Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater

National Parks
Clearwater Beach, Florida
© Derek Latta

Clearwater Beach is consistently ranked as one of the best city beaches in the United States.

Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater

Tampa, Saint Petersburg and the beachside community of Clearwater are all located around Tampa Bay on the western coast of central Florida. They are within two hours drive of Orlando, Disney World, Universal Studios and the surrounding entertainment complexes. This is a popular beach resort area for families that come to Florida to see the Orlando attractions.

The Gulf Coast along the western side of the Florida Peninsula has a very different character than the eastern Atlantic Coast. The fine sand beaches are equally nice on both coasts, but they are usually shallower with warmer waters on the Gulf side. There is very little surf on the gulf, so it attracts fewer young revelers and has less wild amusements. The gulf coast is favored by family vacationers and retired folks.

The three communities lie on the shores of Tampa Bay

Downtown Tampa lays at the northern end of a great shallow bay a few miles inland from the coast. It is a large metropolitan center with many commercial buildings, offices and retail establishments. Clearwater is a beachside community just west of downtown on the gulf coast. It has a many hotels, motels, restaurants and tourist attractions. It also has a fishing harbor with many excursion boats and fishing charters. Saint Petersburg is just south of Clearwater on the peninsula extending between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Saint Pete is less commercial than Clearwater. It has fewer hotels but many condominiums and beachside apartments. It has a lot of quiet neighborhoods with private homes and vacation rentals.

Don Cesar Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida © Donald Kinsey
Known as Florida's Legendary Pink Palace, the Don CeSar Beach Resort is located on St. Pete Beach.

If you like to be at a beach near the excitement and entertainment, choose one of the many hotels in Clearwater. If you prefer a quieter vacation away from the tourist crowds, rent a condominium or vacation home in Saint Petersburg where you can be near great beaches and a short drive from the entertainment in Clearwater and the shopping in downtown Tampa.

Tampa International Airport is located right in downtown Tampa near the causeway to Clearwater. Several commercial airlines and many charter services land there. Downtown Tampa and Clearwater are easily accessible via a short taxi ride, and the airport limo service provides convenient access to St. Petersburg. Orlando International is a much larger airport with a wider array of domestic and international flights. It is about a two-hours drive from the Tampa - St. Petersburg area. Sanford International Airport, with its many international charter flights is just north of Orlando and about a two and a half hour drive from the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa is the thunderstorm and lightning capital of the USA

The Tampa Bay climate is semi-tropical like the rest of Florida. Summers are very hot and humid. Winters are cool but mild. Spring and Fall are often the nicest times of year with warm sunny days and cooler evenings. It rains a lot in Florida especially during the summer months.

In the summer, early mornings are the best times to visit the beaches, golf courses and outdoor amusements. Dawn usually brings blue skies and warm sunshine. By noon, the heat becomes oppressive and the great solar engine over the Gulf of Mexico begins to boil up masses of puffy white cumulus clouds. By mid afternoon, the western horizon over the Gulf is often dominated by huge thunderclouds that begin to drift eastward over the Tampa Bay area. They usually dump heavy rains accompanied by dramatic displays of electrical fireworks, but often pass over quickly permitting the sun to reappear. By dusk, the great solar engine shuts down and the thunderstorms often dissipate just in time to create a spectacular Gulf Coast sunset.

This is the thunderstorm and lightning capital of the USA. Nearly every summer, someone is killed or injured by lightning on a golf course or on a beach in western Florida. To avoid danger, you should not remain in open areas like golf courses or beaches during thunderstorms. That is a good time to visit one of the indoor attractions like the many restaurants or bars in the area.

Places of Interest

Tampa attractions include the Tampa Museum of Art, the Children's Museum of Tampa, the Museum of Science and Industry, the History Center, the Zoological Gardens and the Museum of African-American Art. St. Petersburg offers the Salvador Dali Museum, the Museum of History, several art galleries and numerous parks. Clearwater has an aquarium.

Nearby, Busch Gardens theme park features herds of wild animals that can be viewed on simulated safaris, and Weeki Wachee Springs amusement park has the world's only underwater theater. Cypress Gardens, Florida's oldest theme park, still offers botanical gardens, a butterfly conservatory, amusement rides and their famous water ski shows.

Tarpon Springs, a coastal community about 30 minutes drive north of Tampa, has an active sponge diving fleet and a thriving Greek community. It is famous for its restaurants featuring authentic Greek cuisine and its unique gift shops. Sarasota is less than an hour drive south of Tampa Bay. It is generally considered the cultural center of Western Florida.

Swimming, Fishing, Golf and Sports

Of course, the Tampa Bay area's most popular attractions are its white sand Beaches especially those in Clearwater or the quieter beaches in St. Petersburg and the northern suburban communities. Fishing is another popular activity. The large marina, located near the Clearwater side of the causeway, has numerous excursion boats and fishing charters. You can spend a half-day fishing on the Gulf for as little as $25 or you can rent a six-passenger charter for $700. The boats will provide all of the tackle and will even clean your catch, while a nearby restaurant can cook it for you. If you prefer fresh water fishing, there are also many inland charters in the area.

Golf is another popular attraction with dozens of area courses offering year-round recreation. If you prefer spectator sports, you can find NFL football, NHL hockey, major league baseball, major league soccer, arena football, horse racing, greyhound racing and Jai Alai.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Liz McClanahan
Photo Description: Marina and pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Tampa Bay