Clearwater vs Sarasota: Located on Florida’s southwest gulf coast, Clearwater and Sarasota are two of the state’s most popular vacation destinations. Both cities offer miles of beautiful beaches, great restaurants and shopping centers, and plenty to see and do.
With beautiful weather year-round and excellent hotels and rental accommodations, both Clearwater and Sarasota are excellent choices for a vacation destination. However, there are some significant differences between the two cities. Keep reading to find out what separates Clearwater and Sarasota, and which one is the better choice for your next vacation.
Florida's Gulf Coast
Florida's Gulf Coast
Moderate to high cost for accommodation and dining
Moderate cost for accommodation and dining
Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of Winter the Dolphin)
Pier 60 (daily sunset celebrations)
The Ringling (museum complex with art, circus, and gardens)
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Arts and Culture
Limited arts and cultural attractions
Rich arts and cultural scene, including theaters, galleries, and performances
Water sports, fishing, boating, and dolphin cruises
Golfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and nature trails
Nightlife and Entertainment
Restaurants, bars, and live music
Theatrical performances, live music venues, and nightlife districts
Close to Tampa International Airport (around 30 minutes by car)
Close to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (around 10-15 minutes by car)
Sarasota is served by the Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), a small-hub airport three miles north of downtown Sarasota. The airport sees either year-round or seasonal flights from most major cities in the eastern United States.
Similarly, the St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport (PIE), which serves Clearwater, is a small-hub airport just outside of Clearwater’s city limits. St. Pete–Clearwater is a focus city for Allegiant Air, and the majority of flights coming into PIE are Allegiant Air flights. Like SRQ, PIE sees year-round and seasonal flights from most major cities in the east.
Both Clearwater and Sarasota are also relatively close to Tampa International Airport (TPA). TPA is much larger and busier than SRQ or PI, and it can often be more convenient to find a flight into TPA. If you choose to fly into Tampa, the drive to Clearwater takes about 30 minutes, and the drive to Sarasota takes about an hour.
Despite being so close geographically, Clearwater and Sarasota are quite different in terms of atmosphere and overall vibe. Clearwater is a more active, busier city, with more highrises and oftentimes more crowds that you would find in Sarasota. Clearwater also has more restaurants, shopping centers, and bars in close proximity to the beach. So even if it rains or if you just do not feel like going to the beach one day, there is no shortage of things to do in Clearwater.
Because Clearwater is so lively with so many options for things to do, it tends to attract a younger crowd. In spring and summer, college students on break from school tend to congregate in Clearwater. That being said, the city does not get overly rowdy, and is still an excellent option for families, couples, retirees, and anyone else looking to enjoy the beach.
Sarasota, on the other hand, is the quieter and more relaxed city. Sarasota is less crowded overall, with much less of a “city beach” feel, meaning there are fewer highrises and beachfront hotels, and more residential areas. The city is also more spread out, with more open space and fewer concentrated areas full of restaurants and entertainment venues.
The beaches in both Clearwater and Sarasota are some of the most beautiful in the world, with white sands and miles of open space. The calm, bluegreen waters are perfect for a wide array of beachfront activities, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, jet skiing, boating, and much more. The weather in both cities is also beautiful year round, so visitors can take full advantage of the beaches during any season.
In general, Clearwater’s beaches are more crowded than those in Sarasota, with people flocking from the nearby hotels, apartments, and condos to spend the day by the water. That being said, the beaches in Clearwater are vast, stretching for a total of nearly 3 miles, and with hundreds of feet of beach real estate between the entrance and the water’s edge. Therefore, there is always plenty of room for everyone on Clearwater’s beaches, even when the crowds are at their peak.
Sarasota’s beaches are quieter and less crowded, and also more spread out. Sarasota’s main beaches are located on three islands, Longboat Key, Lido Key, and Siesta Key, collectively known as The Keys. These islands are all connected to the mainline by causeways.
Sarasota has a wide variety of beaches, some of which are more natural, like the more secluded beaches on Longboat Key, which are great for birdwatching and are a popular spot for nesting sea turtles to lay their eggs. Others, like Siesta Key attract more sunbathers and partygoers.
Attractions and Activities
Aside from the beaches, both Clearwater and Sarasota have no shortage of things to do.
Clearwater in particular has plenty of restaurants, shops, theaters, all concentrated downtown. One of the city’s most popular hangout spots is Pier 60, a pier full of booths, shops, and live entertainment.
One great thing about Clearwater is that the city has a trolley that makes it easy to get to all the restaurants, shops, and other points of interest. The Suncoast Beach Trolley runs every 20-30 minutes seven days a week, from 5:05AM to 10:10PM Monday through Friday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday, holidays included. This makes Clearwater a very accessible city, with no need for a car, even if you plan on traveling around the city frequently.
Other attractions in Clearwater include:
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium: Home of a wide variety of marine life, including dolphins, sharks, otters, turtles, and stingrays, most of which were rescued and are unable to be returned to the wild. The aquarium has frequent presentations and education sessions. It is a great way to spend a couple hours.
- Westfield Countryside Mall: A large mall with over 150 stores and an indoor ice skating rink. Taking a trip to the mall is a great way to beat the heat if you are tired of the beach, or a great way to spend a rainy day.
- BayCare Ballpark: The spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies and home of the minor league baseball team the Clearwater Threshers.
- Aspirations Winery: The number 1 winery in Florida according to House Beautiful Magazine, Aspirations Winery is known for its handcrafted red, white, and dessert wines. The winery offers wine tastings and tours.
Sarasota also has plenty to see and do aside from the beaches. Unlike Clearwater, Sarasota does not have much public transportation infrastructure. Because the city is much more spread out, with most of the beaches located on the Keys, a car is essential for getting around the city. Restaurants and shops are also less concentrated in Sarasota than in Clearwater. That being said, Sarasota has some amazing sites for those willing to make the trip. Attractions in Sarasota include:
- John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art: Located on the site of a sprawling 66-acre complex, the Ringling Museum of Art features a collection of over 10,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures, drawings and more from around the world.
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens: Beautiful gardens featuring native Florida plants. The Sarasota Jungle Gardens offer visitors a glimpse of what much of the Sarasota area looked like over a hundred years ago.
- Siesta Key Rum Distillery: Open for tours and tastings, the Siesta Key Rum Distillery is famous for its handcrafted coconut, coffee, and spiced rums.
- Myakka River State Park: At 37,000 acres, Myakka River State Park is one of the largest state parks in Florida. The park features a great system of hiking trails and is home to a wide variety of rare fauna, including the roseate spoonbill.
Clearwater and Sarasota both have plenty of beautiful resorts, and no shortage of rental houses and condos for vacationers. Some of the best resorts in Clearwater vs Sarasota include:
- Sandpearl Resort: The Sandpearl Resort is one of Clearwater’s most famous resorts. Located right on the beach, the Sandpearl features an oceanfront pool with a poolfront bar, a fitness center, bicycle rentals, and more. The customer service is excellent, and the suites are beautiful.
- Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort And Spa: A 4-star, family friendly resort located right on the beach and right next to Pier 60. The Hyatt Regency Clearwater has an 8th floor pool, fitness center, spa, and more.
- Opal Sands Resort: A 4-star oceanfront resort with a pool, spa, and stunning rooms with private balconies. Perfect for anything from a family trip to a romantic getaway to a business trip.
- The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota: A stunning, 5-star resort on the beach with pools, a golf course, a spa, a beach club, and beautiful guest rooms and suites with private balconies.
- Hyatt Regency Sarasota: A 4-star resort on the bay with a private marina, a restaurant, pool, fitness center, golf, and suites with stunning balcony views. The hotel is also in a great location, with close proximity to the main causeway leading to Siesta Key.
- The Resort at Longboat Key Club: Located on the southern end of Longboat Key, the Resort at Longboat Key Club is a large 4-star resort in a great location right on the beach. The resort offers a fitness center, spa, multiple golf courses, and luxurious suites.
Perhaps the biggest deciding factor when choosing between Clearwater vs Sarasota for your next vacation is the cost. The cost of a vacation to Sarasota or Clearwater is highly variable, depending on where you stay and what you plan to do. That being said, in general, Sarasota is slightly more expensive than Clearwater, mainly due to the cost of the hotels and rental houses. Clearwater has more competition between hotels and rental properties, driving prices down more than in Sarasota.
The average daily cost of vacationing in Clearwater is around $260 per day, whereas the average cost per day in Sarasota is around $230.