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Splashy Ventures 2020 Guide to Pinellas Beaches

South Beaches

Fort DeSoto (& Egmont Key)

Shell Key

Pass-A-Grille Beach

St. Pete Beach

Treasure Island

Middle Beaches

Madeira Beach

The Redingtons

Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores

North Beaches

Sand Key Park

Clearwater Beach

Caladesi Island State Park

Honeymoon Island State Park

Pass-A-Grille

Anyone who has a special place in their heart for lapping tides and warm sand knows that every beach is unique. If once you’ve seen one, you’ve certainly not seen them all.

There’s coarse sand and sugar sand—pink, or white, or yellow, or even black. Shell-covered or soft and smooth. Bathtub-warm waters or chilly currents. Lake-like bathing or roaring, toss-you-around tides (and in some cases, dangerous undertows).

But no matter the type of sun and surf experience you prefer, Florida has more than its fair share of beautiful beaches to choose from. And Pinellas beaches often rank high on the lists of top beaches. 

Looking for solitude? Check.

Looking for an active boardwalk with fun activities? Check.

Looking for a spot to stroll with your pup? Check.

Looking for a place to go with a wheelchair? Walker? Stroller? Check, check, and check.

Looking for a natural ecosystem teeming with marine inhabitants? Check

Soft Sand!

If you’re just in town for a short stay and don’t have any particular requirements other than sand and surf, then the best beach for you will probably be the one you can get to fastest and easiest.

In that case, the beaches nearest to our rentals in the St. Petersburg area could be Pass-A-Grille, St. Pete, and Treasure Island beaches.

But for those with the time (and sense of adventure) to explore, here’s our comprehensive guide of all our favorites in Pinellas County, starting at the southern end and moving north.

So pack your shades and sunscreen, and prepare for a trip to the Pinellas beaches!

Fort DeSoto North Beach

Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto really is America’s beach park—its long list of awards is proof. In addition to gracing Dr. Beach’s Top 10, it’s also been deemed Dr. Beach’s Best Family Beach and TripAdvisor’s Top Beach (more than once), just to name a few.

It’s a true choose-your-own-adventure destination with almost three miles of white sand beach, more than seven miles of waterfront, and endless options of how to soak up the sun. Visit to fish, bike, picnic, tour a historic fort, enjoy solitude, take your dog swimming, canoe, hike, launch a boat, or camp.

If solitude is what you seek, we can’t recommend pristine North Beach highly enough, where a 5-10 minutes walk from the parking lot will get you away from almost everybody.

Paws Playground is a popular area for dog parents. It’s also one of two county parks where your dog can go off-leash for a splash in the tide.

And if you want to venture out even further, catch the ferry to Egmont Key for a day of shelling and snorkeling, or to witness historic sights like the Egmont Lighthouse and Fort Dade ruins up close.

Shell Key Reserve

Shell Key

If you’re willing to rough it in exchange for a first row seat to untouched nature, then Shell Key is for you.

This undeveloped, 1800-acre barrier island is accessible by boat only. While there’s no shade or restrooms, there is an abundance of sensitive marine inhabitants that you’re unlikely to see on more popular beaches.

The Shell Key Shuttle departs on a daily schedule from Merry Pier in Pass-A-Grille. It’s just a quick 10-minute trip from the pier to Shell Key.

Pass-A-Grille Beach

Pass-A-Grille Beach

Looking for a quiet beach with nearby culture to enjoy once you’ve shaken off the sand? Pass-A-Grille is a small, historic coastal town at the southern tip of the Gulf Coast where quaint houses and beloved shops and restaurants line the streets. Stop into art galleries, grab a bite at an array of casual and fine dining spots, cast a line off the fishing pier, and watch surf lap the jetty.

For a quieter day on the sand, head to the northern end where the beach is wider and less inhabited. If you’d rather work on your tan between sampling local dishes and window-shopping, the southern side is for you. The beach here narrows as it approaches the jetty—and tends to be more populated.

Most of the dune walkovers have rinse-off stations at the end to clean off your toes and gear before loading back up in your car. Paradise Grill at 8th Ave has full bathrooms, along with outdoor showers for rinsing off. Stick around and you could be selected as the lucky volunteer-of-the-day who gets the honor of ringing the Paradise Grill bell as the sunset slips into the sea.

The beach offers ample parking on the land side of the dunes along Gulf Way from 22nd Ave to Land’s End. Parking rates are reasonable and can be paid via credit card at conveniently located machines. Parking is pay to park from 8 am to 8 pm. Learn more about the town of Pass-A-Grille here, or read more about its serene beach.

St Pete Beach

St. Pete Beach

“St. Pete Beach” refers to both a town and a series of beaches. This stretch of coastline ranges in personality: you’ll find both small mom-and-pop hotels as well as larger resorts here.

One thing’s for sure: you won’t be bored during your visit. Whether it’s stopping at a local shell shop, enjoying a fresh seafood dinner followed by colorful ice treats, or finding artisan goods at the ArtWalk, there’s an abundance of ways to spend the day.

The historic Don Cesar marks the southern tip of St. Pete Beach and the northern edge of Pass-A-Grille. Known as the “Pink Palace,” this luxurious grande dame of Florida hotels dominates the beach skyline. Don Cesar boasts an indulgent Sunday brunch that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime. (We recommend saving your appetite and your cash in preparation: the buffet is expensive and the options endless.)

Parking in St. Pete Beach is reasonable and available at a variety of points near the beach. You can pay via a credit card at conveniently located pay machines. Upham Beach at 6850 Beach Plaza offers quick access, and because there aren’t as many resorts, it’s slightly less crowded than some of the more mainstream St Pete Beach beaches. If a giant slide is up your alley, park near the Tradewinds Resort at 5500 Gulf Blvd.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

Treasure Island beaches are a definite fan favorite among of our guests. Like many Pinellas beaches, Treasure Island has a lot of personality, and it can vary block by block. Rather than one beach, it’s really more like three sub-beaches: Sunshine Beach to the north, Municipal Beach or Treasure Island Beach in the center, and Sunset Beach to the south. 

There’s so much to love about Treasure Island, we couldn’t fit it in a short description (though we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to the Sunday evening beach drum circle). For a more detailed tour of this unique stretch of the Gulf Coast, read our guide to Treasure Island beaches.

Parking is reasonable (with the exception of Sunset Beach which charges for parking 24/7).  Parking can be paid at most pay-to-park stations with a credit card or via the ParkMobile app. On the Sunshine Beach end, some street parking is free and non-permitted, but be careful not to block anyone’s driveway. (Just be neighborly and pay attention to the signs, and it should be smooth sailing.)

Stand Up Paddleboarding at Madeira Beach

Madeira Beach

Madeira Beach, also called Mad Beach, is where you go when you’re looking for action. Not that kind of action—we’re talking about activities outdoors here. Rent a wave runner. Catch a sail on a pirate ship. Find a fishing charter, rent a paddle board or take a dolphin watch cruise. The choice is yours.

Mad Beach is also home to Johns Pass Boardwalk, where you can find just about any Florida souvenir you’ve been searching for. Bring an appetite for fresh seafood along the waterfront—be sure to stop at Scully’s, our personal favorite, or at the one-of-a-kind Waltz’s Fish Shack.

And it wouldn’t be a trip to Mad Beach without battling resident seabirds for the rights to your ice cream cone. (Here’s a tip: their offense has more practice than your defense.  We’re betting on the bird. Don’t get distracted from your prize.)

The Best Place to Spend Sunset

The Redingtons

Further north still you’ll come to the three communities referred to collectively as The Redingtons: Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, and Redington Beach. This spot is just about the center of our tour of the Pinellas County beaches.

The Redingtons is one of the most laid-back beach areas in the county. The main attraction here is a 1,000-foot long fishing pier where anglers will spend hours reeling in tarpon and snook (rental equipment is available).

You can learn about Mr. Redington himself and how the Redington strip ultimately became three towns here.

The Beautiful Gulf of Mexico

Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores

Further north—but still just 10 miles away from Treasure Island and 17 miles from Gulfport—is Indian Rocks Beach.

This three mile stretch of beach boasts a whopping 27 access points, which means you’re just a few minutes from dipping your toes in the tide no matter where you are.

Indian Shores is home to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, where sick and injured birds are rehabilitated for release back into the wild. Open seven days a week, this inspirational spot is well-worth a visit if you have the time.

Free street parking is available in Indian Rocks Beach (if you’re lucky enough to find it). We recommend leaving the hot car behind and seeing the sights from the Suncoast Beach Trolley.

Want to get a better sense of these small towns? Check out a great piece on Indian Rocks here.

Sand Key

Sand Key Park

Visiting Sand Key Park feels a little bit like being let it on a secret. It’s hard to believe this small, quiet park is so close to the hustle and bustle of Clearwater Beach.

Popular for beachcombers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, Sand Key Park includes a nesting site for endangered sea turtles. Its salt marsh is unusual for the area and makes it home to a thriving bird population including herons and anhinga.

The beach portion of this park has beach cabanas, a large bathhouse, a playground and a dog park. Rent bikes or kayaks to tour the park by land or sea. Beach wheelchairs are also available free of charge, and parking is cheap and abundant.

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

It’s big. It’s famous. It likely needs no introduction.

There’s not much you can’t do at Clearwater Beach (except, possibly, find time alone). One of the area’s main highlights, Pier 60 is home to a 1,080-foot fishing pier, multiple pavilions, a playground, and nightly entertainment.

Our suggestion is to get to Clearwater Beach early and stay there—it can be crowded and tough to navigate during prime traffic time in peak season. But with so much to do—from tropical party buffet cruises to helicopter tours—you won’t have any difficulty making a full day of your visit.

Caladesi Island

Caladesi island

If Old Florida charm is up your alley, make time to visit Caladesi Island.

While Gulfport and St. Pete Beach offer a tase of the Old Florida experience, large swaths of Caladesi look like the Sunshine State when it was just trade winds, sand, the sea, and wildlife.

The island is accessible only by private boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island, so you’ll need to bring most of whatever you need with you (on shore is only a small marina and a single food concession). Even on a warm day, it’s easy to cool off during the boat ride over. But there’s little shade on the island itself, so bring sufficient clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and water.

Once you’re arrived, launch out on a canoe, learn more about wildlife at the interpretive center, bring the kids to play at the playground, or unpack a picnic at the pavilion. Showers and beach wheelchairs are also available.

While pets are allowed on Caladesi Island, they’re not allowed on the beach or the ferry, so the only way Fido can join is if you bring him over on a private boat.

Honeymoon Island State Park

Honeymoon Island

Like Caladesi, Honeymoon Island offers an away-from-it-all experience, but with no boat or ferry trip required.

True to its name, Honeymoon Island State Park really was a place for honeymooners back in the day.  Another fun fact: only 385 acres of this park are visible, while another 2400 acres of this park are submerged beneath gulf waters.

Swimming, fishing, shelling, hiking, and bicycling are all popular activities at this low-key beach destination. There’s also a three-mile trail through virgin slash pine forest—you’ll be hard-pressed to find as lush a hike on any other beach.

Sunset Pass-A-Grille Beach

Beach Info

Start here for the perfect Pinellas County Florida beach!

35 miles of white sand beaches.
361 average number of sunny days here each year
2 award-winning beaches (one of them twice!)

With statistics like that you’re bound to spend some serious time, outside on the beach.

We have divided this white sand wonderland into three sections – North, Central and South and provided descriptions and links to help you decide where to best spend your beach time. Click on the button to see our beach guide.

Enjoy!

Beach FAQ’s

Here you can get answers to your questions!

Here you can get answers to your questions!

Can I have alcohol on the beach?
Generally, no. The majority of the beaches along St Petersburg/Clearwater prohibit all alcoholic beverages, although there are some exceptions. Madeira and Redington beaches allow the consumption of alcohol, except for drinks in glass containers. Treasure Island permits it also, north of 99th Ave and south of 85th Ave. (This basically excludes the Sunset Beach area that surrounds Caddy’s. You can drink on Caddy’s beach but only if you buy the alcohol there.)
Are pets allowed on the beach?
Generally, no. Pets are banned from all public beaches in Pinellas County, but both Fort De Soto and Honeymoon Island have terrific dog beaches.
Can I have a fire on the beach?

Also generally a no. And also something that’s really likely to get you caught. Ever tried having a low-profile, smokeless fire? Exactly. If your trip won’t be complete without a bonfire or grill at the beach, you may be able to have one at Redington Beach or Indian Shores IF you get a permit. Madeira Beach provides fire service to Redington Beach, so they are the ones that have the permits. The application is available online here: http://www.townofredingtonbeach.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Bon-Fire-Permit-Application.pdf. Permits are only accepted November 1st to April 30th, and you must call again to verify weather conditions and that the permit will still be valid the day before your permit valid date. The number to call to verify is 727-391-3400. The permit allows a fire at 160th Avenue Beach Park Area. (This starts to sound like not so much fun to me. And all of our rentals except Fish Camp have their own propane grills.) I’ve read that Indian Shores allows a beach fire for cooking as long as it is a contained grill or hibachi, but I have been unable to verify this. Some resorts along St Pete Beach have bonfires, the most notable being Postcard Inn for their New Year’s Eve party on the beach. This is definitely worth a visit if you’re in town during this time.

Can I camp on the beach?
No overnight camping is permitted on any Pinellas County beach, other than at Fort DeSoto Park or the Shell Key Preserve.
Is clothing optional at the beach?

Nope. The only clothing-optional beach is near Miami and probably best saved for another trip. There are some nudist resorts in Pasco County, but that goes beyond the scope of this post.

Pass-A-Grille Beach

Pass-a-grille is a little haven in the middle of bustling St Pete Beach. Or more accurately, at the southernmost tip of St Pete Beach.  

As you pass The Don CeSar, Gulf Blvd gives way to Pass A Grille Way, and the road becomes a palm-lined, single-lane-each-direction road.  Little McPherson Bayou is on your left and the massive Gulf of Mexico is on your right. 

The vibe changes.  Almost instantly.  No more mid-rise or high-rise hotels or condos, only one traffic light, the traffic slows and you begin to realize that you are on the way to someplace special.

Even with the mutli-story homes that have been replacing the small bungalows in recent years, there is just a feeling of more openness.  You can see the water on the left (Little McPherson Bayou and then Pass-A-Grille channel). And you begin to sense the Gulf on your right.

Grab your favorite flotation device and insert yourself here

High surf sunset at PAG beach

If you turn right when you see the sea Critters restaurant, you’ll dead end at Gulf Way.  Turn left and head south and the Gulf will be on your right the entire way. 

There is plenty of parking and ample beach walkovers all the way to the end.  You’ll find the beach gets a little more crowded as you reach Historic Pass-A-Grille, down around 10th Ave. 

Insider Tip: Parking meters

There are only a handful of free parking spaces around, so bring a credit card to pay by the space at the machines provided.

Sand Dunes rentals sets up the yellow umbrellas early on July 4th, awaiting the throngs of sun-seekers

Sand Dunes operates lounge chair rentals, umbrellas rentals and on calm days, SUPs.  See our blog post here for more info.

The outdoor (and only) dining area at Paradise Grille

On holidays and some weekends you may find some vendors set up in the patio are at Paradise Grille

The area around 10th – 8th Ave is really the predominant shopping and restaurant area of Pass-A-Grille.

This is where you can find one of my favorites, Paradise Grille, along with The Hurricane and the Brass Monkey.  Oh and Paradise Sweets, home of coffee and ice cream. 

The water was clear and calm and the skies fair Independence Day morning

Beach and Paradise Grille as seen from the water

If you go at before sunset, The Hurricane or Paradise Grille or The Brass Monkey all offer fabulous settings for sunset viewings. 

Paradise Grille has the Nightly Ringing of the Bell every night at sunset. The grille itself closes about a half hour after this bell has rung, so plan accordingly. My meal of champions? The cheeseburger and a screwdriver.

Stand up paddleboarding is great on a calm day

Or windsurfing on a not-so-calm day

Boogie board with a human booster (sling shot method)

Insider Tip: When Nature Calls (Er, Restrooms)

Restrooms (and separate changing rooms) are available at Paradise Grille

The beach is a great place to view incoming storms

Other highlights are a dog beach (as you round the tip and head back north). Merry Pier, fishing on the Pass-A-Grille channel side. 

Historic Merry Pier has fishing trips, trips to the Shell Key Preserve via the Shell Key Shuttle, sunset cruises and more.

The beach is quite wide at the northern end, gradually narrowing as you head south.  By the time you get to the jetty at 1st Ave. the beach is at its narrowest.  Check out the satellite view on Google maps.

Sometimes, just being still in the water is all you need

The end of another great evening at the beach

Weekdays are always less crowded than the weekends, unless of course it is a holiday.  On holidays we go early – as in 9 am – and you will find the yellow umbrellas set up and waiting for the crowds. But even on holidays it isn’t too crowded to enjoy, especially at the northern end of the beach.

The beach is wide there, and the Gulf of Mexico even wider.

The way sunsets were meant to be enjoyed