Best St. Pete Beaches

St. Pete Beach is the southernmost of the Pinellas County Beaches, located at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The warm bay and Gulf waters keep St. Pete Beach an easy 10 degrees warmer in the winter and noticeably cooler in the summer than the inland cities. While at first glance St. Pete Beach appears to be just another overbuilt Florida barrier island, a closer look shows otherwise. Check out my recommendations below. I've lived on the west coast of Florida for 45 years, and I've literally written the book on Gulf Coast Beaches.

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Pass-A-Grille Beach

Pass-A-Grille sits quietly at the southern end of an otherwise busy St. Pete Beach. And no, the correct name isn't St. Petersburg Beach. The name was officially changed to St. Pete Beach years ago. South of the Don Cesar hotel, where the community of Pass-A-Grille begins, the business of St. Pete Beach gives way to quiet residences on a narrow island.

Across the bay to the east one can see the palatial multi-story waterfront estates passagrille_photo.jpgof Tierra Verde. To the west is the Gulf of Mexico. The real fun begins at 22nd Avenue, where the yellow sign points the way to the public beach. Here the road runs parallel to the grass-covered dunes for at least a mile. There are no buildings on the beach here, just parking spaces (metered), dunes, and wooden dune walk-overs.

On the east side of Gulf Way are various small condominiums and motels. The center of commerce is anchored by the Hurricane Restaurant and the 8th Avenue Historic District (a whole block long!). There are several fine restaurants, some small art shops, and the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. Mainly though, you'll want to just stay out on the beautiful long beach. The water is shallow and great for swimming and the beach is populated by world citizenry, particularly those that hail from Britain. You will find British-style pubs well represented on St. Pete Beach north of the Pass-A-Grille area.

Most of St. Pete Beach is busy and overbuilt, but is still very much family oriented. It doesn't take after the trendy hip culture of South Beach, Miami. Families can be seen walking up and down Gulf Blvd day and night, casually going from their hotels to various restaurants for dinner, or out for some ice cream, or to do some shopping. If you're on St. Pete Beach, Pass-A-Grille is the place to be.

Fort Desoto County Park

Designated the number one beach in the nation in 2005 by Dr. Steven Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach) in his annual survey that is widely publicized by the media, Fort Desoto Park is truly a gem. While I would not rank it as the number one beach in the nation or even the number one beach on the west coast of Florida, it is a wonderful place. Perhaps I would rank it the number 2 or number 3 beach PARK on the west coast.

What keeps this from being the number one beach in my book is the fact that fort_desoto_beach_photo.jpgbecause of the strong currents in Egmont Channel, most beaches in the park are marked "No Swimming." There is a designated swimming beach near the north end of the park, but it is a relatively small portion of such a large park.

Although swimming is not the main attraction here, the park has miles of bike trails and sidewalks for skaters, bike rentals, two fishing piers, more picnic grounds and table and shelters than you could imagine, kayak and canoe rentals, a historic fort with a high vantage point, and a very nice campground with shaded waterfront campsites (advanced reservations required).

This is a great park for birding and observing nature. The Gulf pier provides a fantastic vantage point for watching the huge ships navigate under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and out through the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Shell Key

Shell Key is an undeveloped island just south of Pass-A-Grille. It is only accessible shell_key_photo.jpgby boat, but it is close enough to reach by kayak in about 30 or 40 minutes. The easy way to get there is to take the Shell Key Shuttle from the bay side of Pass-A-Grille. It's a covered pontoon boat and departs several times daily from the Merry Pier located on the east end of 8th Avenue in Pass-A-Grille. You can ride the Suncoast Beach Trolley to the Shuttle.

Camping is allowed on Shell Key. There is a designated camping area on the south end of the key, but no facilities of any kind. Part of the beach is off-limits to humans because it is a shore bird nesting ground.

The beach on Shell Key is fantastic and I highly recommend making a day of it. Be sure to bring water, food, and shade.

Egmont Key State Park

Being so close to St. Petersburg, you wouldn't think you'd have much access to nature and quiet beaches from St. Pete Beach, but you'd be wrong. Fort Desoto Park, Shell Key, and Egmont Key all provide a get-away-from-it-all suitable for a full day trip, or even overnight to Fort Desoto or Shell Key. Camping is not allowed on Egmont Key.

Located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, about two miles south of Fort Desoto Park, this barrier island is accessible only by boat. Since Egmont Key is so close to two major population centers with thousands of boat owners, Bradenton and St. Petersburg, it has plenty of visitors, especially on weekends and holidays.

Both the water and the beaches on Egmont are absolutely fantastic. The water is egmont_key_photo.jpgclean and clear and the beaches picturesque and photogenic in the Gulf Coast way. The sand is white, the water is a clear green, and the island is heavily wooded. The remnants of old Fort Dade are here for exploring. Although the southern half of the island is off-limits to humans (it's a wildlife refuge), the island is large and you will wear yourself out exploring what's available.

Snorkeling the submerged fort ruins is popular, and some of the day trip tours provide (for a fee) snorkeling gear. Be sure to bring plenty of cold drinks and something to eat. There is no food or water available on the island.

Bring an umbrella too for shade on the beach. There are no food or drink concessions on the island and no restrooms. Some of the tour boats sell junk food and have toilets. One of the least expensive tour boats leaves Fort Desoto several times each day for the 20 minute ride to Egmont Key. It's an open pontoon boat, so it doesn't make the trip in really windy weather.

Do you have all the beach gear you need to be comfortable during your beach vacation? I've got some great suggestions & tips for you. Have a look at some beach chairs, umbrellas, totes, floating chairs, towels, kids gear, and a LOT more!

Florida Beaches: Finding Your Paradise on the Lower Gulf Coast

After a lifetime of enjoying the beaches of Florida, and after 10 years of weekly trips to all the beaches on the lower Gulf Coast of Florida, I decided to write a book florida beaches book cover.jpgto help other people discover and enjoy the beautiful beaches that I've come to love. The response has been inspiring.

If you think a detailed and comparative look at more than 96 Florida Gulf Coast beaches is something that would interest you, click on the book cover at left to find out more about my one-of-a-kind book. Where else can you get all this information in one place, from a Florida native who has spent his whole life on the beaches?

I couldn't find this information anywhere else, that's why I wrote it. Sure, you could dig around on the internet for hundreds of hours and maybe find a third of what's in here, but why?



Copyright 2005 David Best Florida Beaches