Clearwater Beach

By DALIA WHEATT, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007

Geography: Just across the Memorial Causeway from downtown Clearwater, Clearwater Beach's 2.5-mile shore stretches from north to south. Its busy streets feel more like a booming suburb than a lazy vacation town, but white sand stretches nearly uninterrupted along the Gulf of Mexico. And nearby Sand Key Park is one of Pinellas County's gems, with its gulf access and park amenities.

History: Until 1916, Clearwater Beach was accessible only by boat or a long swim. That year, a rickety, 2-mile wooden bridge was constructed, and in 1917, the Clearwater Beach Hotel opened for business to accommodate visitors to the then-remote beach town. The latest Memorial Causeway bridge has been open since August 2005, after plans, uh, fell through the cracks several times.

Beach: The shore is nearly all sand and provides access to countless water sports -- jet-skiing, WaveRunners, parasailing, dolphin excursions and more. Arrive early to stake out a good spot. Jutting out into the gulf is Pier 60, which has a daily sunset show with live entertainment.

Amenities: Where to begin? With dolphin-sighting cruises, mini golf, an Internet coffee house, spa and dozens of restaurants, it could take days to run out of amusements and resort to actually lying on the sand. For that beach party feel, dine al fresco at Palm Pavilion on the north end or Shephard's down south. Afterwards, take a stroll along Mandalay Avenue for ice cream and souvenirs. At Sand Key Park, you'll find cabana rentals, nine outdoor showers and two beach wheelchairs among other amenities. The park also has a paws park, but dogs aren't allowed on the beach, so keep that in mind.

Drawbacks: Crowds. Be prepared to fight traffic in the roundabout, stand in line for ice cream and dodge bikes on the sidewalk. If you're looking for quiet, then Clearwater Beach is not the place for you.

Parking: With 2,224 metered and off-street parking spaces, there are plenty of places to stash your car -- for a nominal fee. If you park downtown, Jolley Trolley operates every 30 minutes to shuttle you to the beach.

Bottom line: If you're looking to live it up on vacation or party down over a three-day weekend, then Clearwater Beach will suit you just fine. If it's R&R you're after, well, look elsewhere -- or just across the way on Sand Key.