Jul 30, 2014
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The Local's Guide to Clearwater Beach

Your insider's guidebook to surviving the beach during spring break.

The Local's Guide to Clearwater Beach

“If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” -Bumper sticker

The traffic. The parking. The crowds. Seems like this time of year locals want to do anything but hit the beach. It’s not that you don’t love the beach, right? It’s the hassle.

This tourist season we’ve hit the sand, talked to beach residents, and sampled our way through the local eateries to give you the insider’s guide to everything about Clearwater Beach. So, go ahead- dare to hit the beach!

Getting there

The earlier, the better. If you’re thinking of going after 11 a.m. and before sunset, parking ranges from, "difficult," to, "are you kidding me?"

Come in from the south. Even if you live in downtown, it may be faster to shoot over to the Belleair causeway and head up the south beach. Roundabout and traffic from several continents and 50 states - need we offer further encouragement?

Take the trolley. Depending on where you live, the Beach Trolley or the Jolly Trolley may be just the ticket. For a $4.50 “Go Card” you can ride all the PSTA buses all day. You may hit bridge and roundabout traffic, but at least you won’t have to worry about parking.

Go North. Head north of Pier 60 to look for parking. If you get there early enough, some side streets have non-metered parking. Pay attention to any no parking signs and respect local property and you won’t have a problem. Here’s something to consider, too: there is more limited parking north of Pier 60, so that area will cater more to locals than the south end. Don’t discount south beach, just remember - a soul-recharging walk on the beach is going to be a lot more peaceful on the north end.

Eat, Drink and Be Local

Maybe you head to Shepherd’s - and groan at the crowds - out of habit, or perhaps you’ve been getting grouper at Frenchy’s Rockaway since you were old enough to hold a fork. If you don’t live or work on the beach, it’s hard to know where you can rely on a reasonably priced meal that tastes good, too. Our sources include local Bill Warda, who has worked and lived on Clearwater Beach for six years. We also did our own investigating, by which, of course, we mean taste testing.

Palm Pavilion 

Afternoon and weekly entertainment make this a more lively place to watch the sunset. The prices are fair and the tourists hit the spot during their sunworshipping hours, so feel free to take in a sunset on the deck.

Clear Sky Cafe
490 Mandalay

Warda calls this the “best and most reasonable food on the beach,” adding that during the week they have half-price drinks (and some half-price food) at happy hour. Clear Sky Cafe has a customer loyalty program, designed  to entice locals.

Brown Boxer
483 Mandalay

80 beers and free parking behind the building. Need we say more? Oh, wait, yes: happy hour specials and a kitchen that stays open until 2 in the morning. The Brown Boxer has $25 gift certificates available on Restaurant.com for $15; join Restaurant.com (it’s free) and you’ll get e-mails when they put the gift certificates on sale (about once a week, between 70 and 80%.)

Post Corner Pizza
431 South Gulfview

It’s in the middle of the madness but worth it. Dine in or out or get it to go, but this pizza place (with a hearty Greek menu as well) has been an old standby for years.

Frenchy’s Original
41 Baymont Street

It lacks the swagger of their other places but this little out of the way gem has delighted locals for years. Simple menu and happy hour specials keep the Original busy, but everything but the grouper and the full order of boiled shrimp comes in at under $10.  

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber
447 Mandalay

There is fine dining amidst the three-for-ten dollar t-shirt shops and spring break hullaballoo. Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber has a lounge and formal dining room, so take your pick. This is vintage Florida-style fine dining. The relish tray, breads, and everything we've ever eaten there is delightful. Too pricy? Get a gift certificate on Restaurant.com, where a $25 gift certificate costs $17.50.

Island Way Grill
Upscale, indeed. But tasty, too. Eat early and get two dinners (including bread, salad and dessert) for $20.10 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays.

Fun on the Cheap

Sea Screamer

The big yellow speedboat has a reputation as a dolphin magnet - these giant marine mammals can’t seem to help themselves when they hear the Screamer - they jump in the boat’s wake. Even if you don’t see dolphins, it’s a fast ride on a hot day and a great way to see the beach from the water. They have Florida Resident Days on Wednesdays and Sundays, where a valid Florida ID gets you two-for-one tickets. 

That should be more than enough to get you started, but if you need more fun, let us know by clicking the "Yes, keep me posted!" box below this article. 

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