If you never looked to the west, you’d have no idea that the quaint and charming downtown district of Clearwater was just a short jaunt from one of the world’s best beaches. Dotted with diverse and locally owned restaurants, businesses and shops, the area now known as Downtown Clearwater was once the sight of crystal-clear springs. Native American settlers called the location “Clear Water Harbor,” a name that stuck until Clearwater became one word in 1895 and the “Harbor” was dropped 11 years later.
The state of Florida officially became a U.S. territory in 1822 and modern-day Clearwater provided an important site in the Seminole Indian Wars of 1835 when the government built Fort Harrison in the area to house recuperating soldiers. When the Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 offered up 160 acres to anyone who would bear arms and cultivate the land, several families stepped up and began to call the coastal town home.
A road built to connect Clearwater and Tampa took shape in 1849, and 1888 saw the first railroad line into the city completed. With transportation in and out of the area growing increasingly easier, the city soon became a haven for tourists and developers who sought out the area because of its warm climate and ample space for expansion.
The city became incorporated in 1915 and a year later built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach. During World War II, Clearwater again played a significant role in a war effort, this time serving as a training base for many of our country’s troops. Many of those troops returned to live in Clearwater after the war, which began the city’s population boom.
Today, the city’s stunning landscape serves as the backdrop for some of the state’s most well-attended events and has a burgeoning art and music scene. It also continues to be the spring home of Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, who have trained in Clearwater since 1948.
Entertainment/things to do
After decades of existing in the shadow of its glitzier neighbor to the east, Tampa, the city of Clearwater made a huge international splash in 2011 with the release of the major motion picture, Dolphin Tale. The movie is based on the real-life triumphant story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail after becoming tangled in the rope of a crab trap. Rescue teams relocated Winter to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where she received a unique prosthetic tale and has been inspiring and delighting visitors ever since. Both Dolphin Tale and the sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, were filmed at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and featured a star-studded cast that included Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, and Morgan Freeman, among others.
Visitors can meet Winter and her Dolphin 2 co-star, Hope the Dolphin, by visiting the aquarium. There are daily presentations and select experiences available for purchase.
But Winter’s not the only one splashing around in Clearwater. The sugary soft sand and sparkling Gulf of Mexico waters of Clearwater Beach have become a fixture in best beach lists, taking top honors by both USA Today and TripAdvisor. In addition to frolicking in the water and catching some rays, guests can soak up the atmosphere at the beach’s Sunsets at Pier 60 daily festival. You’ll find an assortment of street performers for entertainment, and crafters and vendors peddling their wares. There’s also a free outdoor movie shown on a giant inflatable screen every Saturday and Sunday night in a spot adjacent to Pier 60.
From yacht cruises and sunset sails to dolphin sighting boats and fishing charters, the Clearwater Beach Marina has what seems like a nearly endless supply of opportunities to get out on the water. One family-friendly favorite is Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, which lets you act out your inner swashbuckler as you tool around the Gulf.
Further inland, you’ll find Ruth Eckerd Hall, which is one of the premier performing arts venues in the area. It has a steady stream of Broadway plays, concerts and other shows throughout the year. The annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday has welcomed some of the biggest acts in jazz, R&B, folk and bluegrass music.
If you’re eager for a more physically demanding tour of Clearwater (and then some), take a trip down the Pinellas Trail. This 38.2 trail traversing across Pinellas County is a haven for walkers, skaters, joggers and bikers, with several access points throughout Clearwater. The Pinellas Trail stretches from Tarpon Springs to the north and St. Petersburg to the south.
The Clearwater economy and what you need to know about moving there
Clearwater has a dedicated Economic Development department that aims to support economic growth and vitality, so it’s safe to say that the city is very pro-business. The Clearwater Economic Development team helps with business expansion, relocation, workforce training, site selection and helps smooth the process of doing business with the city. There’s also the Clearwater Business SPARK, a connected network of service providers who work to assist small businesses.
Much like it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Clearwater remains a hot spot for visitors. As a result, tourism serves a significant role in the local economy. However, corporate life in Clearwater certainly exists outside of tourism.
Clearwater-based Tech Data, a multinational distributor of IT products and services, has revenue nearing $40 billion. Commercial and consumer product conglomerate, Honeywell, also has a location in Clearwater and a considerable employee presence.
Visitors and locals alike will take advantage of both international airports in the area. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport has found a niche by servicing passengers with low-cost carriers, including Allegiant Air. Nearby Tampa International Airport is considerably larger and one of the busiest airports in the country with flights departing to and arriving from locales around the world.
While there is no light rail service in the area, public ground transportation is available on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which supplies passengers with routes within the entire Tampa Bay metro area. Interstate-275 is a short drive from the city, which provides immediate access to both south and north Florida.
Children in kindergarten through the 12th grade attend schools that are part of Pinellas County Schools, one of the largest districts in the state of Florida. For those looking for advanced or specialty schooling, there are several community college campuses, St. Petersburg College and Clearwater Christian College all in or around the city.
Demographic Breakdown for Clearwater (source: City Data)
Estimated median household income in 2016: $41,844
Median resident age: 44
Estimated median house or condo value in 2016: $28,596
Median gross rent in 2016 for apartments: $963
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