This is the second part of series about life in Clearwater during Spring Training. In the first, I talked about the traffic. While it seems like a big negative, locals know about six different ways to get to anywhere, so once you’ve been here a while, you can work around it. This time, I’ll look at the difference between beach and restaurant experiences for locals and visitors.
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For me, Spring Training is very much a positive experience. You see, I have made many friends of those who make the annual pilgrimage to Citizen’s Bank Park South, i.e. Brighthouse Field. Before I lived here, I was one of them, making that same trip in the spring. This is my 4th spring training as a resident, but I made the trip down here 8 times before we moved.
Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach during the off-season
In all those trips, I managed to make a bunch of friends whom I get to see at least once a year. Friends that I go to dinner with, chat with, or just hang out with once they get here. It’s almost like a family reunion every year. I feel lucky to know these frequent visitors, and have actually stopped to see quite a few when I’ve made annual treks back up north.
One of the most common questions my friends ask is,”Where’s the beach?”
That is a funny question for a local, as the beaches are another area greatly affected by the Spring Training visitors.
Most residents only go to the main area of Clearwater Beach when they have friends and family in town. The majority of the year, we go to small public access spots that dot the coast.
These are small places with parking lots that may only have 6 or 7 spaces, but they are far away from the busy tourist areas. They may lack anything more than a picnic table and outdoor shower, but they make up for it with peace and quiet.
New beachfront palace built by The Big Piece
Phillies star 1st baseman Ryan Howard has a new house right along the beach in Bellair. There is a small beach access several houses down from his home, and you can park there safely. (DO NOT block the street or park in neighbors’ driveways or in the private Bellair resident beach access, you may get towed.) I took the trip down there last spring to check on the progress of his house.
During Spring Training, most locals avoid the tourist beaches and Clearwater Beach altogether. We go to Honeymoon Island or Caladesi Island in Dunedin.
Honeymoon Island is a pay-to-use State Park, and Caladesi Island is only accessible by a ferry from Honeymoon Island for an additional fee.
While it costs more, these gems aren’t as well-known. Coupled with the higher cost, it keeps the crowds down, and so that’s where the locals will go.
Welcome to Caladesi Island State Park.
Another thing you will not see is a local going to “famous” restaurants, unless they are meeting friends or hear that a ball player has taken to hanging out at one particular place.
Frenchy’s, Lenny’s, The Palm Pavillion and even a lot of the major chain restaurants will not be full of locals. Why fight the crowds from late-February through March when we can go to these spots during the other 10 months of the year? You’ll find us more often in the little “mom and pop” places that are off the beaten path.
If we do go to the famous places, you can be sure it’s during an off-time, with friends or to see a particular famous player known to frequent that establishment.
In the end, it all works out. You just keep in mind that in a month, we go back to “normal”, and it will be another year until our friends, our fellow Phillies fans, return to bring spring training craziness with them once again.