Indian Rocks Beach
A relaxed, small-town feel punctuates this solid stop for families, anglers, surfers and skimboarders.
- A great middle-ground location, with lots of access without losing its laid-back feel.
- Plenty of places to grab a paddleboard or skimboard.
- Since this part of Pinellas County’s beach is a slender one, the walking distance from your car to the water is not bad at all.
- Having a narrow beach means you will have to get there early if you need lots of room for a big party.
- There are no lifeguards, so families with newbie swimmers must be cautious.
The name Indian Rocks Beach dates back hundreds of years, to a time when Pinellas County’s barrier islands were accessible only by water and their main visitors were Native Americans.
Tribes including the Tocobaga, Seminole and Creek would make the journey, often from as far away as what is now central Florida. They came to sip healing waters from a group of natural sulfur springs that were marked with large, identifiable rocks.
The springs, located where modern-day Kolb Park now stands, are long gone, but the name has stuck.
White settlers, meanwhile, stayed in the area permanently in the 1880s, eventually flocking to the area. They were supported by a hotel, sundry store and a railroad spur. A bridge from the mainland was built in 1916, and growth really took off in the years after World War II.
In the 21st century, Indian Rocks Beach is often overlooked among Pinellas County’s barrier island beaches. The town manages to keep its small-town vibe as the tourists flock to Clearwater Beach to the north or Treasure Island, Madeira Beach or St. Pete Beach to the south.
Indian Rocks Beach is still a beloved destination for people of all ages, however. Families on vacation, honeymooners enjoying its peaceful vibe, skimboarders and paddleboarders ready for action, and fishermen eager to snag the big one all continue to enjoy the waters here.
Tampa International Airport (TPA) is the main airport hub for the region over the Howard Frankland Bridge in Hillsborough County. All major airline carriers fly in and out of this growing regional hub. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) is physically closer to Indian Rocks Beach in Pinellas County, but offers a select range of flights, mostly by discount airline Allegiant Air. That said, it’s a small and quick airport to navigate.
Indian Rocks Beach is accessible by car from all major metro areas in Tampa Bay. It is about 10 minutes south of Clearwater Beach, and 30 minutes north of St. Pete Beach.
Two popular entry points are bridges: Walsingham Bridge located at the end of State Road 686 to the south and the Belleair Causeway, the end of State Road 688 to the north.
The main drag is State Road 699, known locally as Gulf Boulevard.
You’ll likely need a rental car to get around if you plan on exploring. If you’re sticking close to the area you have some options, as parts of town are easily walkable, but it’s a long way to neighboring communities on foot.
Uber and Lyft are available.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority operates its Suncoast Beach Trolley service along the length of Gulf Boulevard, with stops clearly marked. A schedule is here. PSTA also brings Route 59 into town across Walsingham Bridge, connecting to Ulmerton Road in the middle of the county.
Indian Rocks Beach likes to boast about its free parking, of which there are usually at least a couple spaces along most beach approaches.
There are about 26 of those public beach access points, with most offering limited, free parking spaces. They include the parking lots at Central, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, 12th, 15th, 16th, and 19th-27th avenues. (Some of those spots also include showers.)
You really have to eyeball it while driving along Gulf Boulevard to know for sure whether any spaces are available. Those free parking spaces fill up quick on weekends and at sunset, too.
If you are careful, you can find street parking along the streets east of Gulf Boulevard. Keep your eye out, however, for the ever-sneaky No Parking signs.
At the Pinellas County Park at Indian Rocks Beach, 1700 Gulf Blvd., there are 79 metered parking spaces. The park, with showers and restrooms, is open from 7 a.m.until 9 p.m.
IRB, as locals call it, is a tad quieter than its sister beach cities.
Perhaps this is because of the local government’s work in recent years to limit the size of buildings. There’s also been a successful effort by a group of local plein air artists who have advocated for more than a decade for the preservation of historic, early 20th-century bungalows that dot the beach city.
As visitors walk along the 3-mile stretch off shoreline, they can expect to see and hear active wildlife above and below the water. It is not unusual to spot manatees and dolphins close to shore. Often you can spot ospreys, herons, ibis and even an occasional Roseatte spoonbill along the palms.
For many years, the city was known for its 1,041-foot-long pier, once considered one of the longest in the state. Hurricane Elena, however, pounded the area for several days in 1985 and destroyed the structure.
Although the iconic pier is gone, beachbond fishermen still have their share of fun casting their nets for fish or working a rod and reel with a youngster for the first time. It isn’t difficult to get out on a fishing boat, either.
The Gulf coast’s surf is much less consistent than on Florida’s Atlantic coast, but IRB does come with a surf vibe.
Locals keep skimboards, paddleboards, kayaks and yes, even surfboards (for when a tropical system comes through) near their front door. The city is especially recognized as a haven for “skimmers,” who dot the water’s edge on their skimboards whether it’s a hot summer’s day or a chilly winter afternoon.
PLACES TO STAY
On the Intracoastal next to the Walsingham Bridge, a big perk is the hotel’s 50-slip marina. Rooms range from one bedroom to a 1,200-square-foot villa. Along with a pool, jacuzzi and 18-hole mini golf course, there is Jimmy Iguana’s a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, a full bar, live music and access to a water park.
Built in 2005, this is a three-story B&B on the north end of Indian Rocks Beach, east of Gulf Boulevard with access to the beach trail. The Laughing Lizard has five rooms, all with private baths.
Directly on the beach, this mom-and-pop hotel offers several one- and three-bedroom apartments. All units include full kitchens and pool access.
Every October in Kolb Park, IRB’s Octoberfest features food and beer vendors, live music and activities for the whole family.
For more than 30 years, boats get all dolled up with twinkly lights and make a loop near Indian Rock Beach’s “fingers’’ on the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s also a street parade.
THINGS TO DO
The city has six public parks, but for nature lovers, a must stop is the Indian Rocks Nature Preserve. It is on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, between 9th and 10th Avenues. Binoculars are recommended as you wind your way along the mangrove-lined wooden boardwalk at the Intracoastal Waterway.
Next to Jimmy Iguana’s and the Holiday Inn, the park includes a splash zone with three slides, twin 42-foot-high tube and body slides and a 600-foot winding, lazy river.
A great place to gain more understanding of not just Indian Rocks Beach, but Indian Shores and the western end of Largo, too. Included in the displays are Tocobaga Indian artifacts, vintage photos of pioneer families and mid-century tourist attractions now long gone. A major highlight is the wall-sized overview of the community’s history with a map overlay.
Worth a trip to the mainland, the Botanical Gardens are about two miles east of the Walsingham Bridge on S.R. 686.
WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS
IRB has one boat ramp, at the east end of 15th Avenue, known appropriately enough as the 15th Avenue Boat Ramp. Use and parking is by permit only. Contact the city for more details, or go to Belleaire Bluffs or Indian Shores for other ramps.
For SUPs and single, fishing and tandam kayaks Nathan Whittle’s rates range from $10 an hour (two-hour minimum) to $65 a day. His delivery service price starts at $20 round-trip within Indian Rocks. Bikes are also available.
Technically in Largo, just on the east side of Walsingham Bridge, a trip to visit Watersports West is more about learning tips from a master than just renting merchandise. Owner Steve DeVine will talk about the newest designs and the best local spots, as well as offer quick lessons when it comes to balance, paddling and safety. All SUPs and kayaks need to be transported by the customer to the water via car with rack, van or truck.
Dave Mistretta grew up fishing on the old IRB pier, and is perhaps the best-known working charter fisherman in the city. When the pier went down he bought a boat and started fishing all up-and-down Indian Rocks Beach, close to shore, using the skills he learned from fishing the pier.
SUPs, kayaks and bikes are available to rent just across the city limits in Indian Shores. The Kirkman family has owned the business for 14 years.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
This Italian eatery, founded by Luigi Gallace and his father, Pompeo, opened in April 1995. Located at the southern tip of Indian Rocks Beach, its cuisine ranges from spaghetti with marinara to Gnocci Gorgonzola to French-cut veil chops.
This is a local favorite, a place to run in with your best fishing buddy for a cold one and a grouper sandwich (their blackened grouper sandwich is extra-delicious). Since it does not have a waterfront view and it’s located in a small shopping plaza, often it’s easier to find a parking space at Keegan’s than at other restaurants.
You know you’ve reached your destination on the east side of Gulf Boulevard when you see Guppy’s customers enjoying cocktails under the patio’s yellow umbrellas. After a quarter-century, people keep coming back for their blue crab nachos, crab cakes and lobster escargot.
A much-loved local eatery got its start at Gulf Boulevard near the foot of the Walsingham Bridge when Bill Loder and his wife, Dolores turned a hotdog stand into a restaurant known for its crab cakes, lobster rolls and “verified’’ real grouper sandwiches.
These are two separate businesses in the same shopping plaza. If you and your traveling companions can’t agree on a breakfast place, this will make it easy. Both have good coffee and great service. Cafe de Paris is known for its mini-Eiffel Tower at the door, French beignets and a wide selection of pastries. Sandy’s Restaurant includes an Americana atmosphere, big platters of pancakes and eggs Benedict.
If you need to grab a gift before heading home or want your own artwork from the area, stop here. The gift shop inside the center is filled with one-of-a-kind items including paintings, jewelry, ceramics and sculptures created by local artisans.
A trip to Indian Rocks Beach is not complete until you visit Nekton, a surf shop founded by IRB’s first family of surfing, the Lopez clan. Brothers Corey and Shea have spent years surfing on a global scale; Corey ranked No. 3 in the world in 2001 and Shea ranked No. 11 in both 2000 and 2002. Along with their surfboards and gear, this place is all about the latest in surf fashion. You can also rent all manner of human-powered watercraft and bicycles.
That’s right, we’re pointing out the Publix. Although there are plenty of souvenir shops for tourists, Indian Rocks Beach does not have a grocery store.The nearest one would be the Publix at 12022 Indian Rocks Road in Largo.
TIPS FROM TOWNIES
R.B. Johnson served as the mayor of Indian Rocks Beach for a total of 10 years and his family has been associated with the city since the 1930s. He said one unusual spot worth a look is off the east side of Gulf Boulevard on 18th Avenue, where the road splits to go around a large old oak tree. “The story is that the wife of the developer who was dredging, creating the fingers that jut out into the Intracoastal Waterway, demanded that this tree be saved rather than chopped down for the sake of the new road,” he said. “The tree has some fantastic, low sprawling limbs, and is a real landmark.”