One visit to the Clearwater-St. Pete area is normally all it takes to make this a regular stop on your annual vacation itinerary. There’s so much to do, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, I would suggest taking the Courtney Campbell Causeway east over the Tampa Bay to Pinellas County, then following the signs on Gulf to Bay Boulevard to Court Street and the historic town of Clearwater.
Founded in 1915, Clearwater is the epitome of heritage, arts, culture, dining and nightlife all rolled into one. The heart of downtown is located at the busy intersection of Cleveland Street and Highway 19, where you’ll find the financial district surrounded by an interesting mix of clothing stores, coffee shops, book stores, cafes, martini bars and the like. There are cozy restaurants to try plus a multitude of interesting store windows to check out. On any given day during lunchtime, you’re likely to see business people, students and tourists alike as they stroll around while enjoying life in this multi-faceted city. If time isn’t a big factor and you’d like to explore a bit more, believe it or not there’s another whole neighborhood of shopping and gastronomic delights just up the road.
Just off the coast of Dunedin are two of Southwest Florida’s best kept secrets…the Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands, but please promise not to tell anyone! Honeymoon Island State Park is less than a five minute drive from the mainland and offers the perfect getaway for boating, swimming, fishing, picnics, and nature exploration. Caladesi Island State Park is only accessible by ferry or by private boat, and was recently named “Best Beach” in America according to Dr. Beach, who is widely regarded as America’s top beach ranking expert.
When you come to John’s Pass (just before Treasure Island), you can’t miss Gator’s CafÃ© & Saloon on the harbor side which proudly bills itself as the “World’s Longest Waterfront Bar” and always seems to draw a vibrant crowd of party-goers (but beware college football fans, there may be some Florida Gators lurking about!). Nearby John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk is consistently ranked one of Pinellas County’s top tourist attractions and features shopping, restaurants and accommodations. There are over 100 merchants in this turn of the century village, including fishing charters, cruise lines, and boat rentals such as parasailing and jet skiing. If you’re a beach lover, don’t despair…the beautiful sugar white sands and aqua blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico are right across the street!
From John’s Pass Village, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the bridge to Treasure Island, where you’ll find even more interesting things to do and exciting places to stay. A short ways down the road you’ll come to Blind Pass, and if you like, you can reach the mainland by taking a left on Pasadena Avenue just past the Sweetbay Supermarket. My reason for mentioning this is really quite simple–one of American’s all-time great dives (in my opinion), called Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish, which was recently featured on the Food Channel’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Drives”, is located just up ahead on the right. Ted Peter’s may not look like much from the outside–indeed I passed it at least a dozen times before I finally decided to give it a try–but believe me, their famous smoked fish more than makes up for the lack of atmosphere (unless you call sitting in an open-air diner with cars zooming past atmosphere). Big butterflied golden fillets of smoked mullet are the main attraction at Ted’s, but you won’t be disappointed by their German potato salad and ice cold beers on tap. When you’ve eaten just about all you can hold at Ted’s, but still think you might have room for dessert, you can always stop by Larry’s Olde Fashioned Ice Cream on St. Pete Beach. Larry’s offers 70 different flavors of ice cream, funnel cake sundaes and Italian Gelato, and is a sure crowd pleaser. The Twistee Treat just down the street (look for the big cone) is another local favorite, where tourists from around the world often gather to indulge in their favorite frozen treats.
Another “must-see” in the Clearwater-St. Pete area would have to be downtown St. Petersburg, complete with its waterfront attractions and recently completed $40-million BayWalk entertainment complex. This dynamic Mediterranean-themed development known as the “Soul of St. Petersburg” includes bars, restaurants, and a 150,000 sq. ft. open-air plaza which is anchored by a 4,200 seat, 20-screen Muvico Theater. There’s also the famous landmark St. Pete Pier which features a 5-story inverted pyramid with shops, restaurants, boat docks, aquarium and live music! On the top floor, you can enjoy tropical dining at Cha Cha Coconuts and spectacular views of Tampa Bay from the huge observation deck. If that’s not enough, there are still other attractions in the immediate vicinity such as Tropicana Field, Al Lang Field at Progress Energy Park, Salvador Dali Museum, Florida International Museum, and Florida Museum of Natural History which are guaranteed to keep you busy. Almost before you know it, you can easily find yourself spending your entire vacation strolling around the palm-lined streets of St. Petersburg while exploring all of the cafes, galleries, and waterfront parks that this unique city has to offer.
When your vacation is over and it’s time to start packing to go home (if you do decide to go home), stop for a minute, take a look around, and take a deep breath of the mind-healing salt air…and while you’re thinking of it, don’t you think you’d better go ahead and pencil in the words “Clearwater-St. Pete” on next year’s vacation calendar?
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