The Gulf coast Florida gems, with stunning beaches, affordable luxury hotels, laid-back vibes and no theme parks

When you think of a trip to Florida, you probably picture Orlando with Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios.

But the truth is, Florida has so much more to offer than Orlando or Miami.

Clearwater Beach on Florida's west coast is often cited as one of the best beaches in the United States for its white sandy beaches and warm waters.


Clearwater Beach on Florida’s west coast is often cited as one of the best beaches in the United States for its white sandy beaches and warm waters.Photo credit: Getty
Clearwater Beach, Fla


Clearwater Beach, FlaPhoto credit: Getty
Rooms at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach offered incredible ocean views.


Rooms at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach offered incredible ocean views.

St Pete and Clearwater — just over 100 miles west of the home of Mickey Mouse — is Florida at its finest.

Stunning beaches, great hotels, fantastic food and so much to see and do that you will want to come back to again and again.

We lived in The Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, As the name suggests, right on the pristine white sands of the gorgeous beach that stretches for miles.

Spacious sea view rooms were just right for the long flight.

Tired and hungry from the journey, we were delighted to discover the hotel’s Ocean Hai restaurant, serving Asian fusion cuisine while the sun was setting over the sea.

If we needed a reminder that we had traveled to a beautiful place, this was it. Great food meets great views

I can’t say I’m usually a beach guy, but Clearwater and St. Pete have great offerings, with pristine sand and warm water to swim in.

Kayaking was on the agenda for our first full day in Clearwater, and we headed north to the island of Caladesi, just past Dunedin – which means Edinburgh in Gaelic and was a welcome reminder of Scotland in the Sunshine State.

Kayaking was perfect for cooling off in the glorious sunshine.


Kayaking was perfect for cooling off in the glorious sunshine.
Caladesi Island, Florida


Caladesi Island, FloridaPhoto credit: Getty

We used to be told that the island was bigger until 1921 when a hurricane swept across the island and cut through the land.

By creating a second island and by a twist of fate, the hurricane offered couples the opportunity to enjoy a romantic getaway.

Named Honeymoon Island, it was marketed as a haven for newlyweds in the early 1940s.



GETTING THERE: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer direct flights between London and Tampa International Airport, which is just 30 minutes’ drive from St. Pete/Clearwater. See And
STAY THERE: Rooms at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach are available from £240 per night based on double occupancy. See Rooms at the Don CeSar from £305 per night, two people sharing. See Many tour operators, including TUI, Virgin Holidays and Barrhead Travel, offer package deals that include flights.
MORE INFORMATION: For more information on St. Pete/Clearwater, visit

After exhausting ourselves paddling, we headed back for lunch at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, which was packed with locals — a sure sign of its popularity in the area — and after fueling up on delicious seafood, we were all set clear why.

We then made our way to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where they help rehabilitate a number of animals including dolphins, turtles and otters.

It’s worth a visit if you want to learn more about Florida wildlife and conservation efforts.

Frency's Rockaway Grill right on the beach


Frency’s Rockaway Grill right on the beach
A dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium


A dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

That evening we enjoyed a breathtaking sunset from the rooftop pool at the JW Marriott Clearwater Beach before enjoying an amazing dinner.

I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to try their Wagyu steak, which was a real treat at the hotel’s In The Deep End restaurant. The food was divine and the staff was incredibly friendly.

The next day called for a pint and luckily we had booked a tour of the nearby Dunedin Brewery which proudly displays the St Andrew’s flag.

Dunedin was founded in 1899 by two Scots in search of sunny weather. I think you made a good discovery!

Interestingly, connections in this part of Florida have been maintained ever since, and Dunedin is home to its own World Cup pipe band.

Scottish influence is evident in Dunedin.


Scottish influence is evident in Dunedin.

After a few drinks we stayed in Dunedin and headed to the Fenway, a hotel with lots of character reminiscent of the jazz era of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

We went there to enjoy dinner at the hotel’s Chophouse and I was glad to have ordered a steak again as it was absolutely delicious.

Stuffed we went upstairs to a rooftop bar that was bursting with energy and enjoyed another gorgeous sunset – it felt like Florida was showing off!

After three fantastic nights at the Wyndham, we checked out and headed south to the neighboring resort of St. Pete.

On our way we stopped at the Salvador Dali Museum where we saw several of his amazing masterpieces including The Hallucinogenic Toreador, The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and The World Council.

I won’t pretend I’m not an art expert. But on our guided tour, it was impossible not to be enchanted by the paintings and the stories behind them.

It gave me a much greater appreciation for the world famous Dali painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross which is on display here in Scotland at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

The stunning Don Cesar, a Loews Hotel, St. Pete Beach


The stunning Don Cesar, a Loews Hotel, St. Pete BeachCredit: Alamy
Lewsi loved the brilliant white sand at St. Pete Beach


Lewsi loved the brilliant white sand at St. Pete Beach
St Pete's Beach, Florida


St Pete’s Beach, FloridaCredit: Alamy

We headed out to look around at The Vinoy in downtown St. Pete before checking in The Don CeSar. Both were built in the 1920’s and are painted a striking pale pink.

Don CeSar hosts a who’s who of US stars, from legendary Yankees baseball star Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe to Al Capone and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

However, over time both hotels fell into disrepair and remained abandoned for several years before undergoing extensive renovations.
It feels rare that not one but two old institutions pull off such a successful comeback, but The Don CeSar and The Vinoy have done it – and it’s a real joy to see.

Shuffleboard may not be a very well known sport, but when we got the chance to play the game I realized that I could easily become addicted.
If you get the chance, give it a try – it’s both relaxing and therapeutic.

The Birchwood Canopy's rooftop bar is great for a sundowner or two


The Birchwood Canopy’s rooftop bar is great for a sundowner or two

St. Pete has a vibrant arts and culture community, as I discovered while touring the local murals.

Even if you’re not usually an art fan, it’s worth checking out as the work really gives a glimpse of the city’s identity.

The culmination of our trip was a few drinks in the restaurant Birch canopyis a rooftop bar overlooking Tampa Bay.
It really is a hidden gem and feels like the right place for local residents.

For me, Clearwater and St. Pete is THE area to visit in Florida – and even if you have kids I would recommend staying here as Orlando is not far away so you can always stop by for a day or two to spend with him Mickey and friends.

I turned my garden into a paradise for £50 - the end result is amazing
Forgotten Love Island star Shannon Singh strips off in daring see-through underwear

So give yourself a trip West instead of East on your next trip to the Sunshine State and enjoy this relaxing, welcoming and very cool part of fabulous Florida.

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Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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