When people talk about Florida’s beaches, they focus mainly on the east coast (Daytona), the south (Miami) and the north (Panama City). While are the beaches that get the most attention, those of us who know better, know that the best beaches are on Florida’s west coast.
I admit some bias. My mom grew up on Florida’s west coast and since that’s where my grandparents lived, I spent a lot of time over there growing up. But setting aside my bias of spending my childhood over there, once you visit the pristine beaches, take a dip in the warm Gulf waters and feel the soft, powdery sand of Clearwater Beach beneath your toes you’ll forget all about those other beaches.
A couple of weeks ago, my family was invited to visit Clearwater Beach (the first time I have been back in nearly 15 years) through my “day job” at PLAYGROUND Magazine. The city has grown up a lot since my last visit, and the beachfront itself has undergone massive ($30 million) renovations. What was once a giant public parking lot is now a beautiful beach walkway complete with a scenic view and lots of family activities.
We stayed at the highly-impressive, brand-spanking-new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, which opened in February 2010. It was truly everything you could want in a modern hotel complete with giant (clean) rooms, Wi-Fi, delicious restaurants, a beautiful pool overlooking the beach, and a fully-equipped kitchen in every room. Not to mention that the hotel itself overlooks the newly renovated boardwalk that I mentioned. Plus, the hotel has an AMAZING kids club (Camp Hyatt), in case you want a quiet date night. The room looks like a fully stocked classroom, and K loved it.
Our trip was a whirlwind press trip highlighting some of the very best Clearwater Beach has to offer and let me tell you — the beach has a lot to offer. To all your northerners looking to get away to Florida for a family vacay, you HAVE to consider Clearwater beach. Just a two-hour drive from The Mouse’s House — it is a great way to relax after a busy adventure at the parks before heading home.
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to meet Winter. Winter is a very special dolphin who lost her tail fluke as a baby. Miraculously she survived the trauma, learned to swim, thrives at the aquarium and will star in the movie A Dolphin’s Tale this fall alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd. Yep, we met the real dolphin who inspired the movie expected to be released September 22, 2011. And her story is even more inspiring in real life, I teared up when I watched her trainer suit her up with her prosthetic tail, which she wears a few times a day. Oh did I forget to mention, this dolphin has a prosthetic tail too! It is amazing.
We had the amazing opportunity to have a one-on-one encounter with Winter, which thrilled my daughter. It could not have been a more amazing experience. (K’s first movie star!)
After meeting Winter, we hopped onboard Clearwater’s very own pirate ship and set sail with Captain Memo. Our little pirate princess was thrilled, and it was a wonderful day to be on the water. In addition to dolphin spotting, the kids played musical chairs, had a squirt gun water fight, got their faces painted and all-round had a wonderful time. If you make a trip to Clearwater with the family, this is a must!
Of course, no vacay would be complete without going out to dinner. I mean who wants to cook on vacation? And Clearwater has more delicious options than we had time to try. But I can recommend Frenchy’s, Clear Sky Beachside Cafe, the restaurants at the Hyatt and my fav the Palm Pavilion. You have to grab dinner at the Palm Pavilion while watching a Florida sunset (and sipping a cocktail), it is heaven.
Another Clearwater treat, that won’t cost you a dime is the Sunset Festival at Pier 60. The celebration takes place every night and includes local artisans, street performers and live music at sunset. Plus the festivities continue on Friday and Saturday nights with a free, family-friendly movie on the beach (don’t forget your beach blanket).
Whether you are a making a trip to the sunshine state or you are a Floridian looking for a staycation, Clearwater Beach is a great place for a vacay. You can learn more about what Clearwater has to offer at www.visitclearwaterflorida.com.
Quick tip — No need for a car while visiting, the Jolly Trolley goes to all the hot spots.
Disclosure – I attended a press trip hosted by the city of Clearwater Beach through my work with a local magazine. My trip was so wonderful, I choose to share with my blog readers too.