Originating from the West Coast, I never traveled to Florida for school spring breaks or summer vacations. When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to go to Hawaii a number of times and when I was in college, most of my spring breaks were spent in Southern Cal … Long Beach, San Diego, Santa Monica, Ventura, Palm Desert … the list goes on. But now that the Midwest is home, it makes sense that Florida would be THE place to go for spring break. Over the last few years we’ve been to Destin, Palm Beach, Daytona, Key Largo, Amelia Island, and this last year, we went to Clearwater … which for those of you unfamiliar with Florida’s coast, it’s about halfway down on the gulf side.
Our VRBO rental was steps (literally) from the beach and about a half mile from town. As you cross the bridge we stayed to the right of town close to the Carlouel Yacht Club—if you can rent a house off El Dorado, do so: easy beach access, great area to run or walk, and older kids can easily walk to the local DQ for ice cream.
The main part of town is a hot spot for spring breakers and there’s tons of activity … you’ll find the classic surf shops you’d expect in a beach town along with a huge, well-equipped CVS, and plenty of restaurants. One thing to note, the main grocery store is on the other side of the bridge and although it’s not far (as the crow flies) it can take a LONG time to get back when the spring breakers crowd the streets. (And by long time, I mean 45 minutes to drive two miles so plan accordingly.)
My favorite shop is the Freaky Tiki Surf Shack—they stock killer hats, South-of-the-Border-style shawls, decals and have uber cool t-shirts (check out the Freaky Tiki mermaid I’m sporting).
Food … yes, there is that local DQ where the kids like to get their soft serve but the best ice cream on Mandalay Ave. can be found at these three hotspots: Serious Cookie Company (where you can get the world’s gooiest chocolate chip cookie topped with ice cream), Kilwins (where they’ve been dishing up some of the area’s best ice cream for decades), and the local favorite, Ice & Cream Creamery.
And for dinner, Frenchy’s is a winner-winner-chicken-dinner for seafood and burgers and cold beer and tequila too!
Running … you can run, or walk, for as long or as short as you want. There’re some amazing houses that line the bay side (according to one local I met, SPANX founder Sarah Blakely has a home there as does the French’s Mustard owner and famed wrestler, Hulk Hogan, among others) and it’s easy to run alongside their estates before entering the main town area … heck, you can even cross the bridge and keep going and going and going. Of course you can always run down the beach too.
So back to the “tons of activity” I mentioned above … like many major spring break beach destinations, Clearwater beach is loaded with plenty of vendors ready and willing to rent kayaks, paddleboards, volleyballs and in some places, fishing gear and beach-worthy cruisers. But, rather than rent directly from a beach-side shack, checkout Clearwater Paddleboard … they have multiple locations and have a great selection of SUPs, surfboards, bikes and more. And they even have a mermaid in their logo … clearly, you can’t go wrong renting from this Clearwater merchant ; )