Treasure Island

A retro vibe welcomes all kinds of families and partygoers on this exceptionally varied beach expanse, where alcohol is allowed most places on the sand.

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The wide beaches and shallow water make Treasure Island an ideal place for all types of beachgoers to spread out and enjoy the waterfront. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • The three sections of beach cater to different crowds, from families to retirees to college kids.
  • Plenty of activities for children, as well as a number of restaurants and bars.
  • A paved beach walk is ideal for viewing the sand dunes while biking, walking or skating.
Cons
  • The expanse of sand on the main part of the beach is so wide that schlepping your gear can be kind of a mission.
  • Parking can be hard to get on holidays.

Noted for its vast expanse of beach and retro architecture – and generous open-container laws – Treasure Island is at turns a sleepy beach town and a bustling tourist destination.

Between Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island is a 3.8-mile barrier island that incorporates five separate islands into one city, and includes three distinct beaches. There’s Sunshine Beach to the north and Sunset Beach to the south, but in the middle is the Municipal Beach, but it is owned and maintained by the City of St. Petersburg. The island is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on its west side and Boca Ciega Bay on the east side.

Treasure Island was settled in the early 1900s after the state sold the land to a developer in 1908 for $1.25 an acre. The first hotel was built in 1915, and there’s been no looking back.

The island got its name in 1918, when (depending on the account) a hotelier or investor who held an option to purchase the island came up with the gimmick of burying and then digging up one or more faux treasure chests filled with lead to encourage the sale. It worked: the land was sold and the name stuck.

In many ways, Treasure Island still maintains a midcentury Florida vibe. Incorporated in 1955, the town still has many of the hotels opened during a post-war building boom. These independent and mom-and-pop hotels and motels give the island an air of nostalgia, and limit the number of chain hotels.

The beaches cater to a wide range of vacationers – both families and LGBTQ visitors are welcome – with some raucous spots but also quiet and peaceful stretches.

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GETTING THERE

Tampa Bay is served by two airports. Tampa International Airport (TPA) St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (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.

Treasure Island can be accessed from St. Petersburg via Central Avenue. Take Interstate 275’s Fifth Avenue North exit and cut over to Central Ave., or use U.S. Highway 19 to reach Central, then follow it all the way to Treasure Island. Note that Central becomes the Treasure Island Causeway as it leaves St. Petersburg, then becomes 107th Avenue as it ends on State Road 699, a.k.a. Gulf Boulevard. There is no toll on the causeway’s drawbridge, but it does frequently open for passing boats.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority offers a few routes to Gulf Boulevard that get you close to Treasure Island. The Central Avenue Trolley from downtown St. Petersburg goes to St. Pete Beach to the south, while bus route 68 goes from St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square Mall to John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach, just north of Treasure Island. 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.

Since Treasure Island is only 3.8 miles long, it’s easy to get around by walking, biking or taking the Suncoast Trolley that runs up and down the beach daily. 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.

Treasure Island 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 Treasure Island and Madeira Beach 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

Like any barrier island community, there is little space to park your car during busy periods, although Treasure Island has more public lots than many other towns.

There is some free parking at a few beach access points. Look for the blue and orange signs that say Treasure Island Beach Access and have a P in a green circle. If that symbol has a line through it, you can’t park there at all. Most have meters, but the one at 127th Avenue at Sunshine Beach is free.

Otherwise you’ll have to opt for one of the open, uncovered lots across the key that have pay stations or meters that accept credit cards. Parking is $2 per hour, but there is a discount for parking all day.

The city provides several bird-themed beach parking lots on its website:

  • Heron Lot, Bay Shore Drive and 75th Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • Tern Lot, West Gulf Boulevard at 77th to 79th Avenues, next to Sunset Beach Pavilion
  • Ring-Billed Gull Lot, West Gulf Boulevard and 81st Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • Black Skimmer Lot, West Gulf and 80th Avenue, across from Sunset Beach Pavilion
  • Brown Pelican Lot, West Gulf Boulevard and 88th Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • Sandpiper Lot, Gulf Boulevard and 100th Avenue, mid-island
  • White Egret Lot, 126th Avenue, Sunshine Beach

There’s also public parking in the Community Center lot at 106th Avenue and Park Place (behind the Walgreen's) and the Gulf Front Park lot, at 104th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.

Finally, the Municipal Lot, which is not owned by the city of Treasure Island, is at 112th Avenue & Gulf Boulevard.

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BEACH SCENE

The Treasure Island Beach Trail is a good place for feet or wheels or paws — it’s the only part of the beach where dogs are allowed. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

The main stretch of sand between Sunshine and Sunset beaches, including the City of St. Petersburg’s Municipal Beach is notable for being extremely wide. Walking to the shoreline can take more than five minutes in the middle of the main island.

The sand itself is quite shelly, so if your feet are sensitive, keep those flip-flops on. The beach is loaded with sand dunes growing wispy sea oats, waxy sea grapes, cabbage palms and bright yellow dune sunflowers.

The Gulf of Mexico along the barrier island is usually blue and green and fairly clear, depending on the time of year. It ranges from flat and glassy to slightly choppy, with moderate waves, making it perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, boogie boarding and skimboarding. It also stays shallow for a long stretch, so you’re able to go out pretty far without the water getting too deep.

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.

Like any barrier island, beach erosion is a big problem here. The beaches frequently need to be renourished, so you may want to check the town’s website to see if there are any large amounts of sand being pumped onto the place you’d rather be sunbathing. Such projects are usually announced months in advance.

Here you’ll find everyone from families with kids frolicking in the water, to college kids on spring break blasting music and throwing a football, to couples having a picnic, to retirees collecting shells along the shore. Kids will shriek with delight for the chance to ride down a huge inflatable waterslide or to go airborne on a bungee trampoline that’s found on the beach directly in front of Gulf Front Park at 104th Avenue. Every Sunday evening at sunset, a large drum circle forms on the beach in this same area.

The Treasure Island Beach Trail is a paved walkway directly behind a mile of beachfront hotels. It’s wide enough that people can bike, skate or walk, and is the only area of the beach where dogs are permitted. A low wall runs along it, which makes for a nice to place to sit and people-watch or catch the live music from an outdoor hotel bar.

There are public restrooms and showers at Sunset Beach Pavilion, 8000 W Gulf Blvd.; Gulf Front Park, 104th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard; and the City of St. Petersburg Municipal Beach Lot at 112th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.

The city’s beach rules and regulations are available here.

SUNSHINE BEACH

The northernmost beach goes on for about seven blocks, starting just south of the John’s Pass Bridge. The north end of the island features a concrete walkway dotted with benches along the rocky pass, leading to a jetty in the Gulf of Mexico.

A few Australian Pines make for a shady stroll along the walkway, which is a prime spot for watching boats go to and fro through John’s Pass. The sand is softer and deeper here, but the expanse is much narrower, making it easier to schlep your gear out to the water. It’s a much less populated stretch of beach, more residential than commercial, so you’ll see more couples and retirees than families with small children or teenagers.

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.

SUNSET BEACH

The beach at the southern end of Treasure Island starts after the intersection of Gulf Boulevard and 1st Street Southeast, making a right turn from the main drag to become West Gulf Boulevard (Gulf Boulevard crosses Blind Pass to St. Pete Beach and becomes Blind Pass Road).

Sunset Beach is mostly between two rocky jetties, and the expanse of sand narrows significantly, so much so that on crowded days it can be hard to stake a claim. Because of the jetties, when winds are high, the waves swell and it’s not uncommon to see surfers. A boardwalk is a lovely stroll providing great photo-ops of the beach.

Sunset Beach is also largely residential, making the area practically its own island on an island. Its inhabitants tend to be of the “island-life” mentality and accept guests of all lifestyles, making it popular with the LGBTQ community.


It's legal to drink on much of Treasure Island beachfront, but with a set of rules including no kegs and no glass bottles. [Florida Beach Insider photo]

ALCOHOL ON THE BEACH

A relative novelty in most parts of the state, the city of Treasure Island permits consumption of alcoholic beverages on the beach for people 21 and older. There’s also no restriction on how far you have to be from the water. There are a few points to keep in mind, though.

Containers can never be glass, and you can’t bring a keg out on the sand. No dogs are allowed and the beach is closed between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

But wait, there’s more, and it’s kind of complicated: Alcoholic beverages are not permitted on the beach between the 8500 block and the 9900 block (the northern end of Sunset Beach, roughly from Sunset Chateau to the Island Inn) between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays plus Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, as well as from the first weekend every February to the last weekend in September.

In the middle of all that is the area around Caddy's on the Beach, a popular party spot where the beach is open to revelers who like to imbibe.

To make sense of all that, the city provides a map of the area, although you practically need a minor in cartography to be able to decipher it. When in doubt, ask a local — or any nearby law enforcement.

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WHERE TO STAY

THUNDERBIRD RESORT

The hotel’s iconic neon sign greets you as soon as you arrive on Gulf Boulevard from 107th Avenue. The gulfside resort is directly on the beach and has been there since 1957. It features rooms with kitchenettes and incredible views, two pools and a jacuzzi.

TAHITIAN RESORT

A retro–style hotel with affordable rooms directly on the beach. This one features a kids’ pool and, true to its Florida roots, a shuffleboard court.

TREASURE ISLAND BEACH RESORT

This high-end resort opened in 2016 and offers luxury amenities, including poolside food and beverage services.

SUNSET INN AND COTTAGES

A recently renovated Old Florida motel that’s steps from Sunset Beach. There are six rooms and a penthouse suite, all stylishly designed and furnished.

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THINGS TO DO

TREASURE ISLAND SLIDE

A giant inflatable slide and bounce house await on the beach at 10400 Gulf Blvd. There’s a good long line on busy days, but the kids will love it. It’s $3 for one trip, two trips for $5 or get an all-day pass for $25.

TREASURE ISLAND OUTDOOR FRIDAY MORNING MARKET

From December through April, local makers and food vendors sell their wares while live music plays at the Treasure Island Community Center.

BUCKY THE PIRATE STATUE

This peg-legged pirate once was the mascot of the Buccaneer Motel, a 1950s-era motor lodge that closed in 2005. Bucky lives on at Treasure Island Park, still plundering the corniest photo ops.

Treasure Island features an annual kite festival, but any time the wind is right is a good opportunity to practice. [Florida Beach Insider photo]
TREASURE ISLAND KITE COMPETITION AND FESTIVAL

Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, the sky over the beach behind the Thunderbird is filled with kites of all shapes and sizes as flyers compete.

TREASURE ISLAND SPRINGFEST AND CARNIVAL

A yearly mid-March funfest with rides and live entertainment. Open to all ages, with wristbands for rides and shuttles to get you there.

SANDING OVATIONS SAND SCULPTING COMPETITION AND FESTIVAL

Master sand sculptors come from around the world to build works of art from 150 pounds of sand.

WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS

TREASURE ISLAND MARINA

Located on Boca Ciega Bay adjacent to the City Services Complex on 108th Avenue, the marina offers 12 boat slips for rent available for boats 45 feet and less. Slip fees are $15 per foot per month plus tax with a minimum of 28 feet.

There are also three public boat ramps, at 84th Avenue and Bayshore Drive; 100th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard; and 123rd Avenue and Lagoon Lane.

TAYLOR BEACH SERVICE

The vendor rents kayaks, paddleboards, chairs and cabanas. Reservations have to be made on site, but check their Facebook page for more information (also check with your hotel for vouchers).

TREASURE ISLE BOAT RENTALS

Situated directly on Gulf Boulevard, you can rent bicycles here, as well as deck and pontoon boats.

HUBBARD’S MARINA

Located in John’s Pass, they offer fishing trips, private charters, dolphin cruises, snorkeling expeditions and kayak and paddleboard rentals.

TREASURE BAY GOLF AND TENNIS

The public facility has eight clay and two asphalt tennis courts, two shuffleboard courts and a nine-hole golf course.

BEACH YOGA PINELLAS

Drop-ins are welcome to practice their sun salutations directly on the sand. They also offer paddle yoga and paddle fitness.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

VIP LOUNGE AND MEXICAN RESTAURANT

This full liquor dive bar serving Mexican-American eats is extremely popular with local and tourists, but has limited seating, so be prepared to wait.

RICKY T’S

A sports bar and grill with plenty of TV screens, bar food with a seafood slant and live music. It’s a gathering place for bikers, but think motorcycle clubs, not gangs. They also offer brunch.

FLORIDIAN RESTAURANT

Possibly the best Cuban sandwiches this side of Ybor City, along with black bean soup, deviled crab and papas rellenas. The Old Florida-style restaurant has a porch for dining, but the sandwiches are perfect for a picnic on the beach.

THE PEARL

A Mediterranean/Moroccan fine dining restaurant with an emphasis on seafood and an extensive wine list. Open for dinner only.

IKKI WOO WOOS TIKI HUT

The tiny drink stand on the pool deck of the Thunderbird Resort features authentic Tiki drinks like the Zombie (be careful) and a wide variety of frozen concoctions. Grab a seat and enjoy live music and beach views.

CADDY’S ON THE BEACH

The Sunset Beach landmark is directly on the sand and offers free lounge chairs and umbrellas while you enjoy drinks, food and live music. Please refer to the beach drinking section to see why it’s so popular.

SEA DOG BREWING COMPANY

Enjoy craft beer, burgers, seafood and pub favorites while enjoying the view of the Blind Pass waterway at this chain location.

SHOPPING

THE FLORIDA SHELL SHOP

Buying shells at the beach may seem like cheating, but you’d never be able to collect the amount and variety of shells that this shop has. They also have cards, shell crafts, shell craft supplies and souvenirs.

SURF STYLE

The national chain specializing in all things beach, including swimsuits, towels, inflatables and gimmicky T-shirts, is perched right on the corner of Gulf Blvd. and 107th Avenue.

Maggie Duffy grew up on Florida beaches, which continue to be her happy place. When she's not writing about art and shopping for the Tampa Bay Times, she enjoys working out and testing new recipes on her hungry husband.

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