Among the nearly 1200 miles of coastline in Florida are some of the most famous beaches in the world. From The Keys to South Beach and onwards to the Panhandle, Florida's most valuable natural resource is the endless miles of white sand which lines the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Despite an overabundance of popular oceanfront destinations, however, according to USA Today, the title of "Best Beach in Florida" belongs to the unassuming town of Clearwater Beach, where the Sandpearl Resort presides as queen.
The drive into Clearwater Beach is just as unpretentious as the city itself. There are no billboards for Rolex or nightclubs touting their VIP bottle service and upcoming visit from Pauly D. The big name luxury hotel brands haven't set up shop on every corner - yet - and your search for an outpost from Emeril or Bobby Flay will leave you empty handed. Instead, what we found was one of the few remaining beachfront towns with their classic Florida feel still relatively intact. Perhaps the folks at USA Today were on to something...
While Clearwater may not get the press of Florida's trendy beachfront enclaves, the Sandpearl has received more than her fair share of accolades since opening in 2007. Nearly every "Best Hotels" list that has been printed since then has ranked the Sandpearl as one of the top resorts in Florida and beyond. So needless to say, the invitation to visit this award-winning resort on Florida's best beach inspired a few of my famous moves like Jagger.
|The lobby. Chess, anyone?|
Stepping inside the Sandpearl, it was clear that, under normal circumstances, everything I needed was close at hand. A spacious lobby with an endless supply of places to flop, a coffee house, a million dollar view, and a cocktail lounge are typically enough to keep me happy for days. But despite my undying passion for hotel lobbies, on this day the real attraction was outside.
|Yes, this will do.|
Although I've made no effort to hide my general disdain for the beach, hotel pools, especially those with an abundance of shade, are an entirely different story. Usually I'm forced to wake up at 7am in order to claim the lone chair under a palm tree, and then spend the entire day adjusting its position with the movement of the sun. Not so at the Sandpearl, where to my utter delight nearly every lounger was equipped with a miniature canopy. This made for a stress free afternoon of reading in the shade, along with a refreshing Mai Tai or four.
|Few things are better than a beachfront bar.|
In my experience, the pools at luxury hotels tend to fall into one of two extremes. Sometimes they are a quiet and tranquil setting, where splashing is prohibited and conversations barely rise over that of a whisper, so as to not disturb the surrounding guests with their Danielle Steele novels. Other times they are a party of sorts, with an abundance of people so beautiful that even Cristiano Ronaldo would feel intimidated. The Sandpearl, I was happy to discover, was neither. While no one could accuse the resort of being anything but a luxury experience, their pool was downright comfortable. The wannabe Real Housewives and South Beach set mixed right in with the kids playing Marco Polo and the kids at heart - read: me - that really wanted to join in the game.
|Totally empty. Just the way I like it.|
Of course, not even I could visit the best hotel in Florida's best beach without setting foot on the white sand. The Sandpearl took care of my need for shade here too, with an abundance of loungers, umbrellas, and even a few beach tents in place to block my absorption of vitamin D. Still, our visit to the beach was a short one, because during the summer the Gulf of Mexico is about as refreshing as a cup of hot chocolate in the Sahara.
|Right before I did a snow angel...|
After a full day of sun and various rum infused beverages, we headed upstairs for, well, more of the same. Besides the spacious room and incredibly appointed bath - complete with walk-in shower and jacuzzi tub - the biggest draw for yours truly was naturally the view. The corner location gave us a perfect vantage point of both the pool and the Gulf, allowing us to soak up the final rays from one of Clearwater's famous sunsets.
|The best thing about the Gulf coast of Florida.|
In addition to the pool, beach, and amazing room, another highlight from the Sandpearl was the beer tasting dinner put on by Shipyard brewery. I've always believed that beer was best paired with pizza, nachos, and various tubular meats, but the staff at Shipyard proved that it can be just as versatile as wine. Of course, it was hard keeping focus on the beer when the chef at Caretta on the Gulf kept presenting dishes like smoked duck, oysters Rockefeller, and buffalo strip loin.
|I don't recall what this was exactly, but it was tasty. |
You can't blame me, count the glasses.
In a way, the beer tasting dinner was the perfect metaphor for the resort as a whole. At the Sandpearl, it's ok to splash in the pool, run on the beach, and yes, serve beer with gourmet food. The Sandpearl proves every day that all of those things can, and do, work together, while still providing a luxury hotel experience that ranks among the best in Florida. It's no surprise really, because I believe that deep down everyone wants to play Marco Polo.
Special thanks to the Sandpearl Resort for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. All pontifications and slanderous statements regarding the beach are entirely my own.