Clearwater Beach, FL, USA

Cher Travels to Florida

December 2021

Clearwater Beach Florida – Best Beach in USA!

Having lived and worked on Clearwater Beach, Florida, as a young adult, it was fun to return – this time with my husband and adult children – and enjoy this magnificent island and beach with them! This blog will share some of those highlights with you – and encourage you to visit this great place as well!

Cher on Clearwater Beach, Christmas 2021.

Clearwater Beach – Where is it?

The map (above) shows the close proximity to Orlando and Walt Disney World (about 2 hours away). Cape Canaveral and the Space Center are east of Orlando on the Atlantic Ocean side, about 3 hour drive from Clearwater Beach.

From Tampa, Florida – one takes a short drive west on State Hwy 60, across Tampa Bay, through the City of Clearwater, over the Memorial Causeway – and when one can go no further before literally driving into the Gulf of Mexico – one arrives on a narrow island called Clearwater Beach. Hwy 60 ends up at Pier 60, the natural division of the island to North and South Beach areas.

The map (left) is a closeup of the main part of the beach. Our lodging (my former residence) is on the north end of this map. The area on the upper right is Island Estates, home to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter the Dolphin of “Dolphin’s Tale” movie fame. See details on separate blog!

Clearwater Beach is on the north end of a string of beautiful island beaches ending in the south at St. Petersburg Beach before crossing the expansive 4 mile long Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Sarasota and parts south on the Gulf of Mexico such as Naples and Fort Meyers.

Clearwater Beach

The Best Beach in the USA!

The most impressive part of Clearwater Beach is – well, the BEACH! It’s white, sugar soft sand, has been touted as the Best in the USA! I agree! Because it is on the gulf – vs. ocean – the waves are calmer. One can actually swim and not worry about getting caught up in the riptide! It is impacted by the tides, so pay attention if you plan a stroll on the beach.

Cher enjoying the beach on the walk to Caladesi..
P.C. Anna O. 12/30/2021

Basking on the Beach

Clearwater Beach is a great beach for sunbathing. It is magnificent for just strolling along, digging ones toes into the soft sand. It is invigorating for jogging on the packed sand, exposed when the tide is out, as the waves lap softly on ones feet.

Family walking down the beach, back from Caladesi.
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/21
Cher enjoying the beach at the end of our street.
P.C. Skip B 12/26/2021)

Clearwater Beach

The Stunning Sunsets!

Clearwater Beach faces west over the Gulf of Mexico making it prime spot for fabulous sunsets! We were able to enjoy them nearly every night – and they never got old.

In fact, I realized that I enjoyed the sunsets more this time than when I lived here! As a restaurant server who always worked the dinner hour, I actually sadly missed most sunsets!

Sunset on Clearwater Beach.
P.C. Cher B. 12/26/2021

Savoring the Stunning Sunsets

Sunset on Clearwater Beach.
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/2021
Sunset on Clearwater Beach.
P.C. Cher B. 12/26/2021

Clearwater Beach

Something for Everyone!

Clearwater Beach is about 3 miles long and 3 blocks wide (most places) and very walk-able.

If one wants crowds and lots of activity – it can be easily and quickly found on the south end and around Pier 60.

On the other hand, if one wants quiet and solitude – to be able to hear the waves lapping on the shore, the wind in the brush, and the birds – one just needs to walk north. The further one walks north, the more desolate and secluded the island becomes as it approaches Caladesi Island State Park (far north end).

The sea oats and other grasses helped keep the sand where it was supposed to be – between the houses and the waters of the gulf! This was the path leading from the beach to our unit.
P.C. Cher B 12/30/21

Clearwater Beach

Cabanas and umbrellas can be rented and are nice for controlling the desired wind and sun.
P.C. Cher B 01/01/22
One of the things I liked about the beach areas on the north side, further from Pier 60, are that they are more private, with more space, such as this.
P.C. Cher B 12/30/21
This picturesque spot was even further north from our beach, heading northward Caladesi Island.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21

Home Sweet Home

Just Steps from the Beach!

I was very excited able to rent a spacious apartment unit on the exact same property as the duplex I rented when I lived here 50 years ago! The access to the beach was as I remembered it! And perfect! It was steps away from the beach – with no street to cross! And just a short, 10 minute walk from the center of activity near Pier 60 with shops and eateries. Perfect!

View from our balcony to the beach!
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021
View from our balcony looking across the street – to the same bohemian/hippie unit that was home for my friends who lived there 50 years ago!
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021
View from our balcony to the across the street – with the same bohemian/hippie vibe as it had 50 years ago!
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021

Home Sweet Home

Quaint walk from our unit to the beach – perfect for setting just the right beach mood!
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021
View from the beach to the street by our unit.
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021
I enjoyed daily water work outs in the heated, 8′ deep swimming pool just outside our door!
P.C. Skip B. 12/26/21
View of our unit – the balcony in lower right was ours – great view!
P.C. Cher B 12/26/2021
The swimming pool and patio just outside our door was a great place to relax, read – and swim!
P.C. Cher B. 12/26/21

Caladesi Island

The Secret Gem of Clearwater Beach

I fondly remember long, secluded walks up Clearwater Beach – being transported to another time and place – to Caladesi Island. I was excited to share it with my family – and it did not disappoint!

Not really an “island” – except when it is high tide and the channel fills with water – it is on the far north tip of Clearwater Beach. Only accessible by foot from Clearwater Beach (about a 2 mile hike) or via a 20 minute ferry ride (for a fee) from Honeymoon Island (to the north), it is a memorable adventure.

Caladesi Island History

Prior to the catastrophic Tampa Bay Hurricane of 1921, the area was one large island known as Hog Island (the original homesteaders raised hogs). The hurricane split the island in half and created Hurricane Pass. The modern-day name came with marketing the island as a vacation destination off Dunedin. Hog Island was renamed Honeymoon Island, and the new island was called Caladesi. (floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/honeymoon-island-state-park/history).

“Cala” in Spanish means cove, and the island’s name, Caladesi — which park officials translate as “beautiful bayou” (although no Spanish dictionary would agree) – came from a Spanish ship’s captain in 1628. Caladesi became a state park in 1967. (orlandosentinel.com/travel/explore-florida/orl-travel-caladesi-beach-story-story.html)

My family enjoyed the remote spaces on the far north beach heading to Caladesi Island.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21
Walk bridge provided access to and from the beach to the remote, private homes on the east side of the island.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21
Mangrove and other leaves added color and texture to the landscape.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21

Caladesi Island Adventure

Playing in the waves with the tide coming in, swallowing up the shoreline – and our sandy walking beach!
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21
Walk bridge provided access to and from the beach to the remote, private homes on the east side of the island.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21
We encountered the set up for a private party getting ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beach. Unfortunately, it was a foggy night – like a cloud settled over the beach – and local fire works displays were nearly impossible to see.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21

Various plant species, including beach elders and sea oats, grow on the dunes, their roots holding the sand in place and stabilizing the dunes. Cabbage palms and live oaks rise above smaller shrubs such as temperate wax myrtle in what is known as a maritime hammock habitat, according to Florida State Parks (floridastateparks.org)

The further north we got, the more remote and unspoiled was the beach. We left the noisy, hectic public spaces far behind.
P.C. Cher B. 12/31/21
Shell Tree.
P.C. Cher B 12/31/21

Caladesi Island Shell Trees were a fun surprise! Tradition encourages walkers to attach a shell to the branch of this tree – and there are hundreds, most with special notes. It reminded me of the padlocks on bridges in Europe!

Shell Tree.
P.C. Cher B 12/31/21

Pier 60

Where the Action is!

Want more action? On the opposite – the south – end of Clearwater Beach – one enters a world far, far removed from the pristine, uninhabited, solitude of Caladesi Island!

Pier 60 is a hub of activity including an adventure park for children, bars, shops, restaurants, kiosks with local merchants selling their wares on the pier – and of course, fishing! There are bands and entertainers – and much ado around the time of the infamous sunsets.

Entrance to Pier 60. Photo from visitflorida.com/travel-ideas/articles/clearwater-beach-pier-60/ (1/29/22)

Pier 60 is the area that I feel has changed the most since I lived here 50 years ago. It is much more commercialized. The Pier, once reserved mostly for fishing and sunbathing, was not the hub of commotion that it is today.

Pier 60 was an interesting stop, but I gladly returned to my quiet, saner, north end of the island! Still, it serves a need for those who like this sort of thing – and obviously pumps a lot of cash into the local economy!

Image from viator.com/en-IN/tours/Clearwater/Amazing-views-of-Pier-60-and-Clearwater-beach-by-helicopter/d22457-136908P3. This really shows not only Pier 60, but the causeway getting to the beach.
Dolphins in various forms and colors and outfits dotted the beach area waiting to provide a great photo spot! This was my favorite and at the end of the pier.
P.C. Skip B. 12/30/21

Views from Pier 60

Amy by Pier 60. From BunniesOnBoard.com 1/30/22
P.C. Amy B. Dec 2021
Kiosks packed with merchants and shoppers fill the entrance to the pier.
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/21
The area around the pier was packed the day we were there.
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/21
Activities for children fill the beach.
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/21
View from the pier looking toward the towering hotels on the south end of the beach. Sunbathers filled the beaches and the gulf waters.
P.C. Cher B 12/30/21
The beach near the pier is filled with sunbathers wanting to see and be seen! Umbrella are available for rent – or one can just lay a towel on the wonderful sand!
P.C. Cher B. 12/30/21

Downtown Clearwater Beach

Downtown Clearwater Beach – image from Bunnies0nBoard.com 01/30/22

Downtown Clearwater Beach had also changed a lot – from a funky 2-lane beach street to an official “tourist” strip with 4 lanes traffic. Black wrought iron fences running down the middle of the street prevented jay walking – probably a good thing today, but not needed 50 years ago!

The one thing that remained a constant – and fond memory – was Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber restaurant midway down the strip. I was a server and hostess here while I lived on the beach. Still owned by family – 3rd generation, now the grandson of the original Bob Heilman I worked for – it is still a Ten Star fine dining experience with white tablecloths, fabulous food and top notch service. The place looked much the same, with a new outdoor patio added accessible by a floor to ceiling glass wall door. Impressive, and great update.

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant, image from metroalive.com/florida/clearwaterbeach/bobheilmansbeachcomber 1/30/2022

Ice Cream Stop

If you’ve been following any of my blogs, you know of course that any trip worth its salt must include a visit to a local ice cream shop! Clearwater Beach was blessed with several – which of course all warranted checking out! This was our favorite! And, as billed, the Coffee Almond Fudge was To Die For!

Skip enjoying an ice cream stop!
P.C. Cher B. 01/01/22

Ice Cream Stop

P.C. Cher B. 01/01/22

Clearwater Beach continues to hold a special place in my heart. Our recent visit created additional fond family memories. I look forward to keeping it a part of future vacation plans!

Sources

  • All photos by Cher B, Skip B, Amy B and Anna O, unless otherwise noted
  • Image from: BonniesOnBoard and Amy B.
  • Image from: metroalive.com/florida/clearwaterbeach/bobheilmansbeachcomber
  • Image from: viator.com/en-IN/tours/Clearwater/Amazing-views-of-Pier-60-and-Clearwater-beach-by-helicopter/d22457-136908P3.
  • Image from: visitflorida.com/travel-ideas/articles/clearwater-beach-pier-60/
  • Travel coordination and schedules by Cher B & Skip B to Clearwater Beach, FL, USA December 2021
  • Florida State Parks website: floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/honeymoon-island-state-park/history and floridastateparks.org
  • Orlando Sentinal website: orlandosentinel.com/travel/explore-florida/orl-travel-caladesi-beach-story-story.html
  • Visit Florida website: visitclearwaterflorida.com/maps/

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