Indian Shores

Somewhat isolated on a Pinellas County barrier island, this beach makes for a pleasant family vacation or quiet refuge.

Reader rating:
(0 out of 5)
Indian Shores, smack in the middle of Pinellas County's barrier island communities, is a great family destination. [Lara Cerri | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Plenty of peace and quiet, but still offers easy access to small, locally owned restaurants and coffee shops.
  • The slender white beach welcomes beachcombers looking for shells and wildlife.
  • The location is convenient to larger, busier places like St. Petersburg to the south and Clearwater to the north, for those craving an evening on the town.
Cons
  • Parking spaces for beachgoers fill up fast on weekends.
  • Restaurants also fill up quickly, so plan your Saturday night dinner accordingly.
  • Traffic near the Park Boulevard bridge can get frustrating near sunset.

Named in honor of the Native Americans who once hunted and fished Florida’s barrier islands, Indian Shores is a small town of about 1,500 full-time residents, although the population can balloon to about 5,000 when the snowbirds arrive.

The town once was separate from Sand Key and Indian Rocks Beach to the north. The government filled in the pass between the two areas in 1927, and Indian Rocks Beach South Shore was incorporated in 1949.

The Polynesian-themed Tiki Gardens park opened in 1962, drawing crowds with exotic animals and plants, plus a restaurant and gift shops hawking souvenirs. (The gardens closed and the 12-acre plot was sold in the 1980s.)

In order to distinguish itself from Indian Rocks Beach, residents shortened the name to Indian Shores in 1973. It has since solidified its status as a family-friendly destination, despite being barely a block wide in some areas.

The town boasts a peaceful beach and wildlife, including the SunCoast Seabird Sanctuary just north of Redington Shores. Easy boating access is available, since the town is between the Intracoastal Waterway and Gulf of Mexico. Indian Shores also has more than its share of eclectic eateries and taverns.

All of that makes for an optimal choice for a quiet vacation option that doesn’t get the same publicity as barrier island options to the north and south.

ADVERTISEMENT

GETTING THERE

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 Shores 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 north. That connects to State Road 699, the main drag on the islands known locally as Gulf Boulevard. The Park Boulevard Bridge, meanwhile, is the end of State Road 694, and connects to the center of Indian Shores.

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.

Keep in mind, too, that the island is so narrow in Indian Shores that there are no sidewalks along Gulf Boulevard. There’s a walkway and a bike path along the two-lane road, but walking so close to cars (many of which don’t observe the speed limit) can be a harrowing experience — especially if you’re walking with small children.

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 in Indian Rocks Beach, connecting to Ulmerton Road in the middle of the county. There is no bus service into Seminole across Park Boulevard.

ADVERTISEMENT

PARKING

Tiki Gardens, which was once the site of a touristy landmark, is now the best bet for public parking. [Mark Guss | Florida Beach Insider photo]

For such a narrow island community, there are a couple spots in Indian Shores with a fair amount of public parking.

A big part of that is because the Tiki Gardens site is now a Pinellas County Park at 19601 Gulf Blvd., still going by the same name. Although the parking is on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, there is a crossing walk with a street light to beach access at 197th Ave. Showers are available at the beach access point. There are 168 metered parking spots are available, regulated by Pinellas County. There’s also long-term parking available, making it a good spot for overnight guests.

The other big spot is the Park Boulevard boat ramp at 18651 Gulf Blvd. There are 73 parking spaces for both cars and boat trailers. Metered parking rates regulated by Pinellas County, and again, there are overnight spaces. On Saturday and Sunday, arrive early and stay out of the way of fishermen hurrying to get out on the water. It can get hazardous with so much trailer activity.

The rest of the time, you may be hard-pressed to find a spot without having a place to stay. You can take your chances in a shopping center or restaurant, but park in a business lot at your risk if you don’t plan on being a customer.

ADVERTISEMENT

BEACH SCENE

Similar to other beach towns in the Sunshine State, there’s a good share of condominiums along Gulf Boulevard, but you won’t see the mega resorts or high-rise hotel towers. The island may be narrow here, but the beach is relatively wide, peaceful and without the shadows those bigger developments bring.

On most days, the Gulf of Mexico is calm in comparison to the beaches on the Atlantic side of the state, so paddleboarding and kayaking are popular. Surfing isn’t that big of a deal without the waves, even compared to Indian Rocks Beach, just around the bend to the north of town.

There is a series of iconic restaurants and a few strip malls, but development is tamer than you may expect. The beach near the county operated Tiki Gardens and boat ramp parking lots can get crowded, however.

But if you’ve rented a place near a beach access point, you stand a pretty good chance of having lots of room to yourself just about any time. The traffic is another story, with cars lining up bumper to bumper often, especially around meal times.

Indian Shores is renowned for its wildlife, birds and active waters. A beachgoer should be on the lookout for herons, ibis, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, dolphin and manatees.

ADVERTISEMENT

WHERE TO STAY

Sun Burst Inn

Located on the beach side of the road, this small inn is the epitome of old Florida casual. All 11 units have kitchens. Visit sunbustinn.com.

Sand Glo Villas

A charming set of cottages located on the beach side and also pet friendly. Owner Katrena Hale noted that after almost two decades “and we still operate with the same owner, and one cleaning staff.’’

ADVERTISEMENT
Indian Shores Sunday Morning Market

This open-air market is held October through April from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Indian Shores Town Center Hall.

THINGS TO DO

The Seaside Seabird Sanctuary just north of Redington Shores lets people get up close with all manner of avian patients. [Jim Damaske | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary

Formerly the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and now under new management, this refuge for injured birds has been well known throughout Tampa Bay since the early 1970s. The avian rehabilitation center allows the public to walk through the outdoor location to view healing shorebirds. There’s a shaded path out to the beach, which is smack dab on the border with Redington Shores to the south. Arrive early on weekends, because the small parking lot can get plenty busy.

Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf

A nod towards yesteryear and 1970s-style roadside attractions. Kids of all ages are invited to come out and play 18 holes of old-fashioned goony golf. You’ll travel through caves, under waterfalls and onto a pirate ship. All the while, alligators will be giving you the once-over. Open until 11 p.m. daily, so the tykes can stay out late.

Town Square Nature Park

Across the street from the Park Boulevard Boat Ramp, this park boasts a boardwalk through some mangroves, restrooms and picnic facilities. It’s a popular spot for neighborhood folks winding their way to and from the beach access point across Gulf Boulevard.

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

PARK BOULEVARD BOAT RAMP

As mentioned, this is an easy access point to launch watercraft both big and small into the Intracoastal. There’s a public park with parking meters.

ISLAND MARINE RENTALS

If visitors arrive without a boat, kayak or SUP, they can rent watercraft from the Kirkman family. They’ve owned this business renting SUPs, kayaks and bikes for 14 years.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

The Salt Rock Grill features finer fare, with the option for waterfront dining outside. [Melissa Lyttle | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Salt Rock Grill

Known for its steaks and clever, tasty seafood recipes, the Salt Rock has patio dining with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s been considered one of the fancier options around these parts for years.

Mahuffer’s

A landmark bar opened by John Susor, who aimed to bring a little bit of Key West’s Duval Street to Pinellas County. The Ernest Hemingway lookalike kept zany notes and decor on the walls, dogs and cats near the bar and bras and panties hanging from the walls. Susor died in 2008, but his daughter Lynn Rogacki still operates the bar. You can eat before you go, or order from the stack of to-go menus from nearby restaurants that sit on the main bar. There’s live music on Sunday outside at the tiki bar section. A lot across 192nd Avenue allows overnight parking if you need it.

Caddy’s Pub

There’s nothing better on a Sunday morning than to sit and eat on Caddy’s lengthy deck or at a window seat, watching boats motor down the Intracoastal. This local institution (there’s another on Treasure Island) also serves as a great sports bar with more than a dozen televisions inside and out. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, but breakfast is a weekend-only affair.

Indian Shores Coffee Co.

Visit for coffee, a light meal, music and patio dining. They open early at 7 a.m. so you can get your joe to go, and close at 6 p.m.

SHOPPING

Indian Shores Trading Co.

There are a limited number of shops on this barrier island, so this shop is a lifesaver. It has everything a beachgoer may have forgotten or would like to take back home — t-shirts, flip-flops, bathing suits, beach toys and sunscreen. It’s open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.

Nekton Surf Shop

Although it is not in Indian Shores officially, a worthwhile store to visit on vacation is Nekton, a surf shop founded by Indian Rocks Beach’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.

Piper Castillo, born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, experiences vertigo if she is away from salty air and sand for more than 48 hours. She is making sure her kids feel the same way.

You might also like...