Florida is long and full of great destinations—these day trips from Clearwater are a perfect example. You can spend months in the Sunshine State (hello, New Englanders!), weeks, or even scatter a few days around.
And though Florida is large, you can still get to many of the best cities in just a short drive. Especially from Clearwater—a great destination in and of itself but also the perfect base for checking out more of the state.
I visit Clearwater, Florida a handful of times each year. (The hand that’s not holding the piña colada, that is.) I used to live and work there and many of my best friends still do. I typically spend a weekend in Clearwater, then venture out to explore other sunshine-y, citrus-y cities. So now I’ve partnered up with Hotels.com to introduce you to some of my favorites.
Florida one tank trips
Florida is large, yes. In fact, it’s 832 miles from tip to tip—Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle to Key West. However, if you base yourself in a perfectly centrally-located city like Clearwater, you can take advantage of the fact that it’s only 160 miles across.
And given that the average tank of gas will last you around 500 miles, the state is your oyster! And while you’re out there, try the oysters!
All of the day trips from Clearwater mentioned in this post are available to you for less than one tank of gas. Fill up once in Clearwater and you can make it to any of these destinations and back (and everywhere you want to go in between) without having to fill up again. If you’re looking for Florida one tank trips, you’ve found them.
Where to stay in Clearwater
When visiting Clearwater, Florida, I definitely recommend staying somewhere on or near the beach. Clearwater is more than just the beach, yes, but the consistently award-winning beach is the best part.
If you think staying at the beach will be too restrictive, think again. Clearwater Beach makes a great base for all these day trips from Clearwater but is also a great destination itself. You’ve got world class beaches and resorts, endless amazing food, fun things to do, and a wide variety of activities for all kinds of travelers. Plus, peaceful Gulf of Mexico mornings and stunning sunsets.
Check out these fantastic Clearwater hotels as your base for exploring Florida.
Opal Sands Resort
The Opal Sands Resort is located on Clearwater Beach’s South Beach and boasts an “Exceptional” rating. Just look at the photos of this place (link below) – this place is gorgeous! It was voted into the Top 30 Resorts in Florida by Condé Nast readers for 2020.
Opal Sands is one of Clearwater Beach’s newer resorts (opened in 2016) and offers 230 Gulf front rooms and suites, an on-site Italian and seafood restaurant, a beachside tiki bar, and free WiFi. Check out the Opal Sands Resort here.
Also located in Clearwater Beach’s South Beach is the Edge Hotel–a place I’ve never stayed but at which I do eat and drink a lot. So yeah, they’ve got excellent food with a side of awesome rooftop views.
They have multiple oceanside pools, free breakfast buffet and free WiFi, and great reviews (many describing the friendly staff). The location is great and is within walking distance of much to do in Clearwater Beach. Check out the Edge Hotel here.
The Sandpearl Resort is one of Clearwater Beach’s most consistently popular resorts and a “Superb” rating. It’s in the perfect location for walking almost everywhere on the beach and the only time you’ll need to get behind the wheel is to take these day trips from Clearwater.
This beautiful property is located on its own private beach and offers great restaurants, free WiFi, a huge pool and lawn, and is pet friendly! When I worked on the beach, this is the resort I would hear about all the time. The hot spot indeed! Check out the Sandpearl Resort here.
Day trips from Clearwater
Whether you want outdoor adventure, death-defying thrill rides, art and history, or just a chance to wear those shoes you packed, check out these 9 delightful day trips from Clearwater.
1. Tarpon Springs
Distance from Clearwater: 13.5 miles
Drive time: 30 minutes
Tarpon Springs, Florida is one of my favorite day trips from Clearwater and the one I make most often. (#flamingcheese) It’s home to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and the largest Greek community in the United States.
At the Sponge Docks you can learn all about the history of sponge-diving (it’s more interesting than you may think I swear!), shop for sponges of all shapes, sizes, and scratchiness (I searched long and hard for a better word than scratchiness but that’s what you’re getting), and eat some truly amazing Greek food.
Start your day at the delicious Hellas Bakery, stroll the streets and shop for sponges ‘til you drop, then visit the small but weird sponge diving museum. Check out the public art installations, take an actual sponge diving boat tour, then return to Hellas for one helluva great Greek meal. (Don’t pass up the saganaki.) Opa!
2. Weeki Wachee Springs
Distance from Clearwater: 46 miles
Drive time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Another of my favorite day trips from Clearwater is to Weeki Wachee Springs for some of the best kayaking imaginable. Perfectly clear water that’s warm year-round, manatees and other dazzling wildlife, and an enchanting setting make this my very favorite place to paddle.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is in a town called Spring Hill, Florida and is known for two things: kayaking and mermaids. Yes, live mermaids.
These springs are fed by more than 117 million gallons of 74°F water (every single day) from subterranean caves. It’s said the spring is so deep the bottom has never been found. What sounds terrifying at first is actually unforgettably gorgeous.
You can bring your own or rent kayaks (or paddleboards) that come with drop-ins and pick-ups. From the drop-in site to the pick-up point you’ll spend about 3 hours floating the 6 miles down the winding Weeki Wachee River. (But anticipate spending longer if you want to swim for a bit, have a riverside picnic, try out the rope swings, and more.)
Back at the state park you can check out the famous Weeki Wachee mermaid show—a popular attraction since 1947. Real, live women in fishtails who, through the miracle of science, can breathe (and smile) underwater while performing acrobatic feats. It’s so very retro Florida.
Distance from Clearwater: 23 miles
Drive time: 30-40 minutes
Just half an hour from Clearwater is Tampa, the area’s largest city providing more than a day’s worth of stuff to see and do, but you can still narrow it down.
Tampa is a Floridian metropolis and home to professional sports teams, exciting nightlife, and entertainment a-plenty. Waiting for you in Tampa are museums, art, and culture galore; zoos, aquariums, and other wildlife sanctuaries; theme parks and outdoor adventures; historical sites, delicious eating, breweries, and so. much. more.
If you don’t know where to begin planning your day in Tampa, check out this post on some really cool tours you can take in Tampa. (Don’t miss the World War II cargo ship and the free and super interesting Manatee Viewing Center.)
Also, if spending some time in Tampa is on your list, definitely pick up a Tampa Bay CityPASS. With this booklet you’ll save 51% on admission to the attractions you’re going to visit anyway. Plus you get to skip lines and more! I always get a CityPASS when I’m in a participating city. Check out how I used my Tampa Bay CityPASS here.
4. Ybor City
Distance from Clearwater: 25 miles
Drive time: 30-40 minutes
Technically part of Tampa, but a worth a day trip of its own, is Ybor City—Tampa’s historic Cuban district.
You can spend an entire day in Ybor City alone:
- exploring the museums and other historical locations (like where the first ever Cuban sandwich was consumed)
- eating some amazing Cuban and Spanish food at places like La Segunda and Columbia
- taking a self-guided walking tour
- touring a cigar factory and watching the workers roll cigars faster than you can imagine
- hanging out with the famous (and highly protected) wild chickens of Ybor
- and even set foot on official Cuban land
…and all before the sun goes down!
To visit Ybor City is to step back in time and step over the ocean (just a little bit) into Cuba. It’s such a fun, interesting, and totally unique way to spend your day trips from Clearwater. For more on how to spend a day in Ybor City, click that link!
5. Disney World (and other theme parks)
Distance from Clearwater: 89 miles
Drive time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Can you do Disney World as a day trip? Oh hell yes you can! As someone who used to live in Clearwater, that’s absolutely a thing we would do.
Many people think you need a full week+ to enjoy Disney World. That you need meal plans and resort packages and whatever bibbidi bobbidi baloney your travel agent is trying to sell you. But that’s just not true. All you need is admission.
At just over an hour and a half each way, you can absolutely enjoy Disney World for just a day (though it will be a long one). In fact, you can even visit all 4 Disney parks in 1 day if you wish! (Wanna know more? Click that link to see exactly how I did it.)
However, most sane people will just stick to one park for the day—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or Hollywood Studios.
Additionally, there are many more Orlando-area theme parks to visit if Disney doesn’t do it for you. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are two more big ones, especially for Harry Potter lovers. There’s also Legoland, Universal’s Volcano Bay waterpark, and SeaWorld (another good time to draw attention to what you should know about wildlife tourism).
The trip to get to these parks and back is an easy one and a perfect escape if you’re all beached-out.
6. Orlando (beyond the theme parks)
Distance from Clearwater: 106 miles
Drive time: Just under 2 hours
Even if theme parks aren’t your thing, a visit to Orlando (without the theme parks) is still one of the best day trips from Clearwater. The drive is still under two hours each way and you can check out a good amount of this large city in between.
Orlando is home to some great museums (like these worthwhile World War II sites in and around Orlando), endless shopping and dining opportunities, beautiful parks and gardens, tons of craft breweries, and professional basketball.
Don’t want to visit the theme parks but still want to experience some of their magic? Check out the totally free eat-shop-play districts of Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk. There is so much fun to be had in Orlando.
7. St. Petersburg
Distance from Clearwater: 22 miles
Drive time: 30 minutes
St. Petersburg, at just a half hour from Clearwater, is often lumped together with it. “St. Pete/Clearwater” is something you see often but they are quite different. Where Clearwater is more laid back and beach-y, St. Pete is far more metropolitan.
St. Pete has a great beach, sure, but downtown St. Pete is where you want to be.
Here you’ve got great shopping options in quaint, locally-owned boutique shops. There are tons of superb restaurants (Bodega, Datz, Ceviche are some of my favorites), craft breweries, and street art galore.
St. Pete boasts great museums like the Chihuly Collection, the Dalí (the incredible Salvador Dalí museum), and the Florida Holocaust Museum. You’ve got rooftop patios to look out over marinas mixed with downtown mixed with centuries old banyan trees. And, just down the street, Major League Baseball.
Distance from Clearwater: 57 miles
Drive time: 1 hour 15 minutes
One of my favorite cities in Florida is sunny Sarasota. It’s just so… lovely. It’s beautiful year-round and, along with Clearwater Beach, offers some of the country’s best beaches. (Siesta Key Beach literally wins “#1 Beach in America” all. the. time.) Plus, it’s so easy to get to from Clearwater and you get to drive over the Sunshine Skyway!
Sarasota has museums like you won’t find anywhere else (I’m looking at you Ringling Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan, and Ringling Brothers Circus Museum). There’s also the Mote Marine Aquarium—an independent, nonprofit research facility that hosts some awesome events you can participate in.
You can do some great shopping and eating in historic St. Armand’s Square. But, one of my favorite places to eat in Sarasota is Yoder’s Amish Restaurant. I have literally taken day trips from Clearwater just to eat here.
In Sarasota you can kayak through mangroves, canopy walk above the trees, and fly from a trapeze, all in a day. For more on what to do in Sarasota, check out that link!
9. Fort Myers
Distance from Clearwater: 130 miles
Drive time: 2 hours-ish
A little ways past Sarasota is Fort Myers—a popular day trip from Clearwater for the Edison and Ford estates alone.
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates is a combination museum/the winter homes and properties of both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, BFFs ‘til the end. This place is awesome and full of incredible things to do. The museum has important history and artifacts from the lives and careers of both inventors as well as many of Ford’s original cars.
The estates are fully furnished and look brand new from the inside and out, yet are full of interesting history. The property is a large, beautiful riverfront spot with towering palms, ancient banyans, and serves as its own botanical garden. Plus, you get to go inside Thomas Edison’s laboratories and it is awesome.
While in Fort Myers you can visit wild manatees, eat and drink fresh Florida citrus, take a boat tour to a secluded island to search for the best seashells in the country, and more! Get all the details in my post on a weekend in Fort Myers.
I hope you enjoy your day trips from Clearwater!
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