Family-friendly dining options at Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach include Tate Island Grill, which has a children’s menu. // © 2016 Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach
Feature image (above): Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach is perfect for multigenerational groups. // © 2016 Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach
For travelers who think there’s a cookie-cutter formula to all Florida beach resorts (beachside location + on-site pool = Florida hotel), Sandpearl Resort Clearwater Beach has something to say about that. Sure, Sandpearl has all the constants in that equation (the beachside location happens to sit on the pearly white sands of the Gulf Coast, consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation, and the expansive pool is a common rendezvous point), but what it does so differently is embrace the laid-back attitude that Florida’s west coast has while still delivering amenities with a sophisticated, family-centric flair.
With a refined culture that’s high on being understated and humble, Sandpearl is everything that the state’s west coast wants to portray to the outside world: It scoffs at “look-at-me” attitudes and flashy toys; instead, the west coast maintains a refined demeanor toward history and culture, and at Sandpearl, that perspective isn’t dumbed down for its juvenile clientele. For example, food selections are elevated, and each piece of commissioned artwork has a few special traits to take in. Those pieces include the large murals at the welcome reception and lobby, which are multilayered and tell stories about the area’s rich history through figurative visuals.
During my recent stay at the AAA Four Diamond resort, I noticed how tradition reigns supreme here, including the unique ritual of ringing the dinner bell every night, a custom continually passed down at the nearly 100-year-old property. (Every night, a guest — usually a child — is chosen to ring the original dinner bell, signaling to all on the property that sunset has fallen and dinner is awaiting them inside Sandpearl.)
While it’s not unusual to see couples and singletons at the resort, it seems the warm, open vibe with elegant, “Old Florida” decor caters to family getaways. With 203 guestrooms and 50 one- and two-bedroom suites that include amenities such as in-room washers and dryers and gourmet kitchens, it’s evident Sandpearl wants its resort to be a home away from home.
Even more, the family programming is executed at a refined level. Camp Ridley, the resort’s kids’ club (named after the native Kemp’s ridley turtle), engages younger guests with arts and crafts, scavenger hunts and educational lessons about the area’s wildlife.
Another unique aspect of Sandpearl is that it doesn’t mind if guests leave the resort for an outing; in fact, they’re encouraged to do so. As beautiful as the resort is, when I had a chance to explore outside its walls, I took the opportunity, traveling to the beach at nearby Caladesi Island. But Sandpearl didn’t let me leave without a few goodies. I booked its “Picnic in Paradise” option ahead of time and left the resort with a basket of gourmet to-go cuisine, courtesy of the chefs at Sandpearl’s AAA Four Diamond restaurant, Caretta on the Gulf.
The resort also partners with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was the backdrop for the film “Dolphin Tale” and its sequel. One of the aquarium’s residents, Winter the dolphin, was a main character in the movies. The local rescue and rehabilitation center for marine animals allows families to get up close and personal with the area’s marine life with educational programs, kayaking eco-tours, stand-up paddleboard eco-tours, a dolphin exploration tour and a dolphin trainer shadow experience. Trust me, the kids love that latter option.
For families looking to get a taste of marine life at the resort, there are opportunities aplenty. Marine animals are regularly released back to their ocean home from Sandpearl’s own beachfront.
While there’s a strong focus on its younger guests, Sandpearl hasn’t forgotten about the adults. Food options include the aforementioned award-winning Caretta on the Gulf, an elegant restaurant with seasonal seafood options and perfectly aged steaks, as well as Tate Island Grill, a more casual spot with a dedicated children’s menu. There’s also the posh Sandpearl Spa, whose signature treatments I admittedly indulged in.
So while on the surface Sandpearl may appear to be a standard Florida resort, dig deeper and you’ll find that it has reinvented the equation, becoming the ultimate Florida family hot spot that fits perfectly with Clearwater Beach’s high-end charm. Just ask Winter the dolphin.