Tips from a Local - Traveling to Clearwater in peak season
Clearwater Beach, Florida is frequently ranked one of the best beaches in the world and is a favorite vacation destination for families, couples, and solo travelers. Located on a barrier island across the Intracoastal Waterway from downtown Clearwater, with primary access via the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, the city has approximately 2.5 miles of white sand beaches and a 1,080-foot multi-purpose pier known as Pier 60. Whether you drive here, are a Florida resident arriving by boat, or choose to fly into St Pete-Clearwater International Airport or the Tampa International Airport, Clearwater Beach has lots to offer visitors. Having access to a little inside information from a local can make your visit more enjoyable.
Traveling to and from Clearwater Beach can be tricky on the best of days. During weekends or holidays, it can be downright challenging. The primary beach access is via the Clearwater Memorial Bridge which links downtown Clearwater with the beach. You can reach the bridge from State Road 60 (aka Gulf to Bay Boulevard) connecting to Court Street (westbound), which becomes Pierce Boulevard and finally leading onto the bridge.
There are only two lanes in each direction with signs directing drivers to avoid lane changes on the bridge. There is a stop light at the intersection of Island Way Boulevard and a roundabout as you reach the beach, providing access to Mandalay Avenue, Coronado Drive, and Poinsettia Avenue. While it is less than 2 miles from downtown Clearwater to the beach, traffic can come to a screeching halt during Spring Break, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day or for any event scheduled on or near the beach. Be prepared to wait.
Take the Ferry
Avoid much of the traffic by taking a ride on the Clearwater Ferry. This service offers a 15-minute trip from downtown Clearwater to the Clearwater Beach Marina and North Beach. There are several public parking lots on the downtown side, and some are free. The service is inexpensive and isn't susceptible to traffic delays.
When you and your automobile finally make it to the beach, finding a parking space can be a formidable task. There are several public parking lots, including one at Pier 60 (139 spaces), but this lot is the most accessible and fills up early. Another municipal lot (200 spaces), located north of the roundabout, is west of Mandalay Avenue with access via Rockaway Street or Bay Esplanade. This one is directly on the beach and also fills up quickly. Meter rates vary per parking lot and can range .50 to $3.00 per ½ hour with typically a five hour limit. Limited paid street parking is available throughout the beach area including the Beach Walk Promenade and again, fills quickly due to beach, shopping and dining activities. Don't make the mistake of parking in a hotel lot or at the marina. Businesses routinely tow non-customer vehicles.
Ride a Bike
As you descend the Clearwater Memorial Bridge westbound, there is a public parking lot on the south side of the road, providing access to the Causeway Bike Trail. From here, it's only about a 1-mile ride or walk to the beach. Parking here will help you avoid lots of traffic and parking issues directly on the beach.
Take a Taxi
You can avoid a parking headache by taking a taxi to the beach from one of the downtown public parking lots. While that won't help with the traffic delays, it will eliminate the stress of searching for space.
Ride the Trolley
The Jolley Trolley is a private, nonprofit service that operates throughout Clearwater Beach and the downtown area. Much like a taxi, leave your car on the mainland and enjoy a leisurely ride to the beach. Pay for a single trip or purchase a pass good for unlimited rides for a day or longer. With the latter, you can hop on and off the trolley as you go to the beach, restaurants or other attractions. This trolley service also goes northward and serves the towns of DunedIn, Tarpon Springs, and Palm Harbor.
Here's an exclusive "insiders trip" about Clearwater's Jolley Trolley. If you are coming in the months of late February and March to attend Spring Training Phillies games, this service also operates round-trip transportation service for just $14. Reservations are required, so contact them in advance at 727-4455-1200
If you are staying in Clearwater or anywhere to the south on the barrier Island, consider hopping on the SunCoast Beach Trolley. Riding is inexpensive, fun, and convenient, and offers reasonable pricing by the day, 3-days or a week. This trolley stops at specially marked "Trolley Stop" locations along the entire route between Park Street Terminal (Downtown Clearwater), Island Estates, North Clearwater Beach and South Clearwater Beach.
Moving southward via way of Gulf Boulevard between Clearwater and St. Pete, the SunCoast Beach Trolley includes stops in Sand Key Park, Bay Park, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, John's Pass Village and Treasure Island. Please note the exception of stops in Bellaire Shores and Bellaire Beach. Passengers are picked up every 20 to 30 minutes, from 5:05 a.m. to 10:10 p.m., Monday through Sunday (including holidays), with service until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Visiting the Gulf Coast should be a fun, relaxing part of your vacation. These tips from a local will aid with planning your visit and help keep your traffic stress to a minimum. Let others fight for a parking space while you enjoy the sun and surf on Clearwater Beach. Or, simply use these recommendations to travel up and down the coast between Clearwater and St Pete via trolley, taking in the panoramic beach views, shopping, and dining in charming coastal towns along the way.