Footloose & Car-Free
Beach vacations should be free of the worries and kinks that come along with steering wheels and bucket seats. They're meant to be barefoot and by-foot. Clearwater Beach is set up perfectly for a car-free, carefree existence, if only for an oh-too-short time. The northernmost pearl in a string of white-sand islands in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, it's known for its wide beaches and casual attitudes. Most of its beach parks and commercial district lie within a strip less than two miles long and three blocks wide, easily doable on foot. Because there are hourly parking fees on the beaches, you save more than gas money by walking.
Bike rentals are readily available and a trolley travels around and off the island, for those with tired feet.
Both North and South of Pier 60 you'll find most of Clearwater Beach's hotels, mom-pop motels, cottages and resorts. The main ones - Best Western Sea Wake Beach Resort, Holiday Inn Express and Shephard's Beach Resort all have fabulous views of the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Pass. And don't miss the new Hyatt Aqualea Resort, adjacent to Clearwater Beach, a bright colored mediterranean-inspired resort. Others hotels south of Pier 60 are scattered around main drags South Gulfview Boulevard and Coronado Drive and their side streets.
North of Pier 60, you'll find small hotels and resorts such as the 16-room Barefoot Bay Resort and the 29-room Palm Pavilion Inn, which cater to peace-seekers who come for the nautical Gulf views on the island's east side.
Walk This Way
My favorite place to walk on Clearwater Beach is around the city marina. It's like a shopping mall for water sports. I go early and pick up brochures for everything from a parasail lift to a paddleboat dinner excursion or family pirate-themed cruise. On the docks, fishing charter captains busily ready their supplies, Wave-runner renters cry out to you like hawkers on a Jamaican beach and the air disperses a scented mixture of salt, fish and boat fuel. A heady aroma for a Pisces water-lover such as myself, it evokes visions of high-sea adventure and aquamarine thrills.
Then I head across Coronado Drive to Pier 60, quiet in the waking hours with the studied casting of early anglers and the awkward begging of big-footed, big-mouthed pelicans. By sunset, the quiet will have dissipated to the festive strains of musicians, the chatter of artisan vendors, the giggle of children on the playground and in the waves and the sounds of folks having fun at the nightly sunset festival.
Interspersed between accommodations, beach shops sell all the latest and most crucial in sand toys and fashions, casual eateries fill you with fresh seafood or pizza and ice cream.
Just north of Pier 60, a traffic roundabout spins you off the island or to the island's north end along Mandalay Avenue. Walk the sands past the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort for a quieter beach scene.
Return along Mandalay for a strip of shops selling resort wear and sea-themed gifts.The restaurants and beach bars at this end tend toward finer fare.
About a mile east of Pier 60 along Memorial Causeway, you can walk among the fishes, sharks, dolphin, stingrays and sea turtles at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rehabilitation facility for sea creatures. Take a trolley tour and stay for some of the interaction and feeding programs throughout the day. You won’t want to miss seeing Winter, the world’s most famous dolphin, who lost her tail in an accident, but is now healthy and swimming freely.
For more information on walking Clearwater Beach, visit the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.VisitStPeteClearwater.com.
Footloose & Car-Free