Gulf Coast Beaches

click to enlarge Turtle Beach - Photo David Mcree Of beachhunter.com
Photo David Mcree Of beachhunter.com
Turtle Beach

ANCLOTE KEY, three miles off the north coast of Tarpon Springs. Accessible only by boat, this area is great for outdoor enthusiasts who prefer to visit the area's less-traveled beaches.

BELLEAIR BEACH, Causeway Boulevard, between Clearwater and Indian Rocks beaches (727-595-4646). The area boasts two miles of sand with four separate beach access areas, a boat ramp and a municipal marina.

BEN T. DAVIS BEACH, 7650 Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa (813-282-2909). This narrow beach is ideal for those who like to keep their car nearby (or for those who like to tan on the hood) and don't mind the swift-moving traffic on the nearby causeway. It's also quite the scene for jet skiers. Parking isn't usually a problem and dogs are allowed.

BEER CAN ISLAND, located at the end of North Shore Road, Longboat Key. This small, uninhabited island, which can supposedly be reached on foot at low tide, and can definitely be reached by boat via Longboat pass, has 2,000 feet of primitive coastline.

CALADESI ISLAND, accessed by ferryboats from Honeymoon Island State Park, One Causeway Blvd., Dunedin (727-469-5918). An hourly, 70-passenger ferry ride makes the trip to Caladesi Island in 20 minutes (no roads or bridges link it to the mainland). The roundtrip ride is $9 for adults and $5.50 for children (free for kids under 4); boaters pay a $4 docking fee per day ($9.35 with electric hook-up), and $20 per slip per night. Snorkelers favor the barrier island's Gulf-side waters, which boast more than two miles of beach; the Bay side features mangroves, slash pine forests and maritime hammocks. A three-mile nature trail winds through the island's interior. Concessions, restrooms, picnic areas, changing rooms and showers are available.

CLEARWATER BEACH, take Memorial Causeway across Clearwater Harbor (727-562-4800). This beach has two sections — the northern part at Palm Pavilion and the main beach at the Holiday Inn/Surfside. This is the hot spot for spring break crowds and other hormone-fixated types; families like it for the shallow water and gentle surf. Beach umbrellas and chairs can be rented, and Clearwater's Pier 60 Park Pavilion boasts a spacious playground and a snack bar. Metered parking is $1 per hour during the week, and $1.25 per hour Sat.-Sun.; lot parking by Pier 60 is $1.50 per hour.

EGMONT KEY, 4905 34th Street S., St. Petersburg. Accessible by boat only, this small wildlife refuge is located between Anna Maria Island and St. Pete Beach. Part of the island's north and south ends are closed to the public but the open areas feature secluded, pristine beaches and Egmont also boasts a working lighthouse originally constructed in 1853, as well as the ruins of Fort Dade. For ferry information, call the state park headquarters at 727-893-2627.

FORT DE SOTO PARK, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde (727-582-2267). The undeveloped local beaches at this park are some of our favorites. Serene, raw and rarely crowded, Fort De Soto's five interconnected islands offer forested areas with picnic tables. The 1,136-acre park has a 238-site family campground, two piers, floating docks for boat access, canoe and kayak rentals, a 6.8-mile recreational trail and pavilions with grills. Grill reservations are available. Parking is free, but tolls cost 85 cents.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH, Gulf Boulevard, between First and 28th avenues (727-595-2517). The 2.7 miles worth of beach has numerous access points, the most popular (1700 Gulf Blvd.) featuring restrooms and plenty of nearby shopping and dining. Parking (50 cents per hour) is often at a premium.

LONGBOAT KEY BEACH, along Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key. There are two beaches here, North Longboat Key Beach (accessible at Jay, Coral, Palmetto, Seabreeze, Broadway and Gulfside roads) and Longboat Key Beach (accessible at Bay Isles Road, Neptune Avenue and Buttonwood Drive). The limited access to these beaches is part of what makes them so popular; indeed, there is very little parking at either. See some of Sarasota and Manatee County's most expensive real estate while sauntering along the waterfront.

MADEIRA BEACH, Gulf Boulevard between 128th and 154th avenues, between Clearwater and St. Pete beaches (727-391-9951). Tourists and locals alike love this large beach. A rock cooking grill and a few picnic tables are available, and coolers are welcome (no bottles). Archibald Memorial Park offers a pavilion, restrooms and parking. Nearby John's Pass Village (129th Avenue E. and Gulf Boulevard) features a fishing pier and boardwalk with stores, restaurants and parking. Metered parking is $1 per hour.

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH, located on Gulf Boulevard between 164th and 174th avenues in the town of Redington Beach, Pinellas County (727-321-1158). Quiet and secluded, this beach is great for reading a book without interruption or gettin' it on with your honey. The beach has six public accesses along Gulf Boulevard.

PASS-A-GRILLE, Gulf Way, between First and 22nd avenues in southern St. Pete Beach (727-363-9247). This gay-friendly stretch of sand is one of the nicest beaches in the Bay area, and it's directly across from the popular Hurricane restaurant. Restrooms with showers and concessions are available, including a snack bar with great grouper sandwiches. Metered parking is $1.25 per hour, $5 for the day.

PICNIC ISLAND BEACH, 7404 Picnic Island Blvd., Port of Tampa (813-274-8615). Despite its location in an industrial area near MacDill Air Force Base, this beach is quite peaceful. The small stretch of sand is seldom busy and offers a great view of the Bay. There's a small fishing pier (not that you'd want to eat anything you caught), grills and shelters.

SAND KEY PARK, 1060 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater (727-588-4852). This 95-acre beachfront park is overwhelmingly popular during the sunny, temperate seasons and offers a stunning view of the sun setting across the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to swimming and fishing, the park features a boardwalk, a playground, a picnic area, great bird watching, restrooms, showers and umbrella/cabana rentals. Open 7 a.m.-dark, with lifeguards on duty every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Metered parking is 75 cents per hour.

SIESTA BEACH, at Beach Road and Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key (941-861-7275). This 40-acre park is roughly an hour south of Tampa Bay, and consists of nature trails, concessions, soccer and softball fields, tennis and volleyball courts, playground and picnicking facilities, and year-round on-duty lifeguards. And although there are 800 parking spaces, you better get there early if you want one. Siesta's pristine white sands are 99-percent quartz, pulverized to a fine powder; the sand's so reflective it feels cool on even the hottest days.

SUNSET BEACH, W. Gulf Boulevard, St. Petersburg. This beach, located between Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, runs along a small road that continues after Gulf Boulevard turns toward St. Pete Beach. Beach Nutts (9600 Gulf Blvd.), one of a trio of bars that line the entrance to Sunset Beach, makes a good landmark. The beach's charm and popularity as a surf spot is partially attributed to its inaccessibility and difficulty to find. There's a public access parking lot but no facilities. However, it is a relaxed beach community, so if you need a bathroom, just buy something at one of the nearby bars and restaurants; it's all good.

ST. PETE BEACH, along Gulf Boulevard (727-367-2735). This 1.5-mile-long beach located just north of the Don CeSar is conveniently situated near a variety of popular beach bars and restaurants. A favorite spot with the locals. Parking meters cost $1.25 per hour or $5 for the day.

ST. PETERSBURG MUNICIPAL BEACH, 11260 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island (727-360-3278). The municipal beach is one of the widest in Florida, stretching a quarter mile from the water to Gulf Boulevard. The beach has five volleyball courts, a small playground, concessions, showers, picnic tables, grills and restrooms.

TREASURE ISLAND BEACH, Gulf Boulevard and 112th Avenue, Treasure Island (727-547-4575). Treasure Island's beach is wide and busy. A nearby selection of restaurants and stores makes it feel like a little piece of the Jersey shore right here in Florida; access at 10400 Gulf Blvd.

TURTLE BEACH, located on Midnight Pass Road near the south end of Siesta Key (941-861-5000). Picnic shelters, free boat ramps, restrooms, dune walkovers, volleyball, playground equipment and more available. Walk for miles down the beach all the way to Casey Key. Prehistoric petrified sharks teeth buried in the sand make nice little souvenirs. No lifeguards on duty.

Visit www.tampabaybeaches.com or www.bestbeaches.org for updates.

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