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A First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep


Hugging the western coast of Florida just outside of St. Petersburg is a 23-mile stretch of white sand and blue water. Welcome to the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area!

From Caladesi Island State Park at the northernmost point to Pass-a-Grille at the bottom, this beautiful collection of beaches and resorts has something for everyone. Whether you're visiting for the day from Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg, or you're here for a week long family vacation, you'll be dazzled by the wide, flat beaches, the stunning sunsets, and the wide variety of activities.

Plus, there's plenty of history along the way for people who want their beach vacation to have a side of culture!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Although the area is often referred to as St. Pete Beach or St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater, this stretch of Gulf Coast is actually composed of a series of communities, each with their own feel.

Pass-a-Grille, in the south, is eclectic with a bit of a hippy vibe while St. Pete Beach is filled with high rises, lots of gift shops and restaurants, and a lively, happening atmosphere. Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach are both laid back and homey feeling; Belleair Shore and Belleair Beach have some beautiful--and gigantic--houses! Clearwater, at the top of this stretch, always has something going on, and you'll find plenty of restaurants, dancing, and gift shops.

Where to Stay

As this area is a favorite vacation spot (Clearwater Beach alone draws around 4 million visitors a year), you'll find hundreds of apartments, condos, hotel rooms, and camping spots up and down the beach. I've had the pleasure of staying at several locations during my visits; while I have personal experience with these and can recommend them, this is in no way a comprehensive list!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida

  • The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille. This adorable inn dates back to the 1920s, but it has every modern amenity a visitor could need or want. Relax in the pool, flip burgers in the outdoor kitchen, or walk across Gulf Way to get to the beach. You might also want to check out the sister properties, Havana Inn and the Sabal Palms Inn, both of which are also in Pass-a-Grille.[Read my review here.] 

  • Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach. The Pink Palace defined the beach vacation for the rich and famous for a decade--during the 1920s, the Don CeSar was the place to see and be seen. It's been completely restored, so you can now stay where F. Scott Fitzgerald rested his head. 

  • The Plaza Beach Hotel, St. Pete Beach. For a kitschy experience with a throwback to the old mom and pop stops of the 1950s, the Plaza Beach Hotel is your spot. The hotel is aimed towards families and adventurous young travelers, so you'll find plenty of activities on-site, including water sports, a pool, a volleyball net, shuffleboards, a lifesized chess board, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. [Read my review here.]

  • Barefoot Beach Resort, Indian Shores. Since each of these units are personal apartments that are rented out by the management company, they feel more like home and less like a hotel room. Swim in the pool, go fishing off the docks in the Narrows, or step just across Gulf Boulevard to the gorgeous water. [Read my review here.]

  • Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach. These four apartment units are still run by the same family in quiet Indian Rocks Beach who built the property in the 1970s. You'll be well taken care of by the live-in property managers--so much so that you'll feel like you're part of the family by the time you leave! All of the units have huge porches that face the Gulf, and the beach is about ten steps from the back of the units. It's your own private paradise. [Read my review here.]

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our apartment at Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach.


Booking.com

What to Eat

One thing I love about this stretch of the Gulf Coast is that there are only a few national chains. Stop into one of the many locally owned restaurants for fresh seafood, a quick breakfast, or some evening cocktails.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Having fun at Hurricane Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille!
Hurricane Restaurant, Pass-a-Grille. I had some of the best blackened chicken alfredo I've ever tried here, and my husband loved the grouper. It's right on Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, so you can watch the sun go down in the evenings or do some people watching!

Shaner's Land and Sea Market, Pass-a-Grille. On our last trip to the area, my husband, my toddler, and I stopped by here at least three times. There's a delicious sandwich counter for quick lunches, and a huge selection of freshly caught seafood in the back. I loved the stuffed chicken breasts--we had those two nights in a row. The market also offers a small selection of grocery basics (fruit, veggies, beer, bread). 

Lighthouse Donuts, Indian Rocks Beach. On our first morning of our first visit to the St. Pete Beach area, Landon and I discovered this place, and it quickly became a favorite. The doughnuts are freshly made each morning, and they've got a nice selection of coffees, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches as well. 

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Toucan's Bar and Grill, Clearwater Beach. After we'd attempted Frenchy's one night and discovered a 2 hour wait, we began to wander in search of food and came across this place. It's nothing fancy--a sports bar, really--but it's a sports bar with a great view. Try to eat outside if the weather's nice: you'll be able to people watch, and you'll have a view of the Gulf.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Frenchy's Rockaway
Frenchy's Rockaway, Clearwater Beach. This place is a Clearwater institution, and the hours-long wait is a testament to that fact. To beat the crowds, we went right as they opened one morning. After eating there, we were glad we'd found a way to try it out. The conch fritters and spicy dipping sauce were worth the entire trip. 

I've also heard amazing things about Snappers Sea Grille (St. Pete Beach), Crabby Bill's (Clearwater), and Seared 1200 Chophouse (St. Pete Beach) from my readers, but I haven't had the chance to try them out myself. Next time!


What to See

The main attraction here is, of course, the beach! Most of what's offered here revolves around that. Try stand-up paddleboarding in Pass-a-Grille, or see how long you can stay on one of those huge water trikes in St. Pete Beach. Clearwater offers multiple parasailing outfitters from which to choose. Kayak rentals are a great way to see this stretch of island from the bay side. Many hotels also offer bike and fishing rod rentals.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Standup paddleboarder near St. Pete Beach


Don't forget to do that staple of beach vacations: go putt-putting! There are plenty of courses all along this area. We had a blast one night at Smuggler's Cove in Indian Shores, where you can pause halfway through your game to feed some alligators.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Spend the day at Caladesi Island State Park or Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island is only accessible by ferry, kayak or personal boat, so it's one of your last chances to see a Florida beach completely unspoiled! Honeymoon Island was Florida's most visited state park for the last six years.

Don't forget to go to Pier 60 in Clearwater at least once on your trip. There's a nightly festival held there (much like the one in Key West's Mallory Square) two hours before and two hours after the sunset. Check out the street performers and see what the local crafters have on offer.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Soaking in the arts history at the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Petersburg is only a quick car ride away, where you can experience the Dali Museum, and the Chihuly Collection, and see glassblowing at the Morean Arts Center. Historic Fort De Soto is just south of Pass-a-Grille and makes for an easy day trip: rent a bike, surrey, or kayak, and bring a picnic.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Our surrey at Fort De Soto!

What to Know

  • While the stretch of land from Pass-a-Grille to Clearwater is only 23 miles long, you won't go anywhere quickly. If you have dinner or activity reservations, make sure to allot plenty of transit time. Between the busy areas of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, stoplights, and everyone being on island time, traffic is often fairly slow. 

  • Make sure you clarify which side of the land your hotel is on. There's water on both sides of the St. Pete Beach/Clearwater area, but if you're interested in an Gulf view (and not just a "water" view), it's worth a call to your hotelier. 

  • Carefully choose where you'll stay. Because the ambiance of each area is so different, you'll want to make sure that your accommodations match your expectations. If you're looking for lots of nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, St. Pete Beach or Clearwater are safe bets. If you'd rather enjoy quiet evenings and uncrowded beaches, head to Pass-a-Grille or Indian Rocks Beach

  • There aren't many grocery stores directly on the Gulf coast. While there are a few scattered here and there, you might find that the closest grocery store is actually back towards St. Petersburg, Seminole, or Largo. Use that GPS!
Have you visited the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area? What did you like doing there?

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If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by linking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


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