Sandpearl resort

Christopher Still’s artwork has Sandpearl guests looking inside their windows instead of out them.

Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach Florida
Art imitates life at Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Clearwater, Florida

Visitors to Clearwater, Florida likely expect the best scenery to be seen by looking out of their hotel room windows, such as a sunset over the vast Gulf of Mexico horizon. But two sister properties in Clearwater – Sandpearl Resort and Belleview Inn – defy conventional wisdom and have guests looking inward thanks to the creative vision of developer Michael Cheezem. He’s assembled the artistic talent of painter Christopher Still and the creativity of food and beverage director Jonathan Pelletier and his culinary team.

Taste and see the goodness, but let’s not leave out sound and touch: guests to both hotels are greeted with the gentle music of player pianos filling their lobbies. And soon after checking into Sandpearl you’ll feel the touch of your toes in the sand of Clearwater Beach.

Sandpearl Resort piano
Sandpearl’s piano plays perpetually in front of a panoramic view. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)
Belleview Inn
Belleview Inn greets guests musically, as well. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Warm Welcome and Enthusiastic Greetings

The sense of arrival at Sandpearl is palpable. Those rolling up to the elevated valet entrance will have the tone set when the first thing they lay eyes on is a fountain with statues of two beach boys playfully pouring water from one shell down into another.

After guests’ hand over their keys and luggage to the vibrant valets, they walk toward closed, tall, white doors with little square windows. Those doors then seem to magically open as a greeter pushed them open to welcomes guests personally as if they were coming home – every time they arrive or return to Sandpearl. All guests exiting the hotel are offered a bottle of water.

Florida beach boys
Beach boys in the surf set the tone for fun. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)
Sandpearl hospitality
A smile makes arriving or returning to Sandpearl is like coming home or visiting a friend. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Arriving at Belleview Inn feels like stepping into a turn of the century home, which is exactly what it was – if you consider its previous incarnation as a 400-room hotel and, in 1897, the world’s largest wooden structure, to be a home.

“We deconstructed the historic hotel, moved it, and saved the original lobby. We wanted to stay true to the style and the architecture of the time and tell the story of this hotel. It became a social hub,” Cheezem explained. “The 35 rooms that now remain make Belleview Inn the only operating Henry Plant hotel left in the country, so we try, as the developer, to create a sense of place.”

Belleview Inn
Belleview Inn was downsized, moved and lovingly restored. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Properties are Places in Themselves

The properties – The Sandpearl on the beach and Belleview Inn on Clearwater Bay, which is part of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway are from different eras – are architectural works of art in themselves. Form following function – or vice versa – was clearly tossed out the window in the thoughtful exterior design of these two properties in a state sometimes known for tossing up boxy high rises blocking the beach. Sandpearl’s natural textures soft sand color blend its 253 rooms, beach grill and spa in with the Clearwater Beach terrain.

Sandpearl resort
Sandpearl has plenty of relaxation for guests including Adirondack chairs, hammocks and fire pits. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

It is Cheezem who decided to incorporate the astonishing and inspiring artwork, beginning with Sandpearl’s playful, front, beach boy fountain sculpture, to create that “sense of place” he talked about. Once in the lobby Sandpearl guests see over an infinity pool pouring down to the lagoon pool deck in a walk-behind waterfall which provides a pleasing panoramic sight and soothing sound.

Guests at both Sandpearl and Belleview Inn could be forgiven, though, for fixing their gazes at the massive lobby oil on canvas murals commissioned by Cheezem’s JMC Communities development company and painted by Still. At Sandpearl, it’s Beneath the Waves, an 84” by 168” view of life on the ocean floor as experienced by a young snorkeler.

“I was raised here in the St. Petersburg area, so I have a great affinity for the water,” said Cheezem, who occasionally spear fishes. Sandpearl hands out brochures which number and caption 38 specific details of the painting.

Beneath the Waves
Beneath the Waves has 38 specific details of underwater life. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Belleview Inn’s quaint, elegant lobby is delicately dominated by A New Day, Still’s 60”x108” depiction of The Hotel Belleview original 1897 stately structure perched in its former footprint next to the rail line on Clearwater Harbor. Every historic detail is accounted for in a similar handout including the homage to Cheezem himself depicted diving under the jade-like waters.   

A New Day, Still’s painting of The Hotel Belleview
A New Day, Still’s painting of The Hotel Belleview over 100 years before the restoration and renovation. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)
Belleview Inn art
Belleview Inn’s artwork maintains its genteel nature. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Drinking and Dining is an Art Form, too

Pelletier, Sandpearl’s director of food and beverage, likes fishing too – because the grouper and other seafood his kitchens prepare and serve at Sandpearl’s restaurants are locally sourced. “It’s all fresh, fresh, fresh. We have fishing boats right across the street. We have our own butcher shop and pastry shop on property, too. All of our meats come in whole on a daily basis and we source a lot of our vegetables from a local farm,” Pelletier explained. “We change the menu seasonally so we can make sure we’re serving the freshest food at all times.”

He describes Caretta on the Gulf, Sandpearl’s four-diamond restaurant, as a luxurious dining experience. “We have an extensive wine list and a culinary experience which begins with amuse bouche and ends with homemade truffles. The amuse bouche is to sensitize the diner’s palette. Translated the term amuse bouche means ‘amusement of the mouth.’”

Celebrity Clientele

Comedians Louie Anderson and Rita Rudner were the first celebrities to stay at the new Belleview Inn – in January of 2020.  Wrestler and TV star Hulk Hogan is a frequent diner at Caretta on the Gulf. How does Pelletier feed the super-sized, larger than-life Hulk Hogan?

“Very carefully,” he jokes. “He is a super nice guy and very down to earth. He’s willing to take photos with people he meets here.”

Since Sandpearl is an elegant but casual resort, casual fare is also served at the beachside Tate Island Grill, and the most casual of all, s’mores at sunset, are provided to guests to toast at fire pits.

Beachfront smores
Beachfront fire pits for s’mores and smiles – a marshmallow memory. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)

Michael Patrick Shiels is a radio host and travel blogger. Follow his adventures at Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]

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