Weather-wise, you can’t go wrong with the so-called Sunshine State. In fact, some of its weather is record-topping. Take Clearwater, for instance – it’s bagged a Guinness World Record for the longest stretch of sunny days. The sunny streak started on 9th February 1967 and lasted until 17th March 1969. Then there’s St Pete Beach. It’s earned the title of the Sun Capital of America, thanks to a staggering 360 sunny days a year. Whichever one you pick, you’re looking at temperatures of 20°C to 30°C – even in winter, so it’s a good choice for some out-of-season sun.
When it comes to beaches, you’re in good sands. You can forget Hawaii and California, because America’s top-rated sandy strip is actually in Florida. The state fares well in the best beach stakes – constantly topping all sorts of lists. And Clearwater is the jewel in its sand-filled crown. The seaside city’s beach was named America’s best in the 2016 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, closely followed by St Pete Beach at number four. Clap eyes on the pair, and you’ll see why. Their Gulf of Mexico setting means you can expect to dig your toes into milky-coloured sands and swim in calm, bath-like waters. Hotel-wise, sun-seekers will be in their element. Most of the hotels sit right on the sands, or just across the road from them. The Tradewinds Island Grand Beach Resort is a great pick for those wanting to stroll straight onto the sands of St Pete Beach. And the grand pink palace that is Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach has a prime beachfront spot, too. Over on Florida’s east coast, Fort Lauderdale lines up perfectly pale sands with a European twist. It’s not just the ocean that turns heads here – a load of canals and rivers weave their way around the city, giving it the nickname of America’s Venice. Water taxis are a scenic way to get around – they stop off at all the main points, like the beach, the boulevard and the shops.
You don’t need to take a boat out to spot dolphins in Florida. In Clearwater and St Pete Beach, you can see them frolicking in the waves from the shore. If you do opt for a boat trip, you can expect to see even more playful pods, as well as manatees and sea turtles. In Fort Lauderdale, it’s common to catch sight of manatees drifting through the waterways, too. There’s no shortage of state parks to explore, either. Take a ferry ride to Caladesi Island from Clearwater to see the armadillos and gopher tortoises that call it home. Or visit hush-hush Egmont Key State Park, where the tortoises outnumber the tourists.
Piers are an American seaside staple. And Clearwater certainly doesn’t break the mould, with the nightly sunset celebrations at Pier 60. Come 4pm, things really start to liven up. Local musicians and artists are joined by craftsmen selling their wares, and fire-breathers and break-dancers put on a lively show. Don’t forget to bring your camera for the ultimate sunset snap. For a change of scene, try St Pete Beach’s Merry Pier. You can watch as fishermen prepare their catch or check out the resident pelicans and egrets.
Clearwater and St Pete Beach major in big-and-beautiful beaches with lots going on. If you like the sands all to yourself, there are a handful of hidden gem islands to make tracks – or waves – for. Caladesi Island’s one of the area’s few all-natural isles. As well as sunbed-free sands, it boasts three mile-long nature and kayaking trails to get lost in. The short ferry ride there means it’s people-free sunbathing territory, too. Sand Key Park is across the causeway from Clearwater Beach, so you don’t need to hit the water to get there. But it’s just as spotless. Its lily-white sands are backed by greenery, and endangered sea turtles come here to lay their eggs on the beach.
Just because you want a beach doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice being close to Florida’s legendary theme parks. Most are still within daytripping distance of Clearwater and St Pete Beach. Busch Gardens is 50 minutes’ drive from Clearwater and St Pete Beach, while you can reach Disney and Universal’s gates in around an hour and a half. Plus, St Pete Beach backs onto a loud-and-lively city, St Petersburg. So, you can mix up days on the sand with trips to the aquarium, botanical gardens or the state-of-the-art Salvador Dali Museum.
Sonesta ES Suites is on International Drive, which means getting to both Universal and Disney is easy. And when you’re not busy whizzing around on rollercoasters, you can relax at the hotel’s palm-fringed pool or in their colourful garden.
You can relax in poolside cabanas with the Gulf of Mexico in sight at the .
The Sirata Beach Resort overlooks its own private stretch of sand in St Pete Beach. The three beachfront pools are another highlight.
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