Madeira Beach

Touristy attractions mix with oddball charm in a beach town that manages to be quiet but still has plenty of things to do.

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John’s Pass Village and its boardwalk, on John’s Pass at the southern end of Madeira Beach, is a popular place to shop, eat and drink. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Not as crowded as other beaches nearby.
  • Plenty of dining/drinking options and non-beach entertainment at John’s Pass.
  • For as popular as it is, it’s pretty clean here.
Cons
  • Not much free parking.
  • Can feel touristy, especially around John’s Pass.

Madeira Beach, often referred to as Mad Beach, lies between Treasure Island and Redington Beach. It’s a largely residential town on Pinellas County’s gulf coast, featuring a swath of tourist-friendly businesses along the main drag.

Officially incorporated in 1947, Madeira Beach has an origin story going back to 1848, when a hurricane blew through the area that is now known as John’s Pass. Legend has it that John Levique, a pioneer from the mainland, was heading home to Boca Ciega Bay after the storm and found the newly opened passage that now bears his name.

The area was bought and developed, to little success, by prominent St. Petersburg developer Noel Mitchell in the 1910s. He sold it to developer David Welch, who lobbied for the first bridge to the island, which opened in 1926.

The area became a fishing village first, with most of the development coming after 1947. Perhaps the most well-known is the city’s entertainment area at John’s Pass Village, on the south end of the city before crossing over to Treasure Island.

Most of the people you will see are retirees, tourists and families who live in the surrounding counties. Generally you will see out-of-towners beachside and residences along the Intracoastal Waterway, although outlets like Airbnb mean more and more people are renting out their vacation homes lately.

Madeira Beach feels like a town on vacation but still has a few unique quirks.

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GETTING THERE

Tampa Bay is served by two airports: Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Hillsborough and St. Pete/Clearwater Airportin Pinellas (PIE). All of the major airlines fly in and out of TPA, while Allegiant is the sole large commercial carrier to and from PIE. Ground transportation, including shuttles, rental cars and cabs, is available at both airports.

Two of Madeira Beach’s three main access points are drawbridges. The Tom Stuart Causeway (sometimes called the Madeira Beach Causeway) arrives on the island from Seminole on the Pinellas County mainland, opens at the hour and every :20 and :40 past the hour from 9:30 to 6 p.m. The John’s Pass Causeway, on State Road 699, a.k.a. Gulf Boulevard, at the south end of the island over John’s Pass, opens when signaled. Drivers also can come in from Redington Beach to the north of the town, on Gulf Boulevard.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s bus route 68 goes from St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square Mall to John’s Pass Village. 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.

Madeira Beach is less than three miles long, making it fairly easy to get around by walking, biking or taking the Suncoast Beach Trolley that runs up and down the beach daily. If you want to head to the galleries, museums and restaurants of downtown St. Petersburg, you can take the Suncoast Trolley down to St. Pete Beach and catch the Central Avenue Trolley, which goes to downtown St. Petersburg daily. The trip takes about an hour.

Uber and Lyft also are available, as are taxi services, but remember that you are quite literally on an island out here, so waits may be longer during off-peak times.

A Free Beach Ride service operates similar to Uber or Lyft and runs from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Drivers work on tips only.

Madeira Beach is only a 15 minute drive from the galleries, museums and restaurants of downtown St. Petersburg. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Central Avenue Trolleyruns from St. Pete Beach to downtown St. Petersburg daily, although the trip does take an hour.

The Tampa Bay Ferry and Taxi lets you tour Madeira Beach and Treasure Island by boat via Boca Ciega Bay, and also takes you to the mainland at St. Petersburg’s Jungle Prada neighborhood.

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PARKING

It may seem like there are more No Parking and Tow Away Zone signs than permanent residents in Madeira Beach, but there are a few places to park, though most cost about $2 an hour to use.

The beach has five main access points off Gulf Boulevard, at 131st, 133rd, 134th,135th and 136th avenues, each with small metered parking lots off the west side of Gulf Boulevard.

The city also has metered parking lots on the west side of Gulf Boulevard at 130th and 132nd avenues, and on the east side at 133rd Avenue.

Tom and Kitty Stuart Park, at 141st Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, and Archibald Memorial Beach Park where Madeira Way meets Gulf Boulevard, also have metered parking. The Stuart Park lot is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; The Archibald Park lot is open from 6 a.m. to midnight.

If you’re headed to John’s Pass Village, the east and west side of 129th Avenue offer parking lots. There are also some spaces along Village Boulevard (good luck) and some private lots on Pelican Lane.

The massive building between 129th Avenue and Boardwalk Place features a parking garage that regularly fills up, plus a couple of surface lots sprinkled here and there. That includes along the beach access point on the west side of Gulf Boulevard across from the building with the garage.

Be aware it is against city ordinance to back into a parking space.

Residents can get parking passes, but the city offers visitors a weekly parking pass for city-owned lots. Passes are $20 per week or $60 per month. There’s more information and further discussion of parking at the town’s website here.

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BEACH SCENE

While the sand is all one, big beach, shoppers and tourists gravitate to John’s Pass and resort guests often stick to their resorts. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

The beach is safe for families, even across from all the bars and restaurants at John’s Pass Village. The white sand is mostly quiet, save for the occasional portable speaker — with the exception of Spring Break season, when things can get raucous.

One of the reasons it can get wild at times is because alcohol is permitted on the beach.

The rules here aren’t as Byzantine as they are on Treasure Island. City regs say you can consume alcohol on the sand, although not on beach access easements. You also can’t have alcohol at Tom and Kitty Stuart Park or at a picnic shelter at Archibald Park.

While alcohol is OK, glass is not. Dogs aren’t either, nor are bonfires. The city’s beach ordinances are listed here.

The beach tends to be most populated near the John’s Pass end, with John’s Pass Village nearby. All the shops and businesses are an anchor for visitors. A lengthy, wooden boardwalk over John’s Pass east of the causeway makes for a nice stroll, but you’ll be sharing it with lots of other people on busy days.

From the northern end, with its resorts and vacation amenities, beachgoers could theoretically walk right into much quieter Redington Beach. From the southern end, you could walk over the John’s Pass Bridge (which has a sidewalk) and onto Treasure Island for a change of pace.

Unlike Treasure Island to the south, the beach isn’t really broken up into sections. There’s the busy southern end, and the parts filled with resort guests. Anglers are mostly concentrated on and under the John’s Pass Causeway. There's a fairly large cross-section of beachgoers, spanning many walks of life, from toddlers to retirees. The sand is soft and the water is typically calm — great for wading.

Be aware that the shore is home to a wide variety of sea life, including stingrays, which like to lie on the bottom, often covered with sand. It’s wise to shuffle your feet when entering the water to warn the stingrays and avoid getting stung. Read more in our visitor information section here.

Otherwise, Madeira Beach offers plenty of entertainment but not much in the way of drama. The most scandalous thing to happen here in recent years involves a former city manager accusing a city commissioner of licking his face.

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WHERE TO STAY

BAREFOOT BEACH HOTEL

Located on the beach, this place offers one- and two-bedroom suites with balconies overlooking the beach and designated parking spots.

JOHN’S PASS CONDOS

One-, two- and three-bedroom condos with kitchens that are beachfront or have beach views.

ISLAND PARADISE COTTAGES OF MADEIRA

One- or two-bedroom cottages with kitchens, within walking distance to the beach. Important: They are dog-friendly.

SCHOONER HOTEL

A quaint, homey vibe, with a variety of room and suite types. They are also pet friendly.

COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT MADEIRA BEACH

The Marriott experience … at Madeira. Not quite on the beach, the hotel is right off the intercoastal and still offers water views. You’d probably need a car to get to the beach, but conveniently in walking distance to a Publix and Walgreens.

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While the sand is all one, big beach, shoppers and tourists gravitate to John’s Pass and resort guests often stick to their resorts. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
JOHN’S PASS SEAFOOD AND MUSIC FESTIVAL

Each October, thousands of guests flock to the city for three days of music, live entertainment and buckets of seafood. Since it’s so close to Halloween, there are costume contests, too.

MID-WEEK MADEIRA BEACH OPEN AIR MARKET

Each Wednesday there’s a mid-morning open air market between Gulf Boulevard and Tom Stuart Causeway. It’s more than just produce, and lasts until 2 p.m. unless conditions are dangerous.

THINGS TO DO

THE PIRATE SHIP ROYAL CONQUEST

You know you’re going to ride a pirate ship if you visit here. Family friendly, two-hour pirate expeditions with music, dancing, water guns and pirate stories.

THE PIRATE SHIP ROYAL CONQUEST

An 18-hole pirate themed golf course with a bonus alligator exhibit, featuring real alligators. Yes, it’s Florida, all right.

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

Taking a stand-up paddleboard (or any other watercraft) out into John’s Pass can result in a close encounter with sea life, including dolphins. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
JACK’S RENTALS AT JOHN’S PASS

This shop along the boardwalk (among several others) offers boat and Waverunner rentals. You can head right into the pass from the dock.

TAMPA BAY BOAT RENTALS

The full name of this little building on Gulf Boulevard is Tampa Bay Boat Rentals at Erika's Bikes, Trikes & Scooter Rentals. As you can read, it offers more than just kayak, stand-up paddle board and pontoon rentals. You can get them all at hourly, daily and weekly rates.

WOODY’S WATERSPORTS

This Jet Ski and Waverunner rental place gives customers complimentary wetsuits and sells temporary boating licenses.

EAGLE’S PARASAILING

Parasailing is here, with trips for as many as three people at once. But Eagle’s also offers banana boat rides, which are more fun than they have a right to be.

HUBBARD’S MARINA

Along the boardwalk, under the Hooters, there are a couple fishing charter options. This place goes on deep sea charters (including a 63-hour trip out into the Gulf of Mexico), dolphin tours and sunset cruises, operates a water taxi service, runs ferries to Egmont and Shell keys and rents kayaks, paddle boards, cabanas and Segways. So there’s some stuff here.

MADEIRA BEACH YOGA

You can practice yoga in the studio or on a patio, or head to Archibald Park for a class on the beach.

MADEIRA BEACH MARINA

Right off the Tom Stuart Causeway, the municipal marina has a boat ramp and slips, bait and tackle, plus a nice little park across the street.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

SWEET BREWNETTE

A retro coffee shop with breakfast (including bloody marys, mimosas and wine), lunch, smoothies, pastries and occasional live music. It’s charm earned it a well-deserved shout-out on a “New York Times 36 hours in” list.

LISA’S CAFE

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this makes a good stop for crab cakes. They also do a brunch if you can’t pick one of the regular three meals.

BAMBOO BEACH BAR AND GRILL

One of the original, stalwart eateries in the area, the tiki-vibed bar offers everything from fish tacos and sandwiches to frozen and beachy rum concoctions. Live singers croon earworms that make you question if BeachElvis and BeachJohnDenver are better than the originals.

THE BROWN BOXER PUB AND GRILLE

Classic pub fare featuring a wing menu if you don’t want to go to Hooters a few blocks away. Has pool tables, darts and bingo and trivia nights. There are more locations in Clearwater Beach.

FRABOTTA’S ITALIAN KITCHEN

The place to go if you want a good pizza while on Mad Beach.

THE BOARDWALK GRILL

Best casual spot to get a walk-and-talk grouper sandwich (a rare feat) with which to roam the boardwalk.

MAD BEACH FISH HOUSE

A vast seafood menu with a rooftop (but not that high) bar. Because sunsets and sea air and so on.

MADEIRA BEACH SNACK SHACK

Built as a log cabin in the 1930s, the renovated building now serves breakfast burritos, slushy alcoholic beverages in commemorative and beach-friendly cups, ice cream and other beach grub.

JUICERIE

Acai bowls, coconut flakes, juiced vegetables and smoothies galore!

Archibald Beach Park is mere steps away, too.

SHOPPING

John’s Pass Village is the main event in town, featuring storefront after storefront of beachy knick knacks and collectibles, T-shirts with wacky phrases and logos. Some interestings ones include:

DD COLLECTIBLES

A mecca for pop culture fanatics, full of music, movie and TV memorabilia, posters and trinkets.

LORI’S SOAP AND SPONGE MARKET

An offshoot of the main location in Tarpon Springs, the store features sponges and crafted goat milk and olive oil soaps that smell as good as they are for your skin.

VINO FLORIDA

The shop at Florida Winery offers housemade wines and just about every wine-related product you may or may not ever need. Free samples.

Believe it or not, there also are some great shops outside John’s Pass Village, too:

THE CANDY KITCHEN

This could be the place the saying “like a kid in a candy store” originated. Small in size, but quaint and with two other locations north of here, the shop offers enough candy, ice cream, fudge and taffy to satisfy any sweet tooth.

DORALYNN BOOKS

This gem tucked away on Madeira Way offers a vast collection of used books — more than 20,000 of them — where you could find anything from screenplays by Ingmar Bergman to gluten-free cookbooks.

SINBAD’S TREASURE

With a smaller location on the John’s Pass boardwalk, this shop offers just about any beachy souvenir you’d want to give.

WHAT'S BREWING

Mad Beach Brewing has plenty of room for you to try the local beers (and pretty lights, too). [Florida Beach Insider photo]
MAD BEACH CRAFT BREWING COMPANY

Features a rotating tap list, house-brewed beers and wines made at Florida Winery downstairs. With a dazzlingly large beer hall, this joint offers an equally impressive menu featuring grouper so fresh it comes out with a piece of paper that allows you to track online where, when and what fisherman caught your dinner. Quite a few vegetarian options as well.

TIPS FROM TOWNIES

Something that Mad Beach has that many communities along the barrier islands here don’t: Easy access to big-name grocery and drug stores. There is a Publix just off the Tom Stuart Causeway on the mainland (there’s another in Treasure Island) and a Winn Dixie on Gulf Boulevard. Both have liquor sections, plus there’s an ABC Fine Wine and Spirits on Treasure Island. A CVS is near the Winn Dixie and a Walgreens is near the Publix. If you stay in most of the communities north of here, you’ll be driving down to Madeira Beach to get what you need. Stay here and save yourself the trip.

Divya Kumar joined the Tampa Bay Times as an editorial assistant in 2016. Born in Indiana, she has called Florida home for the last decade and is now a resident beach bum, living on Madeira Beach.

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