This spotlight highlights one of my favorite locations where our first out of state office is opening up in 2018. It is a bit of a guide to the best places to see, stay, and eat.
WHERE TO GO: Our favorite beaches were found in Clearwater (CW), St. Petersburg, Indian Rocks Beach (IRB), but we found some really great food in Downtown Tampa (DT).
WHERE TO STAY: My suggestion would be to stay at one of the many smaller hotels along the beach or Airbnb (be prepared to book early). Hampton Inn Clearwater is a great budget-friendly hotel as well as a Marriott (Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key). From Indian Rocks with the smaller “beachy” motels to Clearwater with Hyatt and Hilton, there are a great many locations.
WHERE NOT TO STAY: Hampton Inn Clearwater/Airport is directly across from the airport and is 10 miles (which equals 30 minutes each way) from the beach. Constant air traffic, along with no view (except the strip club sign next door or possibly the razor wire from the penitentiary around the corner) is its most significant detractor. It is in a very seedy location. The hotel was clean, and the redeeming feature was the Starbucks right next door.
WHERE TO EAT AND WHAT TO DO: Beyond the swim and sand castles, there are many things to do in these areas. The beach is less crowded near IR, and parking more prevalent, but shopping and better dining establishments are rare.
Maggie Mae’s (IRB) is the spot to have a sunrise breakfast that is beyond tasty. They use quality ingredients and have some comfort items (like mom always made). Have an egg white omelet or better yet a Belgian waffle. They even have Spam and Eggs, if you are into that sort of thing.
Crabby’s (CW) has a great vibe on its upper porch and gives a view of the beachy horizon. They have a bucket of rum punch that is sure to pack a kick, but we loved the frozen strawberry mojito and the local dark beer on tap. This liquid refreshment along with the shrimp bowl was a perfect lunch pairing.
Ulele (DT) is every bit as amazing as everyone suggested. The pictures will bear this out. Starting off with Cocktail Shrimp (that were really prawns – that needing cleaning) then a meal of meatloaf (that had been cut in slices and grilled!) with garlic mash for my friend and a bronzed Pompano with wild rice pilaf and green beans for me. House-made seltzer water was the ideal complement. Service was outstanding as they were attentive and also allowed us to catch up (for 3 hours). I will need to go back here!
Foundation Coffee (DT) Loved it!! I had the chocolate java cake (a dense pound cake with plenty of flavor) with coffee and tea. Worth the stop, and it allowed some relaxing downtime before our next meal.
Edison’s Food + Drink Lab (DT) A Serious Foodie Delight! I am trying to use my exclamation points sparingly, but it is tough when the food is so good. We created our own tasting menu for the evening, trying to stick to our $100 budget. Starting with a “Whiskey Business” to drink alongside the potato crusted oysters. He loved the oysters, but they were still a little gelatinous for me. The liquor syrup that is poured on from the shell is so delicious. The fish/shrimp ceviche was the freshest I’ve ever tasted. The squeeze of lime helps add just the extra zip needed. Our entree was the Florida Wahoo with a saffron octopus chorizo risotto (oh yum) and asparagus and sunchokes (a little squid ink on the side for design as well as flavor). As mentioned, the fish was a little overcooked (too long browning the top), but the dish was perfectly seasoned. The chef delighted us with a saffron almond cake with greek yogurt pancetta, blood orange gelee, and some olive oil sorbet. The bits of honeycomb candy proved deadly to my dental work. I will have to pass that part of the dish up in the future. Still, I would order it again (and continued eating it).
Sugar Sand (CW): Also don’t miss a walk in the sugar sand in Clear Water. There are many things to do along the beach. It is a fairly touristy area (and parking is hard to find), but the sand is worth it. #SugarSand
Stay and Play
- My suggestion would be to stay somewhere on the beach where you can park the car and just enjoy being on island time.
- Don’t wear your swimsuit all day; your skin will chafe.
- Taking time at the end of a long beach day of walking to get a pedicure. Your feet will thank you profusely.