The water’s not the only clear thing in Clearwater – the white sandy beaches are equally pristine. Grab the girlfriends and head for the Gulf Coast of Florida for a great getaway.
Year-Round Florida Sunshine
Located 24 miles from Tampa and 107 miles from Orlando, Clearwater is known for its 35 miles of award-winning sandy beaches – and 361 days of sunshine. In fact, if you’re unlucky enough to have a little rain fall during your visit, nearly every local you run into will shake their head, apologize, and tell you that it only rains four days out of the year.
A Room with a View of the Beach
Our home base in Clearwater was the Hilton Clearwater Beach, located in the heart of the beachfront district. Nearly all of the 416 guest rooms have private balconies, where you can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the beach. The hotel was originally a Holiday Inn, but has since been renovated to provide a modern and sleek place to stay right on the beach.
As the sun rose over the Gulf of Mexico, we headed downstairs for the buffet breakfast at Reflections restaurant. Guests can eat in the air-conditioned dining area or outdoors on the patio overlooking the beach. If you do eat outside, be careful – the seagulls are not shy about stealing food off diners’ plates. (Yes, it happened to me!)
Join the (Beach) Club
After breakfast, it’s time to hit the beach. The Hilton beach club provides chairs and umbrellas, as well as private cabanas (for a fee), on their 10 acres of beach. You can also rent parasailing, snorkeling and other water sport equipment – or just watch the more adventurous from your beach chair while you relax and soak up some rays.
Thirsty? Hilton is the only hotel to provide refreshments right on the beach – either delivered to you or at the tiki bar on the beach. Go ahead, order that umbrella drink – you’re on the beach!
Get ‘Famous’ for Lunch
After you’ve worked up an appetite from a morning of strenuous lounging, take a stroll down the city’s beachwalk to Frenchy’s South Beach for lunch. The restaurant is owned by Quebec-born Michael Preston, Michael moved to the U.S. when he was in middle school and became known as “Frenchy” when his new school friends heard him speaking French with his mom.
The open-air restaurant serves fresh-from-the-sea seafood in a fun and laid-back setting. We ordered the She-Crab soup, a deliciously creamy soup with good chunks of seafood and ‘famous’ grouper sandwiches, available fried, baked, or in a Reuben. The wait staff was prompt and efficient, and the food was piping hot.
Take in the Arts in St. Petersburg
After lunch, we took a half-hour car ride to downtown St. Petersburg, where you can tour several art museums, including the new Chihuly Collection on downtown’s Beach Drive and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Our first stop was the Salvador Dalí Museum, where a docent led us on a tour and provided more insight to the famous artist’s works than we might have otherwise known. I highly recommend a guided tour, by audio or led by a docent – especially for those who might know Dali only as the painter of “The Persistence of Memory” (aka the melting clocks).
The museum houses sketches, sculptures, paintings and other media from the Spanish artist – more than 2,000 works in total. Architect Yann Weymouth (who worked with I.M. Pei on the Louvre’s glass pyramid) created the museum’s design to pay homage to Dalí’s free-flowing imagination. The glass dome, known as the “Glass Enigma,” has more than 1,000 glass triangles, and no two are the same.
Before leaving, visit the Avant Garden outdoors, take the time to walk the labyrinth and leave a wish on the Wish Tree, a ficus streaming with ribbons that carry the wishes of museum visitors and the local community. The tree invites and holds our hopes as part of a cultural tradition that extends back to Hindu and Scottish rites.
Create Your Own Work of Art
If you’re feeling inspired, walk a few blocks downtown to Painting with a Twist, an art studio where the guests recreate famous works of art – then bring them home. You bring your creativity and a drink or a bottle of wine, which helps mightily with creativity! They provide the tools: paint, canvas, and brushes. Visitors then paint a picture (along with a local artist) to bring home. Check the website for a schedule of what paintings will be created when and register to attend.
Continental Cuisine at Cassis
Downtown St. Pete has a European feel, with sidewalk cafes, restaurants and bars specializing in everything from Danish pastries to Russian vodka to traditional Mediterranean fare. We dined at Cassis American Brasserie, an American restaurant with a French spin named after a town on the French Riviera and a blood-red cherry used in cocktails.
Seating on the outdoor terrace provides prime people watching, with passers-by pushing dogs or babies in strollers, holding hands, or walking pets on a leash. But the main focus is the food and drinks. The Cassis Martini, a mix of raspberry vodka, pineapple juice, Champagne and crème de cassis, is a fruity and refreshing way to relax after a long day of sightseeing.
For the main course, try the Atlantic salmon or the espresso-rubbed petit filet. Save room for dessert, because the house-made pastries, ice cream and sorbets can be a meal in themselves. They’re also available for takeout if you didn’t save room – the Cassis bakery next door serves up all the treats, as well as specialty coffees and teas.
Take a Walk Down to the Pier
After dinner, take a walk to the St. Pete Pier, which has been open since 1899. The inverted pyramid contains five stories, with specialty stores, galleries, boutiques, a food court, and The Pier Aquarium. On the top floor, you can visit the Observation Deck and watch the boats pass by or see the sun set on another day in Florida.
Disclosure: My trip was part of a press trip, and activities, transportation, and food were provided to me. All opinions expressed are my own.
Teresa J. Shaw is a freelance writer and editor always on the lookout for her next adventure. She writes as Working TravelingMom on TravelingMom and blogs about work, travel, family, and trying to balance it all on her blog Working Traveling Mom. Follow her on Twitter at @TeresaShaw.