The spirit of Florida's tourist boom is alive and well in Clearwater Beach.
(Photo: VISIT FLORIDA)
What do volleyball players, a crippled but plucky dolphin named Winter and Hulk Hogan have in common?
They're all claims to fame for Clearwater Beach, the Gulf of Mexico barrier island resort community that USA TODAY Travel readers crowned the best beach town in Florida.
Readers voted online on 10 nominations submitted by "Dr. Beach" - aka Florida International University professor and coastal expert Stephen P. Leatherman. Nearly 30,000 votes were received, and Clearwater was a clear winner with more than 25% of the tally, followed by Siesta Key, Cocoa Beach and Sanibel Island.
Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater spokesman David Downing admits to an all-out campaign for victory, from concerted appeals to the tourist bureau's 137,000 Facebook fans and 8,500 Twitter followers, to hiring a plane that trailed a "VOTE CLEARWATER AS USA TODAY'S #1 BEACH" banner over the Gulf on a postcard-perfect, 80-degree day.
We'll visit the winning town and report our findings in USA TODAY Travel on Feb. 15. Meanwhile, Clearwater fans, share your don't-miss suggestions as a comment.
Laura Bly, USA TODAY