Ever wondered who’s got the best job in the world?

There are plenty of contenders, but you’d have to search hard to find a better candidate than Dr Stephen Leatherman – also known as ‘Dr Beach’.


This is the man who each year has the task of rating America’s top 10 beaches – with a possible 650 to choose from. And to the delight of the St Petersburg and Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, not one but two of their beaches made it into Dr Beach’s top 10 in 2005.


And what’s more, Clearwater Beach is ranked the number-one city beach on the Gulf Coast.

It’s easy to scoff at someone who thinks ‘beachologist’ is a serious-sounding job title, but Dr Leatherman does take a scientific approach to his work. He grades beaches on more than 50 categories, and in the US his opinion is held in high esteem.

Walking down St Petersburg’s Fort De Soto beach, Dr Leatherman’s number-one choice in 2005, I would find it hard to fault his verdict. Located in an 800-acre country park with not a condo in sight, there are more than seven miles of glorious beach on five separate islands. The squeaky-clean sand that caresses your feet is dazzling white, with just a hint of pink.

Clearwater Beach is on a barrier island a couple of miles from downtown Clearwater on the mainland. It has an array of pristine beaches with a huge choice of accommodation options and is currently undergoing a $1 billion revitalisation programme.


Plans include Beach Walk, a winding promenade which will combine pedestrian and rollerblading/biking trails landscaped in lush tropical foliage.

With so much quality sand, visitors are spoilt for choice of accommodation. We opted for the excellent Sheraton Sand Key, right on yet another of Florida’s world-class beaches.


The property has more than 10 acres of exclusive beach next to Sand Key Park and with its own summer camp, it’s ideal for families. This little cultural gem in a sea of sand is only a 20-minute drive from downtown St Petersburg.

Many assume Miami to be the cultural capital of Florida, but St Petes, as it is known locally, gives its Atlantic cousin a run for its money. It is home to the excellent Museum of Fine Arts, and the Salvador Dalí Museum has the largest collection of the artist’s work outside Spain. The Florida Holocaust Museum in the rejuvenated downtown area is also worth a visit.

Theme park fans may assume there is little to attract them outside Orlando, but just as it punches above its weight in the arts, St Petes also delivers plenty of fun for families. Busch Gardens – where tropical zoo meets traditional theme park – is less than a 20-minute drive away. Where else can you circle the Serengeti on a monorail and then take the Skyride to Timbuktu and the Congo, and all before lunch?

Clients can then visit ancient Egypt for a ride on a very modern rollercoaster with the world’s largest vertical loop. On second thoughts, maybe they should do that before they’ve had lunch…

If it’s weird and wonderful your clients are after, then consider America’s first floating wedding chapel, which opened in Clearwater earlier this year. Not every wedding venue can chug along at a healthy seven knots, but this one can. Useful, no doubt, if newlyweds want to make a hasty retreat from those pesky in-laws.

With no wedding party in tow, I decided to sample Dr Beach’s other top 10 choice, Caladesi Island State Park beach in Dunedin, just north of Clearwater. This beach is ranked fourth on Leatherman’s list.

As I paddled in Caladesi’s warm Gulf waters dreaming of mermaids, I imagined the good Doctor sauntering down this stretch of paradise in his Armani shirt musing over the sand quality. I wonder whether he needs an apprentice?