Clearwater Beach was named #1 beach in the U.S. by Trip Adviser in 2018 – and for good reason! This 2.5 mile stretch of fluffy white sand and breathtaking sunsets is the perfect hub for your vacation. I have been so many times to visit my sister, and on almost every vacation we have done one of these day trips from Clearwater Beach.
Not only is Clearwater Beach a vacation in and of itself, but it’s only a few hours drive to some of my favorite spots in the world! If you’ve already read my Day Trips from Las Vegas Itinerary, you will already know that I will never send you on a 6 hour (each way) card ride and consider it a day trip. All of these day trips will not exceed 3 hours!
If you’re planning a trip to Clearwater Beach soon, don’t miss out on my 1 Week Guide to Clearwater Beach!
There’s a chance that this post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you), that goes directly towards little Rosie’s dog treats!
What to pack for your trip to Florida
Before we dive into the guide, I always like to recommend a few items that are “must-haves” for this exact itinerary. Florida is where my one and only sister lives, so it is like a second home to me! I go multiple times a year and these are my top recommendations:
There is water EVERYWHERE in Florida, so if you want any pictures of your trip I would highly recommend investing in a GoPro. I take mine with me everywhere, especially on the kayaking excursions. Click here to shop GoPros!
I would recommend putting your first layer on with a normal bottle of sunscreen, but these things are perfect for reapplying! Especially when you are going to an amusement park or kayaking excursion and don’t want to bring a big bag. These sunblock packets are the size of a ketchup packet, SO handy!!
You can’t bring plastic water bottles on majority of the rivers, so if you plan to do a multiple hour kayaking excursion I would recommend bringing a reusable water bottle! Click here for my favorite water bottle.
Weeki Wachee (1 hour and 30 minutes)
Weeki Wachee is a river located an hour and a half north of Clearwater Beach. There are few spots in the world where you can kayak crystal clear water with manatees and this is one of them!
In the summertime, the water is much warmer – almost like a bath tub! A lot better for swimming and testing out the many rope swings along the river. BUT, if you want a good chance of seeing manatees, I would go in the winter time. Manatees love warm water and migrate up the rivers in the winter. I have been during both seasons – the summer I didn’t see a single manatee but in the winter I saw 10+!
You can rent kayaks from several companies along the river. They will drive you to the top and pick you up at the bottom so you don’t have to worry about paddling back upstream.
TIP: Pack a lunch and stop on one of the many “private” beaches along the river!
Crystal River (1 hour and 45 minutes)
Crystal River is another great spot to see Manatees. This is a more famous river that has been trending over social media for the past few years. As always, it will tend to be more crowded!
The water is much deeper in Crystal River so you will see larger groups + families of manatees. Plus there’s a beach park in the middle of the river, which is a great option for kids!
You can rent kayaks or sign up for a snorkeling tour where they will take you to all the best spots along the river. They also know where all the manatees are, so you are guaranteed to see at least one! You can sign up for a tour here.
Country Concert in Tampa (45 minutes)
Tampa has a massive, outdoor stadium paired with a large parking lot for some epic tailgates! Locals are lined up with their trucks, beer pong tables, and stereos hours before the stadium doors open. I saw Dierks Bentley and (from what I remember) it was a great show, ha!
Country music is extremely popular in Tampa and there are constantly great concerts available. Click here to search your dates!
Amusement Park in Orlando (2 hours)
Orlando is pretty far from Clearwater Beach so it’s up to you if you want to make the hike… but there are endless theme parks to choose from! I have done this drive on many occasions and I can honestly say it’s worth it. Just make sure you avoid rush hour traffic so your two hour drive doesn’t turn into 3!
Here are some of my favorite theme parks in Orlando:
Sea World has gotten a bad rep the past couple of years due to the movie Blackfish, so much to the point that Sea World has decided to stop breeding killer whales. Don’t let this prevent you from going because there is so much good that Sea World does with research, having the largest rescue and rehabilitation program in the world, and training other aquariums! They have thousands of animals to learn about and help protect.
The first ever Disney World theme park! Disney World is twice the size of Disney land, which includes Epcot, Universal Studios, & Harry Potter world! My boyfriend, Joseph, is a Harry Potter SUPER fan! He had the best time seeing all the movie sets come to life.
Don’t forget to get a butter beer (or two) while in Harry Potter world.
If you want to buy the bundle pass to see multiple parks, I would not recommend doing that in a day trip. It will end up being too rushed and you won’t be able to see everything. If you want to spend a full day or two exploring Disney World, I would stay the night in Orlando so you can utilize two full days!
Discovery Cove has all you can eat, drink and snorkel – MY KIND OF THEME PARK!
They have snack and drink bars all over the park & also serve buffet style meals. The park has a large dolphin enclosure where you can swim with them (pricey), otters, finger monkeys (formal name is marmoset but finger monkey is sooo much cuter), bird aviary where you can feed the birds, lazy river, and a gigantic snorkeling pool! They give you free snorkel gear to rent so you can swim with schools of fish, sting rays, and alongside sharks!
This one is my favorite park of all because it is so unique and you can’t do this anywhere else!
Devils Den (2 hours and 30 minutes)
This magical spot is an extra hour north of Weeki Wachee and one of the most unique places I’ve seen.
Devil’s Den is a swimming hole that’s 60 ft underground and the top of this cave collapsed, so there is a beautiful light beam that shines into the water. This is privately owned and you will need to pay to get in OR you can sign up to do scuba certifications here!
Once you arrive, there might be a wait (especially on the weekends) and you can rent snorkeling or scuba diving gear.
Downtown St. Petersburg (45 minutes)
Great place to walk around on the water, look at the endless murals, and go to some really fun bars! Clearwater beach has more of a touristy, beach bar feel but if you want a more local and lively night out, head over to downtown St. Pete! Some of my favorite bars are Pour, Mandarin Hide, Dog Bar, and Park & Rec.
Rainbow River (2 hours)
Rainbow river is another one of Florida’s beautiful rivers! This one is especially popular for being a natural lazy river – Kick back on an inner tube and enjoy your 4 hour, relaxing float!
The water is a constant 72 degrees year-round so I would recommend going in the spring/fall time.
I went in the summer and if you know anything about Florida weather in the summer, its sunny one second and a hurricane the next. Don’t be that tourist that gets stuck on the river with an hour left to go, and it starts pouring rain. You will end up wet, crying, and freezing cold floating down the river with no one to help you (not talking from personal experience or anything..).
Kayaking Weedon Island Preserve (40 minutes)
Weedon Island Preserve is also in St. Petersburg. You can spend a few hours kayaking through mangrove tunnels and weaving in and out of little islands. Just a FYI, this is not for the newbie kayaker! It was very hard to steer through these narrow tunnels so make sure you do a practice run or two before going.
Unfortunately, there are no manatees in this water (at least I have never seen one) but going through the tunnels was a lot of fun!
Ana Maria Island (1 hour and 20 minutes)
Ana Maria Island is the perfect spot to eat fresh grouper, kayak next to dolphins and relax on white sand beaches! And yes, even though I say Island, you can easily access it by car. Just take the I-275 south across Tampa bay and you’ll be relaxing on a beach in no time.
The difference between this island and Clearwater Beach area is it is far less touristy and extremely family friendly. There are few (if any) high rises, limited hotel options and a very slow-paced/tropical feel. You will also find more of the “old Florida” charm with adorable local restaurants. If you want a break from the touristy life of Clearwater, head down to Ana Maria Island for a quick get-away!
Sanibel Island (3 hours)
If you are shell collector, then Sanibel Island is for you! This island has very secluded waters that are great for kayaking and paddle boarding.
This area is very bike friendly so if you plan on staying the night, I would recommend doing a bike pub crawl along all the beach bars! They have great cocktails with spectacular ocean views.
In my humble opinion, if you are going just for shells, I would go to Sand Key Beach (5 minutes from Clearwater Beach). It has plenty of sea shells and you don’t have to drive far at all, you can even walk if you want to!
Silver Springs (2 hours and 30 minutes)
If you are the small population of the world who ISN’T afraid of alligators, head over to Silver Springs! You can see them up close and personal on either a kayak (eek!) or a glass bottom boat.
I would never voluntarily sign up to be in a kayak surrounded by alligators so enjoy the pictures my psycho sister took when she did this last year…
That’s a wrap! Clearwater has become a second home to me because it’s where my one and only sister lives. If you are planning a trip to Clearwater Beach soon, don’t miss out on my 1 Week in Clearwater Beach Itinerary!
Thanks so much for stopping by?
Like this post? Pin it here!