A low-key beach town with a splash of luxury, St. Pete Beach was voted TripAdvisor's No. 1 Beach in the U.S. and No. 5 in the world for 2012, based on millions of reviews from travelers around the world. From the lively shops and restaurants along Corey Avenue to a landmark historic hotel to the uber-mellow Pass-a-Grille Beach, there’s much to discover here, on the beach and beyond.
You’ll find public beach accesses along Gulf Boulevard, though only some have parking. At the north end of St. Pete Beach, Upham Beach is relatively wide – a perfect place to plunk down into that fine, sugary sand and play in the mellow Gulf surf. The public beach across from Dolphin Plaza is also a good bet.
The longest stretch of undeveloped beach in the area is Pass-a-Grille Beach, tucked away at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach. Known for its lack of high-rises and chains, it has a distinct island vibe that attracts locals and visitors alike. Kite-boarders frequent its north end, and sunbathing beauties line the beachfront. Bungalows and small motels dot the area.
St. Pete Beach is anchored by the castle-like Loews Don CeSar Hotel, one of the most recognizable structures on the entire Gulf Coast of Florida. The building’s Mediterranean Revival-style architecture and soft pink hue have earned it the nickname “Pink Palace.” The hotel offers an award-winning restaurant, The Maritana Grille, along with a couple of other more casual restaurants and an ice-cream parlor.
South of the Don CeSar in quiet Pass-a-Grille, get a sense of area history at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, site of the first church built on the area’s barrier islands. Their collection includes fascinating photographs and artifacts from the 1500s through modern times.
Shopping, Dining and Art in Pass-a-Grille
Pass-a-Grille’s quaint and historic Eighth Avenue is known as the shortest Main Street in America, but, that said, it sure packs a wallop. Notables lining this block-long strip include vegan mecca Vida de Cafe, eclectic boutique Bamboozle, dessert hub Paradise Sweets, and the shop for renowned, bearded jewelry designer and beer brewer extraordinaire Evander Preston.
A nightly sunset celebration takes place at Paradise Grille, which is on the beach directly across the street from the storied Hurricane Seafood Restaurant. Art Mart, a local craft bazaar, takes place here every Sunday from October through April.
Corey Avenue and the Beach Theatre
Explore the quaint historic Corey Avenue, just off Gulf Boulevard. For more than six decades, Corey Avenue has thrived at the heart of St. Pete Beach. With a variety of funky specialty shops, galleries, restaurants and other lively diversions, you can plan to spend an hour or an entire afternoon. Enjoy the Sunday morning fresh market, which takes place between October and May. A variety of special events such as art walks, wine tastings and craft festivals also take place throughout the year.
Check out what’s playing at the Beach Theatre, an independent, one-screen movie theater with Art Deco flair and a ton of retro charm. It’s the perfect escape when you need a break from the sun.
Nightlife along Gulf Boulevard
The legacy of St. Pete Beach lies partly in its status as a nightlife destination for both locals and visitors. It boasts many beachfront bars (Undertow Beach Bar, Postcard Inn on the Beach, Bongo’s and Jimmy B's Beach Bar among them). They all offer live music and tasty beverages – just remember to not take those tasty beverages off property, as alcohol is not allowed on the beach.
Weather permitting, shuttle boats launch from the Merry Pier in Pass-a-Grille to nearby Shell Key, which is an unspoiled island accessible only by boat. Boat excursions from Fort De Soto Park ferry day visitors to Egmont Key, another nearby island that's mostly a wildlife refuge – keep an eye out for dolphins during the boat ride. Depart from Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center for dolphin watches, island trips, fishing charters and sunset sails.
Finding your way around is easy – hop aboard the Beach Trolley. If you’re up for it, you can also walk. Gulf Boulevard parallels the beaches until it hits Pass-a-Grille at the very southern tip of the island. The town's rightfully famous beaches front the Gulf of Mexico and are sprinkled with nostalgic Old Florida motels and inns.