Clearwater, Florida Guide

By
Cortney Tarell
clearwater guide

Clearwater Beach is one of the most popular places for a vacation in Florida. It is listed as one of the best beaches in the country by Travel and Leisure and HGTV, among others. The beach is famous around the world for its pristine waters and beautiful white sand. But the city of Clearwater isn't just the beach. It is also known for being the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. With a cute downtown and lots of things to do, Clearwater is a great place to live even if you're not right on the beach.

History

Clearwater Guide
Downtown Clearwater
 

Precolonial Clearwater was home to the Tocobaga people. The area was covered in freshwater springs and tons of vegetation. The first settlement of non-natives came in 1835, when the government built Fort Harrison during the Seminole Indian Wars. This was the first time people really started moving to the area. The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 was established to draw in even more people. It offered 160 acres of land to anyone who was willing to work the land and defend it. At the time, the city was called Clear Water Harbor. It became just Clearwater in 1906.

In the late 1800s, Clearwater began to develop into a real town for the first time. The first passenger railroad line came to the city in 1888, making it easier to visit and live in Clearwater. The first hotel,  Belleview Biltmore, was built south of Clearwater in 1897. It continued to grow after that point. in 1914, the first newspaper, “The Clearwater Times”, was published. Within a few years of that, a hospital was built, the first library opened, a bridge to Clearwater Beach began development on the coast, and the city officially incorporated. 

During World War II, Clearwater was a training base for soldiers, some of whom chose to return after the war. The city has grown steadily from there. To learn more about Clearwater’s history, pay a visit to the Clearwater Historical Society.

Culture

Clearwater Guide

Clearwater is known around the world for its beautiful beaches that draw in tons of visitors throughout the year. Clearwater Beach is packed with high rise hotels and gift shops. It’s an area that’s designed to attract tourists and keep them entertained without leaving the beach. The beautiful beaches are always crowded, mostly with tourists and not with locals. The people who do live on the beach are mostly retirees who are most likely seasonal.

But the beach is not all that Clearwater has to offer. Drive across the bridge inland and you’ll find a historic downtown with lots of shops and cute local restaurants. Over 100,000 people live in Clearwater, mostly in the inland part of the city, rather than the beach side. But it’s not just for visiting that Clearwater has a great reputation. Livability lists it as one of the top 50 places to live in the country. When it comes to demographics, Clearwater is very similar to national averages.

Clearwater Guide

It’s impossible to talk about the culture of Clearwater without mentioning the Church of Scientology, which is headquartered in the downtown area. The Tampa Bay Times has reported on the church’s recent attempts to buy up a majority of the property in downtown Clearwater. This can be a problem because most of the properties remain vacant, leaving the downtown area much less lively. Properties owned by the church are also exempt from taxes, so the city is not able to collect as many taxes to upkeep the area.

Food and Drink

Clearwater has a selection of great restaurants where you can get pretty much whatever you’re craving to refuel after a long day on the beach. Of course, as one of America’s best beach towns there are endless options for fresh seafood and romantic waterfront dining, but there are so many options beyond that. For some of the area’s most-loved dining experiences check out The Black Pearl, Frenchy’s, Ocean Hai, Island Way Grill, Lenny’s Restaurant, Caretta on the Gulf, and Clear Sky Café. There are also plenty of great places to cool off with a tropical cocktail right on the beach!

Shopping

Clearwater Guide

There is one traditional mall in Clearwater, the Countryside Mall. It’s not exactly close to the beach, but with tons of shops, a movie theater, and even an indoor ice skating rink, it’s definitely worth the trip on a rainy day. On the beach, you will find lots of boutiques and gift shops all along Mandalay Ave and Gulfview Boulevard. Downtown also has plenty shopping options, just stroll down the Cleveland Street District and you’ll find them.

Entertainment

Clearwater Guide

It should come as no surprise that Clearwater is built around beachfront entertainment. Clearwater Beach is one of the most lively beach towns around, so you’re not likely to be bored while you visit the beach. The beach itself is usually crowded and there’s always something going on, so if you like to be in the middle of the action, this is definitely the beach for you. The Beach Walk is a unique element in Clearwater Beach. Here, you can take a scenic stroll alongside the beach, checking out the surrounding restaurants and shops. The thing you must see when you visit Clearwater Beach is Pier 60, the central location on the shore. It’s a fun place to be at any time of day, but the best time to visit is around sunset, when a daily sunset celebration happens every day of the year, starting 2 hours before sunset and lasting until 2 hours after sunset. It features lots of live entertainment as well as local artisans selling their work.

Clearwater Guide

Like most beach towns, there are tons of other ways to enjoy the coastal setting. You can take surfing lessons; rent jet skis, boats, kayaks, ect; or take a fishing charter or sunset cruise.

Away from the beach, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the most entertaining place to visit. It has tons of great exhibits and things for the whole family to experience. The most exciting residents are Winter and Hope, the dolphins made famous by the films Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. If you’re looking for an activity for adults while you visit, check out the Clearwater Casino, which has a spa, a live entertainment venue, an RV park, and plenty of dining options in addition to gambling.

Arts

Clearwater Guide

Clearwater is a good place to be if you’re a fan of the arts. It enjoys easy access to the rich art scene of Tampa Bay. You can easily travel to St. Petersburg, to visit the Dali Museum or the Museum of Fine Arts, two of Florida’s most impressive art museums. In Tampa you’ll find The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and The Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Both cities have tons more to explore when it comes to art.

In Clearwater itself, Ruth Eckerd Hall is a concert hall that features concerts from all kinds of artists as well as Broadway shows, art education events, and much more. In downtown, there is also The Capitol Theatre and the Francis Wilson Playhouse, two venues with even more shows that you can see.

Sports

Clearwater Guide

Clearwater is home BayCare Ballpark, which is the spring training location of the Philadelphia Phillies. The city is very proud of this fact; it’s even on the “Welcome to Clearwater” signs! The Clearwater Threshers are a minor league affiliate of the Phillies who practice at BayCare Ballpark as well. Clearwater residents also get to be fans of all of the Tampa Bay teams: Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays; the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Soccer’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the champion hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Nature

Clearwater Guide
Honeymoon Island
 

Lots of Clearwater Beach is crowded and busy, but there are plenty of local places where you can experience the beach at its most natural. Next to Clearwater Beach, there are two island state parks: Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island State Park. Both are beautiful, secluded parks that are easy to access from Clearwater. The largest park in Clearwater Beach itself is Sand Key Park, which is south of the main beach area and includes a great beachfront, a kid’s playground, a dog park, and an artificial reef. 

Inland, there are also many opportunities to get out in nature. Moccasin Lake Nature Park is a must visit. It’s a 51-acre nature preserve that is the perfect place to see lots of Florida’s wildlife. Other parks include Coachman Park in Downtown Clearwater, Cliff Stephens Park, Crest Lake Park, and Kapok Park.

Education and Schools

Clearwater Guide

St. Petersburg College has a 40 acre campus in Clearwater that serves more than 14,000 students. It is the only college in Clearwater, though there are plenty of great colleges nearby including the University of South Florida, The University of Tampa, and Eckerd College.

Clearwater is part of the Pinellas County School District. It is home to two public high schools, Clearwater High and Countryside High. Students in this area are zoned for 3 different middle schools and 12 elementary schools. There are also lots of private schools available if you’re looking for something different. 

Tourism

Clearwater Guide

Tourism is one of the main industries in Clearwater. The beach is one of the most visited parts of Florida, so there is no shortage of hotels to stay in when you visit. Most of the beach is filled with high rise hotels and resorts, all of which are experts at making your Clearwater stay fun and carefree.

If you want to stay somewhere other than a hotel there are plenty of options available to you. Most of the north part of Clearwater Beach is filled with lovely beach houses, many of which are available to rent. This is the perfect option if you’re traveling with a large group or if you want to get a little bit further away from the crowds.

Transportation

The biggest airport in this area is the Tampa International Airport. It’s easy to fly there and not too far away from Clearwater. Even closer is The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, though it is much smaller. There are shuttles that can take you from both airports directly to the beach. Busses are offered all over Pinellas County with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). This includes beach trolleys that are available to take you all around the beach.

Health and Medical

Clearwater Guide

Clearwater’s main hospital is the Morton Plant Hospital

 

 

For Local Businesses including Food & Drinks, Services, Health & Medical, Education, Sports & Recreation, Arts & Entertainment and more, see our Destin Business Directory (coming soon). 

 

Who we are

We are locals and writers who love to research, explore, and share information about Florida. Our goal is simple: to share the positive (and sometimes not so positive) things that make the area unique. To be real without an agenda. And to support a strong local community. 

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