival is held 364 days per year, weather permitting, from 2 hours before sunset to 2 hours after sunset. At the festival, you’ll find artisans, street performers, and more, right on the pier. In addition, you’ll get a fantastic view of the sunset right from the pier. 

During our visit to Clearwater, Pier 60 was home to the famous Sugar Sand Festival, which takes place over 17 days in April. This festival offers amusement rides, inflatables, crafters, food and drink vendors, entertainment, competitions, and so much more. Most of these things can be purchased separately – so you can enter the festival area and then purchase what you’d like. 

In addition, for a relatively small entrance fee, you can enter the main tent to see the most amazing sand sculptures. The theme varies each year, and this year, the theme is Sea the World. There are sand sculptures to represent places all over the world, including Australia, Paris, Canada, and the Seven Wonders of the World. My kids really enjoyed this, so I’d definitely recommend it. 

Tickets for the Sugar Sand Festival can be purchased online, but if you’d like to take advantage of the AAA discount, you’ll need to purchase at the door. Lines get longer throughout the day, so it’s best to arrive early. We got there shortly after opening, and didn’t wait very long.

In addition, on Saturday nights during the festival, the pier offers a fireworks show (weather permitting) over the beach. Because of this, it definitely can be busy around the festival area on Saturdays. 

Dolphin Encounter boat

Boat Rides 

With so much water in the area, it’s not surprising that there are a number of different boat rides that you can take with kids in the Clearwater area. Many of these boat tours have kiosks that line the street in front of pier 60, and tickets can be purchased in advance or at a kiosk.

One of the more popular boat rides for families is Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruises. We didn’t take this trip, but did see the boat during our visit. My kids are just a bit too old for it, but it looked like a great, family-friendly cruise for those traveling with younger kids. 

We instead opted for the Encounters with Dolphins boat trip. This excursion was relatively expensive, and ran for about an hour and a half. During our trip, we boarded the boat, were given a brief safety demonstration, and then headed off. The trip guarantees dolphin sightings – if you don’t see a dolphin during your trip, you are able to use your ticket to return another time to try again.

Right after taking off, we saw some dolphins playing in a nearby marina. Commercial ships weren’t allowed right in that marina, however, so we saw them from a distance. 

As we headed to a small sandbar/island for shell collecting, we passed by several gorgeous waterfront mansions. Our guide told us about these homes and their famous owners. 

When we arrived at the small island, we were given plastic bags to use to collect shells. The boat pulls right up on the island, so guests don’t get wet at all as they disembark. Snorkel equipment is available to borrow, but instead we just decided to use our 20 minutes to collect shells.

Then, we returned to the boat and headed back to the marina. Before returning, we did see a few more dolphins in the distance. We were a little disappointed not to see more dolphins up close, but it was still nice to have some time on the water.

There are a number of other ships available, including some that offer jet skiing, and some that offer fishing charters. 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium 

One of the definite must-dos in Clearwater is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Kids will likely be familiar with the aquarium as the home of Winter and Hope from the movie A Dolphin Tale. 

The Aquarium has a mission of rehabilitating and releasing animals back into the wild. However, as is the case with Winter and Hope, some animals can’t be safely returned to the wild. Those animals now live at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

During your visit, you’ll see dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, otters, stingrays, and sharks. There are several different shows that take place throughout the day, and separate animal encounters can be purchased and booked separately. The aquarium also offers a dolphin adventure tour that can be purchased with admission. 

Jolley Trolley

For just $5, guests can purchase an all-day pass to the Jolley Trolley. This trolley can take you around Clearwater Beach. But, there’s also the coastal route, which goes beyond Clearwater Beach into Dunedin and Tarpon Springs. If you don’t have a car on your trip and want to explore beyond the walkable area, it’s a great option. Even if you do have a car, it may be good idea to take the trolley and not worry about parking. 

Watch the Sunset 

Sunsets on Clearwater Beach are absolutely beautiful. During our vacation, we went out to the beach by our hotel and watched the sunset several times. Once, it was too overcast and cloudy, so we weren’t able to enjoy the sunset on that particular day. 

There are lots of places to see the sunset on your vacation in Clearwater, including many restaurants and hotels. Another option is the Sunsets at Pier 60 festival, where you can watch the sunset from the pier. 

Clear sky cafe

Eat Seafood 

As a beach town, Clearwater offers lots of delicious seafood restaurants. The most popular is the small chain Frenchy’s, which offers four different locations in the beach town. We ate at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, which is located right on the beach, three times during our family vacation. There are so many delicious menu options, so you could easily try something different every time.

We also dined at Crabby’s, which is located right across from Pier 60. The food there is delicious, and they have outdoor seating on the third floor that would be perfect for a beautiful night. 

For breakfast, we went to the highly recommended Clear Sky Cafe. It’s open all day, but we really enjoyed the breakfast. It’s not right on the beach, but there is some outdoor seating. If you are visiting over the weekend, you may want to try one of the delicious Bloody Marys. 

If you like Mexican food, we enjoyed dinner at the Spotted Donkey Cantina, which is attached to the Hilton Clearwater Beach. Outdoor seating is available, but it’s not facing the beach. 

Sand Key Park

I heard great things about Sand Key Park during our stay, but we didn’t have the opportunity to visit. This park, located on the barrier island Sand Key island, offers a beach and a park. I will definitely try to return there on my next visit to Clearwater, because it looks a like a beautiful and peaceful place. 

Spring Training 

Baseball lovers may consider checking out a spring training game while in the Clearwater area. Several Grapefruit league teams play in the area, including the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, the New York Yankees in Tampa, and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. 

Spring training takes place in March, and the games can be a great way to see your favorite players up close. Check the schedule to see when these teams are playing at home. If you are visiting during the regular baseball season, you may consider watching the Clearwater Threshers, the A affiliate of the Phillies. 

Thrill rides at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Beyond Clearwater

While there are loads of things to do in Clearwater, there are also plenty of things to do right outside of the city. These include Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, where you can see animal encounters and ride loads of thrill rides. We really enjoyed visiting during the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival, which takes place in the spring.

There’s also Lowry Park Zoo, a non profit zoo in Tampa, The Florida Aquarium, the Glazer Children’s Museum, and The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. 

Getting to Clearwater 

Clearwater is easily accessed by plane. We flew right into the Tampa airport, which is serviced by many large airlines (we typically take JetBlue there). There’s also the much smaller St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, which is serviced by Allegiant and SunWing (seasonally). 

For our vacation, we chose not to rent a car. We knew that most of what we wanted to do was within walking distance, and we utilized Uber/Lyft/cabs for our limited car rides. Parking is definitely at premium in the area, especially during spring break, so we preferred not to have to worry about the car. 

If you do have a car, whether you rent it or drive, you’ll want to check to see how much parking is at your hotel. It’s typically not included in the overnight rate. 

Where to Stay in Clearwater

For convenience, I’d definitely recommend staying right in Clearwater Beach if you plan to spend lots of time on the beach. Here are three hotels that are conveniently located. During our visit, we stayed at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa. 

Tips for Traveling to Clearwater 

Do you need a rental car in Clearwater?

If you are just staying at the beach, I’d recommend forgoing a rental car and just utilizing share services and cabs. Parking can be expensive at hotels and difficult to find.

Is there anything to do in the rain in Clearwater?

It’s Florida, so rain is always possible. If it rains, you may consider visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, or head into Tampa for one of the indoor museums.

Can you go to Walt Disney World from Clearwater?

If you’d like to visit Disney World during your trip, you can drive about 90+ miles to the parks. It’s definitely doable as a day trip, although you may want to spend a few days in each location.

 

 

 

 

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Leanne

Thursday 14th of November 2019

Hilton or Sandpearl? they both look amazing! Planning for over Thanksgiving! Any preference?

Jodi Grundig

Thursday 14th of November 2019

I haven't stayed at the Sandpearl but I really liked the Hilton. We did a full review of it here: https://www.familytravelmagazine.com/review-of-the-hilton-clearwater-beach-resort-spa/