A vacation in West Florida is my solution to the 2021 COVID blues. My base for my 10-day vacation is Clearwater, Florida. Hello, Gulf of Mexico. Sugar water beaches. Seashells everywhere. Pounding waves. Sea salt spray. And that emerald green water. Instantly I feel the tension begin to release as I soak up the sunshine. Here are my top tips for things to do in West Florida.
Things to do in West Florida
Clearwater Beach wins all the accolades from Best City Beach, one of America’s Top Family Beaches, one of the Top Singles Beaches in Florida, and one of the Best Beaches from Maine to Hawaii, according to the Clearwater’s visitor website. Its slogan is “Bright and Beautiful, Bay to Beach.”
I would describe Clearwater Beach as part spring break college destination/part retired haven. Families love this place too. Everything you expect from a beach vacation—boating, fishing, shopping, swimming and sunbathing—is available.
Clearwater is also convenient to two Gulf Coast cities. It is just 22 miles from Tampa on Florida’s stunning west coast. Or (like me) you can reach St. Petersburg in 17 miles by Florida FL-699 S. But I prefer the slow way, meandering down Gulf Blvd. like I slow walk along the beach. A Road Trip is for seeing things, not rushing.
Things to do in West Florida: Pier 60
You’ll want to walk down to Pier 60 Beach. Depending on the time of day, you’ll see a lot of runners. This is also a popular place for families to set up their tent for a day at the beach.
Pier 60 is Clearwater’s Main Street on the water. It offers everything. Food, festival and fun. Oh and fishing too! Every evening residents and tourists gather on the boardwalk to watch Clearwater’s Amazing Sunset™. No seriously CW didn’t trademark their sunsets but they are extraordinary.
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Clearwater Marine Aquarium
If you came on vacation with your family, you might want to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). This is the “home” of Winter the Dolphin, who starred in Dolphin Tale movies.
You will also meet other rescued otters, dolphins and sea turtles, sharks. But this is more than a meet and greet. The CMA provides attendees with educational presentations and tours highlighting its mission of conservation, rescue, rehabilitation and release as a working animal hospital.
Scoot Coop Rental
And you might want to rent a “Scoot Coup” car because doesn’t want to drive around town like a goof in a pink Barbie mobile? The Coup is a 3 wheel design, street legal, gas powered vehicle that drives like a scooter, twists and go! Valid drivers license is required.
Walk Across Clearwater Causeway Bridge
You will definitely want to walk across the Causeway Bridge which links Clearwater to Clearwater Beach. The fixed-span bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway features pedestrian walkways and lookouts to boats below. This bridge rises in the air like a bird in flight.
If you are driving your car, pull over at the free parking lot on the left side of the road. Park the car and get your 10,000 steps for the day. Since I walked the bridge every day during my stay, I can guarantee you that the route is spectacular.
Things to do in West Florida: Create Art
I particularly recommend walking the bridge at daybreak. The sky is painted in ribbons of pink, yellow, orange, and rose. You’ll feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz walking the Yellow Brick Road (except its asphalt). It’s not unusual to see motivational statements written in chalk. Get some chalk and do it too!
I see LIVE WITH PURPOSE written on the asphalt.
OK, the universe is sending a message. Clearly, my vacation in West Florida is helping me to move forward. We will get through this pandemic together folks!
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Visit Sand Key Beach
After you finish sightseeing in Clearwater Beach, I recommend you consider visiting Sand Key Beach (1060 Gulf Blvd.) A daily park pass is $5 which is a bargain compared to Clearwater’s pricey parking. Clearly this is where all the Florida residents head for an inexpensive day at the beach.
Sand Key offers a beach and park. You definitely want to check out the salt marsh. If available, grab a viewing bench so you can watch the heron, roseate spoonbill, great horned owl, anhinga, and common moorhen nest and feed.
Sea turtles also annually deposit their eggs at Sand Key Park. The Clearwater Aquarium keeps statistics and monitors the nests.
Visit Fort De Soto Park
For the nature lover, another great option is to visit Fort De Soto park in Tierra Verde. There are 1,136 acres. The five interconnected islands (keys) feature mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks, hardwoods and native flora. It was named America’s Top Beach for 2009 by Trip Advisor. Fort DeSoto offers a stunning beach, historic fort and two-mile paddling trail.
While St. Pete Beach Access offers boardwalks and showers, my preferred destination is Pass-A-Grille. This laid back Florida beach town turns the clock back. It is located 3.5 miles from St. Pete’s Beach. It is at the bottom or “toe” of the Gulf Blvd.
Parking is also costly at Pass-A-Grille. Meters start at $3.25 but it is worth it. You definitely will want to wander around this laid back beach town. I wish there was a Pass-A-Grille walking tour so I could learn more about the town’s bohemian architecture. If you are a history buff, you must visit The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. Step back in time by examining memorabilia such as photographs and old postcards.
Things to do in West Florida: Dog Park
Pass-A-Grille is a dog destination (if Fido travels with you.) Next to the beach is the PAG Dog Park. This is happy land for our four-legged friends. And the dog parents can revel in Florida sunshine and fresh ocean air.
Pass-A-Grille is also ideal for walking your dog. You won’t find any high rise condos, shopping malls or roving crowds. It is just four miles of beach heaven—an undeveloped, public Gulf Coast beach. At the end of the key is Ciega Bay on the harbor side.
You can rent a fishing rod at the Merry Pier in Pass-A-Grille, a seaside spot for bait, seafood and boat rentals. You could also just enjoy some zen time meditating at the dock. The more athletic might want to try standup paddle boarding? Or why not take a boat ride on Miss Pass-A-Grille?
Lunch at Don DeCesar Hotel
If your budget permits, I recommend you treat yourself to lunch at Don CeSar Hotel. The Legendary Pink Palace(R) was the place to be seen for writers and Hollywood royalty vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico. Its A List guests included F. Scott Fitzgerald during the Gatsby Era. It was high society’s playground.
Order a signature, prohibition-era cocktails and live the Gatsby Good Life. It’s the Bees Knees. Bottoms Up! Though officially part of St. Pete Beach, Pass-a-Grille begins where Gulf Boulevard passes The Don Cesar hotel.