Beachside Bliss

At Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater, Fla., the stunning beach and small-town charm make luxuriating easy.

There’s a reason Clearwater Beach, Fla. is consistently ranked among the top beaches in the U.S. by everyone from TripAdvisor to USA Today. In 2016, it even edged out Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, for the No. 1 spot in TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice category.

The good news: While Clearwater Beach is no longer a hidden gem, it still maintains the feel of a secluded retreat. Once you sink your feet into the soft, white sands and gaze out on the crystal waters along the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll see for yourself—and want to stay a while.

Stay

Clearwater Beach’s most iconic property, Sandpearl Resort, should be at the top of every Gulf Coast-bound traveler’s list. The AAA Four-Diamond property (with rates starting at $259 per night), boasts a 700-foot stretch of white sandy beach, stunning views, and tranquil breezes. Opt for a beachfront room, and every morning you’ll wake to the sound of crashing waves and sweeping views of some of most beautiful vistas in the country. The resort itself spent six consecutive years on Travel + Leisure magazine’s “World’s Best” List.

Perfect for romantic getaways and family trips alike, Sandpearl opened in 2007, and is situated where the Clearwater Beach Hotel—a summer bungalow originally built in 1917—once stood.

Throughout the property—from the artwork commissioned by local artists to the history wall on the way to fine dining—there are thoughtful nods to that rich heritage. One of the best parts about your stay is one of Sandpearl’s hallmarks: a true home-away-from-home experience. Even the lobby is nicknamed the “living room.” Head there every afternoon for a complimentary glass (or two) of bubbly.

Eat

The Sandpearl’s two on-site restaurants, Caretta on the Gulf and Tate Island Grill, are sure to keep you satisfied, no matter your craving. If you want a casual, beachside bite, head to Tate Island Grill, named for the original settler of Clearwater Beach. Don’t want to leave your luxe lounge chair by the sparkling pool? The staff can deliver tasty cuisine and cocktails right to you. In the evening, order a signature cocktail, enjoy live music on the beachfront boardwalk, and watch the sun set over the water.

For a fine-dining experience, opt for Caretta on the Gulf—named for the loggerhead sea turtles that grace Clearwater Beach’s shore—where the delectable seafood dishes are the perfect complement to the gorgeous views. You can’t go wrong with the black grouper, served with risotto, butternut squash, and black trumpets, or the pan-seared halibut with potato coins, greens, sauce noisette, and lobster knuckles.

Wash it down with a vintage from Caretta on the Gulf’s private wine room, stocked with more than 300 wines from regions around the globe.

Get an even more personalized affair at a private, four-course cooking demonstration and wine-pairing experience with Caretta on the Gulf’s head chef (for groups of eight).

Play

A pampering session at The Spa at Sandpearl is the perfect way to unwind and release any lingering tension from the festivities. The 12,000-square-foot oasis has a full menu of ocean-inspired treatments and salon services, from restorative massages to mineral-rich mud cleanses.

Once you’re relaxed and glowing, there’s plenty off-site to explore. One of the city’s most popular attractions is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium ($21.95 per person) and its on-site marine hospital, which cares for rescued dolphins and sea turtles. That’s where you’ll find stingrays you can pet and world-renowned dolphin named Winter—star and inspiration for the popular “Dolphin Tale” movies, which were filmed on location.

After exiting the aquarium, stop by the docks and opt for the two-hour kayaking adventures through local finger islands, offered daily ($35 per person).

For a change of scenery hop a ferry to tranquil and pristine Caladesi Island, one of the few completely natural islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Plan your trip at least 24 hours in advance and you can have the chefs at Caretta on the Gulf prepare you one of their “Picnic in Paradise” baskets for your adventure.

If you’re craving local brews, take advantage of Sandpearl Resort’s craft beer trail chauffer service, where up to 14 beer lovers get a VIP ride between local breweries—including the much-lauded Sea Dog Brewing Company and Dunedin Brewery, Florida’s oldest craft hotspot.   

If you’ve got the children with you, Sandpearl’s Camp Ridley Kids, for ages 5 to 10, is the perfect way to keep them entertained.

At night, grab a spot around Sandpearl’s beachside bonfire, and grab some s’mores supplies from Tate Island Grill. The classic combo is the perfect low-key indulgence and way to close out the day.


3 reasons to visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Cost is $21.95 per person for adults; $16.95 for kids ages 3 to 12.

The famous residents

Winter, a bottle-nosed dolphin, was found stranded in Mosquito Lagoon near Cape Canaveral, Fla., entangled in a crab trap line. She was only two months old. At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, she was given a prosthetic tail. Hope the dolphin was rescued five years later and is now Winter’s closest companion.

Daily presentations

Get to know all kinds of marine wildlife, from river otters to sea turtles. You can even pet a sting ray.

Kayaking

After exiting the aquarium stop by the docks and opt for the two-hour kayaking adventures through local finger islands, offered daily ($35 per person). If you prefer to stay completely dry, opt for a boat tour.

Getting There

One of the best benefits of a Clearwater Beach vacation is the flexibility with flights. Charlotte Douglas International Airport offers dozens of flights to Tampa Bay every week—and a non-stop flight is only about two and a half hours. We suggest you rent a car: Sandpearl Resort is about a 40-minute drive from Tampa International Airport, and you’ll want to explore.