St. Pete Beach
By Nick Johnson
Published September 30, 2007
Geography: St. Pete Beach is a barrier island city that's beach is divided into Upham Beach to the north, St. Pete Beach in the center and Pass-a-Grille to the south. (See separate entry on Pass-a-Grille.) St. Pete and Upham beaches are pretty much indistinguishable and include everything north of the famous pink landmark, the Don CeSar Hotel. The beach's many restaurants and tourist shops lie mostly north along Gulf Boulevard. On the south side of the roadway is a long stretch of hotels, motels and condos, hiding the beach. Smack dab in the middle of the city is a public park and the main public beach access.
A little history: St. Pete Beach sits on the 6 1/2-mile island called Long Key on early navigation maps. It originally was broken into the towns of Pass-a-Grille Beach, Don CeSar Place, Belle Vista Beach and St. Petersburg Beach until a voter referendum in 1957 consolidated the four small towns and a considerable portion of unincorporated county land. The island then became the city of St. Petersburg Beach, with some neighborhoods like Pass-a-Grille still bearing the moniker of their former city. In 1994, the voters opted for a more casual name that would also state their independence from the neighboring St. Petersburg, and the city changed its name to St. Pete Beach.
The beach: The beach here is a tourist destination and a local favorite for good reason. It's wide, the sand is soft and white, and the water is as clear as it gets in Pinellas County. If you're on the hunt for shells, you won't go home empty-hande. If you keep an eye out you also might spot a dolphin or two. On a good windy day, the north end of the beach has some of the few surfable waves in the area, and the entire length boasts amazing views of the sunset.
Amenities: Most of the hotels on the beach boast a restaurant and at least one beach bar. Bongo's, Coconuts and the Undertow are a few of the classics. On the north end of the beach, Philthy Phills and Woody's Waterfront are a couple of local favorites and good spots to watch the sunset. Touristy beach shops are easy to find on Gulf Boulevard, and there are plenty of restaurants and ice cream shops, too. St. Pete Beach also boasts a bay-side community center with a public pool, complete with a water slide for the kids.
Some drawbacks: On busy weekends or holidays, traffic can be pretty bad. Both of the main roadways out to the island are drawbridges, which can cause some serious delays, and the beach can get crowded at times.
Parking: Don't expect to find a spot the first place you look. The main public access has a decent parking lot where $5 will cover you for the day and you can use your credit card. North of about 67th Avenue there is some metered parking on the streets and intermittent public walkways to get you there. If all else fails you can always head to one of the hotels or beach bars -- all of which have parking, most of which you'll have to pay for.
Bottom line: The beaches and sunsets are beautiful and you couldn't ask for more bars or restaurants. The trade-off comes with the crowds and traffic.