Florida: coast by coast VI – Clearwater Beach

The Many Faces of Florida: Part VI

Tarpon Springs to Clearwater Beach

Frolicking dolphins

Dolphins at play in the bay © Sprod | Dreamstime.com

The ways from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, Florida are many. Let’s hug the coast and visit gulfside cities such as Clearwater and the ensuing string of beaches leading south, namely Bellaire, Indian Rocks, and Redington Shores.

Clearwater is worthy of a side trip, especially if children are part of your entourage. They have reopened The Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It was closed while the movie Dolphin Tale, was being made on the property. The Aquarium has interactive shows covering every form of sea life.  There is even a Day Camp where “CMA trainers will teach children about dolphin anatomy, behavior, nutrition and training through games, crafts and a brief poolside introduction to one of our resident dolphins.”

If you want more dolphin encounter than that, CMA will lead participants up in gradual steps learning to be a trainer. The highest rung of this program lasts five days, and would be perfect for animal lovers who live in an area prone to dolphin beachings. They teach the rescue, rehabilitation and release techniques for all marine mammals.

For those wishing a more passive learning experience, CMA runs Sea Life Safari Boat Tours. These two hour cruises take passengers out to a shell island where the crew pulls in sea critters and passes them around for a hands-on fun. The cruises leave the Clearwater Municipal Marina in Clearwater Beach twice a day, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

Anyone whose curiosity is piqued by aspects of marine life will find the answers at The Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

For outdoor enthusiasts of all ages – Moccasin Lake Nature Park

The City of Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department operates a 51 acre nature preserve, including a five acre lake. There are over a mile of ADA-accessible trails, both natural and on a board walk. The center offers guided tours and group hikes for bird watching. There are night hikes and free fireside concerts. See live reptiles, amphibians, and birds of prey. Take a walk through the butterfly garden. Displays and exhibits also demonstrate photovoltaic and alternative energy systems.

Parents, as well as their children will find the Moccasin Lake Nature Park equally fascinating. The Park is closed all city recognized holidays. Other days and times are subject to change. You are advised to phone the park at (727) 793-2976 for more information. There are fees: City Residents: $1.85; Non-Residents: $2.75; children under 3: Free.

Suggestion: The Hiker’s Guide to the Sunshine State (Wild Florida) by Sandra Friend

Clearwater Beach:

Sunset at Pier 60 is a year-round daily festival that officially began on March 17, 1995. Could it have been some zealous St. Patrick’s Day revelers who got the ball rolling? They don’t say, but the important fact is every day, weather permitting, people gather to wonder at the sunset while wandering amid the art and craft exhibits.

Sunset at Pier 60

Sunset at Pier 60 © Asterixvs | Dreamstime.com

Those who have never been exposed to buskers, will have their eyes opened by a Sunset at Pier 60. Buskers are street performers who set up on the pier and interact with the audience. There is no schedule. One of my favorite acts is the “living statue” where a man walks in with a bucket of plaster. Slowly, he coats himself with the white paste, then strikes a pose and holds it, absolutely still, for an unbelievable amount of time.

Other acts include break dancers, fire eaters, jugglers, and as always, pets doing amazing tricks. It’s all fun, for all ages, and it’s FREE. That is part of the organizers’ mission: To provide free quality family friendly entertainment on Clearwater Beach.

Restaurants:

The Columbia Restaurant had its beginning in Ybor City, a suburb of Tampa, in 1905. Ybor City was home to a majority of Cuban and other Spanish-speaking immigrants who had come to work in the cigar factories. This is a very shortened version of the intriguing history of the city, its residents, and particularly the hand-rolled cigar industry.

One thing is sure. The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City was the one place my father was compelled to go each winter. He loved good food, and he loved colorful atmosphere. Here, he had both. As a child, I had not appreciated how special it was, but as an adult tour leader, a winter never went by that I didn’t take several groups to Ybor City, and the Columbia.

The Columbia Restaurant now has an off-shoot on the Bay side of Clearwater Beach. Be prepared to eat well, be served

mushroom tapas

Shitaki tapas with red wine © Charlotte Lake Dreamstime

meticulously, and enjoy the view of the Intracoastal Waterway. For reservations: (727) 596-8400

Other notable restaurants in Clearwater Beach include:
Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber – American, German, seafood, steakhouse
Clear Sky Beachside Cafe  – Beach Casual
Frenchy’s
– for grouper sandwich
The Clearwater Beach Concierge
website has colorful descriptions of many more restaurants.

Hotels and Motels:

No one stands out in Clearwater Beach, and as conditions change, it is always wise to check out the latest reviews. Be aware the reviews are only as good as the reviewer. There are several apps for the iPhone and iPad that will give you the latest word. Check your iTunes library. Many are free.

If you are not making reservations in advance, be sure to check the booklets at the Welcome Centers and local fast food restaurants. They have good deals and the people working at the desk are generally willing to call a facility for you. This advice is not good for event times, or at the beginning and end of a month when the migrations of snowbirds is underway.

For Florida: coast by coast – Part I, click here, then follow the sequence to Tarpon Springs.

Google Map for Clearwater and Clearwater Beach

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