If you are looking for a vacation spot with excellent white-sand beaches and a warm, clear ocean, then Florida’s Gulf Coast should be on your radar. And while you are checking out the destinations on the Sunshine State’s west coast, two locations you should definitely not overlook are Siesta Key and Clearwater. These two destinations, whilst having different vibes, have one thing in common: stunning beaches!

Clearwater is the larger city of the two, with a bustling beach vibe and plenty of choice when it comes to bars, restaurants, and vacation activities to keep everyone entertained. As a “beach city,” Clearwater has plenty to offer once the sun has set too.

Siesta Key, as the name implies, has a slightly more relaxed vibe. With three stunning beaches, this barrier island can offer a more peaceful vacation than Clearwater, but still packs a big enough punch when it comes to keeping its visitors entertained. 

But which is best suited to your vacation needs? The bustling beach vibe with a vibrant party scene in Clearwater, or the chilled island vibe of Siesta Key?

Read on as we take a closer look at these two Florida destinations to help you choose which is best for you!

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Is Easier To Get To
  2. Which Has The Best Vibe
  3. Which Is Better For Beaches
  4. Which Has The Best Water Sports
  5. Which Has The Best Hotels
  6. Which Has The Best Nightlife
  7. Which Is Best For Families
  8. Which Is More Expensive
  9. What Time Of Year Is Best
  10. Our Final Thoughts…

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Regardless of which of these two locations you choose, you should be able to get to your destination with minimal fuss. Both Clearwater and Siesta Key are well served by local airports. For Siesta Key, the closest airport is Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and for Clearwater, the nearest airport is
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

Depending on traffic, the drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to Siesta Key should take less than thirty minutes. And the drive to Clearwater Beach from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport should take a similar amount of time.

If you are traveling from within the US, you should be able to find flights to these airports relatively easily. Both these airports are well-served by direct flights from most major cities in the eastern states, but you will possibly need two flights from the US’s west coast.

If you are struggling to find flights matching your dates, you can also fly into nearby Tampa too. Tampa International Airport is larger and busier than the two smaller, local airports, and you should find it easier to find suitable flights, especially if you are traveling from farther afield.

Tampa’s airport is about thirty kilometers away from Clearwater Beach, while Siesta Key is a little over eighty kilometers to the south of Tampa airport.

Which Has The Best Vibe?

These two distinct locations each have their own vibe.

Clearwater is a beach city, with downtown Clearwater a short drive over the causeway, just behind Clearwater Beach. It’s the busier, more bustling of the two locations.

There are plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and vacation activities to keep you busy and entertained. So if you get caught out by the weather, there’s still plenty to do in and around Clearwater. If you are looking to party on your vacation, Clearwater will give you more opportunity to that than Siesta Key too.

Siesta Key has a more relaxed feel; it’s more “beach village” than “beach city.” There are fewer bars and restaurants, but there are also fewer people.

If you are looking for a relaxed vacation, with fewer high-rises and a more tranquil vibe, then Siesta Key is for you.

Which Is Better For Beaches?

With some of America’s top-rated and best-loved beaches between them, Clearwater and Siesta Key are both beach-lover’s paradises.

You will not struggle to find idyllic white-sand beaches in either location, but let’s run through the best three beaches for each location and show you what’s on offer. That way you can see which may suit you best.

Clearwater

The jewel in Clearwater’s crown is Clearwater Beach. This beach is consistently voted as one of the United States’ best beaches. The long stretch of soft, white sand and the warm, aquamarine ocean are perfect for any beach lover.

This beach is conveniently located in the heart of Clearwater and is as accessible as it is stunning. With nightly sunset celebrations at Pier 60 and calm waters, there’s always something going on at this beach, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the county’s top coastal spots.

While Clearwater is a busier location overall, it’s not without its tranquil spots either. If you are looking for a quieter beach, then Caladesi Island State Park is a must-see. A five-kilometer journey to the north of Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach will bring you to one of the area’s last untouched beaches. This pristine beach is perfect for chilling out with this season’s best-seller, but there are also a few activities available. In addition to swimming and snorkeling, there are also walking or biking trails and peaceful kayaking through the mangrove forest.

Another peaceful beach accessible from Clearwater is Sand Key Park, on the northern point of Sand Key. Sand Key is easily accessible from Clearwater Beach via a short drive over the Gulf Boulevard causeway.

There are far fewer people on this beach than at Clearwater Beach, making it perfect for families as well as those seeking a peaceful few hours chilling on the soft sand. For families, there is also a park area just behind the beach itself.

Siesta Key

Siesta Key should be on any beach lover’s vacation list. The eponymously-named Siesta Key Beach will not disappoint. This beach has been voted as America’s best beach on a number of occasions, and as soon as you set foot on the perfect sand, you will know why. This gentle crescent of powdery sand has clear, warm water for swimming, and behind the beach is a quaint village with excellent cafes and bistros for a bite to eat and a beer.

For an even more relaxing beach, with fewer people, head to Crescent Beach in the center of Siesta Key. It’s close to four kilometers of squeaky-soft sand, this beach is perfect for a quiet afternoon of relaxing. With plenty of space, it’s a perfect beach for couples looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The only downside of this beach is the limited parking, so if you are heading there by car, an early start will make it easier to park up.

Towards the south of Siesta Key is another idyllic beach, Turtle Beach. Turtle Beach has slightly coarser sand than the other two beaches, but being a little farther south, it’s less crowded than Siesta Key Beach. It’s easy to find a peaceful spot away from the crowds on this beach.

If you have a mask and snorkel, take them with you because, as the name suggests, there’s a good chance of spotting a turtle here. Keep your eye on the surface of the calm waters and you might be rewarded with the sight of a turtle coming up for air.

green grass on sand overlooking body of water

Which Has The Best Water Sports?

With both locations sitting on the west coast of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico’s warm clear waters will be on your doorstep, meaning that there are plenty of ocean-based activities to keep you entertained.

Clearwater

If sea fishing floats your boat, then a visit to Clearwater’s Pier 60 is a must. This fishing pier sports a bait shop and is well-lit for night fishing too. There’s also a huge playground in case your kids haven’t quite yet developed the patience for fishing.

There are also several options for spending a few hours bobbing on the calm ocean’s surface. There are a few companies renting out stand-up paddleboards (SUP) too. If you’re confident in your balancing abilities, an hour or two on an SUP can be a relaxing way to spend some time in the ocean. But if balance isn’t your strong point, take to the waves in the comfort of a sea kayak instead.

If paddling around sounds a bit too energetic for your vacation, you can also zip along the ocean’s surface in a jet ski. Requiring less energy but being a little more adrenaline-inducing, jet skis are a great way to blow away the morning cobwebs, setting you up for a day of exploring. You can find jet ski rentals close to Pier 60.

For snorkeling options from Clearwater, head to Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island. Honeymoon Island lies a few kilometers to the north of Clearwater and is a great spot for family snorkeling as you don’t need to go too far out from the beach. There is also plenty of parking here. And at Caladesi Island, you have the chance to snorkel with dolphins!

Siesta Key

Similar activities are possible on Siesta Key, too. Although there is no Pier 60 on Siesta Key, sea fishing is still possible; however, you must join a fishing charter or charter your own boat. So that’s one potential downside.

Jet ski and stand-up paddleboard rentals are also available though; Siesta Key Beach is the busier beach on Siesta Key, and this is your best bet for finding jet skis and paddleboards.

There are also plenty of outlets renting sea kayaks, but to get the most from this activity, book a mangrove kayaking tour. This way you won’t miss anything, and your time spent paddling will be educational too. Kayaking with a guide means you won’t miss the osprey circling above or the dolphin pod cruising by, and if you do still miss them, you have someone else to blame: the guide!

For snorkeling opportunities on Siesta Key, head to the southern end of Crescent Beach. This area is known as Point of Rocks and is great for snorkeling, especially around high tide. Enjoy the colorful, tropical fish below you, and keep an eye out for a manatee or dolphins! If you want to chill with the turtles, head to Turtle Beach. Keep your eyes open for cool shells and maybe even a shark’s tooth when snorkeling at Turtle Beach too.

In fact when it comes to snorkeling, we think Siesta Key has Clearwater beat.

Recommended: Sharks In The Florida Keys

Which Has The Best Hotels?

So, now that we know how to get there, let’s have a look at the accommodation options in each location.

Both Clearwater and Siesta Key have plenty of options to suit your budget. Clearwater is a large city, and as such, has a few more options to choose from than the smaller Siesta Key.

While both locations have a full range of accommodation, if you are looking for a large beachfront hotel with all the bells and whistles, then Clearwater might best serve your needs.

For a bit of luxury and a superb central location in Clearwater, check out the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa. At the center of Clearwater Beach’s scene is Pier 60, with fine dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. The Hilton is right next door, slap bang in the middle of Clearwater Beach, with stunning ocean views and powdery-soft sand at your doorstep.

For a splash of luxury on Siesta Key, have a look at The Cottages At Siesta Key. These delightful cottages are equipped with kitchens and are a stone’s throw from Crescent Beach and convenient to the shopping center.

Another excellent option for Crescent Beach is the Hyatt Residence Club, with its refined condos at the water’s edge.

If you’d rather blow the budget on entertainment and activities than on accommodation, there are a wide range of options in both locations. Aside from the luxury hotels and resorts, there are also plenty of mid-range hotels, condos, vacation rentals, and a few campgrounds and RV parks too.

architecture blue water buildings business

Which Has The Best Nightlife?

If your idea of good nightlife is bar-hopping followed by a club, then Clearwater is probably your best bet. But if your idea of vacation nightlife is a couple of sunset drinks followed by a quaint ocean-front restaurant, then perhaps Siesta Key will be better for you.

Whilst being nowhere near as rowdy as Spring Break destinations like Cancun and Cabo, Clearwater does attract the college crowd. The population of this seaside city is swelled by the college crowd at weekends and during holidays, and it’s easy to find a party to join.

Start your evening at Pier 60 for the sunset celebrations, then bar-hop up and down the beach, enjoying cold beers and an ocean breeze. With beachfront tiki bars, sports bars, and hip clubs, there are plenty of party options in Clearwater.

For more information on the nightlife in Clearwater, read our thorough article here – A Local’s Guide To Clearwater Nightlife: Best Bars, Beach Bars, Clubs, Happy Hours, Entertainment & More!

A few steps from Crescent Beach in Siesta Key will bring you to the local shopping center, known as The Village. This is a great place to start your evening, with cool shops, restaurants, and a few beach bars. Have a couple of cold ones as the sun sets, with a bite to eat to start your evening. Check out The Beach Club and The Daiquiri Deck.

If you’re looking for something a little more plush and sophisticated, head to Siesta Key Wine Bar on Siesta Key Beach. They have a great selection of local Florida wines and a small menu of delicious snacks available too.

adult alcohol bar bartender

Which Is Best For Families?

Both locations have plenty to do and can keep the whole family entertained. While Clearwater is bigger and has more choices to keep kids busy, Siesta Key is also a great place for a family vacation especially if you’re looking for more nature-orientated activities.

The slightly sleepier Siesta Key is a popular destination for family vacations. The Siesta Key Village Shopping Center is a great place to spend a few hours with the family. Explore the quirky shops and enjoy a bite to eat in one of their cafes or restaurants.

Siesta Key is also relatively easy to get around as a family. You can use the Siesta Breeze Trolley service to move around the island. This service is free and is a much better way to get around than walking if you have kids in tow.

Another place ideal for family fun is the St. Boniface Labyrinth. This maze is a great opportunity for some family fun and is located in the courtyard of St. Boniface Church, near the northern end of Crescent Beach.

If you get a rainy morning or afternoon in Clearwater, take the family along to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for an educational and fun outing. The aquarium has some excellent exhibits, and if your kids are budding marine biologists, you can attend one of their educational programs too.

Another option in Clearwater is a trip to the Westfield Countryside Mall. This extensive shopping mall is also home to a cinema complex, perfect for a rainy afternoon. There are also plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants in the mall complex too.

And if you find a suitably long movie for the kids to enjoy, you can sneak off to Aspiration Winery for a couple of hours; it’s a ten-minute drive away!

Which Is More Expensive?

While there is a slight difference between the average daily budgets for these two locations, the difference is not that huge.

As they are in close proximity to each other, there will be very little difference in the cost of reaching these destinations.

But in terms of hotel pricing, Siesta Key can be a little more expensive, but not drastically so. Clearwater simply has more choice for accommodation. This increased competition helps keep the prices a little lower.

Travel and accommodation aside, Siesta Key is also a little more pricey for dining out and drinks. On the whole, Siesta Key is a little more exclusive and up-market than Clearwater, and this is reflected in the average daily spend for each location.

In general, everything costs a little bit more in Siesta Key.

silhouette photo of palm trees

What Time Of Year Is Best?

With a little over one hundred kilometers separating these two Florida destinations, there’s no difference between their respective weather patterns. Whilst Florida, with its subtropical climate, is known as the Sunshine State, we should still check the weather patterns to choose the best time to visit.

The spring months are generally considered to be the best months for visiting this part of the world. At this time of the year, the temperatures are consistently hot and there’s not too much rainfall.

The summer months can be a little overbearing with the mixture of high temperatures and high rainfall. Hot sun and rain together means humidity. Florida can get a little hot and sticky in the summer, plus you may need a few more indoor activities planned to keep dry. The plus at this time of the year is that the prices for flights and accommodation may be slightly lower than during the more popular spring months.

The climate is also very pleasant during the winter months of December through February. However, prices can be a little higher at this time of the year as many US citizens from the northern states flee their harsher winters in search of some sun, and Florida is at the top of their lists. This means prices will go up at this time of year too.

Siesta Key vs Clearwater: Our Final Thoughts

Neither of these excellent locations in the Sunshine State will leave you disappointed. Which one will be best for you will depend on the type of vacation you are looking for.

If partying is high on your agenda, you will probably find that Clearwater can best serve your needs. But if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation with a chilled beach vibe, maybe Siesta Key is for you.

With both offering excellent shopping, bars, restaurants, and some simply stunning beaches, the main difference between the two is the nightlife and the overall vibe.

But if you simply cannot decide between the two, visit both! Split your time between the two: party in Clearwater, and then take the short drive down the coast to relax and recover in the calm environs of Siesta Key!