Are you thinking of moving to Tampa Bay? Maybe you have a job offer, maybe you want to retire and spend your golden years on a sunny beach, or maybe you are just sick of shoveling snow. Maybe you are military and have been transferred to MacDill Air Force Base. Whatever the reason, Tampa Bay is a great place to buy a home. Personally, we’re partial to the west side of Tampa Bay, Pinellas County, and it’s beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle. So if you are considering moving to Tampa, we hope this Clearwater Relocation Guide will be helpful.
We have pretty much everything here in Clearwater and the Tampa Bay area. Once you are here, you will notice people use that phrase “the Tampa Bay area” a lot, because geography and three bridges make it possible to move from Pinellas County across Tampa Bay to the city of Tampa and all its attractions very quickly, so quickly that it really is like being part of a much larger metropolis. With good traffic and the wind at your back, you can get from central Clearwater to the Tampa International Airport in 20 minutes, a key consideration if you travel for business. US Highway 19 bisects the city north and south, and Interstate 275 takes you from Tampa to the southern tip of Pinellas County and the iconic Skyway Bridge in 25 minutes, no stops.
If you are considering moving to Tampa, take it from a local- Clearwater Beach just rocks. It’s won so many awards that we tend to lose count. Check out this list of awards:
No.1 on ” 2016 & 2018 on Traveler’s Choice Awards” – TripAdvisor
No. 4 on “2017 Traveler’s Choice Awards” – TripAdvisor
No. 1 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2018” – TripAdvisor
No. 4 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2017” – TripAdvisor
No. 1 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2016” – TripAdvisor
No. 20 on “World’s Top 25 Beaches for 2016” – TripAdvisor
No. 2 “Best Florida Beach” – USA TODAY (2015)
No. 8 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2015” – TripAdvisor
No. 21 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2014” – TripAdvisor
No. 18 on “America’s Top 25 Beaches for 2013” – TripAdvisor
“Best Beach Town in Florida for 2013” – USA TODAY
“Best Place to Watch a Sunset” – USA TODAY (2013)
“Best Beaches in the U.S.” – Peter Greenberg (2013)
In addition to its TripAdvisor accolades, Clearwater Beach was also voted the “Best Beach Town in Florida” by USA Today readers in January 2013, and Travel + Leisure recently named St. Petersburg/Clearwater as one of its top Five U.S. Summer Trip Ideas, describing Clearwater Beach as “one of the most desirable summer getaways.” Add to that the lengthy list of 2015 awards from USA Today, whose readers ranked four area beaches (Clearwater Beach, Pass-A-Grille, Fort De Soto Park and Caladesi Island State Park) in its Top 10 in Florida.
Bottom line: if you want to live close to one of the most beautiful beaches in this country, Clearwater is for you. If there is any drawback to Clearwater Beach, it is that because it is so beautiful, it is a massive tourist attraction and can get a little crowded at peak season. Nevertheless, the powdery white sugar sand, clear water (see what I did there?), and warm Gulf breezes make Clearwater Beach irresistible.
If Clearwater Beach has a headquarters, that would be Pier 60. More than a thousand feet long, it is a favorite of local fishermen. Depending on the season, you can catch snook, tarpon, sea trout, flounder, Spanish mackerel, redfish, and more. It’s well-lit at night, so it is a favorite nighttime fishing spot. But the pier isn’t just for anglers; there is a massive playground at the foot of the pier, making it a favorite spot for kids and families.
But the really cool thing about Pier 60 is “Sunsets at Pier 60,” and after more than 30 years, it is now a Clearwater Beach tradition. From 6 – 10 p.m. each night (except Christmas), Pier 60 offers a variety of crafts and entertainment to delight the locals and the tourists alike. Watch local artisans create one-of-a-kind creations as you stroll the planks of the pier waiting for another astonishing Clearwater Beach sunset, and be entertained by the buskers, an odd assortment of jugglers, magicians, tightrope walkers, fire breathers, musicians, and comedians that work for tips. And on Friday and Saturday evenings, grab a blanket and bring the kids or a date, watch the sunset, then enjoy Sunset Cinema, free movies on the beach. There is nothing like Pier 60 anywhere in Tampa Bay.
For some people, moving to Tampa Bay is all about the weather. Oh, we get it… the good news is, you don’t have to shovel sunshine. We are blessed with warm, sunny days and mild winters, and most important to many northerners, no snow. Here in Pinellas County, we are on a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. This geography serves to control our temperatures; cooler water and sea breezes keep us cooler in summer, and warm Gulf waters keep the temperatures up in winter. In fact, the record high temperature here in Clearwater is 98°. I’m from Houston, and I can remember some sweltering summers over 115°! You won’t get that in Clearwater.
People sometimes say, “But what about hurricanes?” Well, if you know of a place to live where you are safe from bad weather, please let me know, because I’d like to open a real estate business there. From heat waves in California to tornadoes in Texas to blizzards in New York, bad weather is going to happen, so you just plan, prepare, and be ready for inclimate weather.
If you are moving to Tampa Bay, another great incentive is home prices. If you have ever looked at homes in California or New England, you know prices can be staggering. If you want to live on the beach, prices are astronomical. But here in Clearwater, you can still buy a home near the beach without breaking the bank. The most recent data as of this writing (June ’18) shows that the median home price in Pinellas County is $266,375, which is a 7.2% change year-over-year. Prices have been on a steady rise over the last several years.
I watched the Tampa Bay market get hit hard by the real estate crash in 2006, and we’ve spent the last 10-plus years recovering from that event. Single family homes have regained their pre-2006 values and have demonstrated a steady rise in equity over the last 24 months. The condominium market has also seen an adjustment to the pre-crash prices, and also steadily recovered over the past 24 months. Not only is Pinellas County almost completely built-out, but new condominium construction has not increased, due mostly to investors geared toward building apartment buildings for rental revenue, rather than new condos. They are simply following demand, and we still have somewhat low inventory across the board. As the market naturally shifts, we should see an increase in inventory as we follow the historical, cyclical fluctuations that are normal and inherent in Florida real estate.
Clearwater has a very low cost of living, and Florida is a very low-tax state. With no state income tax and modest sales taxes that vary by county, Florida is a very desirable destination. In fact, this a key reason why many people moving to Tampa Bay decide to relocate here in the first place. Property taxes vary by county as well, with rural Panhandle counties being the lowest, and the highest in South Florida, particularly Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. Pinellas County is somewhere in the middle of that range at an average 0.91%* of your home value. However, that can be offset in many cases by your Homestead Exemption. Florida’s constitution provides for an exemption of $50,000 in the just value of your property. Also, veterans and their surviving spouses, widows, seniors, first responders, the disabled, and some other groups all receive additional exemptions. I would be happy to discuss this in detail if you need more info.
Sometimes it feels like Pinellas County was quietly taken over by foodies and odd epicureans during the last few years. Everywhere you turn, there are great places to eat, from haute cuisine on starched white tablecloths to hamburgers on the beach. Seafood rules around here, oftentimes caught the same day or the previous day, as fresh as if you caught it yourself. There are even a number of restaurants that will cook your own catch for you! We have great steakhouses, Italian places, Greek, Vietnamese, Mexican, Chinese, French, Thai, sushi, Brazilian, Indian, Spanish… just a dizzying array of choices and flavors to explore. Good ‘ol American BBQ is well represented here (hat-tip to my favorites, Frankie’s Patriot BBQ and Smokey Bones), and the food truck craze has firmly taken root here, and you can find all sorts of delicious, quirky fare, dispensed out of a window in the side of a panel van. I could crank out a giant list of great restaurants here, and believe me, the list is LOOOONG, but here’s a handful of my personal faves…
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (Two words: Conch Fritters)
With all that great food, you’re going to need something to wash that down. Luckily, Clearwater and Pinellas County are a haven for microbreweries. Tampa Bay was the home of national brands Anheiser-Busch and Yeungling for decades, but Bud left years ago, and while Yeungling is still hanging on, the microbrewers have taken over. Close to one-third of Florida’s breweries are located in the Tampa Bay area, and almost one-fifth of them are located here in Pinellas County! This is not an accident; forward-thinking entrepreneurs and local governments have worked hand in hand, particularly in neighboring Dunedin and St. Petersburg, to bring craft beer brewing to this area. As it turns out, if you let a brewer make some fantastic beers in an area that could use an economic lift, it tends to bring foot traffic, tax revenue, and helps revitalize a local economy… imagine that! Here’s a few of the fine brewers in Clearwater… this is not an exhaustive list by any means; new players keep coming online and producing some truly fine brews. Let Napa Valley have their wine and their snooty attitude… here in Clearwater, we prefer a cold beer and a convivial atmosphere!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I totally swiped the phrase “Gulp Coast”… sorry, not sorry, it was just too good to not swipe. If you’d like to see where I swiped that from, if you love craft beer, and if you would like to see a map of the St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail, complete with videos of some of the outstanding breweries that are all within a 30 minute drive from Clearwater, click here.
Every April, around a dozen incredible artists descend on Clearwater Beach to create a breathtaking art exhibit that lasts for a maximum of 16 days, and then will never be seen by anyone ever again. These artists aren’t painters, they are sculptors, and their canvas is 1,000 tons of Clearwater’s famous white sugar sand. They create magnificent sand sculptures that are just amazing to behold, and every year is completely different. Beyond the sculptors, other local artists display their work, and there are also the famous Pier 60 buskers, a cornhole tournament, speed-sand sculpting competitions, DIY sand sculpting so you can try your hand, concerts on the beach, a giant sandbox for the kids to enjoy, a fireworks display, a dining experience from local restaurants, and the Sand Bar for a cold local brew.
Pro-Tip: When November rolls around, drive 20 or 25 minutes south on Gulf Blvd. and take in Sanding Ovations on Treasure Island.
Clearwater has a number of annual events, all family friendly, and all with the local flavor of Clearwater and the Gulf Coast of Florida. Here are a few of the biggest.
The annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday is a 4 day musical event in October that attracts some of the giants of the music word. From humble beginnings as a couple of bands performing on the back of a flatbed truck, this festival has grown and blossomed and is now a major draw, almost 40 years later. The list of past performers reads like a Who’s Who of music of the last century; Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Kenny G, Stan Getz, Tony Bennet, Dave Brubeck, Bonnie Raitt, Stanley Clarke, Kool and the Gang, Chicago, Al Jarreau, the Count Basie Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, Gladys Knight, and dozens more storied and legendary performers.
In September, the roar of boat engines fills the air on Clearwater Beach at the annual Clearwater Super National Championships. Last year, more than 175,000 spectators watched from boats, the beach, or high atop hotels and condos on the beach as the speedboats ran the 2 1/5 mile course at speeds approaching 200 mph! The race is surrounded by race-related events, parties, concerts, food and drink, and other entertainment. Exciting for the whole family!
Springtime means the annual Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival in Coachman Park. Two days of great live music with national acts and local bands, food and drink, and an art-walk in cool spring temperatures, before the summer heat sets in.
For two days in October when the fall weather finally hits, Baymont Street on Clearwater Beach shuts down for the Frenchy’s Stone Crab Fest, a three day block party celebrating a local delicacy, fresh Florida stone crab claws. This event goes back more than 30 years, and features concerts and live entertainment, charity raffles, great food and drink, and is a very family-friendly event.
If you ever saw the movie Dolphin Tale or Dolphin Tale 2, they are true stories, and filmed right here in Clearwater at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. In fact, you can come snout to snout with Winter and Hope every day, if you like. If you missed those films, Winter is a bottlenose dolphin that got her tail caught in a crab trap line, and eventually her tail had to be amputated, meaning she could not survive in the wild. She was eventually fitted with a prosthetic tail so she could swim again, but she could never live free. Hope was orphaned as an infant when her mother died, and was never taught how to take care of herself in the wild. Winter seems to have adopted Hope, almost like a big sister, and the two now lead a very happy life together.
The aquarium focuses on rescue, rehabilitation, and if possible, release of sick and injured local sea life, not just dolphins, but turtles, seabirds, and recently three seahorses, Frito, Cheeto, and Funyun. When an animal is too badly injured to survive in the wild, the aquarium gives them a home where they can live out their lives in safety. Education is their secondary priority, and they sponsor a number of educational programs for kids and adults alike, particularly disabled children. Winter understands when a child is missing a limb or has some other disability, and your heart just melts watching her interact with these special kids in the water with her. Few places are fortunate enough to have a facility like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and Clearwater residents are justifiably proud of this fantastic institute.
If you are a baseball fan moving to Tampa Bay, Clearwater is the Spring Training camp for the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field. The park holds 8,500 fans, and the Florida Grapefruit League is not only popular with the locals, it attracts a fair amount of tourists as well. Florida has been home to MLB Baseball pre-season action for more than 125 years, and the tradition is going strong today. 15 MLB teams train each spring and compete at Florida ballparks, letting you see the Big-League pros up-close at farm team prices. Spectrum field is also home to our own Minor League team, the Clearwater Threshers.
If Minor League and Spring Training baseball isn’t enough for the sports animal in you, the World Champion Tampa Bay Rays and Tropicana Field are a 25 or 30 minute drive south. Hop over the bridge to Tampa, and the Superbowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Raymond James Stadium, maybe 40 minutes away. The Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning hit the ice at Amalie Arena in the Channelside district of Tampa, perhaps 45 or 50 minutes away. And if soccer is your game, the venerable Tampa Bay Rowdies are a kick in the grass, playing at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, just a mile or two away from Tropicana Field, or “The Trop”, as the locals call it. And if you must have some hoops, the Orlando Magic is about two hours away.
Avid golfers can be talked into moving to Tampa Bay just for the golf. Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater is ranked 17th on Golf.com’s Top 50 Golf Cities in America, beating out other major areas in Florida like Jacksonville and Miami-Ft Lauderdale. There are a number of great courses in Clearwater, both public and private, and many more around the county, easy to get to with just a short drive (no pun intended). And just up the road in neighboring Palm Harbor is the Innisbrook Golf Resort, home to the PGA Tour Valspar Championship. This event attracts 100,000 attendees, not just for golf, but for family fun zones and games, concerts, food trucks, and more family-friendly activities.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Yes, this can happen, too. Let him play through.
Clearwater and Pinellas County are surrounded by water, so of course, boating is big here. From solo kayaking to outboard fishing boats to sailing sloops to motor yachts, we have it all here. Marinas are plentiful, and many local restaurants actually have docks where you can tie off and enjoy dinner before a sunset cruise. But you don’t have to buy a boat to enjoy our local waters, there are a number of boat rental companies in the area. Jet ski rentals are also available through several vendors.
Charter fishing is huge here, there are numerous experienced charter companies that can take you out to our endless grass flats, or out to deep Gulf waters for Florida’s legendary grouper. Red, Gag, and Scamp Groupers are all caught in amazing volume by local charters, and are so delicious. And, there are a number of local cruises where you can let someone else do the driving and just enjoy the water. You can go on nature or dolphin watching cruises, dinner cruises, or take the kids out on Captain Memo’s Pirate galley The Pirate’s Ransom. There are at least a dozen different cruises in the Clearwater area, and many more just a short drive away.
While Clearwater itself doesn’t have any theme parks, there are several in close proximity. The venerable Sunken Gardens Botanical Park about 30 minutes away in St. Petersburg, and at more than 100 years old, it is quite possible the oldest roadside “tourist attraction” in Florida. You can stroll their lush grounds enjoying exotic plants and flowers, colorful birds like parrots and flamingos, and a breathtaking butterfly garden. Hop across the Bay to Tampa and you’ll find Busch Gardens with its amazing rollercoasters, log flumes and water rides, and amazing animals, with Adventure Island Water park right next door. Tampa is also home to ZooTampa at Lowry Park, with 60-plus acres and more than 1300 different animals, including a close up experience where you can feed and even touch some exotic animals. Go a little farther, and you’ll find Legoland in Winter Haven, of course, Walt Disney World and Seaworld Orlando, 90 minutes to two hours away from Clearwater, depending on season and traffic.
The best description of the Clearwater lifestyle is “laid-back”. Some say it’s a southern thing, but I think it is more of the “beach lifestyle” spreading out from the water inland. The Tampa side of Tampa Bay is more urban and metropolitan, with a faster pace and more traffic, but here in Clearwater and Pinellas County, the pace is slower and less frenetic, the traffic is thinner, and people just seem friendlier and more accommodating. And you can’t really blame them; the weather is fantastic, the city is beautiful, and there are miles of stunning beaches just down the road, we are surrounded by idyllic parks and nature preserves, and there is something happening every weekend to take your mind off the work week and just relax. What’s not to love?
If you are in business, moving to Tampa Bay is a no-brainer. This area has a well-educated workforce, low unemployment, and local government tends to be friendly to entrepreneurs and business folks. If you happen to be a female business owner like myself, you’ll find Tampa Bay a great place to set up shop. In fact, Business.org recently ranked the Tampa Bay area the #1 Best City for women to start a business. Of course, the service and hospitality industry is huge here and tourism is a major player in the local economy, but agricultural, aerospace, electronic, light industrial, and medical fields are important components, too. Bottom line: Clearwater is a great place to start a business, and a great place to do business in general.
Clearwater is very family friendly, with a number of annual events that are safe for kids, numerous venues like skating rinks, pools, athletic facilities, and other activities kids love, and especially parks and rec centers. Beyond the beaches, so many acres of Pinellas County have been reserved as parks and nature preserves, where kids and families can enjoy picnics, cycling, bird watching, swimming, canoeing, skateboarding, and more. There are more than a dozen major parks in Clearwater, and because of our central location, dozens more are quickly accessible in the neighboring towns of Dunedin, Largo, Seminole, and Safety Harbor. Everything from dog parks to nature preserves to public pools to skateboard parks are literally just minutes away. Add to that the famous Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, which winds for more than 38 continuous miles from Tarpon Springs through seven Pinellas County towns, ending in St. Petersburg to the south. Some people actually use this paved walking and cycling trail (sorry, no cars) to commute to work, rather than get on the roadways!
Folks with kids moving to Tampa Bay are always interested in the local schools. The Florida Department of Education gave both Pinellas and Hillsborough County schools an overall “B” grade in 2017, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a number of exceptional public schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Beyond that, there are 26 private schools in Clearwater alone, and a number of excellent Montessori, charter, religious, fundamental, and magnet-program schools in the area. I can speak to this personally, as my daughter goes to an excellent charter school, and I am quite pleased with the quality of education she is receiving.
So you’ve made up your mind and you are definitely moving to Tampa Bay- now what? That’s easy. My name is Debbie, and I’m very easy to talk to. Pick up the phone and call me. Let me find the perfect home for you, whether it is a starter home, a larger home in an area with great schools and parks for your growing family, or the perfect little beach condo that frees you from yard work and allows you to retire in comfort and soak up some sun. No matter what your situation, my team and I are ready to help you find the perfect home, the home that you love. Buy your home the Wright way, and call me today!
And remember, Tampa Bay's geography and bridges make lots of great attractions in neighboring cities just minutes away, so be sure to check out my other guides!