Florida is world famous for its beaches for good reason. We have a lot of them and the majority of them are wide, long fine white, sand beaches, plus they come with this wonderful tropical weather and nice warm temperatures in the Gulf waters during our long summer. This enhances any visit to our beaches. Having grown up in California where the beaches may be attractive but the water is freezing year round I can definitely appreciate why the Florida beaches are so popular with our visitors. Some of the beaches I’m including in this guide are well known and very popular with visitors. Others are more known and frequented by the locals. I’m listing links in case you want more information.
The most well known and one of the more popular beaches in our area is:
The defining characteristics of this beach are not just that it is a long and wide beach with fine white sand. But:
1. It’s anchored by Pier 60, which is a center point for nighttime vendors of arts, crafts along with musicians and street performers. We’ve seen solitary musicians as well as bands, knife swallower’s, flame swallower’s, slight-of-hand artists, contortionists and musicians. I understand there have also been jugglers and clowns.
Fishing and sightseeing can be done from the far end of the pier. I’ve never gone this far on the pier, but I understand that about halfway you need to pay $.50 to go any further beyond the crowds. They also have a baithouse around the halfway mark. The pier is open all the time, every day of the year.
2. The beach is surrounded by gift, clothing and souvenir shops, as well as high rise high end hotels, restaurants and clubs. It is also well supplied with tour operators of, fishing charters, dinner cruises and trips to watch the dolphins.
3. It is usually crowded with merrymakers, vacationers, singles and shoppers.
This beach’s amenities include year-round lifeguards, bathrooms, showers, concessions, a playground, and picnic shelters. There’s parking. But it’s not free. You have a choice of parking with meters or a paid lot with a gate. The Clearwater Beach is always open.
Also, even though I don’t take my computer to the beach, I understand that this beach has free WiFi which is available outdoors.
To access this beach you need to take HWY 60 if you’re coming from the Tampa side of the bay, 275 S to the Airport exit, going past the airport, follow the signs to the Courtney Campbell Causeway. If you follow the road that comes off of the Causeway, it turns into Gulf to Bay which will take you to Gulf Blvd, if you follow the signs to the beach. Clearwater Beach is the first beach when you arrive at Gulf Blvd. There will be signs directing you, and the beach also has a sign.
Sand Key Park Beach:
If you turn left on Gulf Blvd after you get to Clearwater Beach and continue down this route you will come to the sign for Sand Key Park which includes the beach.
Follow until you come to the beach. The parking lot has meters.
This is one of our favorite beaches. It’s the widest in the area with fine white sand and shells. It’s a lot quieter than Clearwater. It’s doesn’t have all of the commerce or traffic that Clearwater has. It’s also a very popular beach.
Sand Key park is a park as well as a beach, which is open from 7 am to sunset. In the park you will find a playground, grills, water fountains, a dog park and picnic tables with some shelters. The beach has lifeguards, 9-5 from March to September, concessions, bathrooms which include changing areas, showers, picnic tables and covered cabanas for rent, which are very popular for birthday parties.
Both this beach and Clearwater beach are available for weddings and other celebrations. We’ve seen morning, noon and sunset ceremonies. For more information, here are two email addresses to write to, [email protected], and [email protected]
This beach has two sides, the private for residents only and the public side, which is so designated by a sign, to the left. Of course, this being Belleaire, there is a catch. The only vehicles allowed to park are those which have resident stickers on them.
But there are ways around this, if you really want to be on this beach. You can park your car in one of the shopping center parking lots in Belleaire Bluffs before you get to the Belleaire Causeway and walk to the beach, or you can park your vehicle in a friend’s driveway, who happens to live in Belleaire, like we did, or take the bus
that goes along Gulf Blvd through Belleair and walk to the beach.
To get to Belleaire you can either continue along Gulf Blvd from Sand Key or if you’re coming from the Tampa area, take 275 S across on the Howard Franklin until you get to Roosevelt Blvd/686, turning right you’ll find the road curving around to the left and becoming East Bay Dr, which will take you across the very high and arched Belleair Causeway until you come to Gulf Blvd where you will turn right. Belleaire Beach is up on the left. The entrance isn’t very obvious, so you need to look for it.
This is a wide, pretty and quiet beach which is available all the time if you have the access. It’s a nice place to walk at night.
This link takes you to a very helpful map which shows all of the Pinellas County beaches. Even though Sand Key is the one marked, all of them are shown.
Courtney Campbell Causeway:
The Courtney Campbell is one of our favorite bridges because it’s the friendliest and most attractive bridges we’ve ever been on. It’s also one of the most unique that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being on because it’s not just a bridge. It’s also a bird nesting area with a Birder trail, a marine animal sanctuary and a recreational area for hikers, walkers, runners, bikers, fishermen and rollerbladers due to it’s frontage roads on both sides.
It also doesn’t seem so much like a bridge except for its center spans for maritime traffic because it runs along the water level and seems more like a road along the beach on both sides. It also has the added benefit of a boat ramp near the middle of the bridge and two beaches. One, Ben T Davis Municipal Beach, is on the Tampa side. The other is the Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach, which really doesn’t have an official name, and is on the Clearwater side.
This link will take you to a map of the Courtney Campbell and its different parts.
Ben T Davis Municipal Beach:
The Ben T Davis Municipal Beach is a pretty good size park and beach right along the entry to the Courtney Campbell from the Tampa side. It is open from 7:30am to sunset. The parking lot has meters. There are picnic areas and bathroom facilities.
Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach:
The Courtney Campbell Causeway Beach is open sunrise to sunset. There are parking fees. You can bring your dog here and you can also jet ski here. This is a very popular beach.
If the beaches are closed, you can just drive onto one of the frontage roads on either side of the causeway and hang out. They’re closed only during storm surge. One side has sand and the other has a rock embankment along the shoreline.
The next two beaches have a very unique flavor because of their locations and/or the kind of people who frequent them. Both of these beaches are in what is called the Westshore District. They are both free and allow dogs. These two beaches and the Ben T Davis Beach are the closest to the Tampa side of the Bay Area.
Gandy Bridge Beach:
When I looked this up on the internet to make sure of the directions, I found that there are actually two of them if I read the article right. There is one on the St Pete side, which we’ve never been to, and the one under the bridge on the Tampa side, where we went to watch the fourth of July fireworks. It’s a great place to see all of the fireworks on the entire bay at the same time.
This is a very unique beach. You can drive your vehicle up on the beach and essentially have a tailgate party right on the beach. There’s a lot more interaction with the other people on the beach. This is more of a beach where you go to hang out and to see each other than to be seen. People bring their fishing gear, BBQ supplies, drinks both alcoholic and not and music. You can dress as you choose as long as you aren’t being indecent. This beach has no closed hours.
Take the 275 S to the Westshore exit, just before the Airport/Clearwater exit in Tampa. Take S Westshore to Gandy Blvd and turn right onto Gandy until you get near the bridge. Then drive down off the roadway onto the beach, which is under the bridge.
Picnic Island Park Beach:
Continue further down on S Westshore Blvd past Gandy Blvd. This will take you past the Port of Tampa and some industrial areas. Turn left onto W Commerce St and then right onto W Commerce St onto the park entrance which has a brown sign with the name on it. The road turns into Picnic Island Blvd. Follow the winding road to the end of the park where the free parking and the beach is.
You will find a beach, picnic areas, a playground, a fishing pier, a dog park, grills and covered areas that can be rented for events. The park also has a canoe and boat ramp which is open all the time. There are also bathroom facilities. There are lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
It’s a nice quiet place to have a family picnic and to take your kids to study specimens for science projects or to go fishing or boating.
A note about the latest on the BP spill and the Florida beaches:
The Loop Current which usually flows along the west coast of Florida and right through the keys has been moving to the western side of the Gulf. It has also developed an eddy at the northern end of the current which is preventing the oil from entering the current. Due to this development oceanographers from USF think that the threat to the west coast beaches and the keys is very low.
AAA has set up a page with the latest news on what is happening in the Gulf and a whole lot of links to all the helpful sites that have anything to do with the spill and the Gulf community, and phone numbers to various hotlines.
Another good site would be at this link.