Florida’s Coastal Wonder: The Magic of St. Pete Beach

Boardwalk to a beach in St. Pete, Florida, USA

By Nancy Foster

With Spring Break approaching, you might want to consider a getaway to the land of sun and sand, tropical seas, and blissful sunsets. If that sounds appealing, and you’re looking for a getaway that won’t break the bank, a trip to award-winning St. Pete Beach on Florida’s west coast may be just what you are looking for.

This sun-drenched destination is easy to get to by air. Southwest Airlines has direct flights from San Antonio to Tampa International Airport that will get you there in just over two hours. Then, after a stop for a rental car (or Uber it), it’s a quick and easy half-hour drive to the beach. Unpack, unwind, and feel your cares drift away in what many consider as their ultimate happy place.

Did you know that St. Pete Beach was ranked the #1 beach in the U.S. in 2021 – and #5 in the world by TripAdvisor? This compact five-mile stretch of paradise, one of several barrier islands that stretch more than 30 miles north to Clearwater Beach, is flanked by the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico on one side and calm intercoastal waterways on the other. Gulf waters are blissfully warm year-round, most accommodations are beachfront, and a multitude of dining and entertainment venues offer you the choice to be on the go all day or just kick back and immerse yourself in nature’s bounty.



As far as lodging goes, choose from an eclectic mix of independently owned hotels, chain hotels, B&Bs, and condo rentals. Some properties, such as the moderately-priced Dolphin Beach Resort or the sprawling Sirata Beach Resort, have been hosting families for generations with comfortable rooms, tranquil pools and ultra-casual beachside tiki bars.

The Legendary Don CeSar

Feel the need to wrap yourself in luxury? Choose the fabulous historic Don CeSar, affectionately dubbed the “Pink Palace®” because of its iconic color. The Don is steeped in history (it’s rumored to be haunted by its builder), wears the scars of being appropriated as an Army hospital during WWII, barely survived the wrecking ball in the 60s, and by 1973, reopened as the premier resort choice of discerning travelers. Their former guest list is a Who’s Who of celebrities, having been the quiet respite where Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, and many rock stars have lodged. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed at the Don.

Enjoy luxurious, well-appointed accommodations (remember, this hotel was built in the 1920s, so don’t expect huge rooms but do expect refined elegance). Feel the need for pampering? Kick back at the Don’s opulent Spa Oceana. Dining options range from casual to gourmet, or just hang out at the Lobby Bar and sip delightful tropical libations.

Stroll the beach, search for the perfect shell, and leave your footprints in the sugar-soft sand, but time your day to be beachside at sunset when that majestic golden orb sinks slowly into the sea. For post-sunset fun, cozy up by the blazing firepit and raise a toast to memories made. doncesar.com


Experience TradeWinds Island Resorts

Whether you visit as a single, couple, or family, a great lodging choice is the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach. Here’s where you can unpack and enjoy the amenities of either their Island Grand Beach Resort or RumFish Beach Resort. This activity-packed complex features dive-in movies, stand-up paddleboards, beach yoga, floating lounges, a well-equipped fitness center, poolside cabana rentals, and – opening for the season in March at Island Grand – a three-story tall, 200′ long High Tide Water Slide sure to elicit shrieks of wonder. To refresh and rejuvenate, indulge in a warm stone massage at BodyWorks Spa at RumFish Beach Resort. Fourteen dining outlets and bars sprawl between the two properties, but a must-do (whether you stay there or not) should be dinner at RumFish Grille where the focal point is a jaw-dropping 33,500 square foot aquarium stocked with hundreds of tropical fish. The menu features tasty sustainable seafood choices including fork-tender Blackened Mahi Mahi and Gulf Shrimp. Definitely save room for a slice of Classic Key Lime Pie. tradewindsresort.com



St. Pete Beach has an eclectic array of dining venues from tropical tiki bars to rooftop dining to local tried-and-true favorites, and most are locally-owned. Fabulous seafood is on most menus, freshly caught and deliciously prepared. Grouper, a mild-tasting fish with firm flesh, is what most people covet, and area chefs creatively prepare it in many ways. A must-try is a grouper sandwich, grilled, broiled, or fried. Can’t-go-wrong eateries include PJ’s Oyster Bar, 360 Rooftop inside the Hotel Zamora (perfect for sunset views), and the trendy 82 Degrees inside the Saint Hotel, where happy hour is every day from 3-5 pm and a frosty margarita pairs perfectly with an utterly decadent Lobster Bruschetta.



If you find yourself caught up on beach time, explore the area. For off-beach fun, roam through the shops and boutiques on historic Corey Avenue and visit their Sunday market (October – May) for fresh produce, artisan bread, and handcrafts from local vendors. Getting out on the water makes for another memorable outing. Whether you parasail, sail out on a dolphin watch cruise, or book a romantic sunset cruise on the Starlite Sapphire Dining Yacht, the sea breezes will lull and entrance you. An Island Ferry eco-tour in a clear-bottomed kayak will cruise you through lush mangroves and hidden waterways. Be on the lookout for dolphins or manatees! Anglers can enjoy full or half-day deep-sea fishing excursions on the Gulf. Dolphin Landings charter boat center offers a variety of options, and seasoned captains know the best spots.



For cultural enthusiasts, downtown St. Petersburg features the world-famous Salvador Dalí Museum, James Museum of Western Art, the Chihuly Exhibit which features spectacular glass art, and many individual galleries. The SunRunner, a low-emission hybrid electric vehicle, will get you there in thirty minutes. Downtown St. Pete is also home to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, so check the schedule and take in a game.

Nearby beaches share similar beauty to St. Pete Beach. A few to explore include intimate Pass-A-Grille, just south of the Don CeSar. This pristine ribbon of beach beckons you to sink your toes deep into pure white sand and linger. If you prefer a smaller, more intimate property, the newly-opened Berkeley Beach Club boasts of being “99 steps from the Gulf of Mexico” and offers eight beautifully appointed rooms or suites. If you go, plan a meal at their Dewey Beach Bar & Grill or venture to their rooftop lounge and sip a fruity cocktail as you gaze out to sea. Another “don’t miss” Pass-A-Grille dining option is the iconic Hurricane Seafood Restaurant where their “catch of the day” is always a foodie’s delight and views from their top deck are spectacular. For fun, (plus good eats and drinks), make a stop at Red, White and Booze where kids can pet catfish, up-tempo music entertains on select nights, and menu temptations include a Key Lime Pie Martini that goes down easy with their zesty Smoked Fish Dip.

Go a few miles inland to award-winning Fort De Soto Park, an 1136-acre oasis of five inter-connected islands where you can hike, bike, birdwatch, fish, grill out, explore a long-abandoned military fort, and discover your perfect spot on almost three miles of pristine beach. Your dogs can even romp on the beach in designated areas, and there’s even a beautiful RV/camping area!

To truly enjoy this beautiful beach destination, allow at least three nights to explore and unwind. After that, you may find yourself repeating what so many others have said, “I never want to leave.”

For further information on St. Pete Beach and surrounding areas, visit tampabaybeaches.com or visitstpeteclearwater.com.