Kicking Back on Some of the Area's Best Beaches

Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond
Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of VSPC
Photo courtesy of VSPC
By Michelle da Silva Richmond, St. Petersburg / Clearwater Local Expert

If you long for gentle, temperate seas lined by soft sandy shores, then St Pete/Clearwater beaches were specially made for you. Throw in a collection of motorized and non-motorized beach "toys," deep sea fishing, shelling and more, along with a rich selection of restaurants, bars and bistros and it's a match made in paradise.

Add to that cozy motels, posh resorts and charming inns, and you can rest very comfortably for the night. Along the way, treat yourself to "shop till you drop" adventures - perfect for souvenirs to take home.

Special beach favorites with sun worshipers are: the award-winning Clearwater Beach and the intimate Sunset Beach. If you long for an island getaway, head to Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands. For something more laid back with a hint of old Florida, Pass-a-Grille is a sure bet.

There's a reason why St Pete Beach has been drawing beach goers to its gentle shores for generations…..Have I mentioned the spectacular sunsets?

10. Sunset Beach
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Tucked into the southern tip of Treasure Island, Sunset Beach is a draw for beach lovers of all ages. You'll find tiki huts, snack shops and bohemian bars to go with the tranquil sea and soft, sandy shores. Hop on board a charter boat for some excellent fishing, or if you prefer, rent a lounge and umbrella and give yourself over to life on the beach. When the sun sets, the area comes alive with music and chilled drinks to toast the end of another perfect day. Rumor has it that this beach was one of many, which inspired the hit song, "Margaritaville."

9. Fort De Soto Park
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Fort De Soto is so much more than a pretty beach. Sprawling for seven miles along the Gulf of Mexico, it offers beaches, picnic grounds, grills, campsites - and an historic Spanish fort, for good measure. Tidal pools make it ideal for families with small children, while the sea offers tranquil waters with plenty of shells along its shores. Bikes, canoes, paddle boards and kayaks can be rented and the park's gift shop offers sundries as well as objects from the sea. The fort itself offers a peek into the past with old artillery holds, firing galleys and beautiful views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Check out the Quartermaster Museum for photographs and military documents and artifacts from the Spanish-American War.

8. Treasure Island
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Deriving its name from an early hotel owner who buried - then "discovered" some wooden "treasure chests" on the beach - Treasure Island boasts three miles of white, sandy shores - perfect for shelling, snorkeling, parasailing, wave running and more. While it actually encompasses several of the most popular beaches in the area, this sandy strip is also home to small hotels and resorts, restaurants, beach bistros and a host of shops overflowing with colorful beach accessories and clothing. Throughout all of the beaches located on Treasure Island you'll find snack bars, restrooms, showers, beach lounges and umbrellas (for rental) and ample parking (for a fee). When the sun sets, visitors gather round to watch Mother Nature's mesmerizing spectacle, backed by music - and frosty drinks, of course!

7. Pass-a-Grille Beach
Photo courtesy of Michelle da Silva Richmond

Named for 18th-century "grilleurs" who dried fish on these soft, sandy shores, Pass-a-Grille stretches along the southern end of St Pete Beach, encompassing 22 blocks, beginning at 22nd Ave and stretching to the end of the island. This quaint, laid back town is a true throwback to a kinder, gentler time and even has a designated National Historic District with a small historical museum showcasing the area's past to prove it. Several of the area's dining favorites are located across from this beach. It's also one of the best spots to catch the area's legendary sunset and a special ringing of the bell ritual is celebrated every night at Paradise Grille to honor it. When you've had enough of the sand and surf, take a walk around the area and visit some of the kitschy boutiques located here.

6. Sand Key Park
Photo courtesy of Barefoot In Florida

Unlike some of the busier beaches in Clearwater, Sand Key Park offers a wide swath of sand and a host of amenities, including beach cabanas, restrooms, seasonal lifeguards, concession stands, picnic areas and ample parking - without the overbearing crowds of other beaches. It may just offer the best of both worlds - including a dog-friendly park and plenty of family activities. When the winds are gusting, surfers can do their thing. If you're a fan of wide, open spaces and fewer crowds, then this beach is definitely for you. The nearby park offers plenty of shade, picnic tables and a playground for kids.

5. Honeymoon Island State Park
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Once known as Hog Island, Honeymoon Island's current name is drawn from a 1939 contest for newlyweds who won a two-week honeymoon stay here - and the subsequent honeymoon bungalows built as a result of the contest. This natural barrier island off the coast of Dunedin boasts four miles of soft beaches along with lush nature trails abundant with local flora and fauna - including endangered species such as the gopher tortoise. A portion of the Pinellas Trail running the length of the Dunedin Causeway leads to the scenic park, where you can indulge in fishing, swimming, snorkeling and beach picnics. Two cafés dish up tasty casual treats and sell beach supplies and souvenirs. Umbrellas, beach chairs, bikes and kayaks can also be rented and there's also a dog beach where Fido is welcome, as long as he's on a leash.

4. Caladesi Island State Park

Another consistent award-winner in the beautiful beach parade, Caladesi Island is a barrier island along Florida's Gulf Coast and accessible only by a 15-minute boat or ferry ride. Along with three miles of pristine beaches, the island boasts abundant wildlife, mangrove-shaded kayak trails, hiking trails and a host of opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with nature. Once part of the larger island once known as Hog Island (now Honeymoon Island) because of the hogs an early homesteader raised there, today it's one of the area's premier beach destinations and especially popular with people in search of unusual shells. A café and restrooms are available and canoes and kayaks can be rented. Pets aren't allowed on the beach, but they are allowed in the park area.

3. Indian Rocks Beach
Photo courtesy of VSPC

According to local lore, Indian Rocks Beach got its name from a native medicine man who cured his chief from whatever ailed him by using the waters from a natural sulfur spring said to be located in the area. Early settlers seeing the Indians frequent the "rock encircled spring," referred to the event as "the Indians on their way to the rocks." Today, this area bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico offers nearly three miles of soft, sandy beaches along tranquil seas, dotted with a host of quaint restaurants and eclectic shops, harking back to the Old Florida experience. A small park offers showers, restrooms and other conveniences.

2. St Pete Beach
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Another consistent winner on the "Top List of Beaches," St Pete Beach officially had its name changed in 1994 to lessen the confusion with the City of St Petersburg, located on the mainland. This barrier island has been drawing celebrities and savvy travelers in search of tranquil seas and soft shores for generations. You'll find posh resorts such as Loews Don CeSar - aka the Pink Palace - or Tradewinds Island Resorts overlooking the beach, as well as Old Florida motels offering a dose of nostalgia along with modern-day amenities. Beach shacks serve surprisingly tasty food at very affordable prices and water sport equipment can be rented along the various beaches.

1. Clearwater Beach
Photo courtesy of VSPC

Consistently named to the Top List of Beaches and ranked among the "most beautiful beaches in the world," by Conde Nast Traveler, Dr. Beach and others, Clearwater Beach does indeed boast sugary white sands and tranquil shallow seas, assuring a perfect haven for beachgoers of all ages. Activities such as deep-sea fishing, parasailing, water-skiing, wave-running, dolphin watches and more can be arranged right from the beach. When you're done lazing along the serene shore, activities lining the palm-shaded Beach Walk Promenade include "shop till you drop" ops. Dining ranges from mom and pop eateries to chic bistros where you can get a wide assortment of fresh seafood and standard beach fare. When the sun goes down, night spots come alive