Sand Key describes a long, highly developed barrier island between Clearwater Beach and Treasure Island. It is one long island, but is home to the following beach towns: Sand Key, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach and Madeira Beach. Each city has its own character (more or less), but the beaches along the entire island are quite similar. It's what's above the beach that differs in degree of development and commercialization.
When locals use the term "Sand Key," they generally are only referring to the portion of the key north of Belleair Beach, rather than the entire key. Everyone knows that Sand Key is where the really big condominiums are.
The various towns also differ markedly in their provision of beach access to the public. Indian Rocks Beach is the most relaxed of the beach towns on Sand Key and provides plenty of free beach access and parking.
The big luxury hotels are on Clearwater Beach (Sand Pearl, Hyatt, and Hilton), and on northern Sand Key (Sheraton Sand Key). Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore are residential. Indian Rocks Beach has quite a few beach cottages and low-rise condominiums. Madeira Beach is the most commercial area and includes John's Pass.
The name "Sand Key" isn't particularly imaginative, and doesn't reveal much about what everyone already knows: the beaches are sandy. Maybe it is the most utilitarian name though, because it's hard to describe the character of an island with so many separate municipalities, each with their own building codes and development histories.
Sand Key Park is an oasis of calm in a land of commerce and high rises; a sliver of sanity amid the madness of overzealous development. Condominiums tower over the beach like a mountain range, the Sierra del Sand Key.
Sand Key Park is popular with day trippers, surfers, skim boarders, and fishermen. The long wide sandy beach is a big draw. And the facilities are excellent.
The jetty at Sand Key Park, at the mouth of Clearwater Pass is one of the top surfing spots in Clearwater.
ot all of Sand Key Park is sand and water though. A huge grassy and sporadically shaded green belt provides elbow room for the one million visitors that wander through this park every year. A huge parking lot (metered) is provided to accommodate everyone.
The Park has plenty of greenery, in stark contrast to the incredibly tall condominiums just a short distance to the south.
The tall bridge over Clearwater Pass affords a great view of the entire area. There is a pedestrian walk provided on the bridge. Take a walk up on the bridge and check it out. Don't forget to take your camera and a bottle of water to drink. It's a longer walk than it would first appear.
Just south of Sand Key Park it's a different ball game. The mountainous condos tower over everything, blotting out the late afternoon sun, and a goodly portion of the sky. Don't even think about trying to see the beach here unless you are staying in one of the condos. There are a couple of beach access points with parking and an easement that allows you to slip between a couple of the condos to access the beach.
Belleair Beach is a small, residential beach community between Indian Rocks Beach and the Sand Key area. It used to be completely private; in other words, there was no public beach access. But now Belleair Beach does provide good, but extremely limited public access. Belleair is known for its huge beach mansions which are obvious when you drive through, but it does have at least one small resort motel, most notably the Belleair Beach Resort Motel, an Old-Florida style two level motel right on the beach.