Exploring a new area by car can be difficult. Where to park? Where to turn?
The solution? Hop aboard the Suncoast Beach Trolley to tour the Gulf Beaches from Clearwater Beach south to Pass-a-Grille.
Up to three children five years old or younger ride for free with an adult, and affordable full-day unlimited ride passes are available. With trolleys arriving every 20 to 30 minutes between approximately 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), you can travel the entire coastline for a full day of fun in our small towns. Plus, the locals on board will offer up some of their favorite shopping and dining spots that you may not otherwise find.
Clearwater Beach and Sand Key
The north end of the trolley route begins at the white sandy beaches near Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach, which was picked by readers to be USA Today's 2013 "Best Beach Town in Florida."
By day the soft white sand is the perfect spot to play volleyball and build sandcastles. You can also dine directly on the beach at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, a Clearwater Beach tradition (you must try the grouper sandwich!) and daredevils have their pick of parasailing and WaveRunner rentals to play above or in the blue waters.
Two hours before sunset, the park at Pier 60 comes to life with street performers, artists and musicians for the free nightly sunset celebration. Just before the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico, pay the 50 cents to walk out to the very end of the 1,250-foot long pier for a picture-perfect sunset.
The trolley also stops near Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The research aquarium has an ever-changing guest list of otters, turtles, dolphins and stingrays that they rescue and rehabilitate. Aquarium staff also manages the sea turtle nests at nearby Sand Key State Park, a 95-acre park and beach that overlooks Clearwater Pass.
On the eastern side of Sand Key, the Clearwater Community Sailing Center offers instruction programs as well as kayak and catamaran rentals.
Indian Rocks Beach and John's Pass
Indian Rocks Beach is quiet town of just more than 4,000 residents and is the perfect spot to find a quiet beach. Two county parks with fishing piers and hiking trails and more than 20 smaller beach access spots provide opportunities for outdoor pursuits. There are numerous fine dining choices here as well. Try local seafood favorite Guppy's on the Beach.
Farther south on the trolley route is Madeira Beach's popular John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, featuring more than 130 shops, restaurants and attractions. Families will find water activities for all ages, from WaveRunner rentals and parasailing lessons for older kids to the dolphin sightseeing cruises on The Pirate Ship at John's Pass.
St. Pete Beach & Pass-a-Grille
The four miles of white, sandy beaches aren't the only reason to ring the trolley bell in St. Pete Beach, voted TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach in America for 2012. Historic Corey Avenue is the place to get your shopping fix. You'll find art galleries, restaurants, gift stores and swimwear outlets and the historic Beach Theatre.
Almost every week there is some sort of craft or art fair or parade happening along Corey Area, including winter wine tastings and gallery walks, sidewalk sales and the popular juried art show held every February.
A "must see" at the southern end of St. Pete Beach is the Loews Don CeSar Hotel. The opulent pink palace, as the building is known to locals, opened in 1928 after being built for $1.25 million. The eight-story building didn't fare well during the Great Depression and eventually became a military hospital and then was vacated for many years before reopening in 1973.
At the very end of the trolley line is the beach town of Pass-a-Grille, which is a National Historic District. The town is rumored to have earned its name from Cuban fishermen who camped along the water smoking their fish on grills. Traveling by the pass, fishermen could see the fires and took to calling the spot Pass-a-Grille.
In Pass-a-Grille's Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, you can explore the county's barrier islands' past. The museum itself is a piece of history. It was the first church constructed on one of the barrier islands. Exhibits display artifacts from the 16th century to present day.
Finally, don't forget to check out the quaint shops and restaurants along Eighth Avenue, the town's main shopping district before making a return trip north on the trolley.