Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Clearwater, Florida, a destination where the sun never fades

However fed up you might become with the English weather, it helps you learn to really cherish those sunny moments. Right? If you're not quite convinced, perhaps you'll be comforted by Clearwater. Half way down Florida's west coast, looking out across the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater is totally reliable when it comes to sunshine. Its beach culture is well-known and truly relaxing, and blessed by temperatures that hover round 30°C throughout its long summer. What's more, you'll be within easy reach of Florida's famous attractions, with the Everglades to the south, and Orlando only 50 miles along the highway.

Clearwater has a true beach culture, with plenty of accolades to recommend it. There are beach communities here to welcome everyone. Clearwater Beach - one of several in the area - is one of Fodor's "top family beaches in America". It's one of the Orlando Sentinel's top five singles beaches in Florida, too.

The clean, white sand stretches for miles, so it's easy to find your own patch. There's a trolley-car route connecting almost all the beaches. It's a lovely way to get your bearings and see what's on offer when you first arrive, and perfect for jaunting up and down the shoreline once you've settled in.

Florida is a brilliant destination for family holidays. Driving here is so easy. Streets are well sign-posted, the grid layout makes navigation a cinch, and car hire in America is cheap and available everywhere. You could hire in Clearwater, drive to the Disney Resort and drop the car off there without any problem whatsoever. The kids'll be over the moon at being somewhere sunny, let alone being anywhere near Disney. You'll love the uncongested highways, and the simplicity of just stuffing everything into the boot and heading off.

Back in Clearwater, head to "Sunset at Pier 60", a free daily festival featuring street performers, artisans and musicians. It starts two hours before sunset and carries on for four hours. It's a lovely way to support the locals, and good for picking up uniquely Clearwater souvenirs. There's a Marine Aquarium on Pier 60, too, which rehabilitates and releases local marine animals. It offers daily dolphin shows, shark, stingray and turtle displays, and "Otter Land", plus the chance to tickle a fish and maybe hold a crab - if you dare! You can even book a 30 minute dolphin encounter, but be prepared to get wet.

On land, there's an excellent selection of zoos, theme parks and museums. Most things are moderately priced. If you're on a budget, don't let that rule out the chance to spend a fantastic couple of weeks in the sun. Save money on the big stuff, like flights and hotels - after all, that's where you'll spend least of your time - and take full advantage of the freebies, like the Pier 60 party. It's usually easy to find low cost flights if you book in advance and can be flexible with dates.