I’ll admit it; I’m a diva. I like VIP treatment and beautiful places while dining on melt-in-your-mouth creations and drinking a chilled rosé or white wine. When I took on an assignment to visit Clearwater Beach, Florida and see what it had to offer, I didn’t know the laidback Gulf Coast community would spoil me so rotten.
A Room with a View
When staying on Clearwater Beach, there are a number of 4-star resorts from the Hyatt Regency to the Wyndham Grand to the Sandpearl Luxury Resort. (A JW Marriott will be joining the area in spring of 2019.) I choose the upscale Opal Sands, the new modern and contemporary sister property of Sandpearl, located mere steps from the aforementioned white sand.
Every room at the Opal Sands faces the Gulf of Mexico, with private balconies that are perfect for watching the renowned sunsets – just ask room service to send up a bottle of wine to enjoy for the occasion. With an interior color palette that mimics the color of the sky and the water, leave the sanctuary of your room behind to sit poolside overlooking the Gulf, or take a few steps down to the beach, where the resort’s Sandbar provides Adirondack and rocking chairs, fire pits and unobstructed water views while you dine on tapas and fresh seafood with your toes in the sand.
While I didn’t want to leave the beach behind, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Sea Guini, does feature an outdoor terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows for further Gulf views. Here, the chefs select the area’s best fishermen and farmers to provide the mainstays to its Italian-inspired restaurant. A Gulf Coast Shellfish Stew is made up of Florida littleneck clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels and lobster that has simmered in a cioppino broth, and a grilled swordfish is complemented by a warm couscous salad with Florida citrus butter and orange segments.
Sugar Sand VIP
When I finally left my pool chaise and all of the delicious food of Opal Sands behind, it was to visit the beach. I was most surprised to discover sand so white and soft, it is called Sugar Sand by the locals. This is sand so fine that I didn’t feel even a hint of grit when it got between my pedicured toes, and I discovered the city protects its beach and sand, grooming it like a ski mountain every morning, and cleaning any sand blown off the beach by storms before replacing it. I mean, this is crème of the crop sand, and they are not taking any chances with anything that may darken its snow-white color.
Heading to Pier 60, the hub of Clearwater Beach, is a must any day of the year, as here, nightly the nightly sunset festival makes it the place to be. Stroll along the pier and visit the numerous artisan stands, where you’ll find handmade jewelry, boutique-worthy clothing, and kitschy décor to bring a piece of the beach home with you. As Vaudeville-style performers attempt to wow you with their balancing acts, musical skills, and humor, food trucks and play area make a night at the pier very family-friendly.
My visit coincided with the annual Sugar Sand Festival, and here dozens of sand sculptors descend upon the shores to create the most amazing works of art. During my visit, “Sea America” was the theme, and sand carvings were intricate displays of national landmarks and monuments, as well as American icons. A special VIP section provided the perfect place to lounge on the beach with Adirondack chairs and inflatable couches, fire pits, small bites, a bar with no lines, and a spot perfectly situated for watching the evening sunset as well as seeing the live bands on the concert stage at the festival.
Another VIP moment was enjoy a four-course dinner in the sand. This special package at the festival literally has you kicking off your shoes to descend into a sand-sculpted banquette and communal table with views of the sunset as fresh seafood courses and wine fill the moments between all of the “oohs” and “aah” of the sky turning shades of oranges and pinks. This was truly one of the most unique dining experiences I have had the pleasure to try.
On the Water Bliss
There isn’t anything I love more than a calm sailboat ride on a sunny day, and of course Clearwater has many outfitters to cater to those wanting to get out onto the emerald green waters. Dolphins call the Gulf and Intracoastal home, so many of the boat tours are dolphin tours, and even if you are just out enjoying a private charter, you will undoubtedly spot a dolphin or two on your journey.
For those who would rather keep their feet on land as they see dolphins, a visit to the Clearwater Aquarium will satiate. No, this is not SeaWorld and dolphins are not jumping through hoops. In fact, this isn’t an aquarium, at all. This is an animal rescue and rehabilitation facility and you can even watch doctors at work saving the lives of injured sea turtles and dolphins before they are returned to the Gulf. Any animal who can no longer live in the wild due to its condition gets to stay at Clearwater Aquarium, such as the famed tail-less dolphin, Winter, of “Dolphin Tale” fame.
There is so much more that Clearwater can offer, from amazing Gulf-to-table seafood to luxurious spas to outdoor attractions to rejuvenating spas. Learn more about my escapades by reading Clearwater Beach, a Jewel Hidden in Sugar Sand on JohnnyJet.com.