As mentioned in my previous post, I was sent earlier this month to Orlando, Florida to cover a medical conference. But I tacked on one extra day at the end that was completely open. I considered going to 1 of the theme parks because, as I’ve confessed before, I’m a roller coaster junkie. But because I used to live in the area and wrote about the parks often, I already knew them pretty well.
No, I wanted to go somewhere completely new to me. And because the area where I now live has had an unusually cold, snowy, and blah winter, I was really interested in going to a beach. One problem: I didn’t have a car. An easy solution: Gray Line bus and van tours offer twice-weekly transportation from Orlando to Clearwater Beach, which is about 19 miles out of St. Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
So I happily made an online reservation for the Beach Bus. Unfortunately, I woke up the morning of the big event to rainy weather and dark clouds. Still, I was determined to at least see the beach. So I threw an umbrella and a tiny, fold-up rain poncho into my bag along with shorts, a towel, flip-flops, and sunblock. In other words, I decided to pack for all scenarios!
When I lived in the Orlando area, I went on many, many beach weekenders to Florida’s East Coast. And I was used to Daytona Beach’s brownish, hard-packed, textured sand that felt like you were walking on crushed velvet. But Clearwater’s white, powdery sand was different and felt as soft as feathers.
Lucky for us, the clouds lifted and there was nothing but blue skies by the time the bus had driven nearly 2 hours and deposited all 15 passengers at Clearwater Beach’s really pretty Pier 60 area. It did start out very cool and I was glad to have my jacket, at least at first. But nothing could dampen my spirits once my feet hit the warm sand.
I wrote in my last post about the joys of getting my first pedicure the day before, and I was especially happy to have done it before hitting the beach. Purpley-pink toes and white sand really do go well together!
The best thing I did was rent one of the rather big, blue family-sized beach umbrellas/tents for just $25 for a full day. They came with 2 multi-position lounge chairs and made for a great home base that felt like camping out on the beach.
Quick tip: when facing the pier, the right side seems to be a lot less crowded for some reason. Plus, there’s a small Tiki-hut bar on the sand a little further down on that side that serves all kinds of fruity drinks, beer, and snacks. You can’t bring those drinks back with you to the umbrellas/tents, but there are plenty of chairs set up around the bar to relax on while sipping away your cares.
I spent most of the day being a total lump – and loved it! I watched the ocean and sometimes walked along it and picked up shells. I read and snoozed a little under the umbrella. I let the sun’s rays completely warm up my feet (which led to the top of my left one getting very burned. Ouch – stupid sunblock!) I lazily people-watched and listened to children shrieking as they played in the water. And I did absolutely no work at all. It was Heaven!!
I did take one break from my “act like a slug” routine to check out the marina area, on the Intracoastal waterway. This is where visitors can book a couple hours or a half-day trip on 1 of a multitude of different boats. There were giant party boats, smaller dolphin watching ones, a boat that was shaped liked a shark, and even a large authentic-looking pirate ship.
After walking around for a while, several people suggested that if I wanted fresh seafood for lunch, I should go to Crabby Bill’s, which is located right next to the marina. Once there, I asked to sit upstairs beside the huge window that looked down onto the boats and watched several of them taking off or sailing in.
The service and the food there were very good. I couldn’t decide between grilled or fried blue crab cakes, so ordered 1 of each (along with an unsweetened iced tea) and was very happy. Next time, I’d love to try their fried alligator bites and calamari. Yum!
I then made my way back to my umbrella/beach home for the day, stopping along the way for a soda, an ice cream bar, and a few souvenirs. And then I just lazed away the rest of the day until the bus picked us back up at 5 and had us in Orlando by 7pm.
Even with a burned left foot and sand tucked into every corner of my bag, I was ecstatic over my day. Getting to hear the roar of the ocean and feel the warmth of sand underfoot while other parts of the country were getting sleet and very cold temperatures felt decadent… and wonderful!
I can’t wait to hit up another beach very soon, no matter what time of year.