July 17 — In this article we will highlight our experiences and impressions from a recent trip to the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater area. We hope you find it useful.
All 3 cities on gigantic Tampa Bay are located on Florida’s West Coast, about half way down from FL’s northern border. For comparison, Orlando is located inland to the northeast, while Melbourne is parallel on the East coast. There are also a number of smaller towns in the area, a few of which we will talk about here. The area has a warm Florida climate influenced by its proximity to the Gulf, although it is not quite as warm in winter as towns further south like Naples or Miami. The area is densely populated. Traffic, particularly in the winter season and summer, can be quite intense.
St. Petersburg has, in our opinion, the best opportunities for retirement in this group. There is a compact urban center that is attractive and walkable. All kinds of cultural opportunities are available, from frequent concerts to the Salvador Dali Art Museum. Views of the water and parks are plentiful, even downtown. Straub Park is nearly a half mile long, boasts a waterfront location, and is home of the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts. There are many walkable neighborhoods near the urban center that are steadily being upgraded, if you want to live in a traditional neighborhood. St. Pete is located on a very large island, so there are multiple other communities you could live in. One of our favorites is laid-back little Gulfport with its cute mini-downtown and Casino Dance Hall. The homes there tend to be old-style Florida bungalow, very nice, plus some apartments and condos. Some of our Florida native friends have also told us about Pass-a-Grill at the south end of St. Pete, which has quaint, laid-back old Florida charm. We’ve put it on our list for future exploration. If you visit the area we recommend you spend a few days exploring different parts of the island; there are more nuances to explore than you might think.
Clearwater is big and has multiple parts. On the mainland there is the town center, which is lower scale and more relaxed than either than that of Tampa or St. Petersburg. As the county seat of Pinnellas County, there is stately court house, government buildings, parks, and a huge and modern library. Close to the Gulf there are high rises, many of them condos or rentals catering to retirees and others. Some luxury homes go along the many waterways that surround the city. The city continues for a long way away from the Gulf of Mexico with all kinds of neighborhoods – the ones further away from the water tend to be more relaxed and inexpensive. Many modular homes or small ranches dot these streets. The Zilllow Home Value Index for Clearwater has increased to a surprising $205,100 in mid 2017, about $5000 than the national median. But there are many neighborhoods with more modest prices.The main arteries are dotted with big box stores and strip malls of every type. Shopping is not a problem here!
We had the occasion to visit the McMullen Tennis Center in Clearwater – undoubtedly the nicest public tennis facility we have ever seen. There are 8 Car-Tru courts plus another 10 or so hard courts. Seniors can play for $7.25 for 2 hours of court time, or locals can join and play frequently at a modest charge. There was a small clubhouse, showers and picnic area as well. There is plenty of golf and other activities here in Clearwater as well – needless to say fishing and boating are top notch with so many places to explore.
You get to Clearwater Beach via a long causeway from the mainland across the Intracoastal. Although some retirees probably live here, either at its northern or southern ends, it doesn’t look like a great place to retire – for most people. The folks who would enjoy retirement here would definitely be beach lovers and sun worshipers, and have a bigger budget. There are miles of wide, beautiful sand beaches with easy and free public access and facilities. Because it is located on a narrow barrier island, it is impossible to live too far from the water – the bay is on one side and the Gulf on the other. Traffic is intense, even in summer, as beach goers crowd on and off of the island. There are many hotels and plenty of restaurants to choose from.
Back on the mainland and just north of Clearwater is the lovely town of Dunedin. We had heard and read many good things about this place, and were not disappointed in the least. For a laid back, small town retirement style with great access to medical, recreation, cultural resources, and an international airport, Dunedin would be hard to beat. The huge library is new with an outdoor cafe. It is located right next to the baseball stadium used by the Toronto Blue Jays for spring training (and in used in the summer by the Dunedin Blue Jays), and directly across the street from a very large senior center.
Residential areas offer wide streets with pleasant homes set amidst landscaping. The homes are modest in most areas but very attractive. The downtown area is unusually charming. Main St. and Broadway offer the most stores in a walkable and compact environment. A rail to trail, popular with walkers and bikers, goes for miles though the center of town.
We stopped in at the helpful Visitors Center on Broadway and learned that although Dunedin is a popular retirement spot, residents of all ages are moving here. Thirsty locals can enjoy multiple brewpubs and a distiller. Local attractions include the Second Friday Night on the Town and Friday Dunedin Market, plus frequent festivals and Films in the Park. The Dunedin Marina offers great access to the Gulf for residents. The Gulf and its attractions is only one block from Broadway. And for some folks, the greatest draw is the pair of top rated beaches. You can reach Honeymoon Island by car and enjoy its beaches, fishing, and trails. From there you can take a short ferry to Caladesi Island, rated top beach in America.
Other towns in the Tampa Bay area
Dunedin is by no means the only interesting place to retire in the area. Tarpon Springs with its Greek heritage, is a place to check out (and have a great dinner too!). Safety Harbor, Largo, and Palm Harbor are just a few of the smaller towns worth a visit.
Tampa is the most urban of these communities, situated as it is on the mainland on the eastern side of Tampa Bay. It has a very big downtown with many major corporations. The Buccaneers (NFL), Lightning (NHL), and Rays (MLB) provide professional sports teams. The airport is modern and efficient, although it has an unusual 2 part configuration (red and blue). We didn’t spent much time in Tampa, although we are sure you could find a neighborhood or community that might offer a great retirement. Tampa attracts many younger people, and it has been named a great outdoor city and overall place to live. Here is our more detailed review of Tampa.
St. Pete, Tampa, and Clearwater are good examples of how Florida is much larger place, geographically and population-wise, than most people realize (See “Florida Retirement 101: Sunshine State Bigger and More Diverse“). Here in just a relatively small area of Florida’s west coast there is a great variety of places to retire. You can choose urban, suburban, small town, or mid-size city. You can also live on a big island (St. Petersburg) or a barrier island with a resort atmosphere (Clearwater Beach). As always, it is never good to generalize about an area or take anyone else’s description too seriously. If the area attracts you, go down and spend some time investigating. You won’t regret it.
Comments? Have you retired to or spent time in the Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg area? What do you like or not like about it? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.