Best Gulf Coast Beaches in Florida: St. Pete, Tampa & Clearwater Area

July 21, 2020

One of the reasons I, like countless others, love FL so much is the mermazing beaches dotted along the coast (I see what you did there). I'm a Gulf Coast girl, so I much prefer the gulf side rather than the Atlantic side. Narrowing it down even further, the Greater Tampa area has some of the best beaches in the state, thanks to pristine white sugar sand and crystal clear waters.

We went to numerous different beaches on our recent trip but three of them seriously stood out and each has its own set of reasons why I love it. So if you're headed down south, keep this list handy (even if you're not - you'll want to save this one for later)!

1. Fort De Soto Park

Just south of St. Pete Beach, you'll find Fort De Soto Park. This state park is made up of over 1,100 acres on five interconnected islands. In addition to stretches of white sandy beaches, you'll also find campgrounds, mangroves, trails, fishing piers, and of course, the remnants of the old fort (apparently it never saw combat). It costs only $5 per vehicle to park & enjoy Fort De Soto.

The beach itself is beautiful and very spread out. There is enough room to get far away from people and feel like you have your own little piece of paradise. Plus, having the fort there is a bonus if you want to go explore.

2. Honeymoon Island

Honeymoon Island was recommended to us by several people, so we knew we had to check it out. This beach is actually in Dunedin, and is anything but a secret - people definitely know about this place (& for good reason)! You can get to it via a long causeway that's one-way-in and one-way-out, so you can bet it gets pretty backed up at the entrance. It is $8 per vehicle to get onto the island, so I suggest getting there early to beat the long line of cars that inevitably backs up all the way down the causeway.

The island is separated out into a North Beach and a South Beach. We tried both but ended up at the North Beach because it stretches on further than the South Beach. One thing I will say about the beaches here is that they are very shelly and pretty narrow. We staked out a spot that was sufficient distance from others (I like to be as far away from people as possible on the beach, even pre-covid! I like to feel like I'm on my own private island), but as we walked further down, there were large crowds of people right on top of each other. So we kept walking until we found a quiet little alcove with very little people around.

Honeymoon Island truly is a little piece of paradise, though. My best advice is to spend the extra time it takes to walk as far down the beach as possible. You'll start to see lots of mangroves, too, which was really cool. But really, the water was so clear and blue everywhere here that I felt like I was somewhere in the Bahamas!
3. Caladesi Island

Ding ding ding! Jackpot! In retrospect, our beachgoing daytrips up & down the gulf coast in the Tampa Bay area were kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears beaches. Once we got to Caladesi, we knew it was by far the best of the three.

Caladesi & Honeymoon actually used to be one big island named Hog Island. But when a strong hurricane came through in 1921, the island was split in half. Caladesi seems to be a little less busy than Honeymoon because you have to take a ferry to get over to the island. The ferry costs about $16, which seems a bit steep, but trust me - it's worth it. The ferry ride was actually really enjoyable, and I consider it just part of the experience.

Everyone who heads over on the ferry has a four hour time limit they can spend, so a return time is printed on your ticket. You can, of course, head back earlier if you want, but four hours is the max you can spend at any given time coming over via the ferry boat. It's honestly plenty of time and we didn't feel rushed at all.

Caladesi is seriously stunning. The beach here is very wide, extremely spread out, and once again, you feel like you're just somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean. I think the cost of the ferry and the limited time window keep some people away from Caladesi, since Honeymoon is just easier to get to - especially if you have a big group and a lot of beach stuff with you. But if you want to feel like you're basically on your own private beach, definitely go to Caladesi and make a day of it!

4. Sunsets

Ok, so this isn't any one particular beach per se, but it is absolutely worth mentioning on this post because it's kind of major factor of why I love the beaches in this area so much. The sunsets in this part of FL are unlike anything I have ever seen. From where we stayed in Indian Rocks, to catching the sunset over in Clearwater, there's just not a bad spot to watch the sunset anywhere along this stretch of coast.

If you're planning a trip to the Clearwater area, catching a sunset (or six...) while you're there is something you absolutely won't want to miss.


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