Toes in the Sand  - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Toes in the Sand 

Toes in the Sand 

World-famous beaches, hidden gem beach towns, natural shorelines and scenic vistas beckon beachgoers to set up a chair, put on some shades and SPF, kick back and relax. 

Hear that sound?  

It could be the gentle waves as they lap against the sun-toasted sand, or the wind as it whistles through the dunes. Maybe it is coming from the chitter of sea gulls or the light chatter of fellow beachgoers. Most likely, it is the sigh of contentment let out upon reaching this fabled destination. 


From the bustle of Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach to the quiet serenity of Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto Park, the shores of the area are unique and plentiful. Laidback and carefree, sporty and busy, the vibes are here and waiting to be shared. 

The beaches of Greater Tampa Bay are world famous, and for good reason. Caladesi Island is ranked No. 2 in Forbes’ Top 10 Beaches in 2022, while Clearwater Beach earned the No. 7 spot on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Beaches in 2022. Always listed as well is St. Pete Beach, which earned TripAdvisor’s No. 22 spot in 2022. 

So, listen up and listen well: The sounds of summer are calling.  

They Shore Are Beautiful! 

Caladesi Island 

North of Clearwater and next to Dunedin is Caladesi Island. Ranked number two on Forbes’ Top Beaches, this beach park has more than earned its spot. Take the ferry from Honeymoon Island and enjoy the gorgeous aquamarine waters, sprawling mangroves and white sand beaches.  

On the island, there is swimming and fishing, but visitors can enjoy more than just the beach. Kayak or canoe through the mangrove waterways or paddle through the roots and canopies of Florida’s most iconic tree. Boaters beware, the waters off the beach are full of oyster reefs.  

Head inland and hike the sandy trails of beach elders, sea oats and palm trees. The island is home to several species, look for the Ospreys in the trees or gopher tortoises burrowing in the sand. Pack a lunch or stop by Café Caladesi for classic costal cuisine.    

Clearwater Beach 

The award-winning, top ranked and suitably named Clearwater Beach is a must go for visitors and locals alike. With the crystal clear water, stunning sunsets and endless amenities, this serene venue is truly one-of-a-kind.  

For the beachgoers that want sand and city, cabanas are available to rent only a stone’s throw away from some of the best restaurants. At Pier 60, kids can enjoy the playground or sliding down the giant inflatable waterslide, the Hippo. Parents can enjoy fresh food and the best brews from 3 Daughters Brewing.  

If getting in touch with nature is the goal, go down to Sand Key Park. The acres of undeveloped beachfront means there is nothing to hinder the natural beauty of Clearwater. Or have an opportunity to see dolphins play among the waves on one of the many dolphin cruises offered, or up close and personal at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  

St. Pete Beach 

On the Gulf of Mexico, with soft waves and bright water is St. Pete Beach. Another of GTB’s crown jewels, this paradise has also earned its fair share of applause and acclaim. Frequently rated one of the best beaches in the country, there is much to see and must-do.  

Enjoy live music and relaxing beach bars or lounge on the beach cabanas for a classic day on the shore. Venture to Upham Beach Park to walk along the dunes to grab lunch at the Seaside Grill or try to find the Secret Garden. 

Spend the day meandering through downtown Pass-A-Grille. The pastel beach town has plenty of shops for local art, beach attire and other fashionable finds. Learn about the local history at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, which displays Old Florida through photographs and artifacts. 

Indian Rocks Beach 

A few miles south from Clearwater is Indian Rocks Beach, with a population of less than 5,000. What this beach lacks in name recognition it makes up for in personality. A leisurely drive down the one-lane road of Gulf Boulevard will make this abundantly clear.  

Cozy, beachside bungalows nestle between pine trees, while local bars and restaurants line the other side of the street. Popular for small vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfast spots, Indian Rocks represents a slower pace than other nearby locations. If searching for that pristine spot without the buzz of the crowds, Indian Rocks might just be the destination. 

Indian Rocks Beach is also known for its one-of-a-kind dive bars. Mahuffer, for instance, features a collection of oddball and off-the-wall décor, including mismatched furniture and brightly colored trinkets. Billing itself as the “Wurst Place on the Beech,” Mahuffer is the definition of unique. Other famous spots include Slyce Pizza Bar, PJ’s Oyster Bar and Guppy’s on the Beach. 

With more than 27 public access points along 28 blocks, there is ample access to the beach. Like many other spots in the area, the sand, water and weather at Indian Rocks Beach are some of the best around. As local pioneer and settler Harvey K Hendrick once said of Indian Rocks Beach: “I thought it was the most beautiful place on God’s green footstool.” 

Fort De Soto Park 

Fort De Soto Park, situated on Mullet Key at the very southern tip of Pinellas County, is a former military base-turned county park, open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Offering nature trails, campsites, picnic areas, piers, playgrounds and boat ramps, Fort De Soto Park is the embodiment of natural life in the GTB. 

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Adventure at Fort De Soto is never far away. With more than two miles of canoe trails and seven miles of walking trails, there is plenty to explore. Dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and manatees are visible off the edge of the fishing pier, while more than 300 species of birds have been documented in the area. Mangrove trees line crystal-clear tidal waters, and seashells line the white shores.  

Students of history will recognize the importance of Fort De Soto Park. Remnants of the military base are scattered throughout and make for a captivating stroll through the past. The Quartermaster Museum contains war mementos, photographs, maps and memories. Learn of the brave soldiers who were stationed in the area and discover what life was like back at the turn of the century.  

Along the waterways are the ruins of the park’s namesake fort, as well as placards and signposts with history lessons about the various spots. Old artillery weapons decorate the inside of the bunkers, transporting visitors back to the area’s roots.  

If the goal is to be one with nature, to adventure, explore and learn, then head to Fort De Soto Park. 

Anna Maria Island 

Rounding out the notable beaches is Anna Maria Island, found over the Skyway bridge and west of Bradenton. Seven miles of shoreline make this one of the longest beaches in the area. Meanwhile, strict regulations on new construction keep it a quiet, laidback town reminiscent of Old Florida. With plenty to do, see, smell and hear, Anna Maria Island will keep visitors busy. 

It is not uncommon for comparisons to be drawn to the Florida Keys. Bungalow dwellings, locally owned bars and restaurants and live music can be mistaken for Duval Street. Casual seaside eateries like Harry’s Grill offer outdoor seating and the stylings of local musicians, while the Sandbar Restaurant provides a touch of fine seafood dining. Bars like Slim’s Place and The Doctor’s Office are staples of the area, attracting languorous beachgoers after days well spent in the sun. 

C Ponies Horseback Rides take riders through the shallow shores of the gulf on the backs of colorful and friendly Gypsy Vanner horses. Take an equestrian escapade while the sun sets for a romantic adventure. Jet ski, parasail and windsurf rentals are available as well. 

Whether gazing out at the water on the Anna Maria City Pier, soaking in rays on the Manatee Public Beach or grabbing a bite to eat at the Rod and Reel Pier Restaurant, Anna Maria Island will remind everyone that they are in a tropical paradise.  

Paws in the Sand 

Furry friends deserve their share of GTB’s beaches, and several are happy to oblige them. Some even go out of their way to add some pet-specific amenities to maximize the experience. Although most of the area’s beaches prohibit pets, here are the few notable exceptions. 

  • Honeymoon Island State Park Pet Beach 
  • Just up the way from the rest of the Honeymoon Island beach is a specialized area just for dogs, leashes required. 
  • Davis Island Dog Beach 
  • Live unleashed — dogs can run freely on the sands and wade through the calm waters here. 
  • Fort DeSoto Dog Beach 
  • Or more accurately, beaches. This expansive park features two dog-friendly spaces, one for the larger dogs and one for the little pups. 
  • Pass-a-Grille Dog Beach 
  • Another excellent dog-friendly option to those living closer to St. Petersburg. 

By Ryan Walsh.

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