Pass-a-Grille

This neighborhood maintains a historic feel and small-town identity, just down the road from all the hustle and bustle of St. Pete Beach.

Reader rating:
(5.0 out of 5)
All you need in Pass-a-Grille is a beach chair and some time to kill. Then you can go out, if you’d really like to. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • A concession stand with reasonable prices that sells the only beer and wine you are allowed to consume near the beachA concession stand with reasonable prices that sells the only beer and wine you are allowed to consume near the beach..
  • Anything you want is within walking distance in a low-traffic quiet town.
  • A laid-back vibe in a historical town.
Cons
  • Parking is plentiful, but scarce if you don’t time it right. Get there before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to find a spot.
  • Recent storms and beach erosion have split the sands in places, so beach blankets can end up too close for comfort as beachgoers jockey for precious space.

Though the laid-back beach town of Pass-a-Grille is technically a part of St. Pete Beach, it couldn’t be more different than the rest of Long Key.

The neighborhood, which first hosted a resort as far back 1857, was incorporated into St. Petersburg Beach in 1957. The old town is now a historical district on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its unusual name is a subject of debate even among locals, but the common tale is that the area is allegedly named after the French phrase Passe Aux Grilleurs — “the passageway of the grillers” — after the fisherman who used the key as a camp.

There are no hotels or ritzy resorts here on the beach itself here, just sea oats. It’s like the pink palace that is the Don CeSar is a bulwark shielding the south end of St. Pete Beach from the tall hotels and busy traffic of the north end.

A series of mom-and-pop hotels are lined up across the street from the beach in the downtown area at the southern tip of the island. None of them have more than 12 rooms and none are more than three stories tall.

You can ditch the car once you get there because the heart of Pass-a-Grille is really only one large block wide, and about a couple dozen blocks long. Less is more here, but you’ll still find great restaurants, eclectic shops and a charming, old-fashioned vibe.

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GETTING THERE

Tampa Bay is served by two airports, Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Hillsborough County and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) in Pinellas County. Multiple carriers service TPA, while most flights to and from PIE are run by Allegiant. There are many ground transportation options at both airports.

A rental car would be useful if you’re looking to explore, but you could easily spend an entire short trip in Pass-a-Grille. Ride-sharing services are very useful here, but wait times can be long if there are no drivers nearby, or it’s exceptionally busy.

You can reach Long Key via three bridges — one from Treasure Island, one from South Pasadena called the Corey Causeway, and one from far southern St. Petersburg, a toll road called the Pinellas Bayway that’s accessible from Interstate 275. Those last two are drawbridges, which can lead to backups when someone wants to take their sailboat out for the day.

Pass-a-Grille really begins south of the Pinellas Bayway, when State Road 699 (Gulf Boulevard) ends past the Don CeSar and becomes Pass-a-Grille Way.

There are enough public transportation options to get to other attractions relatively easily, especially compared to some of the barrier Island communities more isolated from the mainland. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority offers three routes on the island along the main traffic arteries.

The Central Avenue Trolley runs a loop from Pass-a-Grille north to Corey Avenue, then across the Intracoastal Waterway to downtown St. Petersburg on the other side of the county. More information is here.

The Suncoast Beach Trolley then runs north from Corey Avenue all the way to downtown Clearwater. A schedule and details are here.

Another option is to call freebeachride.com, which runs as far north as Clearwater Beach. When they say free they mean it; just tip the driver upon arrival at your destination.

Finally, the Route 90 PSTA bus runs a loop from Corey Avenue to the Pinellas Bayway, then through southern and western St. Petersburg. Learn more here.

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PARKING

There’s good news and bad news about the parking situation on Pass-a-Grille: The good news is that there’s lots of it. The bad news is that Pass-a-Grille is so popular, finding a space is often a hit-or-miss proposition.

The city has a lengthy, 8-page parking map available online, and spells out its parking ordinances for you. That should give you some idea of how important this subject is to locals and visitors alike.

There’s on-street metered parking on both the east and west sides of Pass-a-Grille, but if you don’t get there early on a busy weekend, you’ll simply have to wait until late afternoon to find a spot.

Beachside, pull-in street parking on Gulf Way starts at 22nd Avenue and runs all the way to 1st Avenue. Facing Pass-a-Grille Channel, the parallel street parking on Pass-a-Grille Way picks up at about 12th Avenue and heads south.

One big tip: Once you find a parking space download the Parkmobile.com app so you can just refill the meter from your beach blanket instead of having to trudge back out to the car.

Pay attention to signs. There’s metered parking around Hurley Park and Pass-a-Grille Park, for example, but street parking a block north or south or either (as is usually the case on side streets) is by residential permit only. Sometimes the permit requirement is all the time, and sometimes it’s only in effect from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oh, and don’t ever assume you can park in or block an alleyway.

Two-hour parking is available on Eighth Avenue, but even on a weekday those spaces are harder to find than a honest politician.

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BEACH SCENE

The beach party really begins at Paradise Grille and spills over into the historic downtown district. Maybe the alcohol has something to do with it. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

The powdery white sand here is family friendly, especially on the northern end near Hurley Park on 15th Avenue, where there is a large public restroom, picnic pavilion (available for rent), playground and basketball and tennis courts.

Pass-a-Grille Park on 9th Avenue features a collection of shuffleboard courts that is used by a seniors club in the winter months.

Most of the time you will see small clusters of beach towels or umbrellas, as the folks who come here generally like to be away from the condo canyons and glitzier resorts.

The livelier party scene can be found by the concession stand at 900 Gulf Way, Paradise Grille. They sell beer, wine, a great breakfast and reasonably priced sandwiches, salads and fish platters. That’s also where you can rent beach cabanas and watersports equipment.

DOG BEACH

For dog lovers, there is a a small strip of sand south of the Merry Pier, between First and Third avenues on Pass-a-Grille Way. There’s not much room, but it’s enough for Fido to get his feet wet and dig in the sand a bit. It’s away from all the real action, unless taking your dog out is the sole objective. The caveat is that the dogs need to stay on a leash.

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WHERE TO STAY

KEYSTONE MOTEL

The largest of the small spots is this hotel, family owned and operated since 1945 by the Falkenstein family, which also owns the Hurricane restaurant. It offers a combination of motel rooms and one- and two-bedroom suites. A heated outdoor pool and laundry facilities are a plus.

COCONUT INN

The recently restored Coconut Inn offers 11 apartment-style rooms with kitchens and a lovely courtyard gazebo and an outdoor pool. They offer free use of beach chairs and bicycles. The same owners also own the nearby Sabal Palms, which also supplies beach chairs and bicycles in studio units with fully equipped kitchens.

INN ON THE BEACH

Technically across Gulf Way from the beach, this comfy getaway faces the water with 12 guest rooms and five cottages. There’s a kitchenette in each guest room and a full kitchen in each cottage.

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THINGS TO DO

GULF BEACHES HISTORICAL MUSEUM

Find archives and artifacts displayed inside the historic building that housed the town’s first church. Lovingly cared for, the Victorian building and grounds look like something out of a fairy tale. It has free admission, a cute gift shop and they also supply a self-guided walking tour.

SUNTAN ART CENTER

The nonprofit offers a variety of art classes and even wellness and yoga sessions while also exhibiting the work of local artists.


There aren’t any sideshow attractions or giant inflatables on Pass-a-Grille’s beach, but the kids won’t necessarily care. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

GULF COAST PADDLEBOARD

There are standup paddleboarding rentals and lessons available at the Paradise Grille concession stand at 900 Gulf Way. The same instructor also offers kiteboarding lessons.

MERRY PIER

This channelside location is a center of boating and fishing activity. The shop sells bait, and you can rent a rod and tackle to catch your dinner. There's also a fish market there if you don't have any luck. This is also where you can rent a bicycle and find out about boat excursions and fishing charters.

SHELL KEY SHUTTLE

You can take a 10-minute boat ride to Shell Key, a small barrier island just south of Pass-a-Grille that has some of the best shelling and birding in the area. The $25 round-trip ride leaves three times a day.

ISLAND FERRY

Sunset cruises, dolphin-watching tours and snorkeling trips head out from Pass-a-Grille on what the company calls limousine-like pontoon boats.

SPEEDBOAT ADVENTURE TOUR

You can take the wheel with this company, which lets you drive and navigate your own speedboat. Prices start at $59 per person.

NAVA YOGA STUDIO

Beach yoga classes are available both in the morning and at sunset, depending on the time of year. It's held on the beach at the entrance between 16th and 17th avenues, across from Hurley Park. Bring a large towel instead of a yoga mat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water and a hand towel. It's $15 or you can get discounts with multi-use passes.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

GRACE

The stunning and sophisticated Eighth Avenue newcomer made the Tampa Bay Times list of the top 50 restaurants in Tampa Bay in 2018. And with good reason. With playful photos of underwater dogs on the walls and cocktails named after local Pass-a-Grille pets, it’s a fun atmosphere with serious food. If the higher prices put you off, check out the nightly happy hour from 4-6 p.m. where they offer seven appetizers for $7 each so you can share a plate of lamb sliders, lobster escargot or grouper fritters.

SHADRACK’S

Speaking of happy hour, this is the very definition of a dive bar (in the best sense) with cheap beers, generous space and pool tables.

THE BRASS MONKEY

This PAG staple has a balcony with one of the best views of the beach and bowing to its owners’ Maryland roots, seriously good crab cakes called Monkey Balls.

THE HURRICANE

The tallest building on Pass-a-Grille is this landmark restaurant, featuring top-notch grouper and a rooftop Hurricane Watch bar that’s ideal for sunsets.

SEA CRITTERS CAFE

Did you get lucky on your fishing trip? Bring in the fish you just caught and for $8.99 they will cook it for you any way you want and give you two sides. Take the kids out back to feed their leftovers to the swarm of catfish that roam the docks. It’s not on the menu but ask for the local favorite, Seafood Boil, for a pile of crab legs, clams, mussels, lobster tail, corn, onions and potatoes.

PARADISE SWEETS

One of the best-kept secrets of this shop is its terrific coffee, especially the "Pass-a-Chino." That’s espresso and your choice of ice cream blended into a cool coffee drink.

THE SEAHORSE

This breakfast haunt is a historic restaurant, established in 1938, and a local favorite. It’s famous for its blueberry pancakes, corned beef hash and its decor of kitsch and old Florida nostalgia.

SHOPPING

GALENE’S PARADISE

Owner Galene Shorter designs handcrafted glass signs and nightlights but she also provides room for other local artists. The works at her gallery are focused on nautical and beach themes.

BAMBOOZLE & ETC.

Head to Eighth Avenue to find natural fabric fashions like Fresh Produce Sportswear, but you’ll also find unexpected whimsy everywhere you look, from stationery to hourglasses to jewelry. Every nook and cranny has something fun to discover.

PARADISO

There’s typical beachwear brands such as Tommy Bahama here, but you’ll also find a full cigar humidor, historical pictures and unique gift items.

TIPS FROM TOWNIES

The Hurricane is famous for its rooftop bar for revelers at sunset, but the locals head to the city's concession stand at 10th Avenue and Gulf Way, the only place you can have some wine or beer on the beach itself and witness the ritual sunset bell ringing every day. There's even a "Head Ding-Dong" who doles out the privilege of ringing the bell 15 times (five to call the birds home, five for the guest ringer, five for the town tradition). The ringer is invited to share their story in a guestbook. Some ring in honor of a lost loved one or to celebrate an anniversary or the birth of a child. This quaint ritual has been going on since 1999 and the guest books are kept at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, and worth perusing.

Also keep in mind that since you won’t find a mega hotel here, some frequent snowbirds often book next year’s trip at the end of this year’s winter season. Plan accordingly.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne grew up in a large family in the Tampa Bay area, having spent many a summer on gulf coast beaches because it's a cheap way to entertain a lot of kids. A University of Florida graduate, she has been a journalist since 1988 and joined her hometown Tampa Bay Times in 1994. She is married and has two sons.
KerryO says:
starfish starfish starfish starfish starfish
The beach is a very short walk from the majority of the public parking. Usually not too difficult to find a parking spot. Beach isn't usually that crowded either. My favorite beach!

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