Up and down Florida’s coast you will find beautiful beaches and hidden gems. One of my favorite lesser-known beach havens is Clearwater Beach, Florida. Just a two-hour drive from Orlando, Clearwater Beach has always been known for its powdery, white sandy beaches, beachfront restaurants, and peaceful relaxation. All of those traits are still true, but Clearwater Beach has a new claim to fame too. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the home of Winter, the famed dolphin star of Dolphin Tale.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Not just a movie star, Winter is a real-life inspiration who beat the odds to become the first dolphin to ever wear a prosthetic tail. And when you visit her home, a small aquarium just minutes from the beach, you can meet her in person and see where her story unfolded. As a working marine rescue center, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine wildlife. Unfortunately, Winter and some of her pals are not able to be re-released back into the wild due to physical limitations, but you can feel good knowing that your affordable admission price helps facilitate their rescue and rehabilitation.
Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure
In addition to meeting the animals at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can also explore Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. Just a short drive (or Jolly Trolly Ride) from The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, WDTA provides visitors a behind-the-scenes look at Winter’s story and how she became a star.
Admission for both experiences is just $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids. Learn more at See Winter.
Tip – Start your tour at Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure and then hop aboard the Jolly Trolly to see Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Speaking of the Jolly Trolley. I highly recommend it as a fun way to get around. With regular stops all over Clearwater Beach, you can enjoy the view as you ride. With a day pass, you can hop on and off at your leisure so you might even discover something else to do as you explore the area onboard the trolley. For more information visit clearwaterjolleytrolley.com.
Hotels and Attractions
Visiting Winter makes a great day trip, however, there are so many things to do in Clearwater Beach you might want to make a weekend out of it. There are a number of hotels up and down the beach front; we recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, which opened in February 2010. The gorgeous pink resort can be seen from all over the beach and offers great rooms, a beautiful beachfront pool area, and a great kids club.
If you do decide to stay a couple of days, head out to sea aboard Captain Memo’s pirate cruise. This lively, family-friendly voyage offers onboard games and face painting for the youngins while mom and dad relax with wine and beer included with the sailing price. Learn more at www.captainmemo.com.
Of course, when you visit Clearwater Beach you can’t miss spending some time on the beach. The water is both calm and warm (during the summer it is like bath water). Find yourself a spot on the beach and park your chair for the day or rent a Surrey bike and ride up and down the boardwalk. However you choose to spend your day at the beach, you’ll find it as relaxing as it is beautiful.
Festivals and Dining
Florida’s west coast is known for its sunsets and the Sunset Festival at Pier 60 is the perfect way to cap off a day at the beach. The free, daily festival features local artisans, crafters, street performers and musical entertainment. If you visit on a Friday or Saturday, bring your beach blanket to enjoy a free outdoor movie screening.
In case you get hungry while you are visiting Clearwater Beach, I recommend Palm Pavilion (another great spot to watch the sunset), Frenchy’s and Clear Sky Beachside Café.
Whether you are a making a trip to the sunshine state or you are a Floridian looking for a staycation, Clearwater Beach is a great place for a vacay.
Jennifer Burg is the editor of TheSuburbanMom and resides in Central Florida with her husband and two young daughters.