What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Florida? Is it the sunshine? Palm trees? The ocean? Maybe all three?
Hubby and I just returned from a week-long visit to the sugar-sand coast of Clearwater, Florida. While I had visited Florida previously in my life (Hello, Disney!), it was hubby’s first time other than airport layovers. During our stay, the weather was perfect, the sun constantly shined, and the only rain happened while we were sleeping. I mean, does that even count? Plus, if you are looking for a good time to go where it isn’t overly crowded, October is it!
While there, we did our fair share of relaxing but also checked out several cool attractions that you just can’t get here in Ohio. One thing that we found really interesting is that many of the buildings have parking on the first level, if not the first several levels of the building. There was even a grocery store we visited that had parking on the main level, then you take stairs or an elevator up to the second story, where the actual grocery shopping takes place.
Aside from that, we enjoyed escaping the cold and rain for a week and enjoying what Florida has to offer. Here are 6 fab things that we recommend making part of your trip when you visit Clearwater.
*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is known for taking in injured and sick marine life and rehabilitating its residents back to health. The ultimate goal is to be able to release them back into the wild. Sadly, sometimes the residents are too injured, ill, or too young when brought in to ever be released. That is when they become permanent residents of the aquarium family.
Two of the residents of the aquarium are Winter and Hope from Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. For those who are unfamiliar, Winter was found tangled in a crab trap at 2 months old. This cut off circulation to her tail, which couldn’t be saved. With the help and determination of the staff at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and many others, a prosthetic tail was able to be made and fit specifically for Winter.
Hope was found in shallow water and 2-3 months old, trying to nurse from her deceased mother. She was rescued by the aquarium and given a special formula and round the clock care. Dolphins stick with their mothers for several years and learn their survival skills from them. Because Hope was so young when rescued, she never learned these skills. For that reason, it was determined that she was not a good candidate for release.
Nicholas, another popular dolphin that resides at the aquarium, has a similar story. He was found beached with his mother. Under the hot Florida sun, he had suffered severe burning over most of his body. While his mother passed away a few days after her rescue, Nicholas was able to be saved. Because he was so young, though, he didn’t have the survival skills necessary to be a candidate for release.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium has more than dolphins, You can also see otter, stingrays, turtles, and many more marine life.
They also offer boat tours. Two of the tours are the Dolphin Adventure Tour and a Sealife Safari Tour. Hubby and I did the Sealife Safari Tour, where you go out on the water for 90 minutes looking for different sea life and learning about their environment. They also make a pit stop at a small island, where you can get out, walk around, and collect shells.
During part of the tour, a net was placed into the Gulf to pull out some fish local to that specific area. During our ride, a Pin Fish and Flounder were pulled. Talk about some interesting creatures! One of the crazy, creepy things about the Flounder is that after its initial months of life, it flattens itself out completely and its eyes move to the top of it!
Pier 60 is a 1,080-foot long pier that has a bait house, covered pavilions, and telescopes. The bait house serves as just that…a bait house, as well as a souvenir shop and snack shack. For a $1 per person charge, you can step further out onto an overlook to sit and enjoy the ocean breeze and views. There is also a large beach playground for kids to stay entertained for hours.
Pier 60 has a tradition 364 nights out of the year called Sunset at Pier 60. Every night, from 6-9, live entertainment and crafts are offered as you walk along the pier. Coupled with a flawless view of the sunset from the pier, it makes for a fun and unforgettable evening.
This gem was located about 1/4 mile from our hotel. We decided to try them out for lunch one day…and returned two more times, including before we left for the airport to come home.
This is not your average fast food Mexican restaurant. Upon entering, you immediately see what looks like a school bus off to the left. Above the bus is their menu, which features burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and more. Once you’ve made your decision, you then walk up to a counter within the ‘bus’ to place your order and take a seat while it is prepared. We waited less than five minutes each time we visited, and each time we were not disappointed in our choices.
Taco Bus uses only fresh ingredients, including marinated meats, cabbage, and only a little bit of cheese. But seriously, their menu choices are so packed full of flavor that you don’t need a lot of heavy, greasy cheese weighing your meal down. They without a doubt create the best quesadilla we have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. With plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices, there really is something for everybody. Plus, every meal is served with a fresh lime wedge, which really brings out the flavors.
Another completely awesome thing about Taco Bus, as well as many other restaurants around the coast, is that they don’t have plastic straws readily available. This is to lessen the number of used straws that ultimately land in the Gulf and ocean. Straws and other litter injure and kill wildlife, so it is great that so many places are trying to make an impact. If you really want a straw, there are signs stating that you can request one.
The bad part is that they don’t have Taco Bus in Ohio. I guess it just gives us an excuse to make another trip back down to Clearwater. Darn!
Watching the Sunset
The sunset in Clearwater is like nothing I have ever seen. If you ever get a chance to sit on the beach and watch it, don’t miss out! I made it a point to watch the sunset 5 out of the 6 nights we were there because it is just that beautiful setting over the Gulf. Each night was flawless, peaceful, and perfect. I have to admit that I got emotional watching it our last night there because it just isn’t something we see often with the clouds and gloom in Ohio, not to mention all of the obstructions blocking the view in many areas.
One word of advice is to get a Gulf view hotel room with a balcony. Being able to sit on your own private balcony to experience the sunset makes it all the more special and perfect. One thing is for sure; you won’t regret taking time off of your night to sit and watch the sun set and disappear into the water, followed by complete darkness just minutes after.
Thriller Powerboat Tour
This was a bit of a last minute decision for us, but we are so glad we did it! We actually kept seeing a big yellow sporty boat passing by from our hotel room balcony. I asked hubby what he thought about booking a time slot for us the next day, and he agreed.
The one-hour Thriller Powerboat Tour is on what is advertised to be the fastest boat tour in Clearwater, topping speeds of over 50mph. I will warn you that this is not for anybody who gets motion sickness. You will not go in one straight line, but rather weave back and forth at high speeds. If you don’t get motion sickness, you are in for an amazingly fun time! Seriously, I couldn’t stop laughing! Because of the high speed and the weaving, there are ‘oh shit’ handles on the backs of the seats to grab on to if needed. The boat guide was so entertaining too, adding to the adventure.
One unique aspect about the Thriller Powerboat Tour is that it has a dual steering system, so you will have the option of getting behind the wheel and driving the boat next to the captain. How many boat tours can you say that about?
Oh, and a bonus…we saw dolphins! About 8 of them. The boat stopped for a few minutes so we could watch them surfacing from a short but safe distance. Seeing them in their natural environment is so cool. They really are such beautiful creatures.
Enjoy the Beach
You cannot visit a beach without laying on the beach at least once! Sunshine really does do so much for one’s mood, and the warmth definitely helps too! The sand on the beaches of Clearwater pure white and is so soft, hardly containing any shells or shell pieces. You could basically lay in the sand itself and fall asleep under the bright sunshine.
Whether laying out or walking along the beach with the sand squishing between your toes, enjoying the beach is definitely a must! Sit, relax, enjoy a good book. Many of us are not lucky enough to live close to a beach, so don’t have any regrets by not making the most of it. Just don’t forget to apply sunscreen!
Things to be sure to bring for your trip
We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites on S. Gulfview Blvd. during our trip. The hotel itself was nice and clean and the staff was very friendly and accommodating. Breakfast was included each morning and offered a great variety. Some items were changed out each day, such as sausage gravy and biscuits or cheese omelets. Other items were there every morning, like Belgian waffles, fresh fruits, and bagels.
One drawback was that live music played from hotels next door basically all day every day. In fact, we were right next to the only nightclub in Clearwater, which we didn’t know about until midnight that first night when we were trying to sleep. While the music isn’t extremely loud through the walls and windows, it is enough to be annoying and keep you up if you are a light sleeper.
A white noise machine was a lifesaver for us. I recommend the one below due to it being small and easy to pack. The soothing sounds drown out the beats of music coming from outside and saved us hours of potentially missed sleep. We even use this machine at home for consistent sound versus complete silence. It definitely helps with us not noticing every time the dog’s collar jingles!
Good walking shoes are also a must. You will be doing a bit of walking and you don’t want your trip to be spoiled by not having good shoes. After the first couple of days, hubby had a few spots rubbed raw on top of his feet from his sandals. It was nothing some Neosporin and band-aids couldn’t help, but it was painful for him and definitely affected how much we walked the rest of the trip.
I highly recommend Sketchers. I have been wearing Sketchers for years and they are without a doubt the most comfortable and long lasting shoes I have ever owned. Some pairs have lasted several years, and I walk a lot. The few times I have strayed from my brand loyalty, I almost instantly regret it and end up with a pair of Sketchers anyway.
If you want a pair of shoes that will last and feel like pillows on your feet, Sketchers are the way to go!
Plenty of reading material is also highly suggested. Between being on the plane, layovers, reading before bed, and lounging on the beach, I went through about 5 books over the course of the week. Instead of carting around a suitcase just for my reading material, I had my Kindle with me. It saves so much space and will hold all of the books you will ever need. Plus, the screen brightness could be adjusted. This is great depending on where you are, from laying in the sun to being in a dark room. Plus. if you have access to WiFi, you can connect to the internet from it as well…to download more books, of course!