The soft white sand and blue-green Gulf water make this one of the most perfect beaches in an area where all the beaches are great. But what sets Pass-a-Grille apart from the other award-winning beaches that stretch from St. Pete to Clearwater is the charming Old Florida feel of the historic town.
Pass-a-Grille has more cute bungalows than mansions or hotels, and there are no condo towers. The core of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a block wide, with the beach on one side and the Intracoastal channel on the other.
Surrounded by water on three sides and located at the very end of the barrier island, Pass-a-Grille feels like an island out of another era.
As you cross the bridge to Pass-a-Grille from the mainland, you first come to the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, the pink birthday cake of a hotel built in 1928. “The Don” provides a picturesque backdrop to many beach photos. The hotel has rooms in the $200-300+range.
North of the Don, St. Pete Beach has a typical condos-and-commerce character. South of the Don, Pass-a-Grille is quieter, simpler and more natural.
In the middle of the beach area, Pass-a-Grille has a cluster of restaurants, some quite good, and a block-long downtown with some galleries and shops. All are within a block of the beach.
We dined at the popular waterfront Sea Critters Café, 2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, where we had fresh fish, moderately priced and enjoyed at a table overlooking the water.
One of my favorite features of Pass-a-Grille, however, is a beach bar right on the sand, the Paradise Grille, 900 Gulf Way. Go here for the sunset, the fantastic view, the chance to have a craft beer on the beach and the live music at night. The food is not special here, but the location and the setting certainly are: Naming this place after paradise is no exaggeration. Right next to the bar in the sand are several cornhole games set up for beach-goers’ use.
Another favorite spot is the very southern tip, where we saw a dozen people stooped over, shelling at a beach on the inlet. There are benches here and a jetty that stretches into the Gulf offering magnificent views.
It’s a great place to appreciate a sunset, but then, anyplace on Pass-a-Grille beach offers the kind of sunset that makes you glad you’re taking digital photos. Just keep snapping; it only gets better and better.
Greatest Asset: The charming and historic town adjacent to one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches. The beautiful water and sand in Pass-a-Grille are comparable to elsewhere on St. Pete Beach (though a little wider). But the Old Florida feel is matchless.
Parking: There is metered street parking from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (It’s free after 8 p.m.) Look for parking on both Pass-A-Grille Way and Gulf Way. Parking on the streets that run between these two waterfront roads is limited to residents with the exceptions of 9th Avenue, 15th Avenue and 16th Avenue, where there are meters. (Parking, which is via pay stations, is $1.25 an hour.) Insiders say your best bet for parking is the north or the south end of Pass-a-Grille.
Fees: No charge for beach access, other than parking.
Alcohol: No, but note the existence of a beach bar right on the sand. You must keep alcohol on its grounds, however.
Pets: No. But at the southern tip of the peninsula, there is a designated dog beach on the channel side at Pass-a-Grille Way.
Location and directions: Passe-a-Grille is the southern-most tip of the barrier island along St. Petersburg. It is part of the city of St. Pete Beach but has a long history as a separate community. The first homesteaders arrived in 1886 and the community didn’t become part of St. Pete Beach until 1957. You reach it via Pinellas Bayway, which is an exit off I-275 just north of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Accommodations: In addition to Loews Don CeSar Hotel, there are a handful of beach-front hotels and inns on the beach near the small restaurant-and-business district. Check out Inn on the Beach, Island’s End Resort and Keystone Motel.
Fort Desoto County Park is a park with a wide variety of recreational opportunities in its five islands and three miles of award-winning beach. It’s 15 minutes from Pass-a-Grille. Here’s a Florida Rambler story about Fort Desoto.
Pinellas Trail: On the west side of Tampa Bay is one of the most progressive and appreciated rails-to-trails projects in all of Florida. The 37-mile Pinellas Trail starts in Tarpon Springs and runs south through downtowns and neighborhoods in Dunedin, Clearwater, Largo, Pasadena and into downtown St. Petersburg. There’s a spur north of Dunedin that goes out to beautiful Honeymoon Island. This is a multi-purpose trail for hikers, bikers and roller skaters. Read more in this Florida Rambler article: Treasured St. Pete bike trail.