St. Pete Beach

Close to St. Petersburg and featuring stellar sand, St. Pete Beach offers both bustling and secluded sections to cater to all sorts of beachcombers.

The Don CeSar resort is a barrier island landmark on St. Pete Beach. The 1928 hotel is a full-service affair, and marks where the neighborhood of Pass-a-Grille begins. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Great for all ages, from preschoolers to party hardy types.
  • Beautiful wide beach that is not too long of a hike to reach.
  • Multitude of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Cons
  • Parking can be tricky. Timing is everything.
  • While Upham Beach has the area's only surfing spot, ugly artificial berms have been put there to keep the sand in place.

St. Pete Beach is popular with both locals and tourists, boasting wide, sandy beaches with scads of amenities, lodging and attractions — if not the parking to accommodate all the visitors.

Though it’s all called St. Pete Beach, distinct offshoots called Upham Beach and Pass-a-Grille also fall under this beach’s umbrella. More on that below.

The town of St. Pete Beach occupies all of the 6½-mile barrier island called Long Key on early navigation maps, and once was four separate areas: Belle Vista Beach, St. Petersburg Beach, Don CeSar Place and Pass-a-Grille Beach. These communities merged in 1957 to become the city of St. Petersburg Beach.

The town voted in 1994 to change its name to St. Pete Beach, in order to better distinguish itself as a separate municipality from nearby St. Petersburg. The city is sure to point out many people also erroneously refer to it as “St. Pete’s Beach.”

These days the island is broken up into Upham, St. Pete and Pass-a-Grille beaches, the latter retaining its historic name and taking up the entire end of the key south of the landmark Don CeSar resort. (We created an entirely separate profile about Pass-a-Grille here.)

Much of the town south of the Corey Avenue shopping district features condos and hotels beachside and businesses and smaller homes to the east of the main drag. The far northern end of the island, facing Treasure Island across Blind Pass, has no beachfront.

There’s no shortage of places to eat or shop, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly poor section of sand to stretch out on. As noted, the biggest complaint most people have when coming here is the traffic and lack of parking, but that only proves it’s a destination worth visiting.

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GETTING THERE

Tampa Bay is served by two airports. Tampa International Airport (TPA) 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 your entire trip on or near St. Pete Beach, especially if you’re staying at a resort. 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 the island 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.

State Road 699 is the major thoroughfare for most of the island: Blind Pass Road is the main drag on the north end of the island, then kinks around Corey Avenue near the city hall building to Gulf Boulevard, which is the major artery in the south.

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

The Central Avenue Trolley picks up the slack to the south, running 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.

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 are three main parking areas, one for each section of beach. Even on “slow” weekends, it can be difficult to find a space at any of them.

If you’re not staying at a hotel or renting a residence, you’ll have to get creative, like choosing to have lunch at a hotel or restaurant that supplies parking. Even then, be aware that businesses can quickly catch on if you’re squatting on a spot so you can splash in the surf.

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.

The takeaway is that you’re not going to want to park north of 72nd Avenue or so, because there’s no beach. This part of Long Key faces Treasure Island, so there’s nowhere to pitch an umbrella, in any case.

For Upham Beach, there’s loads of metered parking near Upham Beach Park, along Beach Plaza and Sunset Way between 71st and 67th avenues. Prepare to battle condo owners and their guests for at least some of those spaces, and keep an eye out for permit-only parking and no parking zones.

Another place to sometimes find a spot, if you don’t mind a bit of a hike, is the street parking that is available in the downtown section of St. Pete Beach around Corey Avenue. Some of it is metered, but some are free. Make one person park the car and walk back after dropping the rest of your party by the sand. Make that person a sandwich and thank them profusely.

St. Pete Beach proper has its own metered parking lot on Gulf Boulevard north of 46th Avenue, between Gulf Strand Resort and Dolphin Beach Resort. The lot is huge, but also full most of the time. Not so apparent is that 51st Avenue north of the lot has metered street parking — just don’t park in the Crabby Bill’s lot, which is for customers.

Heading south past the turnoff for the Pinellas Bayway is the landmark Don CeSar. Its giant parking lot is for hotel guests, but there is ample parking around it, if you happen to be towing a boat trailer. There’s a boat ramp to the southeast of the hotel lot, so Casablanca Avenue and Maritana Drive, and also further south on Cabrillo Avenue are reserved for cars attached to boat trailers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Down in Pass-a-Grille, there’s loads of metered street parking south of 22nd Avenue, but it can fill up fast. Go to our Pass-a-Grille guide for more information.

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.

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BEACH SCENE

There’s a small section of beach suitable for surfing at St. Pete Beach. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

This area was called Long Key for a reason, with 6½ miles of barrier island that’s now entirely developed. Close to ¾ of the island has a beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico, so there is ample beach access. There are 10 public beach walkways spread across the available metered parking areas.

You’re going to see a little bit of every kind of beachgoer here: Tourists, families, couples, high school kids, retirees, you name it. St. Pete Beach’s proximity to St. Petersburg has long made it a destination for people looking for a little R&R.

This is some high-quality sand, too, soft and white. It’s wide enough to provide room for sunbathers and the odd volleyball game, and the sunsets are hard to beat. Any nifty shells get picked up pretty quickly, but the water is pretty consistently blue and clear on sunny days.

On summer weekends and holidays the entire strip can be packed cheek-to-jowl with blankets, umbrellas and cabanas full of visitors.

The beach stretches from roughly 70th Avenue to the southern end of the key, and is split into three sections: Upham Beach, St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach. There is no beach north of 70th Avenue because St. Pete Beach’s island overlaps with Treasure Island, separated by Blind Pass.

The city decided in 2017 to allow hotel guests to consume alcohol on the beach, but only at licensed resorts. Residents and visitors who are not registered hotel guests are NOT allowed to drink alcohol on the beach. All of Pass-a-Grille is off limits, too, except for drinks sold at the city’s concession stand. Check with your resort before marching off with that Mai-Tai.

Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach. There is a strip of sand channelside in Pass-a-Grille that is called a dog beach, south of 3rd Avenue.

UPHAM BEACH

Located on the northern tip of St. Pete Beach, Upham is easily overlooked because it’s not on the main drag of Gulf Boulevard, so it’s popular with the locals who don’t want to fight for parking and like to be close to the Corey Avenue shops.

It is one of the few surfing spots in the area, though the waves are mild compared to the east coast of Florida. This beach may be easier to get to, but there’s a catch. Because Upham has such a severe erosion problems, there are huge rock jetties and ugly artificial berms called geotubes to retain that precious sand put there in the last multi-million dollar beach renourishment. They are unsightly and make a walk on the beach a little tricky, but they have held in the sand.

You still can sink your toes into the sand, and this is a great place to spot some dolphins at sunset. There are restrooms, outdoor showers and three beach volleyball nets set up on the beach.

There’s a concession stand that offers a great breakfast, open 8 a.m. to sunset, though it will often close earlier during the week if business is slow. It also offers beer and wine, one of the few places you can have a drink right on the beach.

MUNICIPAL BEACH

Pretty close to the center of Treasure Island, the City of St. Petersburg owns and maintains a portion of the beach. You can enter it at 11260 Gulf Blvd., where there’s a parking lot and a snack bar.

As you walk through the retro snack bar, you’ll find they sell all your beach needs right there, including towels, floats, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. In addition to the usual fare, the snack bar also offers sangria and mimosas. There’s a playground there for kids to enjoy, and volleyball nets are available.

The expanse of beach here is the widest of the island.

ST. PETE BEACH

The main beach proper takes up the center of the island, and is covered with resorts that stand shoulder to shoulder along Gulf Boulevard. When there isn’t a resort, there’s a restaurant. Where there’s no restaurant, there’s a tchotchke shop. You get the idea.

The main drag runs from roughly the Postcard Inn just south of 64th Avenue all the way down to the Don CeSar, which signals you’re entering Pass-a-Grille.

You’ll often see resort guests plodding along on the sidewalk right next to Gulf Boulevard. Be careful if you’re driving, or if you’re one of the plodders, because people have a tendency to end up in the street if they aren’t careful.

(Also, don’t bother to look for street parking on Gulf Boulevard, which is mostly four lanes, all of which seem to get narrower the longer you’re stuck in traffic.)

There’s lots to do at these resorts, mind you, from swimming in saltwater tanks to riding giant inflatables. If you park at the main lot in the center of it all, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds (if not thousands) of your newest and best friends.

PASS–A–GRILLE BEACH

Before 1957, Pass-a-Grille was its own community, and has retained that name even as a neighborhood of St. Pete Beach. It’s name is said to have come from the Cuban fishermen who were known to grill their fish on the beach there, earning the nickname from boaters as they passed the grillers. It was recognized as a national historic district in 1989.

Pass–a–Grille has a unique vibe that’s quite distinct from the rest of St. Pete Beach. You can feel it once you get south of the Don CeSar — the scale is much smaller and the pace is much slower.

Because of the dramatic difference, and Pass–a–Grille’s reputation as being divergent from the rest of St. Pete Beach, we’ve created a separate entry for Pass–A–Grille and its businesses and attractions here.


Independence Day offers the chance to see all kinds of fireworks, up and down the barrier islands. St. Pete Beach does its own show, just like many of the Pinellas County beach communities. [Florida Beach Insider]
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WHERE TO STAY

ALDEN SUITES

This large resort brings out the big guns for family entertainment, from a huge pool to beach volleyball. Some rooms also feature kitchenettes for when you can’t handle one more shrimp basket.

POSTCARD INN ON THE BEACH

This mod revival motel has embraced its kitchy roots to become charming by keeping its Mad Men-era look with recent renovations. There’s a pool and restaurant on site, and a beach bar in the back.

BEACHCOMBER BEACH RESORT & HOTEL

For a party scene, this hotel is home to Jimmy B’s Beach Bar, with nightly live music and a sprawling deck overlooking the beach. (Read more about the bar below.)

THE DON CESAR

Built in 1928, the historic pink palace has hosted presidents and celebrities. Even if you don’t stay there, you can book a massage in the spa or enjoy a luxe dinner or some jazz on the rooftop lounge.

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THINGS TO DO

TRADEWINDS ISLAND RESORTS ACTIVITIES

This anchor resort (essentially two hotels: Island Grand Resort and Guy Harvey Outpost) has a ton of things to do, even if you aren’t a guest.

The High Tide Water Slide is a can’t-miss attraction. At three stories tall and 200 feet long, the kiddos are going to see it from anywhere on the island and clamor for a turn, but be warned that tickets for unlimited rides run $25. The resorts also offer jetpack rides, paddleboard rentals, an obstacle course, mini golf, a spa, adults-only pools and more.

If you’re looking to get a cabana and pick and choose among the activities (including the slide) and don’t care about the spa or gym, get a day pass for $45. You don’t have to be a guest, although there are blackout days. Kids 3 and younger are free.

For a fun night out check out the ginormous 33,500–gallon tank set up in the RumFish Grill restaurant inside Guy Harvey Outpost. The over–the–top tank was created by the wizards from the Animal Planet show Tanked and it is stocked with local fish, including sharks, grouper and eels. You can even pay to snorkel in the tank ($35 plus tax, ages 8 and up), or just check it out in the observation alcove on the side of the restaurant, if you’re not dining.

STARLIGHT SAPPHIRE CRUISE

Take a three–hour evening dinner cruise on a yacht, complete with live music and a bar. Birthday and anniversary packages are available.

ST. PETE BEACH BIKE FEST

Held in November at the TradeWinds Resorts, this new event brings an expo of tricked out motorcycles, poker runs, barbecues and free concerts on the beach. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to attend, but there are VIP packages available through the hotel.

BEACH GOES POPS

For three decades, April has meant a free concert on Pass-a-Grille beach, as well as an arts and crafts show, food and drinks from area restaurants. There’s a free shuttle from the public parking lot by Dolphin Village on St. Pete Beach and you can pay for a VIP ticket for seating that includes food, drinks, a parking pass and restrooms.

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

There are myriad watercraft that are appropriate for exploring the Gulf of Mexico from St. Pete Beach. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
BLIND PASS BOAT AND JET SKI

You can rent a deck boat or a Jet Ski and even take a Jet Ski tour here. It’s at the north end of Long Key, along Blind Pass.

SUNCOAST WATER SPORTS

This place will rent you parasailing trips and WaveRunners on the beach behind the Sirata Beach Resort and the Alden Suites and also on Blind Pass Road.Too chicken to parasail? You can ride in the boat and watch your beach mates fly for half the price. Parasailers choose from a 10 or 15–minute flight but should plan to be on the boat for up to one hour.

NORTH BEACH WINDSURFING

You can get lessons and rentals at this surf shop, where they have parasailing, stand up paddleboards, windsurfing boards and kayaks available. Appointments are necessary.

COASTAL KAYAK CHARTERS

You can go dolphin watching or explore the mangroves with this company, which has kayak tours of Shell Key and Pass–a–Grille both in the morning and at sunset.

DOLPHIN LANDINGS CHARTER BOAT CENTER

A local favorite since 1972, this tour company has a range of public and private boat trips that leave from St. Pete Beach daily. They have sunsail sails, dolphin watch trips, deep sea fishing, snorkeling adventures and trips to Egmont Key and Shell Key.

ADVENTURE CRUISES

Another option behind the TradeWinds Resorts, has a variety of short and longer tours that range from dolphin watching to scuba and snorkeling trips and shelling on nearby Egmont Key.

ISLA DEL SOL YACHT & COUNTRY CLUB

Golf, tennis and social memberships are available at tiered prices. That gets you an 18–hole golf course, nine clay tennis courts, fitness center, dining room and a pool overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. They offer summer–only memberships, as well.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

CHILL RESTAURANT AND BAR

Locals head to this Corey Avenue staple for the Sunday brunch, which is more often than not accompanied by live jazz to set a nice ambience. With an unlimited mimosa or endless Bloody Mary bar option, the buffet has a carving station, chilled shrimp and a number of vegetarian options.

BEVERLY'S LA CROISETTE

Another local favorite for breakfast or lunch, with pancakes, omelettes and solid burgers as staples in a cozy diner.

SANDRA'S GERMAN RESTAURANT

A cult–like following of German–food fans flock here regularly. Save room for homemade apple strudel.

LARRY'S OLD FASHIONED ICE CREAM PARLOR

A hot day at the beach often ends at this family-owned and operated fixture, which has been open since 1984. With the smell of freshly-made waffle cones and mini doughnuts, you have literally 100 different choices in ice cream, yogurt and gelato.

LA CASA DEL PANE

An authentic Italian bakery that has pastries and fresh bread baked daily, plus classic Italian-style pizzas, salads, pastries and the best coffee on St. Pete Beach. Try the sfogliatelle: Invented in a monastery in Salerno in the 1600s, it is a pastry that resembles stacked crisp leaves, filled with an orange-flavored ricotta.

WOODY’S WATERFRONT

That’s waterfront, not beachfront, as this eatery is north of Upham Beach. Its location directly on the sea wall gives the joint a great view of the water. Take note: This one serves typical casual fare, but takes cash only.

BOULEVARD BURGERS AND TAPHOUSE

doesn’t brew it’s own, it carries at least eight locally brewed and seasonal draft selections at all times.

JIMMY B'S BEACH BAR

The anchor of the long strip of beach bars known as the "Miracle Mile,” Jimmy B’s has three separate bar areas and indoor–outdoor seating, a band area with dance floor where you can dance to classic hits like it’s 1989. You can find beachy drinks with lurid names like the Wet Spot, offered in a 36–ounce size.

SHOPPING

GONE TO THE DOGS BOUTIQUE

A haven for dog owners and their pooches, this shop has gifts, treats and a grooming area for the canine travelers. It’s also in the heart of the Corey Avenue shopping area.

FREAKY TIKI SURF SHACK

There are myriad big–box beachwear shops, but this one is a locally owned fixture. The t–shirt designs are exceptionally unique, and truly exceed souvenir store standards.

ELIZABETH’S BOUTIQUE

A women’s fashion boutique offering fashions beyond the usual beachy affairs. You can also shop online if you’d like to look before you arrive.

NORMAN’S LIQUORS AND FINE WINES

That’s right, a liquor store on the shopping list. This storefront is crammed full of all manner of digestifs, liqueurs, cocktail mixes and more, including wines that are truly fine. Looking for that Sazerac Rye that no one seems to sell? Call ahead and they will order it for you.

WHAT'S BREWING

MASTRY’S BREWING CO.

This is a recent entry into the craft beer scene is located in an old auto mechanic’s garage at 7701 Blind Pass Road. With selections like a chocolate coffee porter and their wildly popular, gold–medal winning Hefeweizen, locals and visitors who consider themselves beer snobs find lots to come back for. The space is like a big front porch with board games and corn hole and chess in a dog–friendly patio.

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.

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