There are the classic must-see places – Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach, John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk, Central Ave. – and then there are the lesser-known spots in St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida. What most people don’t know about this Gulf Coast destination is that it’s made up of more than 20 communities, with hidden gems nestled all throughout. It’s worth it to peel yourself out of your beach chair and seek out some of these spots off the beaten path.
Barrier Island Escapes
Both Anclote Key and Egmont Key are truly picturesque escapes. Lesser-known than Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands (although those two spots are also definitely worth a visit), Anclote Key and Egmont Key are quiet, uncrowded and undeveloped.
You’llfeel like you’re on your own deserted island on Anclote Key. The key is one of the four islands that make up Anclote Key Preserve State Park and is lauded for the beautiful water and soft-sand beaches. The other keys that make up the entire state park are: North Anclote Bar (this area is often referred to as the “dog beach” and is the only part of the island where Fido can visit and play), South Anclote Bar, and Three Rooker Island. Anclote Key is just three miles off of Tarpon Springs and can be reached by ferry (Odyssey Cruises, Private Island Charters and Spongeorama Cruise Lines all depart from the Sponge Docks) or spend the day island hopping with a private charter.
Smaller than Anclote Key but with beaches just as beautiful, Egmont Key is a quiet island located southwest of Fort De Soto Park. Today, the key is primarily a wildlife preserve, but it’s dotted with fort structures built in the late 19th century. Enjoy the beach and inland trails and keep your eyes peeled for the gopher tortoises that like to roam the island’s sandy paths and brick walkways. Egmont Key can be accessed by taking the Hubbard’s Egmont Key ferry, which launches from inside Fort De Soto Park.
Lively downtown St. Pete gets a lot of love (and for good reason, it’s packed with restaurants, murals, boutiques and hotels), but St. Pete/Clearwater is actually made up of many communities, each with their own cute, quirky and lively downtown centers. Three of our favorites are Gulfport, Dunedin and Safety Harbor.
Gulfport is weird and proud of it. The city is an artist enclave with a decidedly quirky tilt to its local art scene. Downtown is where you’ll find lime green, coral pink and coastal blue buildings packed with galleries and restaurants. Hand-painted signs proclaim business names and beach sayings. Wander around the walkable downtown area and pop in to whatever catches your eye. The Art Village Courtyard is a picturesque spot filled with (as the name implies) art galleries. Gulfport has also been a long-time haven for the LGBTQ+ community – you’ll notice pride flags proudly displayed amongst all of the other bright revelry.
Adding another layer to St. Pete/Clearwater’s diverse communities, Dunedin has a Scottish heritage that is still visible in its pubs, breweries and the Celtic Shop of Dunedin. Its location in the heart of the destination has helped it fly under the radar, but Dunedin has also grown enough to pack a potent punch of locally owned restaurants and shops. The area is known for its breweries and one of them, Caledonia Brewing, is located in the charming downtown. Continue along Main Street and pop into Casa Tina, a family-run Mexican restaurant complete with complex moles, stuffed poblano peppers and an Instagram-worthy decor. The Pinellas Trail, a walking and jogging trail that runs the length of the county, cuts right through downtown. Rent an e-bike for some extra fun on the trail and to see even more of the area.
There’s a distinct Old Florida feel that Safety Harbor captures in its moss-draped trees and brick-lined streets. Downtown Safety Harbor is a postcard-perfect area for a stroll. The Safety Harbor Resort and Spa anchors one end of the downtown area and is famous for the natural Espiritu Santo Springs bubbling underneath the property. The hotel and resort uses the water in its spa treatments and pools and even bottles it so you can take some of the springs to-go. At the other end of downtown is the most famous residence in Safety Harbor, Whimzeyland. The residents turned the house into a work of art with a kaleidoscope of recycled odds and ends. Whimzeyland is a private residence, but visitors can explore the front yard.
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There’s so much good food, you’d be forgiven for never knowing about these local landmarks. Each of these restaurants have kept a low profile, but they’re some of St. Pete/Clearwater’s longest standing dining institutions.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish is an understated spot in a tiny, shack-like building that adds to the place’s charm. Family-run for five generations, this restaurant’s smoked fish is some of the best you can get anywhere and always made fresh with the daily catch.
The Chattaway has Old Florida charm in spades. Dine on comfort food in the patio area or, for the full experience, schedule a British Tea Afternoon. Served by Lady Chattaway, the experience includes assorted sandwiches, scones with Devonshire cream, crumpets with Irish butter, petit fours, raspberries and cream and – of course – English tea. Make sure to plan ahead though, as the British Tea Afternoon must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance.
Lorene’s Fish House
For Southern comfort food, you can’t do better than Lorene’s Fish House. This locally famous spot is run by Lorene Office and her family in St. Pete’s historically Black Deuces Live neighborhood. The fried fish is famous for a reason, but really, the entire menu is worth a try. The Big Boy burger, Lorene’s fried pork chop dinner and the garlic chicken wings all come highly recommended.
Munch’s Sundries offers classic diner fare served up by wait staff who know the locals by name. Come for breakfast or lunch and find hot meatloaf sandwiches, burgers, fried green tomatoes and country fried steak dinners along with hearty breakfast options (breakfast served all day). Munch’s was even featured in an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”