LGBTQ+ Friendly Travel Guide to Clearwater, FL

Clearwater Florida LGBTQ+ Travel Guide
Photo by Mariakray from iStock

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You might only know Clearwater, FL for its infamous “spring breakers” beach, but this LGBTQ+ friendly city in Tampa Bay sits right on the water, has a walkable downtown, great restaurants, waterfront parks, and an eclectic arts scene. With more than 2.5 miles of white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water, (yes that’s how it got its name) Clearwater prides itself as a welcoming and inclusive destination for queer travelers. 

Whether you’re traveling solo, with a partner, or as a family with the kiddos, Clearwater has something for everyone. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and discover all of the things that are waiting for you in our LGBTQ+ friendly travel guide to Clearwater.

How to Get There: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

There is more than one way to get to Clearwater. If traveling from out of state, the fastest and easiest is by air. However, if you prefer to have wheels on the ground or a track, here are some other options.

Planes: Your best choice for air travel is to fly into Tampa International Airport. From there, you can rent a car, take a taxi, or use ride-sharing services for the 20-mile ride to Clearwater. Another option is St Pete-Clearwater International Airport. And, while it’s a shorter distance to Clearwater, it has limited flight schedules and only two airlines flying into and out of. 

Trains: While there is no direct train service to Clearwater, there is an Amtrak station in Tampa. From there you can rent a car, take a taxi, or ride share to Clearwater

Automobiles: If you prefer a road trip, Clearwater is well-connected by highways, making it easy to navigate using I-4 to 275 to SR60. 

Buses: While buses are a budget-friendly choice, there are no major bus terminals in Clearwater. Greyhound and Trailways do provide services to and from Tampa. 

How LGBTQ+ Welcoming Is Clearwater 

Slowly but surely, Clearwater has become a hotspot for LGBTQ+ travelers and it’s easy to see why. Here, you can kick back, be yourself, and love who you choose to love. Come see for yourself. There are gay-owned businesses and bars for you to check out. The beaches are beautiful, and the water sports are a blast. So, when you’re looking to escape the daily grind, whether it’s for the beaches, the nightlife, or just to chill, Clearwater’s the place you want to be.

Clearwater Waterfront Pride

Focusing on educating and connecting the LGBTQ+ community in Clearwater, Clearwater Waterfront Pride is a non-profit organization that organizes the annual Pride event at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater.

Lambda Club

Lambda Club is a social club for the LGBT residents of the 5000 condo, 55+ retirement community, On Top of the World (OTOW). Friendly and welcoming, OTOW is home for many, where residents have found a sense of belonging. The Lambda Club hosts a monthly social/cocktail party, along with dine-outs, game nights, potlucks, theater outings, and occasional cruises throughout the year. 

Pride Events in Clearwater

Clearwater Waterfront Pride Picnic & Festival

Scheduled for April, Clearwater Waterfront Pride Picnic & Festival is being held at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. Spread out a blanket in the large picnic area, and feast on delicious eats from the food truck food court. This family and furry-friendly event, comes complete with a dog park, splash pad for the kids, shaded picnic grounds, vendors, a large lawn for casual seating, a stage full of entertainment, and lots more.

For more pride events near and around Clearwater, you can check out our Complete Guide to Florida Pride

History Of Clearwater

Located on the Gulf Coast, Clearwater, Florida’s history dates back centuries. Originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, the area was later explored by Spanish settlers in the 16th century. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Clearwater began to see significant development, with the arrival of pioneers attracted by the region’s fertile land and abundant natural resources.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Clearwater continued to grow as an agricultural, fishing, and tourism center. The arrival of the railroad in the late 1880s further fueled the city’s expansion, connecting Clearwater to other major cities in Florida and beyond. By the mid-20th century, Clearwater had evolved into a thriving coastal community known for its beautiful beaches, downtown district, and welcoming atmosphere.

LGBTQ+ Friendly Places To Stay In Clearwater

Are you looking for a romantic getaway, a family-friendly vacation, or a quick weekend trip? Whatever it is you’re looking for in a place to stay, you can find it and more in Clearwater. 

Courtyard Clearwater Beach – Located along Clearwater Bay, enjoy modern accommodations close to all the action on Clearwater Beach. Bask in the sun on the beach or take a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool. The hotel’s Bistro serves up cocktails, where you can enjoy waterfront views from the rooftop. Hungry? The Courtyard Bistro serves breakfast and dinner daily. 

AC Hotel by Marriott Clearwater Beach – The AC Hotel Clearwater Beach is European sophistication and contemporary design at its finest. Rest easy in guest rooms with modern, wood-look flooring and all the necessary amenities for a comfortable stay. Unwind on the beach or, relax on the deck of the outdoor pool. When you’re ready for a nosh, try the AC Lounge’s signature Gin & Tonic and delicious Spanish-inspired small plates. 

AC Hotel Clearwater Beach at dusk
Photo courtesy of AC Hotel Clearwater Beach

The Karol Hotel – One of the top Florida LGBTQ+ hotels, The Karol Hotel blends the timeless charm of the Feather Sound neighborhood with a fresh hotel experience that embraces the spontaneity of life. With a stylish lobby restaurant, a rooftop bar with views of Tampa Bay, a resort-style pool, fitness center, and ample event space, this boutique hotel is a hidden gem just off the beaten path. 

Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort And Spa The Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa is a residential-like experience just steps away from the Gulf Coast and the renowned Pier 60. Relax in one of the 286 oversized rooms, stock the fridge with favorites, and enjoy dining on the balcony. After a day of fun in the sun, head to the 8th-floor pool deck to watch the sunset, unwind at Sandava Spa, or get a bite at the award-winning SHOR restaurant.

Recommended Restaurants In Clearwater

From flip flop casual to fine dining formal and everything in between, there’s a style and a menu with your name on it just waiting for you. Here are a few of our favorites.

Pete & Shorty’s Iowa Bistro  – The weather and the beach may tell you you’re in Clearwater, FL, but Pete & Shorty’s has a menu that transports you to the Midwest. This Tampa Bay favorite is laid-back, casual dining at its best. It’s the perfect place to enjoy “a taste of home” with classic comfort food favorites like burgers, steaks, and homemade pies. 

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill – When in Rome … ok, so you’re not in Rome, but you are in the grouper capital of the country, making a grouper sandwich a must-try! And, there’s no better place to do just that than Frenchy’s, as their menu has a half dozen different grouper sandwiches from which to choose. Not only are they world-famous, they are some of the best we’ve ever had. 

The Bait House – Whether you’re looking to catch some seafood or eat some, The Bait House Tackle and Tavern is your one-stop shop for both. You can hook into some mouthwatering seafood delights that make you forget all about “the ones that got away.” With its laid-back vibe, friendly staff, and waterfront views, the Bait House is where the “catch-of-the-day” may be whatever’s on the hook of your fishing pole.

The Bait House Clearwater
The Bait House Clearwater

Caretta on the Gulf  – With awesome views of the Gulf of Mexico, Caretta on the Gulf is an elegant, beachfront dining experience. Its upscale ambiance and creative coastal cuisine make it the ideal spot for a romantic dinner for two. Enjoy fresh seafood dishes, as well as sushi and raw bar selections, all complemented by an extensive wine list.

Things To Do & See In Clearwater

When we say there’s something for everyone in Clearwater, we mean it! From the sun-drenched shores of Clearwater Beach to the streets of downtown, your next adventure is closer than you think. Whether you spend your day lounging on the beach, trying out one of the many water sports, or taking a stroll along the pier, there’s always fun waiting to be had. Here are some things we don’t want you to miss.

Clearwater Beach – USA Today named Clearwater Beach the Number 1 beach in the South. And, it’s no wonder. Known for its soft white sands and clear turquoise waters, Clearwater Beach has plenty of activities for you to enjoy, including water sports, beach volleyball, and dolphin and whale-watching tours. There’s no better place for a fun-filled day by the ocean.  

Ruth Eckard Hall  – Ruth Eckerd Hall is a premier performing arts venue, hosting the best  concerts, Broadway shows, dance performances, and more. With its state-of-the-art acoustics and intimate setting, it’s an unforgettable experience for audiences of all ages. From world-class musicians to up-and-coming artists, there’s always something happening on stage at this iconic Clearwater institution.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium – Dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine animals, with a focus on dolphins, sea turtles, and otters, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is where you can get up close and personal with sea life. Enjoy fun interactive exhibits, educational programs, and behind-the-scenes tours that allow you to learn about marine life conservation and the important work being done to protect our oceans. It may not be as well known as The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, but it’s home to one of the world’s most famous dolphins – Hope, one of the stars of Dolphin Tale 2. 

Paddle Pub Clearwater – Pack a cooler of your favorite drinks, call your friends, and spend a few hours on the water with Paddle Pub Clearwater. It’s a great way to explore Clearwater’s waterways while pedaling the calories away. You name the occasion, they have the tour. Perfect for girls night out, bachelor parties, birthdays and anniversaries. 

Paddle Pub Party Boat in Clearwater
Paddle Pub in Clearwater

BouYah Water Sports – Offering the best in water sports like jet skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, banana boating, and parasailing BouYah Watersports is your one-stop shop for all things fun on the water. Your vacation is their top priority, so, live your best life and hit the water with BouYah. 

Rachel Covello and her wife riding jet skis in Clearwater
Rachel Covello and her wife riding jet skis in Clearwater

Where To Shop & Stroll In Clearwater

In Clearwater, shopping and strolling are a match made in heaven, transforming a day of shopping into an unexpected adventure. Whether you’re wandering through downtown, or checking out Pier 60, there are countless treasures waiting for you to discover.. 

Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach – From views of the Gulf of Mexico to a nightly sunset celebration, Pier 60 is the heart of Clearwater Beach. You can stroll along the boardwalk, browse local vendors selling arts and crafts, or simply soak up the party vibe, all while watching street performers and listening to live music. It’s a must-visit!

Pier 60 Clearwater Beach
Photo by Jesse Adair from Unsplash

Pelican Walk Plaza  – Pelican Walk Plaza is the perfect mix of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. There’s something for every taste and budget. Here, you can take a leisurely stroll through the plaza, shop its many stores and boutiques, dine at one of the local eateries, or simply relax and people-watch.

Mandalay Avenue  – A  street known for its shops, restaurants, and attractions, Mandalay Avenue is where you find boutique stores, art galleries, cafes, and beachfront bars. Are you souvenir shopping, looking for a restaurant for dinner, or simply soaking up the atmosphere? Mandalay Avenue is your one-stop for whatever it is you’re looking for.

Beach Walk – Stroll along the Beach Walk promenade where you can socialize, shop, play games, grab a bite to eat at one of the beachfront restaurants, or simply relax and enjoy the sunshine while taking in the breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico.

LGBTQ+ Bars, Clubs and Nightlife In Clearwater

Pro Shop Pub – “Live like a local at the Pro Shop Pub.” Located in downtown Clearwater, it’s been a gay fixture on Cleveland Street since 1976, where you can shoot pool, listen to the jukebox, or just have a drink in its welcoming atmosphere. Expect a crowd of regulars, both gay and straight. And, get there early on Friday night for their $3 drink specials.

Monkey Bar of Clearwater – With fantastic happy hour specials and a menu loaded with all of your classic  pub favorites, the Monkey Bar is a perfect spot to unwind after a day shopping, sightseeing, or beaching. Shoot pool, throw darts, or sip a cocktail while listening to the music from their vintage jukebox. If you prefer live music, then plan a Friday or Saturday night stop.

Blur Nightclub – One of USA Today’s 10 Best Nightclubs, Blur is about a 4-mile drive from Clearwater, and, trust us, it’s well worth the trip. Located in the heart of downtown Dunedin, it’s been a hotspot for party animals for years. It’s one of the best show bars for entertainment. From Drag Queen Bingo and burlesque to karaoke and live music, there’s never a dull moment. 

Blur Nightclub Sign Dunedin
Photo by Fay Stevenson

Quench Lounge – “Located at the center of everything,” and roughly 5 miles from Clearwater, Quench Lounge is a trendy, fun, all-welcoming, “straight-friendly” gay bar. It’s the perfect place to unwind, connect, and enjoy great entertainment. There’s a different theme each night, so be sure to check their website before you go.

Annual Events and Festivals in Clearwater

With its perfect weather and jam-packed calendar of festivals and events, any time of year is a great time to visit Clearwater. So why wait? Come join the party and experience the best events and festivals it has to offer! Here are some of our favorites.

Clearwater Jazz Holiday  – A four-day festival where jazz lovers can sway to the smooth sounds of jazz artists and performers. With its laid-back atmosphere, delicious food and drink vendors, and waterfront setting, Clearwater Jazz Holiday is the perfect opportunity to kick back, relax, and enjoy some world-class music under the stars. 

Tropical Tides: Florida’s Beachside Music Festival  – Calling all music lovers! Tropical Tides: Florida’s Beachside Music Festival is your ultimate weekend beach party. Kick off your flip flops and dance barefoot in the sand as you groove to the tunes of reggae, rock, country, and indie. 

Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival  – Where imagination meets beach vibes, at The Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival you feel like you’ve stepped into a sandy wonderland. You can marvel at larger-than-life sand sculptures, take part in hands-on activities, and enjoy live music and entertainment right on the beach.

Chalkful of Taste – Fusing two historically famous Clearwater Beach events, Taste Fest and Chalktober Art Festival, the Chalkful of Taste brings you fine food for the tasting, from 30+ restaurants, along with wine, craft beer, and one-of-a-kind chalk art creations. 

LGBTQ+ Friendly Clearwater: Bright and Beautiful, Bay to Beach

From the sparkling waters of the bay to the golden sands of the beach, Clearwater welcomes everyone with open arms and a warm, sunny smile. Whether you’re sipping cocktails at a beachfront bar, catching some rays on the sand, or exploring the streets of downtown, there’s a feeling of acceptance that fills the air. With its LGBTQ+ community and inclusive vibe, Clearwater is the perfect destination to let your rainbow flag fly. So grab your sunscreen bathing suit, and sunglasses, and get ready for an unforgettable time in LGBTQ+ friendly Clearwater!

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida and beyond, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

Events are subject to change. Please check the events webpage for updates and schedules.

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may, 2024

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