Who’s ready for a beach vacation? We always are.
Whether you’re planning a winter getaway, Spring Break or beyond, Clearwater Beach, Florida is a great beach town for families. We loved the famous white sugar beaches, free family events, places to get away from the crowd, educational attractions, fun local food and lots more.
Here are my family’s top picks in Clearwater Beach for families.
Best place to meet Winter the Dolphin
Have you seen the Dolphin Tale movies? Winter, the dolphin that inspired them, lives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The aquarium was fairly small when we visited, and an expansion was underway, but we really enjoyed seeing Winter and the other animals.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is still a rescue hospital for marine animals, so you can feel good that your admission supports a worthy cause. There are lots of fun and educational exhibits for families. The movies were filmed on location, so fans will enjoy finding familiar scenery. We had the chance to hold one of Winter’s prosthetic tails, which was really cool!
Read all my tips for visiting Clearwater Marine Aquarium here.
Best place to find a party
At the end of Clearwater Memorial Causeway, you’ll find Pier 60, which is an excellent base for a family day on the beach. You’ll have easy access to the beach, restaurants, shopping, restrooms, a playground, rentals and excursions, and everything else you may need.
Sunsets at Pier 60 is a free family event held every evening where you can enjoy live music and street performers, purchase crafts from local artisans and play on the beach until after the sun goes down. On Friday and Saturday evenings, bring a blanket or beach chair for a free outdoor family movie.
Best place to find seashells
My kids love hunting for seashells, but they had a hard time finding whole shells near Pier 60. After a little research, we discovered Caladesi Island State Park, just north of Clearwater Beach. We took the walk-on ferry from Dunedin, but you can kayak or boat to the island as well.
Caladesi Island is what Florida beaches looked like before they were developed. It’s a lot less crowded than Clearwater Beach, and you should have little difficulty finding a private stretch of beach. Your ferry pass is only good for four hours, but that was more than enough time for my kids to find all the shells they could carry. Be sure to go at low tide for the best shell hunting!
Read all my tips for visiting Caladesi Island State Park here.
Best place to stay
There are many hotels and vacation rentals to choose from on Clearwater Beach, but we recommend the affordably priced Frenchy’s Oasis Motel. This fun retro motel is located just off the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. It is a short walk from the beach and Pier 60, and within view of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Rooms include a full kitchen, free use of the guest laundry facilities, free use of beach and pool toys, and access to Frenchy’s private dock on the bay. Best of all, you can stay for under $170 per night.
Clearwater Beach is a barrier island, separated by water from the rest of Clearwater. You can save money by booking a hotel off the beach, but be aware that the Clearwater Memorial Causeway is the only road to the beach. That road was very crowded on the June weekend we visited, and the parking pass for our hotel felt like a golden ticket as we watched cars trolling the streets for a parking space.
If you decide to stay off the beach, plan to get to the beach early in the day, plan a weekday visit, or use the Clearwater Jolley Trolley to limit your traffic and parking hassles.
Read my full review of Frenchy’s Oasis Motel here.
Best place to eat
You can’t really say that you’ve been to Clearwater Beach until you have eaten at Frenchy’s. Clearly, we are Frenchy’s fans, since we recommend both the restaurants and motel, but for good reason. Frenchy is a local institution.
There are five Frenchy’s restaurants along Clearwater Beach. Our pick was Frenchy’s Original Cafe where we landed at the same outdoor table two nights in a row. The Super Grouper sandwich is their specialty, but the menus include a variety of sandwiches, salads and other entrees. Frenchy’s specializes in seafood, but there were other good options as well. We recommend the Super Grouper, the Cuban sandwich, the smoked fish spread and Frenchy’s poutine.
If you’ve never heard of poutine (we hadn’t), it’s a French-Canadian appetizer. Yep, that’s where Frenchy is from. It’s french fries covered in brown gravy and cheese curds. For lovers of all things salty and savory, it’s better than dessert.
Photo of Winter the Dolphin courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
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