Friday, February 19, 2016

Clearwater Beach--Too Successful?

Clearwater Beach (,) a resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida directly west of Tampa, used to be a pleasant, laid back small town with a beautiful beach and not much else. When I first visited as a child, there were just a few small motels and the elegant Clearwater Beach Hotel.

Today the Clearwater Beach Hotel has been replaced by a larger, more modern version called the Sand Pearl, and the small barrier island of Clearwater Beach boasts 96 hotels in all. In addition, nine more are under construction and it is getting hard to catch a glimpse of water for all the high-rise hotels. Tourist numbers have reached record levels for Clearwater and the adjacent beaches of Pinellas County.

Clearwater Beach has not been a great bargain for many years, but now it is being plagued by over-building and sometimes horrendous traffic tie-ups. All traffic on the island must navigate through a round-about at the entrance, and sometimes cars are lined up all the way back to the city of Clearwater. Because of all the construction parking on the beach itself has been reduced, and city officials are struggling with how to deal with the tourist hordes. (One way might have been not to approve the construction of so many new hotels at the same time, but it is too late for that now.)

There are alternatives to driving, including a ferry that goes between downtown Clearwater and the beach. Parking for it is free, but the ferry itself costs $4. I couldn't find out much about it during a recent visit. In addition, a trolley service called the Jolley Trolley connects the beach with downtown and an island called Island Estates, technically a part of Clearwater Beach but lacking sand.

Another option might be to drive to Island Estates and park in the shopping mall parking lot, then take the trolley to the beach. You could still get caught in traffic, but at least wouldn't be burning your own gas. There is also talk of building an aerial gondola system from the city of Clearwater to the beach.

If you want to stay on the beach itself, be prepared to pay quite a lot, especially at this time of year. A quick perusal of  the Website of a company I have rented from ( http://www.florida-beachrentals.comshowed nothing under $178 per night for a week in the near future, and most places well above that--$400 per night or more.  Fall is the best time of year to find reduced prices and fewer tourists.

There are a few restaurant bargains in Clearwater Beach, luckily. All day Mondays you can enjoy a yummy burger with chips and cole slaw at Frenchy's on Baymont for $4.75. For a meal with a waterfront view, Jimmy's Fish House in the Holdiay Inn is a good bet--I usually have the cup of soup with half a club sandwich for $8.75. If you don't mind eating dinner early, check out the early dinner specials at the Island Way Grill on Island Estates, which go for $14.90 for a whole meal with soup of salad, main course and vegetables, and dessert.

Being an early bird is a good idea for parking too, since beach parking is free until 11 a.m.


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