This Florida Getaway Has a Beach for Every Mood
When we ask our members about where they want to go on vacation, the most popular answer is inevitably the same—no matter the season, pandemic or not. They want to go to the beach. Especially now, when the fresh sea breeze, abundant sun and inherent social distancing make a beach trip the responsible choice for your next vacation.
There are few better places in the country for flip-flop fun than St. Pete/Clearwater. With 35 miles of sun-kissed sugar sand, a great beach vacation is kind of a "shore" thing here.
But not all beach days are created equal—sometimes you want to hang out with friends or family, throwing the frisbee and playing spikeball, and some days you want to Zen out behind your sunglasses, listening to the lapping surf while you dig into a beach read. Fortunately, St. Pete/Clearwater has a beach to suit just about every mood—and here are eight of our favorites.
There's only one spot in the country with two of the five best beaches in America, according to TripAdvisor readers. So if you want to see what all the buzz is about, St. Pete Beach (#2 in 2020) and Clearwater Beach (#5 in 2020) are the places to start.
Clearwater Beach is a regular on top beach lists thanks to the soft sand, energetic vibe and, yes, the clear water. Due to the best-of buzz and number of upscale beachfront resorts nearby, you'll find more vacationers here than locals, so arrive early if you need parking (and to stake out a prime stretch of sand). Once you're hungry, walk straight off the beach to Frenchy's Rockaway Grill for their famed grouper sandwich (fresh from their own fleet of fishing boats). At day's end, don't miss the nightly sunset celebration at Pier 60 with entertainers and street food vendors, and yes, a gorgeous sunset.
As you drive into St. Pete Beach, the iconic pink Don CeSar dominates the skyline, but the beach beyond it may be just as famous. Out in the water, there's plenty of activity options from stand-up paddleboarding to kiteboarding to a rare Gulf surfing spot on the northern tip of Long Key at Upham Beach. Open-air beach bars like The Drunken Clam keep things chill well past sunset. Off the beach, the funky shops and galleries of Corey Avenue are a worthy diversion from a day of sun and sand.
If you're willing to go the extra mile, these islands off the coast will reward you with unspoiled seclusion.
A short ferry ride or kayaking trip from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island State Park is a pristine, uninhabited barrier island that feels miles away from the mainland. It's perfect for a low-key beach day, with concessions and simple amenities like showers available. If you're feeling adventurous, take a hiking trail through the island's interior of slash-pine forests or follow a kayak trail through the mangrove canopy.
If Caladesi is going the extra mile, then Anclote Key is going off-the-grid. USA Today named it the best "hidden-gem" beach in 2014. This 11,000-acre state park is comprised of four islands three miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs. You can reach the preserve via ferries or charters (or boat there yourself). Birdwatching and nesting sea turtles are big draws here, along with a lighthouse on the south end that dates back to 1887. Know before you go: There are no amenities on the island, so bring all your own food and water, and take your trash with you when you leave.
Peace & Quiet
If you're looking to stretch out in the sand without "roughing it," these beaches offer up a simple, laid-back beach day.
Just south of St. Pete Beach is Pass-a-Grille Beach, where the dunes line the coast, and you'll find more quaint "Old Florida" beach cottages than high-rise hotels. There's plenty of space here to find a patch of sand all to yourself—the undeveloped public beach wraps around the end of the end of Long Key. Off the beach, the Eighth Avenue Historic District is home to an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants in some of the area's oldest buildings. While walking around, you can't miss the three-story Hurricane Seafood Restaurant, where happy hour lasts six hours (12-6 pm Monday-Friday) and the rooftop is one of the best places in the area to catch a sunset.
Connected to mainland Dunedin by causeway, Honeymoon Island State Park is the farthest north of the barrier islands in the area that you can reach by car. While it can be busy on the weekends, during the week you'll generally find plenty of space to relax along the four-mile beach. You can even bring your best friend, there's a dog beach on the southern end of the island. One more reason to love this Honeymoon spot: It's one of the best places for shelling in the area, due to the Gulf currents.
Thanks to the shallow, warm Gulf waters and gentle surf, St. Pete Clearwater is very popular with families. And while this sandbox is big enough for all kinds of kids, these beaches in particular stand out as great options for those with little ones in tow.
Just south of lively Clearwater Beach is the quieter Sand Key Park, which attracts families for the ample (and cheap) parking, wide (and uncrowded) beach and two popular resorts. Nature is on full display here, as evidenced by the haul of seashells available most mornings and after storms. You can bird-watch from the boardwalk through the salt marsh or glimpse dolphins swimming in Clearwater Pass.
Fort De Soto Park is much more than a beach—although it's earned "best family beach" nods from the likes of Parents magazine and USA Today. The North Beach has a large tidal pool perfect for splashing around in, and at low tide, a sand bar offers up colorful seashells and sand dollars for collecting. (Oh, and the pirate playground nearby is a hit too.) There's plenty to explore within the fort itself, built in a strategic spot at the mouth of Tampa Bay. In addition to bike and kayaking trails, a popular fishing pier and off-leash dog beach, the park also has one of the largest campgrounds in the area, which is perfect if you plan to stay overnight after ending your beach day with a gorgeous Gulf sunset.