Your Guide to Clearwater
Wow, it’s been 82 days since my last Zo Zone post. What the hell have I been doing? Mostly, I’ve been writing for MLB.com. Of course, I’ve always been writing for MLB.com, but over the past year I found myself staring at my computer screen more and more and muttering to myself, “How can I find a different way to write about Sean O’Sullivan making a spot start?”
In other words, too much of the blog duplicated what I wrote for MLB.com.
So I will be blogging less than I have in the past, but I hope when I blog it will be something different.
I’m back today because I got an email yesterday from a reader looking for recommendations for their upcoming trip to Clearwater. Here’s what I’ve got:
Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels near Bright House Field, but if you’re leaving the cold for Florida then why stay anywhere except near the beach? This accomplishes two things. First, you’re staying near the beach. Second, you’re not dreading the sometimes stop-and-go drive to the beach. Clearwater is notorious for terrible traffic, and that traffic is never as bad as it is on the weekends. Save yourself the hassle of getting to the beach by waking up there.
What to do other than watch baseball: I haven’t tried everything in Clearwater because — believe it or not — I’m mostly working. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a popular destination, but I can’t understand why. There is almost nothing there compared to other aquariums and poor Winter the Dolphin is in the saddest, smallest tank I’ve ever seen. Kids might get a kick out of it, but after visiting once it’s not a place I’d visit again. The Clearwater area has plenty of golf courses. If you’ve got money to spend, Innisbrook (where they host the Valspar Championship) is right up the road. But there are other less expensive alternatives. Dunedin Golf Club is a Donald Ross (Pinehurt No. 2, Aronimink, Gulph Mills, etc.) designed course. There is Belleview Biltmore, The Eagle courses and more. Played anywhere around here that you like? Let us know.
Where to eat: The food scene won’t rival Philly, but there are good places to go.
Here is Trip Advisor’s list for Best Restaurants in Clearwater. Here’s the Yelp! list. Don’t rely too much on them, but I mention them because they’re good to reference. I mean, Trip Advisor reviewers gave Carrabba’s its Certificate of Excellence Award and ranked Perkins 65th out of 510 restaurants. Say what?!?! It reminds me of the Onion article that said Olive Garden has been voted the best Italian restaurant in Milwaukee.
- Island Way Grill. It might be the trendiest place near the beach. Good seafood and sushi. Good atmosphere. It seems to be the place every Phillies front office regular visits at least once before they head north. The folks who run Island Way also run Salt Rock Grill (Indian Rocks Beach), Rumba (near the ballpark) and the Marlin Darlin (Belleair Bluffs). They also are worth checking out.
- Frenchy’s. There are four locations near or on the bench. If you want to find crusty sportswriters, head to Frenchy’s Original. Frenchy’s Rockaway is on the beach and typically has live music. Get a grouper sandwich, whichever restaurant you choose.
- Columbia. It’s on Sand Key in a strip mall (fun fact: 95 percent of everything in Florida is in strip malls), but it has very good Cuban and Spanish food.
- Villa Gallace (Indian Rocks Beach). If you’re looking for the best Italian food near the beach this is it. Some folks like Cesare near Clearwater Beach (Cliff Lee supposedly ate there occasionally). I’ve been there twice, but I found the service to be absolutely dreadful. You won’t have that problem at Villa Gallace.
- Aloha To Go (Indian Shores). This is about a 20-minute drive from Clearwater Beach –it’s past Villa Gallace — but I think it’s worth it. It’s a small place with just a few tables, but the Hawaiian food is very good. It’s relatively cheap, too. I discovered this place this spring and I’ve been back several times.
- Haze Ice Cream (Indian Shores). Just a short drive from Aloha To Go, this joint serves fantastic homemade ice cream. Again it’s in Indian Shores, so it’s about a 20-minute drive from Clearwater Beach, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the craziness there. And this ice cream is worth it.
- Guppy’s (Indian Rocks Beach). Good seafood. But get a reservation because the place is always packed and the wait is borderline ridiculous.
- Clear Sky. It’s a breakfast spot near the beach. Good food and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. I saw Hulk Hogan there once. He wasn’t happy when a lady approached him and asked for a picture with her daughter.
- Lenny’s. It’s one of those places everybody seems to visit while they’re here. It’s got a following for a reason, but it’s no Honey’s or Green Eggs.
- Cafe de Paris (Indian Rocks Beach). It’s a little cafe that has French pastries, crepes, quiches and coffee. If you’re not in the mood to wait in long lines to eat breakfast at Lenny’s, Clear Sky or Maggie Mae’s and you’re on the beach it is worth the drive.
- Palm Pavilion is right next door to Frenchy’s Rockaway. It’s a popular spot on the weekends, but personally I’m no fan of the food, especially compared to Frenchy’s.
- Cristino’s. It’s located before the causeway to the beach. Numerous sportswriters have been there and they like the pizza. Full disclosure: I have never been, but I’m mentioning it anyway because it’s No. 1 on the Trip Advisor list.
- Smokin’ Rib Shack BBQ. This place is in Largo. Good, cheap BBQ served in styrofoam containers.
- Kiku. It’s a sushi joint located upstairs from the Brown Boxer on Clearwater Beach and just around the corner of Frenchy’s Original. The sushi is good, but the service has been a nightmare in the past. That said, I haven’t been there this year, so perhaps the service has improved.
- Ken Sushi and Asian Bistro. I found this spot on Gulf to Bay somewhat close to the ballpark. Really good, well-priced sushi.
- Keegan’s (Indian Rocks Beach). Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which is either an endorsement or a reason to stay away, if you’re not a fan of Guy Frieri. Personally, I like it. I think the food is comparable to Guppy’s and I’ve found little to no wait.
- Beachcomber. This place is popular with seniors. If you’re looking for a fun, relaxed place to have dinner this is not it.
- The Brown Boxer. A good place to get a drink and watch March Madness, but please eat elsewhere.
- Pete & Shorty’s. Very cheap bar food. Located relatively near the ballpark. One grizzled sportswriter absolutely loves this place, crushing sliders like he has a week to live.
- Hooter’s. I guess there are people who would go here because it’s the original? Located next to Pete & Shorty’s.
There are some good very spots in Dunedin, particularly on Main Street. Check out that area if you’re looking to get out of Clearwater for a night.
What do you recommend? Need any tips about anything else for your trip here? Let me know.