This stretch of 20 barrier islands and 35 miles of white-sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico is commonly referred to as Florida's Beach. The semi-tropical setting makes it a year-round playground for a variety of outdoor activities.
Florida's Beach, actually just a marketing name for the west-central Florida coastal area, boasts that it enjoys more sunshine than Honolulu... and that could be true. From 1910 to 1986, the St. Petersburg Evening Independent was given away free on those rare occasions when the sun did not shine. Although the newspaper ceased publication November 8, 1986, in 76 years, the newspaper was only given away 295 times – less than four times per year. No wonder this area is called the Suncoast!
St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area
Beaches are Florida's calling card and when you are known as "Florida's Beach," you had better have the sand to back it up. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area beaches are unmatched among U.S. Visitor destinations and have accumulated numerous awards for everything from sand quality to environmental management.
Here is an overview of St. Petersburg/Clearwater area island beaches from the south to the north:
- Egmont Key is a 440-acre island distinguished by its 1858 lighthouse. It is now a wildlife refuge that is accessible only by boat. Several operators offer snorkeling excursions to the island.
- Fort DeSoto Park consists of 900 acres, including seven miles of beaches. This area has two fishing piers, picnic areas, and a unique 2,000-foot barrier-free nature trail for guests with disabilities. Popular with visitors for camping, biking and skating, the area also includes rental facilities for canoes, kayaks and bicycles.
- Shell Key has been named one of the most important birding sites in the state by Audubon of Florida. This undeveloped barrier island is known for excellent shelling, sunbathing and bird watching opportunities.
- Long Key includes St. Pete Beach and Pass-A-Grille. This area has no high-rise buildings, keeping it a unique slice of old Florida. St. Pete Beach is one of the most popular in this area and includes some of the largest resorts including the Don CeSar, known as the "Pink Palace."
- Treasure Island is one of the widest beaches in the area and plays host to several sporting activities including an annual kite-flying contest, Beachfest Food and Music Festival, and has held the Guinness World Record for the largest sand castle.
- Sand Key is the longest of the barrier islands at 14-miles and includes several beach communities including Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores, Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, and Sand Key. This island has been the recipient of a recent beach nourishment project adding tons of powder-white sand. Fishing is popular in this area from several public piers, and Madeira Beach features John's Pass Village & Boardwalk, a quaint shopping district which overlooks "fish famous" John's Pass. On the northern tip of the island, Clearwater's Sand Key Park has been ranked among the top beaches in the nation.
- Clearwater Beach is perhaps the most popular of all the area's many beaches, especially with families. Pier 60 Park on Clearwater Beach features a family recreation complex with covered playgrounds, fishing, and concessions. The Sunsets at Pier 60 festival features music, entertainment and a beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunset.
- Caladesi Island is one of the few remaining large undeveloped barrier islands on Florida's Gulf Coast and is only accessible by boat. The island is ideal for swimming, shelling, fishing, picnics, scuba diving and nature study. The park also has a three-mile nature trail winding through the island's interior. A ferry departs hourly from nearby Honeymoon Island and docks are available on the island for private boats.
- Honeymoon Island has a long history that includes 50 palm-thatched bungalows that were built in the 1940s for honeymooning couples, but eventually were used as R&R sites for wartime factory workers. The state park features sunbathing, shelling, swimming, fishing, picnic pavilions, bathhouses, and a park concession building. It is popular with pet owners that enjoy the pet beach with their furry friends.
- Anclote Key features a picturesque 1887 federal lighthouse that stands sentinel on the southern end of the island. It is located three miles off Tarpon Springs on the northern end of the peninsula and is accessible only by boat.
- Non-Barrier Island Beaches on the Gulf, Intracoastal Waterway and Tampa Bay are also popular with visitors and residents alike. Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs and Crystal Beach are both white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico that are attached to the mainland. Gulfport Beach and Maximo Park Beach are both on the Intracoastal's Boca Ciega Bay. Tampa Bay beaches such a North Shore Park, Spa Beach and Gandy Beach offer a beach experience from the Bay side.
Florida's Beach area offers more than just great beaches. Major attractions include pirate cruises, marine aquariums, dolphin encounters, unique shopping, museums, water excursions, and much more. Area restaurants offer everything from elegant to the most casual, barefoot dining and moonlight dinner cruises.
Florida's Beach is only 30 minutes away from Tampa International Airport and is linked to the interstate system — accessible from Interstate 75, Interstate 275, Interstate 4, US Highway 19, and State Road 60.