Your West Florida Staycation: 2 hotspots, exciting Clearwater and St. Pete, plenty to do and see
Jun 26, 2017 09:06PM
Florida’s Gulf coast is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, but how much of it have you explored? It only takes a few gallons of gas and a couple hours to reach Clearwater’s trendy beaches and the exploding diversity of food and fun of St. Petersburg, a winning staycation combo.
When it comes to beaches, Clearwater’s consistently get top social-media and travel guide rankings with the white sand, pedestrian friendly Beach Walk, a sunset festival at Pier 60 much like Key West. But there’s much more. Family stuff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, for example, is great fun, a star dolphin one of its centerpieces. Winter is a rescue dolphin fitted with a prosthetic tail, the film Dolphin Tale was shot here. While the aquarium has a boat excursion and wildlife encounters, there’s something thrilling about dolphins bounding in the huge wake of a tugboat named Little Toot, hitch-hiking dolphins in and outbound.
Clearwater Beach has changed plenty. A notable feature is the Opal Sands Resort, a curvy structure at the island’s south end. The coastal inspired décor is fresh, each room with a view and breezy balconies. A lot of attention has been put into the hospitality, design and artwork, an eco-friendly footprint―the room’s AC shuts off when balcony doors are open.
A must-visit icon is Frenchy’s, a Clearwater favorite since 1981, specializing in fresh seafood. Try the yummy grouper Reuben or grouper egg rolls and wash it down with a beer of the month. Last count there were five Frenchy’s.
And there’s no way to think about Clearwater without mentioning the giant Church of Scientology presence, if just for an interesting walkabout.
An easy 30-minute drive from Clearwater, downtown St. Petersburg generates lots of buzz in the cool category―theater, music, museums, galleries, shopping, dining and professional sports.
Chihuly Gallery, for example, recently moved a few blocks inland from Beach Drive to the Central Avenue [Arts] District. It features stunning glass art of Dale Chihuly, the Seattle impresario. His work is a centerpiece of the new multi-million-dollar Morean Arts Center. But there’s plenty to do and see here for us regular mortals.
Perhaps the biggest St. Pete art attraction is the Salvador Dali Museum, the largest collection of work by the surrealist outside of his native Spain. The permanent collection is mesmerizing, and the special exhibits are always interesting in this modern, three-story museum.
Even without the kitschy St. Pete Pier [replacement scheduled for 2018-19], downtown St. Pete is walkable and exciting, a giant marina, posh Beach Drive, new cafes, live music venues, clubs and beer joints popping up like wildflowers, a working trolley that is ideal for getting to Tropicana Field if you’re able to time a Ray’s ballgame. Hop off the trolley at Ferg’s Sports Bar across from the Trop, a spirited place with some 90 televisions and Ferg’s Famous Wings.
Other dining options in St. Pete span lively burger joints to tapas and international restaurants. Foodies should make a beeline to Locale Market at Baywalk, in the heart of downtown, for instance. The brainchild of Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, you’ll find great cuisine and true craft cocktails upstairs in Farmtable Kitchen. Pintabona is the former executive chef of Tribeca Grill in New York City.
Also located in Baywalk is Sea Salt; picture the original Naples location on steroids. With its 80-foot long raw bar and 22-foot wine tower holding more than 4,000 bottles of wine, the space is stunning.
An easy summer getaway, a combo trip to Clearwater and St. Pete covers all the bases, from beach relaxation to the kind of excitement and cultural diversity that comes with a few million of our fellow beings that live in metropolitan Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater.
Written by Gina Birch, a Southwest Florida media personality and frequent contributor to TOTI Media.
Plan Your Visit
- Opal Sands beachside hotel, Clearwater. 727-450-0380, opalsands.com
- Birchwood boutique hotel, St. Pete. 727-896-1080, thebirchwood.com
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater. 727-441-1790, seewinter.com
- Little Toot, Clearwater Marina. Adults: $22.43, Kids 4-12: 4.95. 727-466-5503, littletoot.us
- Salvador Dali Museum, St. Pete. 727-823-3767, thedali.org
- Morean Arts Center Glass Studio & Hotshop/Chihuly Collection, St. Pete. 727-822-7872, moreanartscenter.org
Select eats & drinks
- Sea-Guini at Opal Sands, Clearwater. 727-450-6236, opalsands.com
- Frenchy’s South Beach Café, Clearwater. 727-441-4844, frenchysonline.com
- Locale Market with the acclaimed Farmtable Kitchen, St. Pete. 727-523-6300, localgourmetmarket.com
- Sea Salt, sister restaurant of the Naples original, St. Pete. 727-873-7964, seasaltstpete.com