Florida Guide > Other Florida
Clearwater & Beyond
Spend a day at the beach. It’s well within reach.
Just a short hop down the I4 from Orlando, about 1.5 hours drive, is the most amazing stretch of sugar white beaches along the sensational Gulf Coast.
Our favourite of them all is Clearwater Beach, which is about the easiest Gulf Coast beach to get to from Orlando.
Even the drive into Clearwater is a treat. Once the interstates are out of the way you drive across a long causeway through the middle of Old Tampa Bay with glistening sea on both sides of you, much like driving to the Keys must feel. Passing on through Clearwater itself, you head onto another palm lined causeway across Clearwater Harbour until you reach the barrier island that is Clearwater Beach.
We made a weekend of it at Clearwater to break up our time in Orlando. We stayed at the Clearwater Beach Hotel, which is an ornate old building right on the beachfront. It was the first hotel to be built on Clearwater Beach and the antiquated style really lends something to the experience. It may not be the plushest hotel there now, but to us it has far more charm than some of the more modern concrete bunkers further down the beach.
The pool area to the rear of the hotel joins directly to the beach and then there’s nothing between you and the sea.
This is the greatest spot to sit with a beer or cocktail in the evening and watch the sun go down. Nothing beats a Gulf Coast sunset, it’s a phenomenal sight.
Whilst we were there we saw two couples exchange their vows on the sand at the precise moment the sun touched the ocean.
There’s plenty to do around Clearwater with frequent boat trips from nearby St Pete’s Beach. We recommend the Hakuna Matata catamoran trip.
Another great place to visit is Johns Pass, which is a collection of shops, bars and restaurants nailed together on an old boardwalk overhanging the ocean gap between two of the barrier islands on the way to St Pete’s Beach. We had a great time here eating in one of the bars whilst watching a great cluster of pelicans gathering on the boardwalk and nearby boats.
Speaking of eating, Clearwater is the place where we first encountered one of our favourite Floridian dishes, Cajun Grouper Sandwiches. We first had this at the Clearwater Beach Hotel, and it was love at first bite. We also discovered it at a little bar set back from the beach front called Cooters Raw Bar. Cooters is a really friendly place to go and you really must ask for some of their Cooterbread before your meal.
It was worth the drive from Orlando for that alone.
The great thing about Clearwater is that it’s close enough so that you can build it into your holiday in Orlando, as a day trip or a night away. It’s also really close to Busch Gardens so why not do what we did, and stay the weekend at Clearwater Beach, then tackle Busch Gardens on the way back.
We’ll definitely be visiting Clearwater again, it’s an old friend now, but there’s no shortage of coastline to explore, so we’ll be in touch again when we’ve discovered somewhere new.
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