Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater, Florida

When you think of Clearwater, FL, you don’t necessarily think of luxury travel. Don’t get us wrong, we love the beachy, laid-back appeal of the small town on the state’s west coast. It’s the quintessential Floridian seaside town, with wide, uncrowded beaches, streets lined with quaint souvenir shops and casual, open-air restaurants. But until our last trip to the town, we’d thought that’s all there was to Clearwater—a beautiful beach, beautiful weather, and just a handful of quiet, friendly hotels.

Then we visited Sandpearl Resort. Set at the far edge of Clearwater’s main hotel strip, the resort offers some of the most upscale dining, spa, accommodations and amenities in the town—much of which is of world-class quality. But it also avoids feeling stuffy or overly formal, letting guests enjoy Clearwater’s uniquely relaxed ambiance. For clients who want to get away to an unpretentious, serene destination without giving up the luxuries they’re accustomed to, Sandpearl is the perfect place.

Most Floridian tourist destinations like Orlando or Miami aren’t typically considered part of the American South. But something about Clearwater has a certain Southern charm to it—maybe it’s the friendliness of the locals, or the way life on the water seems a little simpler and more wholesome. Whatever the reason, Sandpearl has taken that vibe to heart. Its sprawling layout and mahogany decor give the resort a refined, plantation vibe.

That vibe extends to the guestrooms, decorated in bright but elegantFloridian colors. Nearly all the rooms here have balconies (though some standard rooms do not), and plenty offer views out to the spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. Guests have the option to upgrade to a jr. suite, which adds a sitting room, queen-size sleeper sofa, and deluxe bathroom with step-in shower and bathtub with shutters that open to look out to sea. One- and 2-bedroom suites are also available, located on the top floors of the resort to maximize the views from their spacious, furnished balconies. Other amenities include jet tubs, stainless steel kitchens and marble bathrooms. The ultimate in luxury accommodations here, however, is the Gulf Side Suite, a 2-story standalone villa with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the sea from its spacious, high-ceilinged sitting area. With a manicured lawn out front and plenty of room inside, the suite is often used for small events at the resort, but we wouldn’t want to share it with anyone. The privacy and luxury of its location, with walk-out access to the beach and convenient to all the resort’s amenities, paired with the upscale decor and kitchen and bathroom amenities, had us wishing we could stay a long while.

Indeed, with its beachfront location, as well as manicured lawns, poolside areas, and elegant ballrooms, there’s no shortage of picturesque locations on property, making it ideal for weddings. And, in fact, it’s clear that the resort’s wedding professionals are experts in personalizing the events they produce. During our stay, we saw two brides and grooms tie the knot on the beach at sunset; one in a black tie ceremony, with complicated trellis, flower arrangements and fancy hors d’oeuvres, while the other had a more breezy approach, with simple decor and a casual reception that still showcased the beauty of the location (and, of course, the bride).

Whether they’re there for a wedding or just a getaway, clients should take advantage of unique amenities like fire pits on the beach (the resort can even arrange for a night around the fire making s’mores) and an expert MOSI astronomer who visits at night, along with a powerful telescope, to show guests the sky’s most fascinating stars.

Dining and spa options aren’t uncommon at luxury resorts. But the ones at Sandpearl strike that delicate balance of casual and elegant that permeates the rest of the resort. Sandpearl’s upscale restaurant, Caretta on the Gulf, is set in a large, open space with windows that look out to the sea. Seafood, naturally, is big on the menu here, but there’s plenty of diversity for foodies and picky eaters alike. For clients who really want to dive in, there’s an organic food and wine tasting held weekly, led by the restaurant’s head chef who offers cooking tips and tricks, as well as some of his most popular recipes for clients to try at home. Sandpearl also offers its version of the classic beach bar at Tate Island Grill, a popular gathering spot for tourists and locals alike who assemble in the late-afternoon to sip cocktails or swig beers as they keep an eye out for the green flash at sunset.