Clearwater Beach & the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (USA)

Categories: Travel reports, North America, USA, Florida

From our accommodation in Indian Shores, we made a day trip to Clearwater Beach and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Clearwater Beach is certainly one of the most famous places on Florida’s Gulf Coast. You can find out whether we liked it here or not in our travel report.

Clearwater Beach header image

Things to know about Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach in Florida is a popular tourist destination on the Gulf of Mexico. It is located in Pinellas County and is part of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. The city of Clearwater, to which the beach belongs, has a population of around 117,000. Clearwater Beach has an interesting history. Originally inhabited by the Tocobaga Indians, the area was colonized by settlers in the 19th century. The beach later became known as a vacation destination and has since developed into a popular tourist destination.

The most famous attraction is undoubtedly the white sandy beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in the USA. Visitors can soak up the sun, swim in the turquoise waters or take part in water sports activities such as jet skiing or parasailing. In addition to the beach, there is also the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where you can watch dolphins and other marine life. There are also numerous restaurants, stores and entertainment options along the promenade.

Clearwater Beach Florida Aerial

Clearwater Beach in Florida

The beach in Clearwater Beach

During our visit to Clearwater Beach, we parked our car directly in the large public parking lot at Pier 60 (location in Google Maps). The parking lot is chargeable and costs 3 USD per hour. From there it is only a few meters to the beach.

Clearwater Beach has already received numerous awards. In 2019, it was named the best beach in the USA by TripAdvisor and also received international recognition. In addition to this award, Clearwater Beach was also listed as one of the top beaches in America by Dr. Beach magazine. The stunning coastal scenery, crystal clear white sand, warm turquoise waters and first-class facilities such as boardwalks, picnic areas and showers all contribute to making a stay at Clearwater Beach an unforgettable experience.

Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach

Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach stretches 365 meters into the Gulf of Mexico and offers a breathtaking view of the turquoise blue water and the beautiful beach. The pier is not only a popular place for walks and romantic sunsets, but also a center for entertainment and activities. As part of the daily “Sunset Celebration”, i.e. from the moment the sun slowly sets, you will find street artists, musicians and traders presenting their products and works of art.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium was opened on June 20, 1976. It is known for its marine animals and its dedicated work in the field of nature conservation and the rehabilitation of injured or endangered animals. The aquarium has made a name for itself through its rescue and care of dolphins, including the famous dolphin Winter, the protagonist of the movie “A Dolphin’s Tale”.

“We believe in preserving our environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life; environmental education; research; and conservation. We are a non-profit organization.”

Location, admission & opening hours

The aquarium is located at 249 Windward Passage in Clearwater and has a paid parking garage. The entrance fee for adults is 35.95 USD, children aged 3 and over pay 26.95 USD. The aquarium is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.

❖ Our tip

If you want to save a little on admission, it might be worth checking out GetYourGuide. With the Tampa Bay CityPASS®, for example, you receive a 50% discount on the top 5 attractions in the Tampa Bay area. These include the Busch Gardens theme park, the Tampa Zoo and the Florida Aquarium.

A map of the aquarium

The following map provides an overview of all 4 levels of the aquarium.

Map of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Map of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Dolphin Complex

The main attraction of the aquarium is the Dolphin Complex, which was specially developed for the rescued dolphins. Here, visitors have the opportunity to observe dolphins up close and learn more about these fascinating sea creatures. The complex has spacious pools where the dolphins live and are trained. There are also interactive programs where visitors have the chance to interact with the dolphins and take photos up close.

We have to be honest and say that we were a little disappointed with the Dolphin Complex. This is mainly due to the fact that the pools look pretty bleak. It doesn’t help much that the dolphins swim past the large pane from time to time.

Turtle Cove

Turtle Cove is the area where you can see the sea turtles. As these pools are located in the old building complex, you can see a lot of concrete and high railings. What’s more, everything looks kind of old and worn. We attended the feeding at 10.30 am and were able to observe some of the turtles.

Aquariums & Exhibitions

Unfortunately, this rather bleak picture is also confirmed in the other areas. Whether it was the otter enclosure, the aquarium with the sharks or the stingrays – nothing could really excite us. And we are passionate divers ourselves and love the underwater world! But in contrast to other aquariums, a lot of things look very bleak here. The water near the sharks, for example, was so murky that you could hardly see anything.

There are often areas with lots of space, but few animals or exhibitions. In the end, you can get through everything in 1-2 hours. However, we can recommend the Florida Aquarium in Tampa as an alternative.

But if you look at the actual purpose of the aquarium – namely the rescue and care of injured marine animals, then the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is definitely a great place and a necessary institution! The following note on the official website of the aquarium also fits in with this:

“We’re not exactly like the aquariums you may have visited in the past. We exist to rescue marine animals (dolphins, sea turtles, river otters, etc.), rehabilitate them from sickness or injury, and release them back into their natural habitats whenever possible.”

Sea Life Safari Tour & One Tree Island

During our visit to the aquarium, we also took part in a 90-minute Sea Life Safari Tour, which gives an insight into the local marine wildlife. Unfortunately, the boat tour is not included in the entrance fee and costs an extra 25.99 USD. Unfortunately, baby carriages are not permitted on the boat.

The boat tour is divided into two parts.

First, we drive under the Clearwater Bridge into Clearwater Bay. Here the boat is stopped, a net is cast out by the employees and then hauled in again after a short time. It is then scientifically documented how many and which sea creatures have become entangled in the net. In this way, the smallest changes in the bay’s habitat can be documented over time. That was definitely very interesting. During our excursion we netted some small fish and 2 larger crabs, which were then shown to everyone and released again.

The second part of the Sea Life Safari Tour took us to the small island of One Tree Island in Clearwater Bay (location in Google Maps). The island is really only a few meters long & wide and in the middle is a lone tree. That looked very special. We stopped here for 20 minutes to collect mussels and refresh ourselves in the water. We then took the boat back to the aquarium.

During the trip, the staff will tell you all sorts of interesting facts about the life of the various sea creatures in Clearwater Bay.

The Sand Key Park

On our drive back to Indian Shores, we made a short stop at Sand Key Park, which is located on the other side of Clearwater Pass. Sand Key Park is a public beach park with miles of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. In addition to sunbathing and swimming, Sand Key Park also offers numerous leisure activities such as volleyball, picnic areas and barbecue facilities.

Activities in Clearwater Beach & the Tampa Bay Area

Are you looking for a suitable activity in Clearwater Beach? Then take a look at GetYourGuide.

Is Clearwater Beach worth a visit?

In general, we were a little disappointed with Clearwater Beach and the aquarium. Of course, the beach here is just as beautiful as in the southern towns along the Gulf Coast. However, as there are a lot of large hotels here, the beach is accordingly very crowded and the prices are high in comparison. Parking alone costs 30 to 40 USD per day. The prices for the good hotels on the beach usually start at 250 EUR per night, plus a resort fee. It just wasn’t worth it for us and we found it much more relaxing a little further south in Indian Shores. But of course, if you are looking for one of the bigger and better hotels on the Gulf Coast, you will certainly find what you are looking for in Clearwater Beach.

❖ Hotel offers

Somehow we also missed a nice promenade with restaurants, cafés and small stores in Clearwater Beach. At least that’s how we had imagined it in our heads, as this is one of the tourist strongholds in the region. So we can’t quite understand the hype and prices of Clearwater Beach, even if it is ultimately a beautiful destination on the Gulf of Mexico.

All travel reports from Florida (2023)

Sun, beach, palm trees, sightseeing, beautiful hotels, pools and the world of Sea World, Walt Disney & Co... We were really looking forward to this vacation in Florida. We put together a wonderful itinerary for our almost 4-week trip through the Sunshine State, with places that we were largely unfamiliar with. In the following travel reports we tell you about our experiences in Indian Shores, Clearwater Beach, Wakulla Springs, Panama City Beach, Orlando, Winter Haven and Treasure Island.
Florida round trip west coast 2023

Our travel reports
➥ (1) Indian Shores Beach > Relaxing on Florida's Gulf Coast
➥ (1) Clearwater Beach > Clearwater Marine Aquarium & Pier 60
➥ (2) Wakulla Springs > Alligators, manatees & a boat trip through the marshlands
➥ (3) Panama City Beach > Beach, activities & food
➥ (3) Panama City Beach > Shell Island & St. Andrews State Park
➥ (4) Orlando > A full day at Discovery Cove
➥ (4) Orlando > SeaWorld Thme Park
➥ (4) Orlando > The Magic Kingdom Theme Park (Disney)
➥ (5) Winter Haven > Legoland Florida - A world of colorful bricks
➥ (5) Winter Haven > A day at the Peppa Pig Theme Park
➥ (6) Treasure Island > Relaxing under the Florida sun