Dining on the Waterfront

Story highlights:
  • Classically casual dining in Clearwater Beach
  • Downtown options with water views
  • Upscale offerings on the waterfront
Links within article correspond to map points.
Clearwater Beach Restaurants, Beach Dining near Tampa
Dine right next to the water at the Columbia Restaurant on Sand Key.

On a coastal vacation, cuisine with a view is as essential to the itinerary as a day at the beach. There's just something about shuffling through sand en route to lunch, or watching the sun set over dinner. To find great waterfront and beach dining, head to St. Pete/Clearwater for a range of dining choices that make even the locals feel like they're on vacation.

Long after the table is cleared, flavors and views come together to create lasting memories. And after-dinner walks along the water help you store the experience, not the calories. Bon appetit!

Casual Beach Dining Classics

What Chicago did for pizza, St. Pete/Clearwater did for the grouper sandwich. You'll hardly find an area menu without one, but locals have asserted for years that the "Frenchy's" family of restaurants (Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, Frenchy's Salt Water Cafe, Frenchy's South Beach Cafe and Frenchy's Original Cafe) spaced throughout Clearwater Beach, serves the best. They've also deemed the local chain a generous provider of complimentary sunsets, and with its locations' signature proximity to the shore, you won't find a bad seat in the house. Depending on the location, you might find live music or a beachfront bar where it's perfectly acceptable to arrive sandy-footed and clad in swimwear.

On Pass-a-Grille Beach, pay homage to the landmark Hurricane Seafood Restaurant, where multi-levels offer panoramic Gulf views, live music and dancing in an atmosphere slightly more formal than that of sandier surfside hang-outs. Sunsets savored from the Hurricane's rooftop deck enhance the flavor of its something-for-everyone menu. If you're looking for beach dining in the area, the Hurricane's a classic.

Locals also are partial to Billy's Stone Crab Restaurant in nearby Tierra Verde. Feast on sweet scallops, Gulf Stream mahi mahi, fresh Florida flounder and stone crabs fresh from the owner's traps. The menu is succulently simple, and the atmosphere creates a total experience for patrons. Before or after your meal, hop aboard one of the restaurant's narrated boat tours of its surrounding waterways. Or enjoy a Full Moon Party – live music and an open-air rooftop bar all but enforce relaxation.

At Woody's Waterfront Restaurant, a retro style, casual vibe and amazing views come together for a great time dining on the water. Located in St. Pete Beach on the blue waters of Blind Pass, Woody’s is so close to the water that you’re likely to see schools of bright fish and even playful dolphins passing by. Sit back, relax and enjoy classic seafood dishes, bar food and continental fare.

Fancy Waterfront Dining in Clearwater

With its signature style – what the owners call a blend of Pacific Rim, continental and island cuisine – Island Way Grill offers a more formal approach to waterfront dining on Clearwater Beach. (Just keep in mind that in the town named USA Today's "Best Beach Town in Florida" in 2013, “formal” often means tucking a Tommy Bahama shirt into a pair of walking shorts for men and sporting sundresses or capris for women. And flip-flops are de rigueur all around.) Come by boat if you wish, and sample jalapeno conch fritters and the restaurant's coveted bamboo salmon. Island Way also offers an early dining menu and a Sunday champagne brunch that you'll crave long after you leave. Just don't forget to take in the view of Clearwater Harbor between bites of sushi or bananas foster.

Downtown Delectables

What downtown St. Pete lacks in sand and shells, it makes up for in a waterfront strewn with parks, shops, museums and, of course, restaurants.

Arriving by boat? Try family-friendly Fish Tales at the Harborage Marina in the southern section of St. Pete's downtown. Boat parking is free as is the welcome shade on their covered deck (inside seating is available as well). Try their signature salad crowned with red grouper or spicy crawfish.

Surf and Turf

South of Clearwater Beach, the hum of Pier 60 fades as you pass through tony Belleair into the soft-spoken charm of Indian Rocks Beach. Across the street from intimate public beaches, Guppy's on the Beach deliciously deviates from its ocean inspiration with a warm hazelnut crusted goat cheese appetizer and filet mignon dressed in garlic gorgonzola butter. But the fresh fish selection won't let you forget what the restaurant does best. Indulge in cobia, swordfish and snapper with accoutrements of mango black bean salsa and roasted corn chipotle chili sauce. The chef takes care to feature a beer, martini and wine on the menu daily, and it's a good idea to call ahead for seating on the bustling deck at dinner.

Located in quiet, residential Indian Shores, the Salt Rock Grill stands as a beach landmark. The menu features both specialty seafood from around the world as well as the freshest of local catches (you can watch the boats unload the day’s catch on the restaurant’s docks). And the tantalizing steaks – hand-cut beef aged for four to six weeks and grilled over a natural oak and citrus wood pit fire – will have you waffling between which entrée to order.

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