Just off of Tampa Bay on the gulf coast is a chain of barrier islands that are home to some of the prettiest beaches in Florida. St Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach regularly find themselves on top of the “best beaches in the US” list and for good reason. Sugar white sand, turquoise water, comfy beach resorts, and plenty of “things to do” nearby in St Petersburg and Tampa make it an attractive vacation destination.
To get to St Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach, you’ll most likely fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA). From there it’s about a 30 minute drive to St Pete Beach and a 40 minute drive to Clearwater Beach. There is also the smaller/closer St Pete-Clearwater International Airport that gets flights from the budget airline Allegiant.
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I recently spent a belated spring break in the St Pete area. Part sunshine getaway and part scouting trip, I stayed at a couple of different places, quizzed many locals, drove around, and feel like I got a good feel for what I like in the area (and what I would avoid next time).
So in this post I’m going to share the lowdown with you mostly about the St Pete Beach area, but also the nearby areas of Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, and Dunedin.
For the full rundown of things to do in St Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach (plus restaurant recommendations) read this post.
Where to Stay on St Pete Beach
St Pete Beach is the southernmost (developed) barrier island in the chain off Tampa Bay. It’s one long stretch of white sand beach with plenty of resorts, condos, and small hotels. You’ll find every kind of beach activity you could want (jet skis, parasailing, dolphin cruises, etc) plus its proximity to downtown St Pete (there’s a lot going on there!) is a big draw.
BUT….not all spots on this island (St Pete Beach is a long, skinny barrier island) are created equal. Different people like different vibes on vacation, so I’m going to do my best to describe the different parts of the island so you can pick the spot that you’re going to love the most for YOUR vacation.
As a general rule of thumb, the farther south you go on the island, the better it gets.
The northernmost part of St Pete Beach is actually tucked behind Treasure Island (there’s no beach, it’s more of a water channel), so I’m going to start out with the area that’s the northernmost BEACHFRONT (which is actually more towards the middle of the island).
The first part of my trip, I stayed in this area at the Postcard Inn, and I’m just going to tell you…I did NOT like it. The beach is beautiful (it’s pretty much the same in the whole area), but it has a STRONG spring break/party vibe. I stayed here the first of April so I thought maybe it was just the time of year, but I had MANY locals tell me that no, it’s like that all year long and this little pocket of beach is the epicenter of the area’s party scene. This makes sense because 1) The majority of people partying on the beach (and at the hotel beach bars) seemed to be Florida locals that had come to the beach for the day (I know this because they were so loud that I now know every detail of where every person around me lived, worked, and went to high school and also because while waiting for an Uber to take us to dinner at the hotel, a steady stream of them passed through to get Ubers to take them home because they couldn’t drive. Yikes.) and 2) the beach bars at the Postcard Inn (PCI) and the Beachcomber (Jimmy B’s) target a party scene for locals (people not staying at the hotel) by advertising that their bars are open to the public and making it easy to get Ubers/Lyfts from the hotel lobby.
Honestly, it was an odd dynamic because there were a lot of families staying at the Postcard Inn (at the pool and on the beach) and in that general area but I’ve also never heard more people talking about drugs (I wish I was kidding haha) and incessant f-bombs. Besides the beach scene, this part of St Pete Beach has a “strip vibe.” Along the main road, there were a lot of strip malls with the typical beach shops, Twistee Treats, etc.
Overall, this part of the island reminded me of Pensacola or Panama City Beach. If you like a lot of action/noise, this is the part of the island you want to be on, however I will say it was less of a Miami party scene and more “redneck yacht club” vibes. If you know, you know.
If this is what you’re looking for (hey, there were a LOT of people having a REALLY good time ; ) here’s where to stay in the area:
Postcard Inn on the Beach: I spent the first part of my trip here. It’s really “Instagram cute,” but a little more worn than it looks on the website probably. It was clean enough, had good breakfast options in the lobby, and a pretty good sized pool. There were a lot of families staying here. It’s very much a motel on the beach, but it’s also priced like one (except on the weekends!). Pricing starts at $159. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
In the immediate area, here are a few other options:
The Beachcomber: Home to Jimmy B’s, one of the most popular beach bars on St Pete Beach…and everything that comes with that. Pricing starts at $159. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
RumFish Beach Resort: Knowing what I know now, this is probably the place I would pick if you want to be in this area. There’s a lot going on but it’s got a more “family friendly” spring break vibe. They usually have a giant inflatable slide set up on the beach. The rooms seem nice. Pricing starts at $159. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Hilton Garden Inn: Not right on the beach, but very close. If you’re trying to use points or a loyalty program (or just like knowing what to expect as far as room quality), this would be a good option. Pricing starts at $159. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
The farther south you go on the island, the nicer places seem to get. There are quite a few places mid-island that are nice properties, but are still close to all of the hustle and bustle. Meaning…the beaches are still going to be crowded, but it doesn’t have a wild vibe. You’re also closer to some convenient amenities like Publix, Walgreens, and Chick-fil-a! In this area, there are a couple of really popular places to stay:
TradeWinds Island Resort: Besides the Don Cesar (see below), this would probably be my pick for a beach resort in the area. Pricing starts at $249. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Sirata Beach Resort: Another solid option in the area. It has a modern feel and it’s within walking distance to all of the amenities at Dolphin Crossing. Pricing starts at $179. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
The Hotel Zamora: Not on the beach (on the bayside), but this place looks really cool! Super swanky rooftop and some major European vibes. Pricing starts at $239. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Further south (right near the bridge that brings you from St Petersburg to St Pete Beach) is my absolute favorite place to stay on St Pete Beach:
The Don Cesar Hotel: If you’re looking for a resort experience on St Pete Beach, this is THE place to stay. Built in the 1920s, this place is straight up Gatsby (the Fitzgeralds have actually stayed here) and is on the national register of historic places. It’s undergone a HUGE renovation in recent years so in addition to its vintage charm it’s on par with other modern luxury resorts. This is the last resort/complex on the island as you head south so it’s MUCH quieter on the beach. I spent 3 nights here on my trip (I’ll do a full review in a separate post) and I LOVED it. It’s definitely a destination resort and while it’s not quite Four Seasons level, the price is usually a lot better as well. It’s hard to find a nice beach resort on the gulf side of Florida, and this spot is a gem. Pricing starts at $279. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
St Pete Beach Condos & Vacation Rentals
If you’re not a resort/hotel person, but you still like to be right on the beach, you’re in luck! There are a LOT of oceanfront condos in this area. I book all of my condos and vacation rentals with Vrbo. Click here to find the best condos in St Pete Beach. You can filter for your wishlist (exact location, price, #of rooms, pet friendly, etc.). And if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll be pleased to find many options under $100/night. Search for St Pete Beach condos and vacation rentals here.
Where to Stay in Pass-a-Grille
This southernmost neighborhood on the island is technically St Pete Beach but it feels like another world. There’s St Pete Beach and then there’s Pass-a-Grille. I loved this area. It starts pretty much immediately south of the Don Cesar Hotel although the cluster of what you could consider “downtown” Pass-a-Grille is a bit further south. THere are no big hotels, resorts, or condo complexes down here. It’s mostly all cute inns, quaint condos, and a whole lot of adorable houses. There’s a small town center that’s pretty picturesque. If you’ve been to Florida’s panhandle, this area reminds me of the 30a (but less preplanned) with more island vibes.
Berkeley Beach Club: Modern and sleek loft-like hotel in “downtown” Pass-a-Grille. It’s a small property, very boutique feel, and one of my favorite restaurants, the Dewey, is on site. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Coconut Inn: This small inn is probably the best, laid back place to stay. Efficiency studios and apartments with a small pool (and complimentary bikes and everything you need for the beach). Very charming vibe. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
I mentioned above that there are so many cute houses and charming condo units in Pass-a-Grille (here’s a complete search). I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites here:
Luxury Paradise: I actually noticed this house walking through Pass-a-Grille! It’s just as cute in person as it is online and fun to see the inside on the listing.
Charming Cottage: Close to the beach and exactly what a beach cottage should be. A little kitchsy but updated and comes with bikes.
Coastal Retreat: On the bay, super awesome pool, modern beachy interior, four bedrooms. I want to rent this house for my friends!
Downtown St Petersburg
The city of St Petersburg (in between Tampa and St Pete Beach) is pretty large and there’s a lot to do. It’s where most of the locals live and it’s becoming an increasingly sought after part of Florida for transplants who are drawn to the sunshine vibes of Florida but want to be part of a vibrant and up and coming community. A good part of the downtown area is on the waterfront (no beach though) and if you’re looking to spend more time in the city, it could be a good place to stay. Check out the Vinoy Renaissance, the Birchwood, and the Avalon Hotel.
Where to Stay on Treasure Island
On this trip, I didn’t venture north past St Pete Beach, but I’ve done a lot of research (and chatted with a lot of locals) so I’ll share some recommendations and insight about what I’ve found for places to stay on the other beaches in this area. Moving north from St Pete Beach, you’ll come to Treasure Island.
I’ve gathered that Treasure Island has a similar vibe to the northern and mid part of St Pete Beach. There are quite a few large-ish beach resorts, your run of the mill beach bars, some mini golf, strip malls, etc. Check out these places to stay:
Thunderbird Beach Resort: Very cute retro vibes! Pricing starts at $175. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay. Treasure Island
Treasure Island Beach Resort: Probably the overall nicest place to stay on Treasure Island. It looks modern, clean, and recently renovated. Pricing starts at $239. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Where to Stay in Madeira Beach
When I asked locals about areas on the northern islands that were similar to Pass-a-Grille, quite a few people mentioned this stretch. The longest barrier island in the chain is home to several different beach communities, all with a pretty quiet and low key vibe. In this area you’ll find: Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Indian Shores Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, and Belleair Beach.
The Belleview Inn: This place isn’t on the beach (it sits on the bay), but it looks very cool and I definitely have it on my list to visit in the future. Pricing starts at $155. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
It mostly seems to be condos and vacation rentals in this area. Search for specific units by area here:
Where to Stay in Clearwater Beach
Besides St Pete Beach, Clearwater Beach is by far the area that brings in the most visitors. It’s the northernmost (drivable) barrier island in the chain and just like St Pete Beach, It’s a hub of beach activity. There are quite a few nice resorts and plenty of beachfront restaurants and bars. In general, many people told me that they feel like there’s “less to do” up in the Clearwater area compared to St Pete, but I think that also includes a comparison between Clearwater and St Pete (the downtown areas) and not necessarily the Clearwater BEACH and St Pete BEACH areas. If you decide to stay in Clearwater Beach, here are some places to check out:
Opal Sands Resort: Fancy pants place where the celebrities stay. So naturally, it’s where I’ll stay when I go to Clearwater Beach haha. Pricing starts at $395. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Sandpearl Resort: Very nice beach resort at a more friendly price point. Pricing starts at $215. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Hyatt Regency: Not THE “Pink Palace” (that would be the Don Cesar), but ANOTHER pink hotel! Pricing starts at $195. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Where to Stay in Dunedin
I’ve already decided that the next time I come back to this area, I’m going to stay in Dunedin. It already looked interesting to me and after hearing it recommended a few times by locals, I’m sold. It’s situated on the main peninsula (it’s not a barrier island) and has a quaint downtown and a long stretch along the waterfront, but there’s no actual beach. BUT…the reason to stay in Dunedin is because it’s the closest access point for two of the prettiest beaches in Florida: Caladesi and Honeymoon Island State Park. These two islands are undeveloped so Dunedin is as close as you can get.
Fenway Hotel: A popular place for weddings, this historic estate property is right on the water and looks super romantic with old Florida vibes. Pricing starts at $195. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.