Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is one of the best beaches in Florida and the United States. Clearwater Beach is a very popular destination because it’s almost always at the top of “Best Beaches” lists. It is also an extremely popular destination for spring beach trips for both families and college spring breakers.

Spring break is the busiest and most crowded time to visit Clearwater Beach. Depending on what you want, spring break may be the best time to visit Clearwater, or the worst.

The busiest time is from late February and March until April and early May.

Winter is the quietest time to visit Clearwater Beach. Beach crowds will be at their lowest because the water is too cold for most people to comfortably swim. During winter months many seasonal residents and snowbirds come to Clearwater, especially from Europe and Canada.

During this time the weather in Clearwater is at its best. Temperatures are mild and comfortable. Aside from occasional cold fronts, the weather is usually at least in the 70s and often in the 80s.

The fall is also lovely. October is one of the best times to visit if your schedule allows for it.

Summer months are also a popular time to visit Clearwater Beach because of kids’ summer vacation schedules. Unfortunately, weatherwise, this is often the worst time to visit because summer temperatures are usually uncomfortably hot and humid.

Clearwater Beach is located on a long, narrow barrier island.

The north section of the island has upscale beach houses and Caladesi Island State Park.

Important: Caladesi Island State Park is only accessible via ferry, boat or a very long walk on the beach. It is not accessible via road or car. Parking is very difficult or impossible to find in the north section of Clearwater Beach.

The southern part of Clearwater Beach is bordered by a body of water called Clearwater Pass and a bridge to Sand Key, which is the next island to the south.

The island of Clearwater Beach is approximately three miles long and is only a few blocks wide in most areas. Because of the geography crowds are concentrated into a compact area, so overcrowding is a serious issue.

The beaches around Clearwater Beach are excellent.

The sand is very nice, soft and white. The water is usually a beautiful turquoise color and is usually relatively clear, although it can become cloudy. Even when it is cloudy it still has a beautiful blue color, unlike brown and murky water at other beaches around the country.

Clearwater Beach has many amenities that visitors look for, including watersport rentals, beach rentals and other conveniences.

One of the most prominent attractions is a large fishing pier called Pier 60. The pier extends more than 1,000 feet out into the Gulf of Mexico. The pier has a visitor’s center, fishing supply shop, rentals, concession stand/snack bar and more.

Pier 60 is a popular place to watch the sunset. Every night there is a celebration, modeled after Mallory Square in Key West. There are street performers and vendors of all types.

Clearwater Beach is located in an extremely busy and densely packed area. Because Clearwater Beach is located on an island it is only accessible via bridge or ferry.

During busy times the bridge can become extremely congested with traffic and may stop moving totally.

The busiest times are during Florida’s peak travel season from February until April.

Good Things about Clearwater Beach

  • Excellent sand
  • Excellent visitor amenities
  • Good for all visitor types

Bad Things about Clearwater Beach

  • Many people think Clearwater Beach is overdeveloped
  • The beaches and area can become overcrowded, especially during peak seasons
  • Traffic around Clearwater Beach is horrible
  • Parking can be expensive and/or difficult to find
  • Many people think it is too touristy
  • Some hotels, accommodations and restaurants can be overpriced

History of Clearwater and Clearwater Beach

Clearwater has a fascinating history, even though most visitors probably never give it a second thought.

From its earliest days, Clearwater has been a magnetic destination for tourists. It has been the filming location for many films, and has been named the “Best Beach in America” several times by several organizations.

The area of present-day Clearwater was inhabited by Native Americans for tens of thousands of years before the first European explorers ever “discovered” the area in 1528, when the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez first came to the area.

The name “Clearwater” is actually a derivative of the name used by the earliest Native Americans.

“Clear Water” referred to a source of natural freshwater springs which rose to the ground, and was used by the Native Americans for fresh drinking water. It does not refer to the clarity of the ocean water, as most people assume. Sadly the original freshwater springs no longer exist.

Spanish conquistadors established a Jesuit mission near present-day Safety Harbor. The mission was unsuccessful and the settlers were killed by native Americans, who had been mistreated by earlier Spanish parties. Non-native settlers did not attempt to settle the area again until the 1800s.

In the late 1800s or early 1900s Clearwater Beach got its first taste of tourist development. The south end of Clearwater Beach was purchased by a resident, Colonel Tate, for $200. The north end was purchased by a pair of Dunedin residents for $175. Shortly after a recreational pier was built on the bay side for locals to use.

The city of Clearwater officially incorporated on May 27, 1915.

Clearwater Beach was only accessible by boat until the first bridge was built in 1917. The bridge was 2.5 miles long and was called “Old Rickety”, named for the sound of cars driving over the wooden bridge.

Historians say the bridge caught on fire many times because drivers would throw lit cigarettes onto the flammable wooden bridge.

The “Old Rickety” wooden bridge was replaced by a drawbridge causeway in 1926, which was in place until 1962. The drawbridge broke often and would become stuck, causing traffic problems and stranding on both sides of the island.

Clearwater became very popular after the end of World War II, partly because so many soldiers had experienced Florida during their military deployment and training. Many housing developers took the opportunity to build tract housing developments.

From that point on Clearwater and Clearwater Beach have grown and undergone massive, unending development.

Cover photography by Drew Dau