Florida maintains a perpetual presence in best-beach lists year after year, and it's not uncommon for Pinellas beaches to end up right at the top. You've been — are you surprised?
This year, TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Award for best beach in the nation went to Clearwater Beach. Aside from its "year-round" appeal, one of the reasons Clearwater Beach snagged the top spot is because it's both highly active and diverse, providing a wide range of activities and environments along mild, white-sand beaches.
With that in mind, I'm going to spend the next three weeks covering Clearwater Beach drinking spots, with each installment focusing on a different way to experience the No. 1 beach in the country.
Let's say you're a tourist who heard about the award and wants to go all-out, expenses be damned. Or you're a local who wants to splurge on a staycation. You might end up at the same spot that most visitors to the beach see first upon arriving at Mandalay Avenue: Hilton Clearwater Beach.
Like most beach resorts, Hilton Clearwater Beach has a few different drinking options. There's the Carambola Restaurant, which features balcony views of the beach and an extensive wine selection. There's the Sand Bar & Grill, where you can sip tropical cocktails poolside.
And then there's Coasters Lounge, a laid-back cocktail bar near the hotel lobby. You know the kind of place: It's where you meet your friends who are taking too long to get ready upstairs, or where you power through a hangover wearing your darkest sunglasses on the second day of vacation.
Picture windows provide generous natural light in the daytime, along with views of the pool and beach. Inside, boxy wicker lounge chairs with warm-toned cushions sit atop a floor of off-white rectangular tile.
The cocktail menu is broken into three categories: Bold, Classic and Light & Fruity. There are some standouts in each category, although I'm slightly confused about the fact that the Kentucky Sidecar is made with Courvoisier — that's a traditional sidecar (the Kentucky should be made with bourbon).
All the favorites are there, too, each focusing on a different brand of spirit: an old-fashioned with Maker's, Manhattan with Woodford Reserve, a margarita with Avión, punch with Pyrat XO, a Tom Collins with Bombay Sapphire, a vodkatini with Double Cross and so on.
Of course, you've got to head out to the beach, and that's where Tommy's Tiki Bar comes in. It's nothing elaborate, just a shaded, ceiling-fan cooled tiki bar on the beach just below Coasters Lounge. The cool thing is that it's not just on the beach — it's on the sand, as in, take your shoes off and get the sand between your toes. That's as Clearwater Beach as it gets.
You can sit around the rectangular tiki bar, or kick back in umbrella-shaded lounge areas with Adirondack chairs. In the background is the famous Pier 60.
Troical cocktails include piña coladas, margaritas, daiquiris, hard lemonades and the rest. For margaritas, you can choose a classic version — the Gold Medal 'Rita — or you can select from Backyard Margs: strawberry, raspberry or passionfruit purées; frozen or on the rocks; salt or no salt. Add peach to the list of flavors for daiquiris.
Of course, there's more to Clearwater Beach than what's offered at a busy resort on one of the most heavily trafficked areas in town, but Coasters and Tommy's offer great views of the best beach in America, with quality drinks to match. Hilton Clearwater Beach is quite a nice first stop.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG