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Good times & tan lines: why St. Pete/Clearwater should be your next US holiday

Hear Florida… what do you think? Miami? Sure. Orlando? No doubt. Key West? Maybe. Palm Beach? Yup. Anything else? No? Brain starting to run dry?

That’s the thing with Florida, outside of the US, the big hitters of the Sunshine State tend to steal the limelight. But talk to Americans and they’ll tell you there’s so, so, soooooo much we’re missing out on. 

High on that list is St. Pete/Clearwater. I’m guessing many of you might have not heard this name before, but in the US, it’s a different matter. It was named one of the 20 best places to travel in the US in 2023 by Forbes.

So why is it so good, you ask? Oh boy, many reasons: year-round sunshine, fantastic beaches, lots of cool things to do for couples and families, direct flights from the UK and strong deals too.

First things first

Before diving into the many reasons you should book a trip to St. Pete/Clearwater, let’s start with a bit of geography. St. Pete and Clearwater are on the west coast of Florida (the Gulf Coast). Both are on a small peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico to one side and Tampa Bay to the other.

Although they are separate places, the St. Pete and Clearwater are closely connected and generally considered as one destination. Their geographical proximity means visitors can pick and mix the best sights and attractions of both St. Pete, Clearwater and the surrounding communities.

The sun in Sunshine State

Destinations love to say they’re perfect year-round. In most cases, it comes with some serious caveats. But St. Pete/Clearwater actually holds the Guinness World Record for most consecutive sunny days.

And how many would that be? Quite a lot. 768 to be precise. That’s two years, one month, one week and one day of continuous sunshine days. Not too shabby when you consider we struggle to string together two consecutive days in the UK.

So yes, St. Pete/Clearwater has definitely earned the right to call itself a year-round destination, perfect for a summer holiday or for a quick hit of Vit D in winter.

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Eat, sleep, beach, repeat

Here again, you need to challenge your assumption about where you’ll find the best stretches of sand in the US. Of course, Hawaii, California and other parts of Florida, like Miami, have their fair share of stunning beaches. What you might not know is that St. Pete/Clearwater is up there with the best.

Clearwater Beach (number five) and St. Pete Beach (number 18) make it in US News’ best beaches in the US for 2023. Clearwater Beach also makes it in Travel + Leisure’s 25 best beaches in the USA.

We also recommend checking out the beach on Caledesi Island, one of Forbes’ best 10 beaches in America. But don’t limit yourselves to what’s featured in the media – there are about 35 miles of white-sandy beaches for you to choose from.

Heart of the communities

It would be easy to reduce St. Pete/Clearwater to… well… St. Pete and Clearwater. But there are so many communities in that area deserving of your attention.

You’ve got Madeira Beach with its fishing-village-come-beach-resort vibe. There’s also laid-back Treasure Island with its annual kite festival and Sanding Ovations Master's Cup where sand sculptors (yes, that’s a thing) compete against each other.

Dunedin with its Scottish roots and microbreweries is a must-visit. And let’s not forget Tarpon Springs, the sponge capital of the world (pictured above).

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Fun for everyone

One of St. Pete/Clearwater’s most endearing qualities is its wide-ranging appeal. There's plenty to do for everyone.

Do you know your APA from your IPA? You’ll be in your element with a strong craft beer scene. There are over 40 local breweries and a craft beer trail. The area is actually know as the Gulp Coast because of the array of local brewers. Cheers to that.

Bit of an art buff? You’ll find plenty of galleries and exhibitions, plus over 600 street art murals. And don’t forget to visit the Salvador Dalí Museum.

Have kids to keep entertained? Plenty there too, including pirate-themed cruises, the Great Inspirations Children’s Museum, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (a rescue centre for dolphins, otters, sea turtles and other species) and a lot more.

St. Pete/Clearwater prides itself on being an LGBTQ+ friendly destination. The annual St. Pete Pride has a history going back 20 years and the area is a safe, welcoming space. The St. Pete/Clearwater website is a great source of information if you want to know more.

There’s plenty more to do and see. Here again, the St. Pete/Clearwater website is a great resource for more inspiration.

Pirate tip: St. Pete/Clearwater, it’s also a relatively short 90-minute drive from Orlando, making it a great option to extend a Florida trip to Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios.

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Getting there & around

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have direct flights from London to Tampa. Expect to be in the air for around nine hours. As usual with travelling to the US, you’ll need a valid ESTA – you can check if you have a valid ESTA and apply for a new one here.

From the airport, Clearwater and St. Pete are both between 20–30 minutes away by taxi. You can, of course, hire a car to travel around. But if you can’t face driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, there are other options to travel within the St. Pete/Clearwater area.

The SunRunner is a train-like rapid bus linking Downtown St. Pete to St. Pete Beach. You can also get a free ride aboard the Downtown Looper, which connects all of St. Pete’s main museums and attractions. You’ll also find hubs for bike and e-scooter hire scattered around.

The St. Pete/Clearwater website has an excellent guide on how to get around, so make sure to check it out for more information.

Our top 10 things to do

  1. Order a grouper sandwich at the beachside Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill

  2. Look out for the ‘green flash’, when the sun turns green for a few seconds at sunset

  3. Talking of sunsets, green flash or not, enjoy them from one of the area’s various rooftop eateries and bars (we recommend Jimmy's Crow's Nest at Clearwater Beach)

  4. Join the Friday-night shuffle session at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club – founded in 1924, it’s the world's oldest such club

  5. Spend a day in Dunedin, a laid-back oceanfront town with great beaches, restaurants and breweries

  6. Walk the Soldier’s Hole Trail at Fort De Soto State Park to take a look at the three types of mangroves found in Florida

  7. Stroll around Tarpon Springs’ Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places

  8. Chill on Madeira Beach, voted the ninth best in the US by Tripadvisor in 2021

  9. Take the boat to Caladesi Island and visit the State Park

  10. Visit the small businesses of Central Avenue, which has been dubbed St. Pete’s coolest street