For a beach that’s consistently ranked as one of the best in Florida and the US, Clearwater Beach seems relatively unknown. I ended up just saying “Florida” when people asked where I was headed for spring break. (And then they’d assume Miami, Panama City Beach, etc.) I’m here to change that though, because Clearwater was everything we were looking for and it should be on your radar too.
Clearwater Beach may be Your perfect spring break destination if:
1. Being packed onto a beach with fifty thousand sloshed college students does not sound appealing to you. This was honestly the key for me. I saw Snapchats from friends in Cancun, Destin, PCB, etc. and it just looked stressful, sticky, and…trashy. Literally. Meanwhile, in Clearwater we had stretches of white sand beach to ourselves steps from our condo (and we could head closer to the Pier where the big resorts were if we wanted to people watch). Of course, to each their own – some people spring break to party hard. My friends and I wanted to take it easy and just relax in each other’s company.
The island is long and skinny so you’re close to the beach wherever you stay, but it was less crowded towards the residential area. There were still plenty of college students in town for spring break, so it was fun to go out. Clearwater is definitely not a family beach or some hidden gem – I’ve seen Floridians comment about how touristy and crowded it’s become in recent years. Compared to Miami or PCB during spring break though, Clearwater is easy breezy beautiful 🙂
2. You don’t want to drive forever or buy a plane ticket. This is relative to where you’re coming from, but the 10-12 hour drive back to Chapel Hill was probably just about all we could take. The weather, obviously, is the tradeoff here. The Tampa Bay area isn’t far enough South where you can consistently expect 80s in March, but we knew that going in. It just happened to be way colder than it usually is during this time of year (snow in NC, what?). At the end of the day, we had a much better time than our friends in Myrtle or Hilton Head. We each spent less than $30 in gas for the whole trip, which is a heck of a steal compared to flights!
3. You love sunrises over the water but hate waking up early. I love watching the sunrise over the water on the East coast, but that 5:30 am alarm to catch it is rough. The Gulf coast is like West coast with sunsets over the water instead, but minus flying across the country. We braved the cold under a snuggly blanket to watch the sunset one evening and it was breathtaking!
4. You love calm waters and white sand. The Gulf coast has much calmer waves than the Atlantic, which is where Clearwater gets its name. The water doesn’t get stirred up as easily, so it can be crystal clear. Unfortunately when we were there it was so cold and windy that wasn’t the case, but the beach in Clearwater is well-known for being “sugar-sand” and it truly was unlike any of the beaches up north!
5. You want to be walking distance from bars, restaurants, and shopping. I’ve been to beaches that are truly residential, where you have to drive back inland just for dinner or to pick up sunscreen. Some people love that “getaway” feel of seclusion, but we knew we didn’t want to spend spring break with just old people and families! Clearwater has tons of shops, restaurants, bars, and things to do that are within walking distance. (Sidenote: there’s even a full-on liquor store inside Walgreens…what?!) I definitely want to go back when the weather’s warmer to take advantage of all the water sports!
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that Clearwater should be on your radar, here are some highlights and recommendations for places to stay, where to eat, and things to do:
- Rental condo: Clearwater Beach Suites
Our 1-BR condo in the newly renovated Clearwater Beach Suites was perfect for a girls’ trip. The four of us swapped between the bed and the pull-out, and it was just enough! They were so thoughtful with the little details – makeup wipes in the bathroom, linen service, massage jets in the shower, books to read on the beach – we were thoroughly impressed. There was no dishwasher, but for four nights it was manageable; the kitchen doubled as a dance floor for our much loved early-2000s-playlist 🙂 We also cozied up in the living room to watch Netflix almost every night. We may have gotten Maleah hooked on Gossip Girl, and I have a newfound love for Fixer Upper…
The heated pool saved us when it got too windy near the water. Lounging in the sun was comfortable because the building blocked most of the wind, and we were able to get some color (or sunburn, in the case of everyone else, ha). It felt like we had a private pool because of how small the complex was!
- Resort: Shepard’s is the resort with the nightclub we went out to, and the property was beautiful! If we had more in our budget, I think this would’ve been a super fun place to stay for spring break.
- Salty’s Island Bar & Grille is where we had dinner the one night we didn’t cook. It was packed when we got there because no one was sitting outside (it’s a two-level restaurant with waterfront views), so we snagged four corner seats at the bar.
I enjoyed my sandwich and the drinks were tasty – Maleah and Katie loved their sides of plantains! Maleah and I split a bucket just to say we drank out of a bucket on spring break… I couldn’t tell ya what was in it, but it was all the tropical fruity things and Malibu so you can’t go wrong, right?
- Palm Pavilion – We didn’t have a chance to stop here, but it was steps from our condo and our friend said it was a great place to get a drink while watching the sunset over the water. They usually have live music too, which would’ve been amazing if winds didn’t feel like 40 mph…
- Cook! Having a fully stocked kitchen was one of the main reasons we wanted to stay in a condo over a hotel or resort. Being able to make some of our own meals was much healthier, not to mention economical. Easy beach meals include tacos, spaghetti, and casseroles.
- The Wave at Shepard’s (see places to stay) – our friend told us about this club and so did a random bartender, so we knew we had to check it out. I can’t say I’d ever been out dancing on a Wednesday before, but our night involved giant neon glowsticks, a live DJ, confetti coming from nowhere, and really nice bathrooms, so I have no complaints!
- Island hopping – St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Indian Rocks Beach, etc. are all along Gulf Boulevard. We went exploring one day to see more of the island and ended up at an ice cream shop in St. Pete. If you’re in Clearwater for a few days and the weather isn’t great, I highly recommend driving South to explore the area, check out beautiful beach houses, and see some amazing views going over the water.
- Get sporty – on our first day, we took a volleyball from the condo to toss around on the beach and some random guys asked us to play a game with them at the sand volleyball nets. It ended up being a great way to stay warm out by the water. The Clearwater Beach Library & Recreation Center also has daily passes you can buy to use the tennis and basketball courts, gym, etc.
- Dolphin watching – our second dolphin sighting of spring break was right before we headed out of Clearwater when we were packing up our car. Once again, someone heard a commotion and we ran over to see several dolphins splashing in and out in the Mandalay Channel right by the Library. There are also boat tours you can take specifically for dolphin sightings, which would be fun!
- Parasailing – One of the things I wanted to do most was parasailing, but none of the numerous companies were open yet (probably due to the weather…are you seeing a pattern here?) Next time!
- Minigolf- we drove past Captain Bligh’s Landing and it looked like a very elaborate minigolf course. I’m horrible at minigolf (or any golf really), but I wouldn’t say no to a cheesy mini golf place on spring break!
To sum it up, Clearwater Beach was the perfect place for the four of us best friends to relax, have fun, and escape the snow without breaking the bank. The only thing that could’ve made our trip more perfect was if the weather had cooperated, but the fact that we were able to have such a good time despite only seeing the sun for a few hours says a lot. If you’re lucky enough to have anymore spring breaks in your future (*sob*), I hope you consider checking out Clearwater!