In St. Pete/Clearwater, each sunset over the Gulf of Mexico paints a scene as unique as the beaches that line its shores. The spectrum presents many possibilities for beach getaways near Tampa – from remote islands and laid-back beach towns to scenes saturated with sun-seekers. Which fits your mood?
Note: Beaches are reviewed from north to south.
Vibe: Lively. This park balances undeveloped beaches with amenities, making it one of Florida’s most visited parks.
What to Do: Stop in at the nature center, where you can learn about the history, flora and fauna of the island. Spy shorebirds and St. Joseph Sound from the observation deck.
Vibe: Serene and pristine. Caladesi is accessible only by public ferry or private boat. However, there’s a convenient marina and concession near the white sands and maritime hammocks.
What to Do: Drift away from the popular areas. The tip of the island is good for shelling, and on the inland side, you might lock eyes with an osprey.
Vibe: Social and active. Water sports, sand volleyball and the scenic, winding BeachWalk promenade keep things moving (the pedestrian path passes the ocean, seafood restaurants, surf shops and hotels). These are just a few of the reasons USA Today readers voted to name Clearwater Beach the "Best Beach Town in Florida" in 2013.
Vibe: Beach/park hybrid. Divide your time between splashing in the Gulf along the undeveloped beach and taking advantage of park amenities including a playground, concession, kayak rentals, trails and a dog park.
What to Do: Keep an eye on the jetties, where surfers sometimes find waves big enough to ride.
Vibe: Fishing party. Sure, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio vacationed on this wide beach once upon a time. But with a nearly-all-hours fishing pier, it's a fine place to spend the evening with friends, a cooler and a rod.
What to Do: Angle for tarpon and snook off the thousand-foot-long pier.
Vibe: Classic beach boardwalk. “Mad Beach,” in local-speak, is home to John's Pass Village & Boardwalk, a hoopla of shops, restaurants and water sports outfitters.
What to Do: Get out on the water. From the John’s Pass boardwalk, you can rent a WaveRunner, board a sightseeing cruise or join a fishing charter. Read more about what to do in Madeira Beach.
Vibe: Nostalgic. Mom-and-pop accommodations still rule this beach with a reputation among kite-flyers, who gather here many weekends and during a January kite festival.
What to Do: Enjoy sweeping beach views and a cocktail at the Thunderbird Beach Resort bar, or spread out a beach blanket to be nearer to the kite action. Read more about what to do in Treasure Island.
Vibe: Backyard party. The mood comes in part because the beach is separated from the mainland on its own peninsula south of Treasure Island.
What to Do: Choose any establishment in the small cluster of rustic outdoor bars and restaurants for a beer, grouper sandwich and live music just a step from the sand.
Vibe: Urban yet quaint. TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach Destination in the U.S. (and No. 5 in the world) for 2012 has all the resorts and restaurants you want – wrapped in small-town charm.
Vibe: Low-key. You won’t find large crowds or high-rises here (Pass-a-Grille's building height restrictions help retain its Old-Florida flavor).
What to Do: Walk through the Eighth Avenue Historic District to the sea grass-sheltered beach and out to the island’s tip, where the Intracoastal and Gulf surround you with water. Read more about what to do in Pass-a-Grille.
Vibe: Castaway island. Shell Key is only accessible by public ferry or private boat and features zero development. You’ll swear you’ve found paradise, but don’t forget the essentials (sunscreen, water and an umbrella, to start).
What to Do: Few visitors venture beyond sight of the ferry drop-off, but you’ll find solitude and shells on the other side of the island.
Vibe: The beach with it all. Choose from paved, paddling and nature trails (rent bikes, kayaks and canoes inside the park). Camp. Fish. Tour the military fort-turned-museum. And stage an epic family picnic beneath a pavilion.
What to Do: Take the kids to North Beach, named America’s best family beach by Parents magazine in 2011. (If dogs are your children, note that Fort De Soto has a beach for them, too.)