So you made it to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway and as you reach the peak of the bridge you find yourself in awe of the beautiful views, hitting you from every direction, throwing you into the abyss of not knowing where to point your camera.
Actually if you've come in peak season like spring break or anything between June and August then a more likely scenario is that you are stuck in traffic.
Clearwater beach, being voted the number one beach in the U.S, by TripAdvisor in 2016, stands as one of the most visited beaches in Florida, and all for good reason. With it's powdery sands, warm water and constant expansions, Clearwater Beach has much to offer in cuisine, sports and live entertainment. So if you've decided to add this to your travel destinations, here's a list of things to know before coming to Clearwater Beach, from the experience of yours truly, a local.
1. When to go
So when is the best time to come to Clearwater beach? First of, I'll state that the absolute worst time to come is spring and summer break! That would be February-April and June-September. This is when the beach is most packed as tourist flood from all over. July- August tend to also be the rainy seasons and when it's not raining it's scorching hot out and unbearable to survive. Unless you like that stuff, then by all means be my guest!
So what's the best time to come?
May - This is when the heat is already coming in but it's not exactly the Sahara desert yet. This is also the time when most schools already had their spring break and haven't had their summer break yet, so you avoid the major traffics and crowds.
October and early November - This is my favorite time in Florida as the weather is absolutely delightful! Sunny days, mid 70's with a cool breeze, hurricane season comes to an end so less rain and humidity plus all the tourist leave and don't come back till Thanksgiving and Christmas.
2. Parking Meters
There was a lovely time when I came to Clearwater Beach and knew exactly where to park to avoid spending a dime on parking meters. However over the years as the beach climbed up in it's rankings the meters are now EVERYWHERE and let's face it, they are not cheap!
There are several, spacious parking garages, south of the roundabout, however if you are coming during Spring or Summer Break (bless your soul) your best bet is to come early, before 10:00 am (you can snooze in at the beach, just make sure to bring an umbrella and some serious SPF) to avoid it being full and out of a spot for you.
However if you do end up parking by a meter make sure to download the free meter app, Parkmobile, which sends you alerts to your phone when you're about to run out of time and gives you the luxury of adding additional time via your credit card, without making the trip back to your car. This is also a good way to avoid spending too much on your meter if you end up packing up and leaving earlier than you originally paid for.
3. Jolly Trolly
To avoid the hassles of parking, driving in the beach madness and surviving the roundabout of death, you can save yourself the trouble all together and take the Jolly Trolley! This is a fun way to get a bit of a tour as well, since the Jolly Trolley has two routes to offer. The Beach Route and the Coastal Route, which runs through Clearwater Beach, Downtown Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. For more information on routes and passes make sure to visit their site here. You can also find deals on free rides to the beach, that are offered during certain periods of time.
4. Pier 60
The pier is where you want to go to take that perfect selfie with just the right water to beach ratio in your background. It's usually not that packed during the day time hours either. As the afternoon ages the fun starts. Between 5:00pm and 6:00pm you will see all the crafters come out and set up little shops along the pier. This is where you want to go for your souvenirs - unique hand made anklets, ear cuffs, embellished guitar picks or hand painted sea shells. Get your hair braided, portrait sketched and have a chat with our very own Johny Depp.
This is also the time where all the entertainers come out. So if you want to see a fire breathing comedian who times his son getting out of a straight jacket rapped in chains or a couple who juggle and jump through tiny hoops (and if you show enough enthusiasm, they'll jump over you and you're family too) save some change because you might be impressed! These guys get a lot of practice!
5. Water Sports and Other Activities
Clearwater beach offers many activities, other than just frying in the Floridian sun.
You can soar through the skies and enjoy the views thanks to the parasailing services, or enjoy a more exciting ride on a jetski, bouncing through the waters of the gulf.
Unfortunately the west coast of Florida doesn't offer much waves so surfing is not much of an option, but you can opt for the alternative and rent out a paddleboard! Close enough, right?
There are also plenty of kiosk for those interested in fishing expeditions or renting out boats for a private getaway.
If you don't feel like getting in the water Clearwater Beach does have it's very own miniature golf course!
6. Boat Tours
Clearwater beach offers several boat tours. Here's a few examples.
Thriller Powerboat Tour - As the name suggest this is the more thrilling option for a tour, advertised as the fastest tour in the Clearwater area. Fast boats leave bigger waves behind and guess what that attracts? Playful Dolphins!
Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise - I always want to say "Captain Nemo's"...anyway, this one is fun for the kids and adults too. Pirate themed, two hour treasure hunt with dancing! And they have their own canon which very much works!
Encounters with Dolphins - This is a more relaxing option which focuses on wildlife in its natural habitat. Each tour also stops at Compass Island where you will have a chance to find some unique sea shells to keep as souvenirs.
P.S. Make sure to boil the sea shells when you get home, they are usually home to teeny weeny critters.
Yacht StarShip - This is for all you fancy pants out there. A much, much more pricey option but an excellent choice if you are celebrating a special occasion, want to impress someone or you're just really looking to treat yourself (hey sometimes we all deserve it) The Yacht Sensation is a buffet cruise which offers different celebrations- from more social/party type, to a brunch with mom. You decide!
Which ever tour you pick, make sure to call ahead and make reservations.
7. Local Cuisine
A fun filled day spent in the sun can leave you drained and hungry. But with so many different restaurants and pubs around, it can be difficult to decide on a place if you're not familiar with the area.
You can read my article on the different places worth checking out, here.
But wherever you do end up eating, be adventures in your pickings. Most of the beach shacks offer their own, local brews that you will not find anywhere else and what better place and time to try a new seafood dish you might not be likely to try back home? Being right next to the water you get the fresh product. Don't be a goonie, eat the squid!
8. Sunset Cinema
So after you eat the squid, a fun and free attraction you can enjoy is an outdoor movie! Right by the pier, starting at dusk, the inflatable screen comes out, everyone comes with blankets and chairs, sprawls out on the grass and enjoys a movie under the stars. For movies and dates check out the Sunset Cinema calendar.
9. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Tanning, eating and sporting aside, Clearwater Beach offers one more attraction and that is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter and Hope the dolphins! Yay! The Aquarium is very focused on animal rescue and offers plenty of activities such as boat and kayak tours, a spectrum theater with daily show times, field trips and after school programs for the kid-os! For more information on Aquarium hours and admission click here to view their website!
Although last, this is the MOST IMPORTANT point! I cannot tell you how many times I had friends come down from the north and they go to the beach and come back looking like red lobsters. That's actually how I usually tell who is a tourist - the one with the scorching red face. Most first timers in Florida do not understand the power of the sun here. Heck, most locals forget this too every now and then!
Being closer to the equator the radiation is seriously intense here and getting a sunburn is ridiculously easy. There is nothing fun about getting a painful sunburn on your vacation.
When it comes to SPF it's important to understand what the numbers on the bottle mean. A SPF15 vs. a SPF30 for example does not mean that the SPF30 is twice as strong. It just means it last longer protecting your skin from sunburn. What most people don't know is that anything SPF50+ really only provide about 1% more UV protection than a SPF30. So don't spend your money on SPF70 thinking you're getting stronger protection. You're not.
Also, spray sunscreen? yeah it sucks! The commercials may make it seem so easy and convenient, but don't fall for it. Sprays make it easy for you to miss spots and that will make for some interesting patterns later that evening.
Go for a lotion and apply it before stepping foot onto the sandy beach, at least to your legs and feet, to prevent sand sticking everywhere.
Bring a hat with you, the sun beaming down on your head can give you a headache and drink plenty of water as you will be sweating A LOT.
Days and weekends spent at the beach, taking in vitamin D and listening to the calming sounds of the ocean can be relaxing and rejuvenating. I hope your stay at Clearwater beach is fun filled and leaves you with awesome memories and stories to tell. Feel free to share them with me in your comments below!