If you follow our Instagram feed, you know that Andy and I love Google flights. Google flights is great because you can type in your departure and arrival cities and it will tell you how much each airline is charging for the specific dates you want to fly. There is also this great map feature that shows surrounding cities and the cheapest flight into each city. We use it quite often.
A couple months ago, our July weekends were wide open, so we decided to plug in destinations into Google flights and see where we could get a cheap weekend getaway. It was between Boston, MA and Tampa, FL – both round trip flights were incredibly affordable! I went to Boston on a family road trip when I was in high school and Andy has been to Tampa for soccer tournaments when he was younger. We find that between the both of us, we have visited over 50% of the United States, but only 12 states together! We both love warm weather, the sun and the ocean, so we opted for Florida – another state we could check off of our list together 🙂
Clearwater Beach is a suburb of Tampa – it lies on the Gulf of Mexico. We flew into Tampa International Airport and drove 40 minutes west to get to Clearwater Beach.
We found the perfect spot for ultimate relaxation. We stayed at the Sheraton Sand Keys Resort, which is located on the Sand Key island south of Clearwater Beach. Andy is a Gold Preferred Guest of the Starwood (SPG) loyalty program, which the Sheraton Sand Keys Resort participates in, so he got 3 Starpoints for every dollar we spent on the room and the beach bar!
From the outside, the resort looks like a perfect beach getaway, but I will say – the inside was a bit outdated. The lobby, the inside bar and even the rooms felt like they were out of the early 90’s. With that said, everything was very clean and fresh, so I guess that’s what counts – just don’t expect this place to be fancy. Plus, there weren’t any parking fees, which was hard to find in this area.
The best perk of staying here was the AMAZING ocean side beach access! The hotel had their own section of the Sand Key beach. We rented a cabana for only $25 for the entire day that included two comfy beach loungers and an umbrella (it is a good thing we had that umbrella too – the sun was VERY hot!). We woke up on Saturday, had some room service breakfast and were out to the beach by 10am.
We really had an uneventful day, which is just what we were hoping for – a relaxing day on the ocean was just what we needed. It was so incredibly hot, but we were anticipating this, I mean its Florida in July. Anytime we got too warm, we dipped in the ocean for a bit. It was perfect 🙂
Have you ever heard of Yuengling beer? If you live in Chicago, it’s not a beer that you can get in our area. Apparently it’s America’s oldest beer.
One of Yuengling’s breweries is in Tampa, FL so our hotel pool bar (The Turtle Bar) had it on tap. I have to say, it was pretty good! I can’t really compare it to anything, but it reminded me of a lighter tasting version of New Castle beer (which is one of my favorites!).
NTGR Tip: Pack a cooler of water, beer and snacks instead of getting it from the hotel pool bar (a lot of people had big coolers filled with drinks and snacks). It is a much more affordable option. Since it was our first time here, we didn’t know that’s something we could do, so learn from our experience!
After our relaxing day at the beach, we went to a place called Crabby’s in Clearwater Beach for dinner. It was only a 5-10 minute drive north from Sand Key. We were looking forward to having some fresh seafood, since we were in Florida. We both got the mahi-mahi fish tacos, while the fish itself was delicious the tacos were not great. I wouldn’t recommend this place, or even this area to go out to dinner.
Once we drove about 10 minutes north of the Sand Key area, the overall feel completely changed – it was a very grungy feel. Talking to some people after the fact, we probably should have head south towards St. Pete’s – I hear its a great area for night life or even head further north about 20 minutes from Sand Key, it seemed a lot more upscale.
On Sunday, we got up, checked out of our hotel and headed to Maggie Mae’s for brunch. It had pretty good reviews on Yelp and it was only a 5 minute drive from our hotel so we decided to check it out.
We slept in on Sunday so we got there later than we usually would when traveling, maybe 11:15am, and there was a huge line of people waiting. We thought, well – the food must be good! So we put our name in and waited for about 30 minutes for a table (which isn’t terrible!). I am glad we waited, the food was delicious and our waitress, Kelly, was so nice and accommodating – true southern hospitality. By the time we got in, sat down and ate, we were both STARVING – so sorry, no pictures of food 🙂
I got eggs benedict and Andy got eggs & bacon with biscuits and gravy – everything we had was SO GOOD! Their signature item is hillbilly taters, which are fried potatoes with the creamy sausage gravy on top. I actually ordered my potatoes regular (just fried – without gravy) but Kelly brought my plate out and said “You didn’t order with gravy did you honey? Do you want me to get regular potatoes?” She was so nice and so incredibly busy, so I just kept my hillbilly taters 🙂 Even though I didn’t need the extra gravy, I am glad I tried them, boy were they good!! You can check out Maggie Mae’s Yelp page to see their food here.
After Maggie Mae’s we wanted to sit by the ocean and just relax (again). Our flight wasn’t until evening so we had plenty of time. We found this great place called Beach Bar in Tampa. It worked out well because it was only a 5 minute drive to the airport from here, so we had plenty of time to chill 🙂
We both really liked this place! We sat at their outside bar, which was right on the ocean. They had live music on a Sunday afternoon and it was perfect beach music – lots of Bob Marley and steel pan drum music. We tried sitting out in the sun and lasted about 5 minutes – the temp was 98 degrees and it was super humid so I am sure it felt like it was in the 100’s. If we could have gone swimming it would have been okay to sit in the sun, but that wasn’t the case. Sitting in the shade made a big difference and we still had a great ocean view.
Neither of us gravitate toward tequila, but because it was so hot, a margarita sounded so refreshing! I ordered the margs and the bartender asked if I wanted a topper on them… I had never heard of this before so I asked her what a ‘topper’ was. Apparently they put a rim of Grand Marnier (which is orange liqueur) on top of the blended margaritas. I am so glad I agreed – it was delicious! I don’t know if this is a Florida thing or a margarita thing, but I have never seen this before. Its definitely a must try 🙂
We had a couple drinks and headed to the airport. This trip was very unique in that we didn’t visit ANY airport lounges for this trip – this is a rarity for us! We almost always spend time in a lounge when flying, it just didn’t work out this time. So instead of spending our time in a lounge, we sat at a restaurant called Ducky’s. Its actually a restaurant in Tampa, they have a mini version in the airport. It ended up being cheaper than buying $50 passes (per person) to the United Club anyway. They had nice red wine pours and good snacks, we got a plate of homemade hummus and pitas – our go to appetizer right now.
Overall – would we go back to Clearwater Beach? The answer is YES! Our day at the beach on Saturday was so relaxing and perfect. We would be better prepared with a cooler during the day and to drive a little further for dinner next time but I think travel is all of what you make of it.