While it doesn’t come with the pomp and ceremony of the Academy Awards or Super Bowl, Dr. Stephen Leatherman’s annual list of the Top 10 beaches in the United States is, to many travelers, just as important. For 20 years the man known as Dr. Beach has used his meticulous process and scientific method to choose the 10 best beaches in America, and the people who live, work and play on these beaches consider it the ultimate honor.
Dr. Beach’s 2020 list has yet to be unveiled, but we’re in no rush because we haven’t stopped appreciating his 2019 picks just yet. In fact, we recently spent some time at last year’s seventh-best beach, Caladesi Island State Park, which was previously honored four other times by Dr. Beach, including in 2008, when he crowned it the best beach in the country.
But our trip to this legendary beach begins roughly 2.6 miles south of the park, at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach.
The Value of a View
When it comes to choosing a resort on any of Florida’s beaches, what you see should be what you get. No one wants to check in to a room and spend the weekend (or week) staring at the neighboring hotel’s parking lot, but that’s an unfortunate reality on some of Florida’s most popular beaches. That’s hardly the case at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, though.
Here, the views are available in almost every part of the resort, beginning in the rooms, which benefit from a prime location. Look to the east and you’ll find Clearwater Bay. To the south, Clearwater Beach. Look north and you’ll see the iconic Pier 60 and surrounding park. And, of course, there’s plenty of ocean to the west.
Those views aren’t limited to the room, however, as guests will find them at the pool, in the spa and even the gym. Naturally, the on-site restaurant, Ocean Hai, also uses the regional beauty as a picture-perfect backdrop.
What makes Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach ideal for all types of guests, from hopeless romantics to nature-lovers, is the variety of rooms. The Deluxe and Grand Deluxe rooms offer space and amenities for couples or small families, and larger suites are also available for bigger families or generally anyone requiring a little more space to be comfortable and content on vacation.
Families will especially be drawn not only to the resort’s creativity in design, but also the creativity in promoting regional events as supplemental activities, or even as unexpected centerpieces for the entire vacation. After all, the best aspects of Clearwater Beach are all within walking distance of this resort, so whether it’s meeting the local marine life at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, taking sunset photos on Pier 60 or catching a ride on the Pirate’s Ransom for Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, there is always something happening.
For example, families with young children can maximize space and comfort by booking a Winter & Friends bunk room (featuring a bunk bed), which showcases artwork and decorations dedicated to the legendary Winter the Dolphin. The resort then nudges guests toward an event like the Sugar Sand Festival, which runs from April 10-26 and showcases local artisans and crafters, in addition to a must-see master sand-sculpting competition. Kids will also love taking sand-sculpting classes and watching street performers, not to mention fireworks shows.
Hail to the Chief
What really caught our attention was the Presidential Suite. Florida might be synonymous with the classic family vacation, but the Sunshine State still offers plenty of places for adult groups looking to unwind, let loose, or even responsibly relive their days of debauchery, even if most of us can’t even make it past 11 p.m. anymore. And the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach’s Presidential Suite checks off all the boxes for any group looking for the right home base for a bachelor or bachelorette party, adult or alternative spring break, or birthday celebrations.
This sprawling suite is defined by three spacious bedrooms and two huge living areas, and it also includes a full kitchen. I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it would be to come here with my girlfriends. The balcony was my favorite part, and I could totally picture spending the night out there taking in the views over drinks with some friends. But this suite would also be ideal for multi-generational families, too. There is plenty of space to ensure no one is in each other’s way, but still spending time together before heading out on a margarita cruise or the delightfully named Gulp Coast beer trail.
Again, the resort is always thinking outside the box when it comes to added fun. With MLB’s Spring Training in full swing (pun very much intended), Philadelphia Phillies fans can combine a beach getaway with America’s pastime by booking (through March 23) the Ultimate Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training Experience. This includes the resort’s Gulf Front accommodations, up to four tickets to a Phillies Spring Training game and a baseball-themed welcome party with a sampling of local beers. It’s the perfect atmosphere for debating amongst friends whether or not Bryce Harper’s contract was worth it.
The Kitchen Sink
The mark of a great resort is its ability to make you want to stay in one place despite all that surrounds you. From delicious food to relaxing spa treatments, Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach exceeds expectations by covering the basics and then combining them with unexpected bonuses.
Guests can easily head off-property to restaurants like the legendary Frenchy’s or the Columbia Restaurant, where guests visit time and time again for the signature mojito and Shrimp Salteado. But they’d be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t grab dinner at Ocean Hai. I had heard from quite a few people that I had to try the Crazy Rich Asian roll, and it did not disappoint—king crab, wagyu beef and the perfect amount of crunch. Paired with the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Kung Pao Calamari, this was by far my favorite meal of a trip that also included the amazing grouper del sol and coca menta margarita at Marina Cantina, and the Baja fish tacos at Dock’s Poolside Bar & Grill.
The spa, Pallavi, was incredible to say the least. Upon arrival, I was offered some enhancements to my Deep Tissue Massage, so I added a Hot Stone Back Melt (which I’d never had before) and a Collagen Eye Gel Treatment, which worked wonders. After my treatment, I took a little snooze in the relaxation room and then headed to the steam room. Needless to say, I could’ve easily stayed there all day.
About That Beach
There’s a pretty good reason people refer to Caladesi Island State Park as Honeymoon Island. This incredible beach is super secluded and quiet—truly ideal for couples in search of romantic views, hence the nickname. The ferry ride lasts 15 minutes (there are other ways to get there, although they require a more adventurous side) and it won’t take a chunk out of your trip budget.
But with seclusion comes a lack of frills. There isn’t a restaurant or bar on this island, so if hunger sets in, you’ll have to settle for hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as beer and sodas. And if you’re seeking more comfort than your beach towel, chairs and umbrellas are for rent.
Bells and whistles they certainly aren’t, but the basics are what makes this beach so special. The amenities, on the other hand, are what will keep you returning to Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach day after day, year after year.