When it comes to Florida, there definitely isn't a shortage of beautiful beaches, but having so many options can also make it hard to decide which beaches to go to. Whenever we have friends visiting Tampa, we recommend Clearwater Beach. The beaches are beautiful and there are plenty of other things to do in this gorgeous beach town.
Get to the Beach Early
We like to arrive in Clearwater Beach early so that we can find parking right by the beach. This beach is always busy with locals and tourists, so parking is limited. Before it gets too crazy with the crowd, it's best to arrive before 10am to get a good spot. If you get to the beach in the afternoon, there are parking garages available nearby as well. You can also try calling Florida Free Rides if you have to park far away. It's a free transportation service that provides transportation anywhere on Clearwater Beach. Just remember to tip your drivers.
Start your day at one of the popular breakfast joints like Another Broken Egg Cafe. The food is average, in our opinion, but we can see why it's so popular with others as they have a very big menu with lots to choose from. Some other breakfast restaurants to try out are Basimo Beach Cafe and Clear Sky Cafe.
After breakfast, enjoy the beach while the temperature is comfortable and the scene is calm before the crowd arrives. If you visit Clearwater Beach during the summer months, the heat can be a bit unbearable as the sun is brutal and the humidity runs high. Some people don't mind it, but we like to visit the beach during spring or fall if possible.
Clearwater Beach is well-kept with plenty of clean bathrooms and showers. There are many activities you can do in the area like jet skiing, parasailing, dolphin sightseeing, and more. If you're visiting between May - September, you may be able to catch Pierce Street Market where you can find an array of vendors including produce, clothes, vintage items, live music, food trucks and more.
Mandalay Avenue and Hogan's Beach Shop
Right by the beaches, you'll find plenty of shopping and dining options on Mandalay Avenue. Hogan's Beach Shop is located here and if you're a fan of Hulk Hogan, you should definitely stop by. We grew up in the 80's and although we weren't huge wrestling fans, we remember him being a huge icon. He also had a hit reality TV show in 2005, Hogan Knows Best, on VH1, which was a pretty big hit and most of it was filmed in Clearwater where he resides.
Hogan's Beach Shop is full of wrestling merchandise, souvenirs, memorabilia and collector's items. There are many items signed by him and if you're lucky, you may even run into him as he stops by the shop often to make regular checkups.
We had a surprising good time at Hogan's Beach shop and discovered that Hulk Hogan was also very popular in Japan and appeared in various New Japan Pro-Wrestling matches and had a famous showdown with Japan's own famous wrestler, Antonio Inoki. Candy loved her time there so much that she bought us some bandanas to use for our upcoming hiking trip.
If you're hungry for lunch, make sure to stop by Frenchy's. There are many locations throughout Clearwater Beach and is known to be the area's favorite seafood spot.
Have you heard of the movie, "Dolphin Tale"? It's a true story about Winter, a rescue dolphin who is the only dolphin in the world with a prosthetic tail. Her tail was caught in a fishing trap which damaged it so badly that it eventually fell off. It was a miracle she survived and with the help of the dedicated staff at Clearwater Marine Aquarium she continues to receive daily physical therapy at this location.
The center isn't your typical aquarium and is an actual working marine hospital, so don't expect to see shows from these friendly creatures doing tricks. It's an educational center where you learn about the various animals that they have rescued and released back into the wild. There are individual stories of each animal that is there and why they weren't able to be released and now call this place home.
When we saw Winter, we were surprised to see that she did not have her prosthetic tail on, but learned that she only wears it during her physical therapy sessions which is about an hour or less everyday. She was in a great mood with the visitors watching her swim as she made her high-pitched whistles, which means she's squealing with delight (you'll hear it in the video above). O! And if you are wondering how Winter got her name it's because she was rescued in December.
In addition to Winter, you will also come across Rufus, the sea gull (also featured in "Dolphin Tale"), sea otters, sting rays and sea turtles. We were happy to learn that we were able to support these animals in some way as the funding for the aquarium comes from admission fees, grants, and donations.
Sunset and Dinner
The sunset at Clearwater Beach is not to be missed. You can get a great view of the sunset pretty much anywhere on the beach, but you can also get great views from bars like Jimmy's Crow's Nest. The sunsets here are amazing and a great way to end the day. You can also catch the daily festival at Sunsets at Pier 60 with nightly sunset celebrations featuring artisans, crafters, street performers.
Florida beaches don't have the rock formations surrounding it like the west coast, but they do have the gorgeous powdery white sands and sand dunes. The sand here is made of quartz rather than sea shells and it's quite soothing to the feet.
After viewing the sunset, have dinner and drinks at Clear Sky Cafe on Mandalay Avenue. The restaurant has rave reviews and has that beach town atmosphere with a laid-back vibe. We really enjoyed this restaurant as the staff was friendly, the food was amazing and we met some great locals like our new friend, Will.
The menu had a ton of great options and we shared the Short Rib Taco and the Roasted Turkey Club. The short rib taco was juicy and tender and the turkey club was outstanding. The turkey was so moist and tasted like it just came out of the oven like on Thanksgiving day. We loved the turkey meat so much that we made sure to take home the leftovers.
We were sitting close to the bar and met a customer regular, Will, who was quite entertaining and surprised us with dessert. It was a warm chocolate cake with ice cream that definitely satisfied our tummies.
If we lived a little closer to Clearwater Beach, we would come here all the time. The beaches are gorgeous, there are plenty of activities, the food is outstanding and the people in the area are very friendly. The best time to visit is September and October while the weather is still warm and the crowds are smaller.
WHERE TO STAY
500 Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater, FL 33767-1738