By: Nicole Pensiero
While New Jersey residents prepare to face the start of cooler weather, thoughts undoubtedly turn toward warm-weather getaways. While many people are understandably hesitant to travel far during the COVID-19 pandemic, for sun-seekers, there are destinations available with a focus on keeping travelers safe, while offering a hearty dose of fun.
Clearwater Beach – located on the west central coast of Florida – is one such place. While COVID held a strong grip on parts of the Sunshine State in the late spring and early summer, just last month, it announced travelers from the Tri-State area no longer need to quarantine after arriving in Florida. New Jersey residents, however, are still asked to quarantine for two weeks after arriving back in the Garden State after taking a trip to Florida.
Florida has 67 counties and each is taking a slightly different approach to opening. Clearwater Beach is in Pinellas County, which began its Phase 2 reopening in early June. Florida is doing its best to attract to attract tourists from the Northeast, while ensuring their safety.
I discovered the unique appeal of Florida’s Gulf Coast in Pinellas County a couple of years ago. While I haven’t returned yet, I have friends who have been there recently – and who felt safe. I’ve looked into the resort I stayed at in Clearwater last, the Opal Sands, and it appears to be going “all out” to ensure visitors’ safety. Social distancing signs are in place throughout the property, along with hand-sanitizing stations in high-traffic areas. Opal Sands staff are wearing masks, and guests are asked to wear them as well in public areas.
Clearwater is an all-ages destinations; there’s something for families as well as honeymooners. It’s a laid-back part of Florida with an abundance of charm. The Opal Sands, which opened in 2016, is a stunningly beautiful resort. Every guest room has a water view and a balcony, making it easy to savor morning sunrises and evening sunsets. The hotel also offers suites and even larger two-bedroom units, complete with a large outdoor patio.
Situated at the southern tip of Clearwater’s popular, lushly landscaped Beach Walk, the Opal Sands has easy access to the beach, and a popular outdoor eatery called the Sandbar. The lobby area has a great deal of commissioned sculptures and art, including a large, dramatic painting of the city’s popular Pier 60 by Florida artist Christopher Still that’s on display behind the check-in desk.
Any visitor will tell you that Clearwater Beach’s visual centerpiece is the 1,000-plus foot-long Pier 60. Named for State Road 60, it offers something for every visitor; there’s a playground, a snack bar, and a long fishing pier. It’s also the site of a daily event called Sunsets at Pier 60, which includes street performers and musical acts. Bec
Things are bit different, though, because of the coronavirus: visitors are asked to spread out six feet during busker performances. Also, the artisans there are spaced at least six feet apart and are only on one side of the pier to promote physical distancing. Free movies on the beach take place on Fridays at Pier 60 Park.
With temperatures that still it the low ‘70s during the winter, Clearwater is also a terrific year-round destination.
Some ideas for visitors to the region include:
- A side trip to the Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. Housing North America’s largest collection of Salvador Dali’s works – from massive surrealism paints to smaller, realistic portraits – this is a fantastic, fun collection.
- A glassblowing workshop at the Morean Arts Center’s Hot Shop that offers the chance to create a unique work of art to keep.
- A sunset cruise on the 52-foot Schooner Clearwater, which has limited the number of participants because of COVID. This two-hour trip provided us with amazing views of the entire beachfront, complete with leaping dolphins, and the as-promised breathtaking sunset.
- Luscious meals at the Opal Sands gourmet restaurant, Sea-Guini, or stroll across the street to the popular Salty’s Island Bar & Grille for breakfast.
NOTE: Phase 2 of the COVID-29 reopening means that outdoor seating is at 100 percent capacity, but still physically distanced at six feet. Restaurants are open at 50 percent capacity for indoor dining, with tables distanced at six feet. For more information about COVID-19 in Florida, and up-to-date safety information, visit: www.floridahealthcovid19.gov
Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey-based freelance travel writer and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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