Just off of Tampa Bay on the gulf coast is a chain of barrier islands that are home to some of the prettiest beaches in Florida: Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach. I’m talking about beaches that regularly win awards and get voted as “best beach in the US.” And the beaches are gorgeous… white sand, turquoise water, decent shelling. Throw in a lot of resorts and condos plus plenty of “things to do” nearby in St Petersburg and Tampa and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular beach vacation destination.
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To get to St Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach, you’ll most likely fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA). From there it’s about a 30 minute drive to both beach areas. There is also the smaller/closer St Pete-Clearwater International Airport that gets flights from the budget airline Allegiant.
I recently spent a belated spring break in the St Pete area and then doubled back to check out Clearwater later in the summer. So I’ve now stayed in several different places, quizzed many locals, driven absolutely everywhere, and I feel like I’ve got a good feel for what this area is really like.
If you’ve spent much time on my blog, you know that I don’t beat around the bush. I’m somewhat “famous” for giving you the real scoop, the insider details, and my very real opinions based on WHAT I LIKE AND DON’T LIKE.
Well, I guess that kind of gives you an idea of where this is going ; )
To give you the short version…I really did not love St Pete Beach OR Clearwater Beach. I’ve been to a lot of beaches (not just around the world-Hawaii and the Caribbean), but also in Florida so I feel like I have a lot to compare. It’s not the beaches themselves that I didn’t care for (they’re pretty great!)…it’s the towns/surrounding areas.
I will preface this post by saying that A LOT OF PEOPLE go to Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach every year and absolutely love it. It’s a great spot for many people, but if you’re reading my blog it’s because you 1) want to know what I think about places and 2) trust/relate to my judgment and feel like we have similar travel styles.
And as always, instead of just saying I don’t like something, I prefer to give a LOT of details and describe places and situations as best I can so you can determine if my opinions might hold true for you (or if they’re completely irrelevant to what you like/how you like to do things).
So without further ado, let’s start with St Pete Beach:
St Pete Beach
St Pete Beach is the southernmost (developed) barrier island in the chain off Tampa Bay. It’s one long stretch of white sand beach lined with resorts, condos, and small hotels. Overall, the beach is very good. Great sand, great turquoise clear water, and surprisingly good shelling. There’s a good mix of resorts (hello Don CeSar you are amazing!), large condo-tel complexes that feel a lot like resorts, and small beach hotels and motels in a wide range of quality. There are more than enough restaurants, beach bars, ice cream shops, etc. to keep you busy for a weeklong trip.
BUT OVERALL, I did not care for the vibe in St Pete Beach. Most of the main road/strip felt a little seedy. A lot of strip malls, tiny sidewalks where you felt like you were walking right by the traffic, etc. 7-Elevens, Dunkin Donuts, cell phone stores, Wings (the big slightly tacky beach shops)…all mixed in with local restaurants here and there, a Twistee Treat, and auto repair shop. To me, the main strip in St Pete felt like that kind of rough/rundown part of town that you try to avoid.
Now, for sure the entire island is not like this…but the main high traffic area definitely was.
As a general rule of thumb, the farther south you go on the island, the better it gets.
The northernmost part of St Pete Beach is actually tucked behind Treasure Island (there’s no beach, it’s more of a water channel), so I’m going to start out with the area that’s the northernmost BEACHFRONT (which is actually more towards the middle of the island) and work my way south.
The first part of my trip, I stayed in this area at the Postcard Inn, and I’m just going to tell you…I did NOT like it. The beach is beautiful (it’s pretty much the same in the whole area), but it has a STRONG spring break/party vibe. I stayed here the first of April so I thought maybe it was just the time of year, but I had MANY locals tell me that no, it’s like that all year long and this little pocket of beach is the epicenter of the area’s party scene. This makes sense because 1) The majority of people partying on the beach (and at the hotel beach bars) seemed to be Florida locals that had come to the beach for the day (I know this because they were so loud that I now know every detail of where every person around me lived, worked, and went to high school and also because while waiting for an Uber to take us to dinner at the hotel, a steady stream of them passed through to get Ubers to take them home because they couldn’t drive. Yikes.) and 2) the beach bars at the Postcard Inn (PCI) and the Beachcomber (Jimmy B’s) target a party scene for locals (people not staying at the hotel) by advertising that their bars are open to the public and making it easy to get Ubers/Lyfts from the hotel lobby.
Honestly, it was an odd dynamic because there were a lot of families staying at the Postcard Inn (at the pool and on the beach) and in that general area but I’ve also never heard more people talking about drugs (I wish I was kidding haha) and incessant f-bombs. Besides the beach scene, this part of St Pete Beach has a “strip vibe” that I mentioned above. Along the main road, there were a lot of strip malls with the typical beach shops, Twistee Treats, etc.
Overall, this part of the island reminded me of parts of Branson (not the nice parts!). If you like a lot of action/noise, this is the part of the island you want to be on, however I will say it was less of a Miami party scene and more “redneck yacht club” vibes. If you know, you know.
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If this is what you’re looking for (hey, there were a LOT of people having a REALLY good time ; ) here’s where to stay in the area:
Postcard Inn on the Beach: I spent the first part of my trip here. It’s really “Instagram cute,” but a little more worn than it looks on the website probably. It was clean enough, had good breakfast options in the lobby, and a pretty good sized pool. There were a lot of families staying here. It’s very much a motel on the beach, but it’s also priced like one (except on the weekends!). Click pricing and read reviews here.
The farther south you go on the island, the nicer places seem to get. There are quite a few places mid-island that are nice properties, but are still close to all of the hustle and bustle. Meaning…the beaches are still going to be crowded, but it doesn’t have a wild vibe. You’re also closer to some convenient amenities like Publix, Walgreens, and Chick-fil-a!
The southernmost resort/hotel on the island is the Don CeSar and that’s when you feel like you’ve left St Pete Beach and entered a different world. In a good way.
The Don Cesar Hotel: I wrote a detailed review of my stay at the Don Cesar here. The short story is…this place is amazing. It’s the only place I would stay in the area (St Pete Beach and Clearwater) and it’s a place I will definitely come back to. It’s definitely a destination resort and while it’s not quite Four Seasons level, the price is usually a lot better as well. It’s hard to find a nice beach resort on the gulf side of Florida, and this spot is a gem. Check pricing and read reviews here.
Pass-a-Grille: South of the Don Cesar, you’ll come to Pass-a-Grille which is a mostly residential area that makes up the entire southern part of the island. I loved this area so much and it’s where we ended up spending pretty much every evening of our trip. I did a whole post about this area that you can check out here. If I’m not staying at the Don Cesar I would definitely do a Vrbo rental in Pass-a-Grille. While it’s technically on the island that is St Pete Beach, it feels like a whole separate place.
Clearwater Beach is the northernmost (drivable) barrier island in the chain and just like St Pete Beach, it’s a hub of beach activity. But it has an entirely different vibe. Not necessarily better (but maybe depending on what you like) but different.
I’ll put it this way…as soon as I drove across the bridge into Clearwater Beach, the first things I saw were: Bubba Gump’s, Hooters, and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop. And I kind of feel like that’s everything you need to know about Clearwater Beach. If that sounds awful, you’re not going to like it. If you’re thinking…”what’s wrong with that?” then you’ll probably like it.
But I’ll elaborate.
Clearwater Beach felt more compact and walkable than St Pete Beach and overall seemed a lot better setup for a large number of visitors. Around the bridge onto the mainland (more towards the southern part of the island-I think the northern part is more residential) there’s high rise buildings (hotels and condos) on both sides of the street. The sidewalks were pretty wide, there were plenty of crosswalks, etc. and the streets were lined with the kind of places most tourists like (chain restaurants and stores, etc.). There were a lot of people out walking around and it felt like a normal Florida tourist area. The Clearwater Pier 60 is right here and you can find pretty much any kind of water activity you could dream of.
I can’t say that it’s the kind of place that I just love, but it’s probably much more what most beach visitors are expecting from a Florida tourist destination. It seemed similar to Panama City Beach, Destin (but more compact), and Coco Beach.
There are several fairly nice resorts in the area:
Opal Sands Resort: This place actually looks very nice and seems more secluded than most places in the area, but it’s still close enough that you could walk to all the shops and restaurants. Check pricing and read reviews here.
Hyatt Regency: Not THE “Pink Palace” (that would be the Don Cesar), but ANOTHER pink hotel! It had a nice look and was right smack in the middle of the high pedestrian traffic area. Check pricing and read reviews here.
St Pete Beach vs Clearwater Beach
So which one is better, St Pete Beach or Clearwater Beach? They’re neither one my ideal Florida beach destination, but if I had to choose I would say…it depends ; )
If I’m staying at the Don CeSar or in Pass-a-Grille I would definitely choose St Pete Beach. If I’m not staying at either of those places and wanting the full on Florida beach vacation experience (filled with seafood dinners at the crab shack, parasailing, buying puka shell necklaces at Ron Jon’s, etc.) then Clearwater Beach feels a lot nicer than St Pete Beach.
Other Places in the Area
Treasure Island: Treasure Island is the barrier island just north of St Pete Beach and I would say it’s a middle ground between St Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach. It feels a little more like Old Florida (there are some cute vintage feelish small hotels) than Clearwater Beach but it’s not quite as rundown as parts of St Pete Beach feel. The Thunderbird Beach Resort looks cute (very retro vibes!) or check out the Treasure Island Beach Resort.
Madeira Beach: The island between Treasure Island and Clearwater Beach has several different communities/areas. The southernmost part is Madeira Beach and it’s pretty popular. It’s not a place that appeals to me, but John’s Pass is in the area and that’s a big draw for some people. It used to be a quaint fishing village and now it’s a boardwalk with a ton of big chain shops and restaurants. In that way, it’s similar to Clearwater Beach, but it’s not nearly as crowded and everything is more spread out.
Indian Rocks Beach: Of all of the places that I drove through in this area, Indian Rocks Beach would probably be the only place that I would say I liked. It had a nice variety of places to stay (houses and small condos/inns) plus a good number of restaurants scattered around. Some of these communities were nothing but condos for miles so you’d be pretty isolated and dependent on cooking at your own place which isn’t how I like to vacation. Search for Indian Rocks condos and vacation rentals here.
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St. Pete Beach was named Tripadvisor's No. 1 Beach in the U.S. in 2021 (and #5 in the world)! Nearby Clearwater Beach also earned accolades as the No.
The same level of travel in Clearwater would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Clearwater than you might in Saint Petersburg.
The beach is amazing. It is smaller and therefore a bit more crowded. All parts of SPB are very nice, but can get busier in certain areas. Treasure Island is very nice, as the beach part is quite large and it does take a few minutes to get to the water.
Clearwater Beach is famous for its white sands and clear blue waters on the Gulf Coast. Both the beaches in Clearwater Beach and the sunset out at the pier make this part of Florida a must-see. There are numerous beach activities to enjoy on this barrier island, such as swimming, boating, fishing, and kayaking.
1. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West. If you're searching for sunny days and temperate waters, it doesn't get much warmer than the beaches of Key West, the state's southernmost point.
Pete Beach ranked best beach in America for its 'white quartz sand, clear calm water'
St. Pete Beach offers gorgeous Gulf views, is home to some of the most iconic hotels in the country (welcome to The Don CeSar), offers ample dining and drinking options, and has plenty of space for folks to spread out and enjoy an afternoon.
Along with beautiful, award-winning beaches, St. Petersburg is home to the world-renowned Salvador Dali Museum, top-rated restaurants and beautiful Fort De Soto Park.
Petersburg, Florida? Also referred to as St. Pete, the city is nestled between the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. Considered a great place to live, the area is popular for boating, fishing, golfing, and other watersports.
Just east of Destin on Hwy 98, Panama City Beach marks the end of the beaches of South Walton. These beaches are widely considered to be the clearest and pure in the country.
Pete Beach was named the #1 Beach in the U.S. for 2021 by Tripadvisor's community of travelers, and gorgeous Caladesi Island was named #2 Beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach in 2022! St. Pete/Clearwater's beaches have soft, white sands, warm Gulf waters and friendly, laid-back vibes.
Clearwater Beach's powdery white sand is part of what makes it one of America's Best Beaches. The sand actually comes from the Appalachian Mountains and is made of quartz rather than sea shells.
Both have been ranked year after year for their award-winning beaches. In 2019, Clearwater Beach was #1 Beach in the US by TripAdvisor's Best Beaches. Then in 2021, St Pete Beach was ranked #1 by TripAdvisor! Needless to say, they have a lot in common with their natural beauty.
The best time to visit Clearwater Beach is between October and December. During these autumn months, you'll find low humidity, fewer tourists and many holiday events to experience.
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.
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St Pete Beach is the southernmost (developed) barrier island in the chain off Tampa Bay. It's one long stretch of white sand beach lined with resorts, condos, and small hotels. Overall, the beach is very good. Great sand, great turquoise clear water, and surprisingly good shelling.
Pete Beach was voted TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach in the U.S. and No. 5 in the world in 2021, based on millions of reviews from travelers around the world.
Yes, you can swim at our beaches, year 'round! Most visitors find our Gulf water temperatures quite pleasant, especially if they are coming from colder climates. See our chart of average Gulf water temperatures below.
When it comes to these two beaches, there are probably more similarities than differences. St. Pete Beach is longer and more narrow, and Clearwater Beach is shorter and wide, but they both offer sugary sand, a wealthy of family entertainment options, and great dining.
From pristine white sand beaches and top-rated restaurants to world-class water activities and live entertainment, Clearwater Beach has something to offer everyone, and Clearwater itself is one of the best beach towns on the Gulf Coast.
Re: Is St. Pete Beach a Party Town? St Pete Beach is not a big Spring Break destination . There are some bars where you can find a party if you want one, but there is plenty of peace and quiet.
The best time to visit St. Petersburg is from March to May, when the weather is comfortably hot and a plethora of outdoor events make the city come alive. You'll find more affordable room rates from June to November, but the threat of hurricanes is imminent and the weather can often be scorching.
How Many Days Should I Spend in St Petersburg? Three days is a must, as there is so much to do and see. It's best to gauge your stay on how much time it will take to do all the main sites. A 4 Day itinerary will allow you to complete a day trip to Catherine's Palace or The Peterhof Grand Palace.
There are 18.19 miles from Saint Petersburg to Clearwater in northwest direction and 24 miles (38.62 kilometers) by car, following the I-275 N route. Saint Petersburg and Clearwater are 34 minutes far apart, if you drive non-stop .
“Pete has the best heart,” she said in a confessional on “The Kardashians” Thursday. “I feel like people, they have this, like, idea of him that he dates all these hot girls — and he does. But he's just the sweetest, most thoughtful person.”
In St. Petersburg, the grand city of the czars, they call them the “White Nights”: those 80 or so evenings, running from May to the end of July, when the city emerges from long months of cold and darkness and celebrates the brief return of nearly round-the-clock daylight.
St Petersburg (often called St Pete, for short) and St Pete Beach (no 's) are two different municipalities. St Petersburg is a fairly large city on the mainland. St Pete Beach is a small town located on the barrier island of Long Key.
What is the number 1 beach in Florida? Siesta Key is widely considered to be not only the number one beach in Florida but also the number one beach in the entire United States. This beach has received many travelers' awards, and it's known for the white quartz sand beach in the gulf side of Florida.
The only debate worth having is which side of Florida has the best beaches. The Atlantic coast has plenty to offer in the way of water sports. They get the better waves and, thus, some greater action. Florida's Gulf Coast, however, is responsible for those visions of smooth, sandy beaches and crystal, clear water.
Clearwater Beach is a beautiful area and a renowned vacation destination. But let's get one thing straight: The water is not clear. More often blue, green or even tea-colored, the water in the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Harbor changes depending on the light and the algae in play.
One of the most acclaimed beaches in the U.S., Siesta Key Beach is known for its pure quartz sand and crystal clear waters. Soft to the touch, the sand here feels like powdered sugar, as it is made of 99 percent pure crushed quartz and is considered to be the finest sand in the country.
For the ultimate in seclusion, check out some of the area's state parks. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach is often called the most pristine piece of coastal property in Florida. Its beach is quiet and sheltered, with white sands and towering dunes reaching heights of 25 feet.
With over 50 shops John's Pass Village and Boardwalk is an outdoor shopping paradise. Stroll along the boardwalk and through the village, stopping at your leisure for a scoop of home-made ice cream, or a complete dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants.
Lined by a boardwalk, Clearwater Beach was built around the idea of being accessible to pedestrians.
Well sadly, despite the internet saying otherwise, the “pink sand clearwater beach” that people are always asking about isn't in actually Florida. While Florida has some seriously good beaches, a bright pink beach isn't one of them.
Clearwater Beach is an immaculate white sandy beach with beautiful calm blue waters that are perfect for swimming, located in the resort region on the Gulf of Mexico. The crystal-clear waters of the gulf make it a popular beach for watersports, snorkeling, parasailing and jet skiing.
These two anchor cities of the Tampa Bay area offer a great quality of life, sunshine, beaches, and excitement, but they differ in many ways. Tampa is larger which means more diversity and job opportunities – and more traffic. St. Pete has a more condensed, exciting downtown and it's closer to the beach.
That brings up the question, is it legal to be on the beach at night? It took some digging to find the answer. The straight answer is that the beach at Clearwater Beach is open 24 hours a day. Some of you might raise an eyebrow at that one, especially if you've been around Pier 60 Park between 10PM and midnight.
The month with the most rain in Clearwater is August, with an average rainfall of 6.9 inches. The month with the least rain in Clearwater is November, with an average rainfall of 1.8 inches.
The Atlantic hurricane season is June 1-Nov. 30.
Clearwater Beach is very walkable with ample restaurants and shops in close proximity.
This waterfront city just across from one of America's best beaches has a walkable downtown, waterfront parks, great places to dine out, and a state-of-the-art aquarium that's home to two of the world's most famous dolphins.
In short, North Clearwater Beach is the best option for where to stay in Clearwater Beach if you want the Clearwater experience but don't mind having most attractions a little further away. The area is not as lively as South Clearwater Beach, but the beach is definitely as pretty.
1 beach in the world for 2022, according to Tripadvisor users. The travel platform has just released the second of its annual Travelers' Choice Awards for 2022: The Best of the Best Beaches. Coming out on top is Grace Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos islands.
1. Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia. The French Polynesian isle of Bora Bora, floating in an archipelago in the South Pacific, is as close to tropical paradise perfection as you can get.
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Ocracoke Island's Lifeguarded Beach is the No. 1 stretch of sand for 2022, according to coastal scientist Stephen Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach." Leatherman, a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, has been ranking America's best beaches since 1991.
The Hyams Beach is a beautiful Jervis Bay beach, located in New South Wales, Australia. According to the Guinness World Record, it boasts the whitest sand on our entire planet. The Hyams Beach sand it made up of microscopic quartz particles – tiny sand crystals that are almost fluorescent.
Aerial view of the Ocracoke, which has been named the best beach in America in 2022. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach is also recognized for its iconic 1823 lighthouse—the nation's second oldest lighthouse—plus a herd of once wild ponies believed to be descended from Colonial Spanish mustangs.
Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur is famous as the “purple sand beach.” But that's not its only claim to fame: beautiful Keyhole Arch, which sits just offshore at Pfeiffer Beach, is one of the most photographed spots in Big Sur.