Topretirements Tours Clearwater/Tampa/St.Pete for Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

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.

Boats anchored in the Vinoy yacht basin marina, St.Pete.

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!

Pinellas County Courthouse courtesy of Ebyabe and Wikipedia

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.

Bottom line
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.

For further reading:
10 Funky Florida Towns for Retirement
Michigan Is A Great Place to Retire
Flo’s North Carolina Trip
Mejask’s Report: A Hawaiian Retirement
Two Great Mountain Retirement Spots




Posted by Admin on July 17th, 2017

5 Comments »

  1. After living in Buffalo NY for 25 yrs the family retired to the Clearwater area in the 80s. We loved living there for the first 8 yrs…..so much available to do with the best beaches in the world. Alas, the thunderstorms, bugs and mostly the humidity got to be unbearable so after 10 yrs moved to San Diego ca….with the best weather you can find anywhere. Only very expensive, so the next move is to coastal Oregon! ! If you can handle the humidity of Florida it is a very nice place to live….

    by mary11 — July 18, 2017

  2. We have lived in the Clearwater area (unincorporated Pinellas County actually) for the last six years, and owned a condo for thirty that we rented to my parents. A couple of issues that weren’t mentioned.: check out the flooding issues with whatever property, as flood insurance and flooding, for that matter, can or will be an issue. It already is in parts of Tampa and St. Pete. The city of Clearwater is in an ongoing battle with the Church of Scientology over downtown Clearwater. It impacts quite a bit on that area; Clearwater has a lot of small dated rundown houses; St. Petersburg also has problems with infrastructure (sewers and schools that have many problems) and in some areas high crime rates; public transit is nearly non-existent here for political reasons; some beach communities allow property owners to limit beach access (some communities are better than others).
    If you are interested in living here, also consider looking at smaller towns such as Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
    Finally the Pinellas Trail that is mentioned will soon be 79 miles and circle all of Pinellas County. Connections are in the works to add this trail with a cross Florida Trail. Trails are a great asset to this area and the rest of the State.

    by Lynn — July 19, 2017

  3. I have visited all 3 towns above during my visits to the Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte areas. Agree with the comments about Tampa being more of a young and growing city, but retirees should explore all areas south of Tampa down to Naples and also north of Tampa on the coast. As I plan to retire, I chose Port Charlotte for the canals, waterways and access to the beaches (even though it could take 30-45 minutes to the nicer beaches in the area Siesta Key being the best !)

    by Mike — July 19, 2017

  4. Been there many times in last 15 years. The comments are valid, place is very humid, crowded, and traffic is unbearable for a retiree. We decided to settled down in Westtown Township of Chester County, PA. Great place to live, no traffic hassle, open space living, pleasant environment. Greatest health care facilities all around, very peaceful living for a retiree. I invite the Magazine Publisher to explore this part of Pennsylvania.

    by Raman Patel — July 19, 2017

  5. I’ve visited the area quite a few times. As a large metro area, there is an overall feeling of sprawl. Pass-a-Grille is charming and historic, but tiny. The Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater provides a venue for major musical and theatrical entertainment. Downtown St. Pete has been built up, but I wouldn’t call it charming. The Dali museum is fascinating, but how often do you want to go there? There is a somewhat funky area just west of downtown on Central where you’ll find the fascinating and sprawling Haslam’s new and used bookstore.
    There’s a large Sun City retirement development southeast of Tampa, but it could be anywhere in Florida. Sarasota, an hour or so south, retains some charm with a bit less sprawl and population. It’s definitely worth checking out, but probably more costly overall than Tampa Bay.

    by Clyde — July 19, 2017

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