Water parks, hiking trails, museums and more

A complete guide to summer recreation on land and water

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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.

LIDO BEACH, one half-mile southwest of St. Armands Circle on Ben Franklin Drive, Lido Key. This is a popular stop for locals due to its convenient location, easy parking, restrooms and 15 acres worth of unspoiled waterfront. Further up Lido Key is North Lido Beach, which has considerably less parking and no lifeguards.

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.

MANASOTA BEACH, at the west end of Manasota Beach Road, Manasota Key. Small and large shelters dot this quarter-mile beach, great for shell-collecting and relaxing. The lifeguard station is manned year-round and there's a 620-foot dock that continues as a boardwalk winding through the mangroves.

NOKOMIS BEACH, directly west of Albee Road Bridge, Casey Key. At only one-fifth of a mile long, Nokomis Beach is a tiny jewel in south Sarasota County. It's popular with families and fishermen, and features restrooms, concessions, picnic shelters, a boat ramp and boardwalk.

NORTH JETTY PARK, located on the southern tip of Casey Key, Sarasota (941-316-1172). Arguably one of the best places on the West Coast for surfing, the beach features restrooms, picnic shelters, volleyball and horseshoe courts, concessions and lifeguards on duty year-round.

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH, located on Gulf Boulevard between 164th and 174th avenues in the town of Redington Beach, Pinellas County (727-321-1158) or (727-391-4848). 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.

PALMA SOLA CAUSEWAY, Manatee Avenue W. and Palma Sola Bay, Manatee County. On the local bus route, this beach is 3,000 feet long and located on both sides of the causeway. Amenities include picnic tables and boating facilities.

PALMER POINT, Beach Road on the southern tip of Siesta Key and the northern end of Casey Key. This primitive beach has no lifeguards or restrooms. If you want to see Siesta Key the way the dinosaurs saw it, this may be the closest you'll come.

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.

REDINGTON SHORES, Gulf Boulevard between 174th and 183rd avenues (727-397-5538). Quiet, pristine beaches can be accessed at the County Park, 18220 Gulf Blvd. Parking is free.

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.

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