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  1. Opinion

You've gone to Clearwater Beach, but you've never gone with Ernest Hooper

In his best attempt to look unpresentable, Times columnist Ernest Hooper sported this floppy beach hat. (Ernest Hooper | Times)
Published Jul. 4

For the third consecutive year, I celebrated the 4th of July at Clearwater Beach.

I'm not sure I've become an expert, but here are 15 tips if you choose to join me next year.

1. Make no effort to look presentable.

It's a holiday. Why stress over what you wear? Plus, when you see some beautiful people, you won't feel bad.

2. Hydrate.

WFLA meteorologist Leigh Spann said there would be a heat advisory, so don't chance it. Of course, it helps if you remember to bring your super-duper ,almost as good as a Yeti flask, instead of leaving it at home.

3. Arrive early.

Promise yourself you'll leave the house at 7 a.m. If you're like me, that means you'll leave the house at 8:30, arrive at 9:30 and just miss getting a spot in one of the public lots near Pier 60 on the south side. Then, you'll settle for a spot in a ritzy hotel parking garage that's some obscene price. I can't tell you the amount because I don't want to jeopardize my chances of getting a raise next year. The Clearwater Ferry, of course, is a much better option.

Where to find fireworks tonight

4. Visit the Surf Style shop.

It's like the Bass Pro Shop of beach stuff.

5. Get your steps in.

Just because it's a holiday, that doesn't mean you can't exercise. Strap on the FitBit and get after it.

6. Eat often.

What's the point of getting your steps in, if you aren't going to load up on beach food? Start with the shrimp and grits at Crabby's.

7. Admire the people who bring industrial-sized coolers on wheels.

Appreciate the fact that they pre-grilled burgers and ribs to serve to family members. Do not pick up the lone burger that falls from their cooler. Five-second rule doesn't apply at the beach.

8. Interpret the tattoos you see.

So the guy who has Gomez tattooed on his stomach: Is that because he forgot his last name?

9. Gaze at the hard bodies and realize they work too hard to look that good.

Thank someone who has a body more like yours. Don't tell them why, just ask if they want to join you in a chorus of You Are Not Alone.

10. Hop on the Jolley Trolley.

Lose the FitBit. There's a heat advisory for crying out loud. Don't even worry about where the trolley is going. It's air-conditioned.

11. Wonder why The Dove radio station, heard on the trolley, is playing super sad ballads from the '80s.

Total Eclipse Of The Heart is not an appropriate 4th of July song. Where's Party in the U.S.A. when you need it?

Life of the Party podcast: Is Party in the U.S.A. one of the best songs of the century?

12. Eat seafood.

You're at the beach. Sure, you can get chicken wings, but why when there are grouper nuggets?

13. Marvel at the folks playing beach volleyball.

While you're eating those grouper nuggets on the Frenchy's Rockaway Grill patio, wonder if those folks toiling in the sun and sand didn't hear Leigh Spann say there's a heat advisory.

14. Go deeper on the tattoos.

Maybe Gomez is the name of his stomach.

15. Leave before it rains.

Trust Leigh. She said there would be afternoon showers, and there were indeed.

That's all I'm saying.

Follow Ernest Hooper at @hoop4you. Sign up for his newsletter at tampabay.com.

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