St. Pete/Clearwater: the best beaches, brews & art in Florida

25 Jun 2019

Nestled in an ideal spot between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, the 35-mile stretch of St. Pete/Clearwater packs a punch, with the best beaches in the country (not an exaggeration -- keep reading), a burgeoning food and drink reputation, plus a formidable arts scene.

A beach for everyone

From touching down at Tampa Airport, you can be on the beach in just over half an hour. And we're not talking about any beach, here -- Clearwater Beach was crowned the best in the USA in TripAdvisor's 2019 Traveler’s Choice Awards, out-ranking even any in Hawaii. The area actually got a double-whammy, with St. Pete Beach just behind, in fourth place.

The pristine white sands are also the perfect antidote to the pace of Orlando and Kissimmee. It's less than a 2-hour drive west along Interstate 4, making it an ideal choice for a twin-destination holiday.

Away from the big two, there are plenty of other options if you're looking for more than powder-soft sands. There are laid-back Old Florida vibes on Treasure Island or Pass-a-Grille, family-friendly outdoors activities such as kayaking, fishing and biking at Fort De Soto park, or unspoiled beauty and abundant wildlife on Caladesi Island State Park.

Urban art & a Dali-lover's dream

When you think Florida, art doesn't immediately spring to mind. But St. Pete/Clearwater doesn't play to the state's stereotypes, and its art scene has been making waves of its own around the globe.

The game-changer for the area was the welcoming of the Salvador Dali Museum, located in downtown St. Pete, which boasts the largest collection of Dali's work outside of Spain. Opened in 2011, the US$30 million surrealism-inspired building houses everything from his famous oil paintings to intricate sculptured gold pendants and some of his fashion work.

But the art isn't confined to galleries in this area. Many of the buildings around Central Avenue have been adorned with colour and creativity ever since enormous murals started springing up around the 600 Block in 2010. There are now more than 70, and there's even an annual week-long festival in October to celebrate them.

Some of our favourites are "Twiggy" and "Mr Sun" by Chad Mize on 1st Avenue North, and "Life Reimagined" by Sarah Sheppard on 7th Street North. More recent ones often have the artist's social media details on too, so you can follow them.

Never a dull moment

Don't get us wrong, St. Pete/Clearwater is hands-down a place to take some time out to relax and unwind, but if you're looking for more than just soaking up the sun, you don't need to search too far. There are plenty of beach- and water-based activities to choose from, including snorkeling off Egmont Key, kayaking through mangroves at Shell Key and family-friendly fishing trips off St. Pete Beach.

Whenever you visit, you're pretty certain of incredible weather, but if you do get unlucky don't worry, the area is home to numerous museums and galleries. You can learn about how one town was transformed into a Greek enclave with the arrival of sponge divers in the early 18th century at the Tarpon Springs Historical Museum, or the Celtic roots of another town at the Dunedin Historical Museum. At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium you can see dolphins, sea turtles, otters and more, to find out how they're rescued and rehabilitated.

Once the sun's going down, don't think it's time to call time on your day, either. Over at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach, there's a 4-hour festival around sunset every day of the year, featuring street performers, musical entertainment and artisans, as well as outdoor cinema screenings on Friday and Saturday nights. Alternatively, you can visit pretty much any of the area's beaches or take a sunset cruise to enjoy views of the sun sinking into the horizon, with dreamy orange hues glistening off the Gulf.

Take a tasting tour of the Gulp Coast

St. Pete/Clearwater has firmly been at the forefront of the craft-beer revolution in the USA, and has its own answer to California's Wine Country -- the St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail, also known as the "Gulp Coast".

Within an hour's drive, you'll find more than 35 independent breweries specialising in everything from porters to IPAs, but the local signature beer is the Florida Weisse. It's a tart low-alcohol brew that each brewery has a take on -- many add fresh local fruits, such as key lime, pineapple and mango.

When it's time to soak up some of the brews, you'll have just as much of a choice, as the area's undergone a bit of a sea change in the last decade to now boast some of the east coast's best restaurants. There's everything from lazy brunch spots and relaxed waterfront dining to classy farm-to-table restaurants.

As you'd expect, seafood still reigns supreme and there are spots like Ted Peters Smoked Fish, which has been a staple since the early 1950s. However, a roster of top chefs such as Michael Mina and Chris Ponte have been moving in, to add a new dimension to the high-end offering. 

Ready to go? Check out our top St. Pete/Clearwater offers below, including laid-back beach breaks, luxurious 5-star escapes and twin-centre packages...

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