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Clearwater Beach: Florida’s Finest White Sand Beach

Going for my first walk on the white sand of Clearwater Beach, Florida, felt like a rebirth.

I'd survived the pandemic, been fully vaccinated, and reconnected with my parents in person.

Now, it was time for a few days of R&R at one of the best beaches in the United States.

Beautiful Clearwater Beach, Florida
Beautiful Clearwater

Clearwater Beach is located on a barrier island off the western coast of Florida, a half-hour west of Tampa Bay and north of St. Petersburg.

In mid-May, when I visited, the Clearwater Beach weather was ideal.

Highs were in the 80s, with lots of sun and wisps of white clouds across the otherwise blue skies.

I picked Clearwater Beach for its accolades and easy access to the Tampa International Airport, which offers direct flights to Austin on Southwest Airlines.

I fly this route often enough that it made sense to get a Southwest credit card to earn points for free flights.

On the other hand, choosing where to stay was a more difficult decision. Clearwater Beach is pricier than I expected.

Clearwater Beach Travel Guide

Sta 'n Pla Motel, Clearwater Beach, FL
Sta ‘n Pla Motel

Where to Stay

I began by searching for Airbnbs in Clearwater Beach, only to find the cheapest options available were still expensive for what you get.

The big hotels were $400+ per night, which there was no way I was going to pay. I prefer to fly to Mexico for the weekend for that price.

Sta ‘n Pla Motel

I settled on a one-bedroom apartment in the Sta ‘n Pla Motel two blocks from the beach. Including fees, it came out to $200 per night.

Thankfully, I had $80 in Airbnb credit, bringing the cost down to $160 per night, or $320 total.

Still a lot, but I'd been waiting 17 months to see a beach and didn't lose too much sleep over it.

Besides, I had a trick up my sleeve to end the trip on a high note.

Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach room
Gulf view room

Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach

The last night of my Florida trip would be spent in a Gulf view room at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach resort, a $500+ value I received for significantly less.

A few years earlier, while at the Austin Kite Festival in Zilker Park, I was approached by a woman signing up people to attend a Wyndham timeshare presentation.

The reward for attending was 30,000 points that could be redeemed at Wyndham's locations.

I signed up, earned the points in exchange for a few hours of my time (during which I did not buy a timeshare), and waited for an excellent opportunity to use them.

That opportunity came in the form of a night at their premiere Clearwater beach resort.

It would be my first time staying at a Wyndham property.

Balcony and Gulf view at Wyndham Grand Clearwater
Balcony and Gulf view

The points were enough for a standard room, which I booked.

I later received an email offering the chance to upgrade to a Gulf view room for $60, based on availability.

I signed up and was happy to learn that I'd received the upgrade at check-in.

As you can see from my balcony view above, the scenery was spectacular.

Wyndham Grand Clearwater pool
Wyndham Grand pool

Staying at the resort afforded me access to the pool, though I didn't use it for more than a quick dip.

I did, however, enjoy a happy hour cocktail and salad with chicken for dinner at the pool bar.

The morning of my departure, I sat in one of the resort's shaded lounge chairs on the beach.

I left mid-morning before anyone came by to charge me.

My stay at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater was well worth the time I spent listening to the timeshare presentation.

Columbia Restaurant
Columbia Restaurant

Where to Eat

When it comes to Clearwater Beach restaurants, I made a few discoveries.

First and foremost, Columbia Restaurant is technically just south across a bridge on Sand Key.

Columbia is a family-owned and operated Spanish restaurant that dates back 105 years. The original location is in Tampa Bay.

Chicken and plantains at Columbia Restaurant
Chicken and plantains at Columbia Restaurant

I had the chicken and plantains, a mojito, and a terrific view of the sparkling blue waters outside.

I sat inside due to the heat; however, they have a large outdoor deck and a dock with jet-skis!

Palm Pavilion Restaurant
Palm Pavilion Restaurant

It just so happened my friend Shannon of A Little Adrift was in the area when I was visiting, so we met up for lunch at the Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar.

It was the ideal spot for a leisurely lunch catching up with an old friend.

Fish tacos
Fish tacos

We had chips and salsa and guacamole to start, and I ordered the fish tacos as the main course.

Shannon and I last shared Mexican food in Oaxaca five years earlier.

I appreciated being able to linger as long as we liked on the restaurant's deck without pressure to pay and leave.

As mentioned above, I also had dinner one night at Wyndham's pool bar.

Another night, I ate at Shor American Seafood Grill at the Hyatt Regency Beach Resort.

I picked it for the convenient location and Gulf view. The grilled avocado and salmon dishes were excellent, too.

Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach

Things to Do in Clearwater Beach

If all you want is to hang out at the beach, I can't blame you.

After a year and a half in landlocked Austin, TX, that was my focus. However, there are plenty of activities available, too.

Hang out on Clearwater Beach

Let's start with the white sandy beach and calm, clear Gulf waters. It's a legit world-class beach, even if it doesn't sound as exotic as a Thai beach half a world away.

Clearwater Beach, Florida
Clearwater Beach, Florida

I went for walks on the beach in the mornings and left my footprints in the freshly groomed sand.

The beaches were packed with families, couples, and groups of friends in the afternoons.

And it was a diverse crowd, from babies to retirees, representing many different races, too.

On one walk, I noticed the music being played went from Guns ‘n Roses to reggaeton to electronica.

Sunset on Clearwater Beach, FL
Sunset

The vacationers were in a generally upbeat mood. It was the largest concentration of people I'd been around since 2019, and I felt comfortable and safe (both being outside as well as fully vaccinated).

Each evening, I made sure to watch the sunset, first from the beach and the next night from my balcony at the Wyndham.

As fair-skinned as I am, I can better enjoy beaches in the early mornings and late afternoons when the risk of burning is lower.

Pier 60
The pier

Pier 60

Anyone who walks along Clearwater Beach will see and eventually run into Pier 60.

This wooden pier offers visitors the chance to get another perspective on the beach.

Pier 60 Clearwater Beach
View of the beach from Pier 60

Fishing with the best baitcasting reels from the pier is allowed, and there was plenty of people fishing when I walked out on it.

There's a $2 charge if you want to walk to the far end of the pier, which I recommend. If you're lucky, you may spot some dolphins!

Dolphin Watching

Want to increase your odds of seeing wild dolphins at play? Book one of the many boat tours in Clearwater.

Pelican on Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach
Pelican

Watersports

There are numerous watersports to enjoy in Clearwater Beach.

Banana boat rides, jet-skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, and scuba diving are popular.

Explore Nearby Beaches and Islands

If you'd like to escape the crowds on Clearwater Beach, many other beaches on nearby islands are worth exploring.

Having a car, either your own or a rental, helps here as rideshare prices can be costly during the summer months.

  • Sand Key Park and Beach – a few minutes drive south of Clearwater Beach.
  • Caladesi Island State Park – at the north end of the same island as Clearwater Beach. Accessible via foot or boat.
  • Honeymoon Island State Park – an island just north of Caladesi Island, accessible by boat or car (via the Dunedin Causeway).

***

Overall, my experience at Clearwater Beach surpassed my expectations. The white sand and warm Gulf waters are vacation-worthy.

Finding affordable accommodation may be challenging, so consider visiting during shoulder seasons (spring or fall).

When it comes to weird and oddball behavior, Florida is often the butt of jokes in the US.

But, it's also the state that undeniably offers some of our best beaches, and Clearwater Beach is one of them.

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