It was Spring Break for my teenage daughter and friend. She wanted to go somewhere warm. I didn’t want to deal with the continued hassle of international travel in March 2022, so I started looking south, in the good old U, S of A. Almost guaranteed sunny, or at least warmer temps, we decided on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Direct flight and solid lodging options, no rental car: Clearwater Beach.
I picked up some valuable travel tips along with way. I hope they help you plan your next trip!
Arrival & Departure
It’s true. You don’t need a car to visit Clearwater Beach. I was curious since we flew into Tampa for our visit to the area. Parking would be a hassle too. Besides, it’s more fun to hop on the trolley (explained next) or simply pedal your feet.
[PRO TIP: From the airport, we took a taxi to Clearwater. Be warned that the drivers waiting at the airport may try to grossly overcharge you; they don’t all use meters (ours didn’t) and may not want to quote you a fair flat rate. Negotiate. Our return ride to the airport from the hotel—booked with BATS Taxi—was less than $40, but our taxi driver at the airport quoted more than twice that amount for the same distance!]
Serving Pinella County since 1981, I highly recommend booking a car with BATS Taxi, at least to return you to the airport if you flew into Tampa. They are not allowed to pick you up from Tampa International Airport but can take you to. It was the cheapest and most efficient option. And the driver was hoot!
Why don’t you need a car at Clearwater, you might be wondering? Let’s talk about the Jolly Trolly.
Getting Around: The Jolley Trolley
If where you wanna go is too far to walk, use the Jolley Trolley which covers Clearwater Beach and the surrounding coastal towns of North Pinellas, including Dunedin, Palm Harbor, and Tarpon Springs.
Many of the hotels have stops, AND, if you are a guest, it’s free to ride. Otherwise check the website for information on costs and how to get your pass. As antiquated as it sounds, you’ll need exact change!
There is more than one route. It helps to know that you may need to transfer to a different trolley to get to where you want to go. For example, the day we spent in Dunedin required us to transfer to the North Beach Route. Drivers can help you do this but be warned, some are more friendly and helpful than others! Beach and Coastal routes run 7 days a week.
The schedules and route maps are all on their website. Alternatively, you may be able to get a map from the concierge at your hotel.
[PRO TIP: I believe you can put a live tracker app on your phone to see where the trolleys are in real-time, but I didn’t use it, so cannot confirm exactly how it works.]
Not all hotels have beach access, so we chose to stay at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, which has a beautiful pool area as well as direct beach access. [1160 Gulf Blvd.]
Worth a visit is Clearwater Marine Aquarium offering eco-boat tours, a working animal hospital, marine life rescue and resident rescue animals, and a focus on environmental research and conservation. You can get to and from on the Jolley Trolley.
Pick up provisions or grab a bite at Nature’s Food Patch Market & Café [Clearwater and Dunedin]
Chapel By-The-Sea, Clearwater Beach Community Church [54 Esplande] the only church on Clearwater Beach has services every Sunday, rain or shine at 10am.
Catch the sunset at Pier 60. Enjoy all the vendors on the pier and be sure to visit the Bait House at the end of the pier for fun souvenirs, or of course, bait!
I suppose people don’t visit Clearwater Beach for the food. We managed to have a few meals worth mentioning.
Apart from dining at the hotel, which was super convenient at times, we just had to try Clearwater’s famous Frenchy’s. With several locations, it’s fun and the food’s not bad either.
A Florida institution since 1905, the state’s oldest restaurant, consider reaching deep into the wallet to eat at Columbia which serves Spanish-style Cuban food in a beautiful building on the bay on Sand Key [1241 Gulf Blvd.] Open daily for lunch and dinner. Book online or call 727-596-8400.
At Gerstle’s Place, with two locations, one being Louisville, KY, and the other Clearwater Beach [752 S Gulfview Blvd.] you can expect (a bourbon menu!), a lively atmosphere, friendly service, and great pub grub with live music every night.
I’m a very tough critic of Italian food, and this place is outstanding, Cesare at the Beach [794 South Gulfview Blvd.].
Two days in a row sitting on the beach is one too many for me, so I was happy to take the Jolley Trolley north to visit Dunedin for the day. The ride was pleasant and free, so why not? We got off at Dunedin Marina, had a look at the boats, used the restroom, then explored the town, named for its Scottish roots, on foot.
We first discovered the super fun shop, Spoiled Rotten [200 Main St.] which has a second outpost in Maine of all places! [I sense a summer up north/winter down south owner?] Fun gifts with more hilarious and irreverent cocktail napkins than I’ve ever seen in one place. Love this place.
Pop into Dunedin Historical Museum [349 Main St.] to learn more about the area.
Get your fix of crystals, elixirs, and all things healing at the lovely Emelia’s Apothecary of Dunedin [350 Main St.]
We didn’t but I would ride with Dunedin Bike Tours. Loads of trails in the area.
Fabulous lunch at Caracara [730 Broadway] serving Asian tapas, tacos, with plenty of plant-based options, and the most peculiar yet exceptional craft cocktails.
Satisfying your sweet tooth since 1999, Strachan’s Ice Cream & Desserts [310 Main St.] sells fantastic homemade ice creams and award-winning desserts.
[PRO TIP: We got the three things at Strachan’s that we were told not to leave without, Carrot Cake, Peanut Butter Pie, and Key Lime Pie, which we reluctantly shared later that evening with our kids back on Sand Key!]