Clearwater's downtown is known as Scientology headquarters so who knows, you may get lucky and spot a star. But there are many other reasons to cross the bay, including America's best beach, sunset festivals, pirates and Winter, the famous tail-less dolphin. Here are seven things that make the drive to North Pinellas worth it:
Ride the ferry to Caladesi Island State Park: This pristine isle off the coast of Dunedin may be one of Pinellas County's best-kept secrets, but not for long. Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal researcher, rated it America's top beach in 2008. Getting to this uninhabited island is half the fun as you cruise along crystal blue waters and take in breathtaking views. Once there, you can swim, fish, shell or take the self-guided nature trail through the island's interior. Eat at the snack bar and freshen up in the bath houses. The ferry service to Caladesi leaves from Honeymoon Island hourly beginning at 10 a.m. To reserve a seat, call the ferry service at (727) 734-1501. Also try: Sail Honeymoon on the Dunedin Causeway rents trimarans and kayaks and you can sail or paddle over to Caladesi. (727) 734-0392
The Pet Beach at Honeymoon Island State Park: Got dogs? Bring them to the south side of Honeymoon Island for a dog's day at the beach. There's plenty of white sand to run in, shallow water to swim in, and seagulls to bark at. Your furry friends are required to be on a 6-foot, hand-held leash and you are duty-bound to pick up after your pooch, so pack some baggies along with a toss toy, bottled water, a drinking dish and some towels — they'll come in handy after the doggie shower. Keep your dogs on the main trail when walking from the parking lot to the beach as there are rattlers on this island. See also: Nature trails also beckon adventurers. Honeymoon Island is located at the end of the Dunedin Causeway. (727) 469-5942.
Captain Memo's Pirate Ship: "Arrr!" you ready for some swashbuckling fun? Then it's anchors away as a band of playful pirates and wayward wenches take you captive aboard the Pirates Ransom, a 70-foot-long ship that looks like an old Spanish galleon. During your two-hour voyage along Clearwater Beach and into the Gulf of Mexico, you may find yourself walking the plank, in the midst of a water pistol fight, or doing the chicken dance. Or you can sit atop the poop deck and look for dolphins (or sharks!) while you enjoy your complimentary wine or beer. The cruise leaves from the Clearwater Municipal Marina on Clearwater Beach. (727) 446-2587. See also: One of the four Frenchy's seafood restaurants on Clearwater Beach for casual, Margaritaville-style fun.
Safety Harbor Resort and Spa: Spend an entire day lounging in a spa robe and sipping lemon water at this mineral springs resort overlooking Tampa Bay. Select from full and half day spa packages that include caviar facials, champagne, Swedish massages, herbal wraps and mineral baths. Use the steam rooms, sauna and whirlpools, or take a fitness class. Lunch in the dining room or at the pool tiki bar. (727) 726-1161. The spa is nestled in charming downtown Safety Harbor, so allow a little extra time for a walking tour.
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks: This Greek community located on the Gulf of Mexico offers sightseeing cruises, bakeries, gift shops and oodles of natural sponges for sale. Come hungry as there are plenty of restaurants offering up polysyllabic Greek dishes like pastitsio (Greek lasagna), moussaka (an eggplant dish), spanakopita (spinach pie), and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). Finish off with a honey-laden pastry, a glass of ouzo and a belly dancing show. You'll be yelling Opa! before the night is over. See also: Take the Tarpon Springs Trolley tour, which connects the sponge docks with the historic downtown.
The Sunsets at Pier 60 festival: This free, nightly celebration at Pier 60 Park on Clearwater Beach takes place two hours before and after sunset (approximately 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. ) weather permitting. Look for artisans, crafters and a variety of street performers such as magicians, balloon artists, fire eaters, stilt walkers, break dancers and performing dogs. Live musical entertainment is scheduled for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Super Bowl. See also: Winter, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who was rescued from a crab trap's rope and fitted with a prosthetic tail. She now lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, 249 Windward Passage, off the Memorial Causeway. Consider the aquarium's two-hour eco-tour along the Intercoastal Waterway as well. (727) 441-1790
Ice skate at Westfield Countryside Mall: You may not think of Florida as an ice-skater's paradise, but there are several cool rinks in the Tampa Bay area. One of them is the Tampa Bay Skating Academy's rink in the center of Westfield Countryside Mall, 27001 US Hwy. 19 N., Clearwater. The rink offers public skate sessions and skate rentals, all at a very pleasant temperature. (727) 723-7785. When you're through skating, check out the 160-plus stores, including Macy's, JCPenney, Sears and Dillard's. See also: Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, (813) 854-4010. Clearwater Ice Arena in the Icot Center, (727) 536-5843.
Terri Bryce Reeves, Times correspondent