Most of my travel posts will include a section at the end entitled “The Cost of Doing Business”. This is a list format reporting of the costs associated with that trip, or that segment of the trip. I will attempt, where applicable, to indicate how many people are included in the costs.
Travel costs can, of course, be significant. Additionally, we all have different values when it comes to how we spend our dollars. You might be a bare bones traveler for whom the experience is everything and not dependent on any luxuries. Likewise, you might find your self splurging on some things while controlling costs on others. Very few will travel with reckless financial abandon (no judgment here if you can swing that, though!).
You will likely ascertain my style after a posting or few. I like to think of myself as a traveler with high standards but endless patience for finding the very best value. I am very discerning about where I choose to lay my head at night. I will search and search for a good bargain but rest assured, I am willing to pay for quality lodging. I also love good food and good wine. That doesn’t mean they have to be expensive, but sometimes they are and that’s okay by me. I make up for my occasionally expensive restaurant meals by almost always eating in for breakfast and picnicking frequently for lunch or dinner. Experiences are of high value to me when traveling but this is where I feel I can also find the most savings. I will definitely shop the bargains, find the free passes, take advantage of extended hours, obtain the discounts that apply, make the calls for the coupons. Where applicable, I will try to note these in my posts. If absolute bargain travel is your thing, I may not be the resource for you. But I like to think that I provide insight about good value, high quality travel.
Now it’s time for the nitty gritty details. The last post was a bird’s eye view, now we are getting down and dirty. Here’s my take on what we did, what worked and what didn’t, on our recent couples trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
We have to start with food because the food here is simply amazing. There is an abundance of fresh, local seafood offered at reasonable prices, often with the opportunity to dine al fresco. Here’s the rundown:
Frency’s Saltwater Cafe. There are a handful of Frenchy’s around the area. We dined at the location on Poinsettia Road which is just a block off the main street. There were a lot of locals eating dinner which is always a good omen. This location offers open air dining but not really outside seating. Service was really friendly and attentive. The stuffed grouper entree is not to be missed. Delicious and affordable and set just the right vibe for our trip.
2. Lulu’s Oyster Bar and Tap House. This is a classic beachside oyster bar in Indian Rocks, about 7 miles down the road from Clearwater Beach. We biked here (which is another story) but you could easily drive, too. Located just a block off the beach, offers indoor seating. The raw oysters are amazing and reasonably priced. Lightly breaded oysters were also delicious. I loved the sides here, sweet potato fries and coleslaw. Service was excellent, once again.
3. Bait House. Oh, this is a good one! Al fresco dining on the very small deck of a small restaurant located at the back of a bait shop at the end of the pier. The catch of the day platter was a definite winner. Sides of kettle chips, broccoli and coleslaw. The key lime tart was utterly amazing. Don’t miss this one!
4. Clear Sky Café. Another favorite. We ate here twice for dinner and it was great both times. Located just one block off the beach with both indoor and outdoor dining, this cafe is funky and fun. Live music at night. Extensive menu is reasonably priced. Lobster mac and cheese, blackened seafood grill and key lime pie were all amazing. Reservations would be worth it although we walked in both nights and didn’t wait for long.
5. Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. I love this place. It has an old school, supper club vibe that is somehow just perfect. It is a welcome respite from the beach themed cafes scattered all over Clearwater Beach. This is a place where the bartender knows your name, and your drink, and provides exceptional service all night. We stopped in here for drinks and appetizers and had an amazing time sitting at the bar. Oysters and crab cakes were delicious!
6. Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill. This is one of the only restaurants that is truly on the beach. There is a large verandah that provides ample outdoor seating. The food is good but not great but the views more than make up for it.
7. Bobby’s Bistro and Wine Bar. This is the more casual, younger sibling to Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. The wine list is really extensive, particularly if you want to buy by the bottle. Menu is not large and the service was slow. It was fine, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.
8. Another Broken Egg Café. I love brunch and this place delivered! New Orleans inspired cuisine in a friendly setting with indoor and sidewalk seating. Crab cake Benedict and beignets were amazing. Variety of mimosas and other drinks. Cold brew coffee was the best I had in Clearwater (why are there not better coffee options here???).
9. Sandbar Restaurant and Bar. Hands down, the best place to watch the sunset while sipping a drink and eating snacks. Don’t miss it!
10. Clearwater Oyster Company. I hate it when my last meal on vacation is a bust. It happened here. First the good. The raw oysters were delicious and there was a good variety to choose from. And that’s where it ends. Service was slow. The ambience was totally lacking. We had to watch a manager and two young employees gossip in front of our table for most of the meal. The food was mediocre. Disappointing.
Two mysteries remain to me after eating my way through Clearwater Beach. First, why do so many restaurants serve water in plastic cups???? We are on a beach! If that doesn’t inspire environmentally friendly practices, what will? Please, please choose something reusable or recyclable.
Second, WHERE IS THE GOOD COFFEE IN CLEARWATER BEACH??? I had literally one good cup of coffee here, despite searching high and low. Untenable.
Now that we’ve eaten our weight in oysters, it’s about time to contemplate a place to sit and rest while all that food digests. I really only have one recommendation here. If you can stay on the beach, do it. The views are stunning, the people watching is fabulous, and the ease with which you can pop out of your resort and hit the beach, or the shops or the restaurants makes the whole thing worthwhile. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. The location is perfection. You can literally walk anywhere in Clearwater Beach from here. We booked a king suite which had a small kitchen. I love this convenience when I travel. It allowed me to eat a healthy breakfast every day and stock reasonable snacks and drinks, saving us money and time. I also love having a separate sleeping area and this suite did not disappoint. The pool is small but the surrounding terrace is lovely with amazing afternoon sun and views. Service was good. The spa was quite nice. There were multiple issues with the fire alarms during our stay. Presumably this is not an ongoing problem.
Now that we have eaten and rested, we are on to the final topic. What to do in this lovely seaside town? In this case, the obvious answer is the best one. Go to the beach! Sit on the beach, put your toes in the sand, walk from one end to the other (my personal favorite). I made it a point to walk along the beach as often as possible. It is simply restorative.
I also enjoyed hanging out by the pool with a good book and a glass of rosé.
Shopping here is pretty minimal. There are the expected touristy shops and not much more. There is a well stocked grocery store right on the beach, about half a block from the Hyatt, for any necessities (snacks, wine, La Croix, sunscreen, etc) you might require.
Bike rental is a big deal here (like many beach towns). I had an idyllic vision of tooling around town all day on our rented beach cruiser bikes. However, we rented single speed, uncomfortable, prone to breaking down bikes which didn’t actually turn out so well. We did ride them a good 15 miles with a wicked head wind for half of that. The chains fell off six times. It wasn’t idyllic. Still, if I return, I would rent bikes again. I would just make sure it was something with multiple gears, or, even better, a hybrid bike.
Bottom line, this is a lovely little spot for a relaxing get away. The pace is slow, the food is amazing and the views are exquisite. Just plan your bike riding carefully.
Winter in the mountains of Montana can be brutal. It is, in unequal turns, cold, snowy, cloudy, grey and windy. Occasionally, the sun peeks through the clouds and the blue sky sparkles. But these days are rare, and frankly, too few for me. My husband and I learned long ago that the key to surviving winter in Montana is to leave. Some day I’ll leave for months on end but as long as we have kids in school and bills to pay, I content myself with a week (or two if possible) in a sunny, warm locale.
In the past we have gravitated towards Mexico and Hawaii, ensuring sun, warmth and general feelings of contentedness. With the kids getting older now, it has become increasingly difficult to sneak away with them like we used to so this year we set our sights on Clearwater Beach, Florida. Kind of random, I’ll admit, but I had conference there I could attend and it is ranked the number beach in America. I love a good beach so this last quality was hard for me to resist.
This was initially intended to be a family trip but forces of school, extracurricular activities, and economics conspired against us. (Another not so pleasant reality about Montana in the winter is that plane tickets to get anywhere remotely warm cost upwards of $600. Per person. Times four people. Sometimes it’s just too much.) So, much to their dismay, the girls ended up staying home with my mom while my husband and I fled from the dreary weather for five days in the Florida sun.
My husband went down a few days before me to work so I enjoyed the luxury of flying by myself. Even though my girls are exceptional travelers, there is something quite decadent about traveling solo. I literally have no one’s needs to meet except my own. This is a rare occurrence in a mother’s life and I relish every fleeting opportunity to enjoy it.
Traveling to Clearwater Beach involves flying into Tampa then driving approximately 30 minutes across the causeways to the beach. My husband collected me at the airport in the convertible he had rented (it is only possible to rent a convertible without children). After a quick stop for shopping and stocking up on food, we drove out to Clearwater Beach and settled into the hotel. We haven’t traveled as a couple in quite a few years now and I’m telling you, it is pretty easy compared to traveling with children. There is just so much less that has to be done, thought about and negotiated.
We spent our time there enjoying amazing seafood, epic sunsets, relaxing pool time and one ill fated bike ride (to be discussed in the next post). I ran every day, got lots of quality education at my conference and enjoyed an afternoon at the spa. We spent time together as a couple and we spent time apart pursuing our own interests. Our marriage has struggled recently, as marriages are apt to do, and we haven’t spent time together as a couple for a really long time. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had some trepidation about this trip. As it turns out though, we can exist outside our children. We can spend time together and it can go okay. We can even have some fun, and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. And if we have to fly across the country and find some sunshine in order to start finding ourselves again, I can make my peace with that.