What comes to mind when you think of a perfect beach? The picture in your head probably looks something like white sand, crystal waters, peace and quiet? I’m proud to say that the beaches in St. Petersburg along the gulf coast are some of the best in the U.S. and compete against the best beaches in the world.
Booking a St. Pete beach vacation might be one of the best areas to do it in. While the beaches in St. Petersburg are becoming more popular they still are farther under that radar than Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or Siesta Key.
When I first moved to the area I was shocked at how many different beaches in St. Petersburg there are, and after exploring many of them I’ve learned there’s truly a perfect St. Pete beach vacation for everyone! So let’s break down what makes each of the beaches in St. Petersburg special!
Annual Sand Sculpture Festival
on Treasure Island Beach
Get away from the crowds at Ft. Desoto Beach
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The Best Beaches in St. Petersburg For Activities
Spinners Rooftop Bar on St. Pete beach in St. Petersburg
Coconut Charlie’s Beach Bar St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach won the Travelers Choice #1 Beach in the U.S. in 2021, it has everything you could want during a beach vacation! Fabulous white sand beach with tons of restaurants, shops, and beach bars on the main strip so you’ll never have to go far. While this beach will always have a lot of tourists it will never be to the levels of Clearwater or Siesta Key. It’s almost like the perfect storm!
Lots of activities within walking distance
Great sunset view
Check out this Instagram reel of my favorite St. Pete beach bar!
Fun experiences to have near St. Pete Beach
Sand Key Beach
Sand Key is one of the best, underrated beaches in St. Petersburg! The crowds and parking are way less overwhelming than Clearwater Beach but it’s just down the street so you’ll still be in close proximity to the restaurants and activities in Clearwater. Parking is just a flat rate of $5 to park all day, to put that into perspective you will pay around $18 for 5 hours at St. Pete Beach.
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect beach, unlike the soft powder on Clearwater Beach, the sand has more crushed shells, a little more painful to walk on in certain areas but it’s great if you like collecting shells. Also, the sand isn’t as sticky as other beaches so if you have kids to clean off this will make packing up a bit easier.
HIGHLIGHTS: Cheap parking Great for shelling Bathrooms/showeres Food truck right behind bathrooms on the beach Close to downtown Clearwater
In recent years Clearwater Beach has been atop of many of the various “Best Beaches in the U.S.” lists, most recently in 2019 by TripAdvisor. It’s praised for its powdery white sand and clear water… see what I did there?
Being a local to St. Pete I would get burnt out by hitting this beach too often because of how popular of a tourist destination it is. However, as a visitor, the bustling nature of Clearwater Beach may be exactly the type of atmosphere you’re looking for. It really does have it all for any age and family dynamic. There are inflatables for the kids, water sports rentals, a pier, beachfront bars and restaurants, and shopping. Parking will be chaotic, so plan to get there very early if you are coming by car.
My Finding’s Tip: Instead of renting the overpriced beach chairs check out ResortPass. You can use the Clearwater Hyatt Regency Resort’s amenities for $30/day. The panoramic views from the pool deck are unbeatable!
HIGHLIGHTS: Whitest sand and some of the purest water Unlimited options for activites and restaurants Family friendly
Fun experiences to have on Clearwater Beach
Madeira Beach, aka Mad Beach, is a flat clean beach perfect for long walks or jogging. It has great views of the coastline perfect for watching the sunset. Right across the street is John’s Pass, you won’t be able to miss the 1,200ft long boardwalk while driving by. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Pinellas County. Altogether, there are over 100 different shops and restaurants to explore with great views of the ocean and the bay. You can even go on dolphin tours, rent jet skis, or go parasailing.
HIGHLIGHTS: Flat beach Near John's Pass Boardwalk Great for sunset
Best Beaches in St. Petersburg For Relaxing
Take a morning beach walk to the neighboring St. Pete Beach
Pack a lunch and enjoy it inside the Secret Gardens
Upham Beach in St. Petersburg lies right between Treasure Island Beach and St. Pete Beach. It’s nestled among midrise condos and small resorts. I only learned about this beach because I went on a mission to check out the Secret Gardens which you can only reach by walking along Upham Beach. This adorable little garden has a nice variety of plants and flowers and has a lot of shade, benches, and even a couple of tables to eat at if you bring your own lunch.
I had such tunnel vision about the garden that I wasn’t even expecting the beach to be anything special but once I looked around I quickly fell in love. It has these scenic rocky coves which in a way feel like their own different designated swimming zones. The beach is wide and even on Christmas day, it didn’t feel overly crowded. There’s plenty of room to play frisbee, spike ball, or even grab a group of friends and play volleyball on the court that’s there. Afterward, you could walk to 82 Degrees Bar + Grill for dinner or shop at the cutest beach cafe, Grove Surf + Coffee.
HIGHLIGHTS: Wide beach great for frisbee or volleyball Small concessions Bathrooms/showers Walkable to restuarnts and shops Secret beach garden Hidden Gem
Surrounded by nature and history, Fort DeSoto is the furthest reachable beach in St. Petersburg on the southern tip of Tierra Verde. This park was once used as a military base during the Spanish-American war and the battery is open to the public to explore. On the other end of the parking lot, there is a small pier used for fishing.
Fort DeSoto is near, if not at the top of my list of beaches in St. Petersburg because it is just so isolated! It’s never busy and there are always birds, lush beach plants, and creatures to see here.
After paying the $5 entrance fee you’ll reach an open parking lot which is the dog beach, unless you are taking your dog I don’t recommend parking here because it will be busier than the Anderson Blvd Parking or North Beach. I always head towards North Beach and park right before it in the sand by the boardwalks. There is no assigned parking here and it’s super quick access over the boardwalk to the beach.
Note: The park closes at sunset and a park ranger will come and kick you out.
My Finding’s Tip: Have quarters and small bills ready for the Pinellas tollway
HIGHLIGHTS: Dog beach Fishing dock Campgrounds Picnic Tables Historic fort Surrounded by nature
Reddington Shores Beach Access
If you’re staying near the busier beaches and want a beach day without the crowds head slightly north to Reddington Shores! There are not many tourist attractions or anything flashy about this beach, just the typical white sand, it’s casual haha. But in all seriousness, it’s an easily accessible place have a solid beach day! If you want free parking you can even park on the street just a block or two away in the residential area.
Note: no glass/liquor on the beach
HIGHLIGHTS: Bathrooms/showers Lots of parking + option to find free parking Not busy
Where to Stay on Your St. Pete Beach Vacation
Photo courtesy of © The Saint Hotel
The Saint Boutique Hotel – $$ Retro Modern
The Saint is the new kid on the block but has already wiggled its way to the top. The modern design of the rooms will make you feel right at home. Pop next door to 82-Degrees for a craft cocktail and seafood. Easily walkable to Upham Beach.
Clearwater Beach Hotel- $ Budget Bungalow
Humble in appearance and amenities Clearwater Beach Hotel is a great option if you want to focus your budget on dining and experiences. Located a couple of blocks from Clearwater Beach.
Photo courtesy © Clearwater Beach Hotel
St. Pete Beach Vacation: Where to Eat
Before you get sick of eating burgers and fries at random beach bars take some advice from a local! Incredible restaurants are spread far and wide, from downtown to right by the best beaches in St. Petersburg. In fact, I’ve written a separate post to help you navigate by area, cuisine, and style of restaurant! Check it out here.
Making posts like these remind me of how grateful I am to be living in a place where people come from all around the world to visit the incredible beaches in St. Petersburg. I hope my insights help you plan your next vacation or beach day!
Other St. Pete Resources
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