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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Savoring the Stunning Sunsets
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).
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!
Home Sweet Home
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)
Caladesi Island Adventure
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)
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!
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.
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!
Views from Pier 60
Downtown Clearwater Beach
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.
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!
Ice Cream Stop
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!
- 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/