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 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 $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.
Restaurants in Pass-a-Grille
We liked being able to walk to dinner and there are a handful of restaurants on the island where that was possible. While none of the restaurants get five stars for food, we loved the ambiance and views at each.
Sea Critters Cafe, 2007 Pass a Grille Way, Pass-a-Grille, has a real Old Florida feel with an outside deck overlooking the Pass-a-Grille channel. Our seafood here was good, but our favorite thing was the ambiance, with birds wheeling overhead as fishermen cast nearby. Catfish famously patrol under the docks waiting for handouts.
Next door is another rustic restaurant with a similarly great water view, The Wharf, 2001 Pass a Grille Way, St. Pete Beach.
One of my favorite features of Pass-a-Grille is a beach bar right on the sand, the The Paradise Grill, 900 Gulf Way. Go here for the sunset, the fantastic view, the chance to have a craft beer on the beach and the live Trop Rock 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.
There are many good places to watch sunset, but our favorite was sunset over drinks form the rooftop bar at the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant, which has been open since 1977. What a view! Then we went downstairs for dinner, where I liked “Mom’s 1945 Crab Cake Melt,” a recipe handed down over three generations in the family that founded and still operates the place.
We’ve heard the crab cakes are outstanding at another beach-front spot with a great view: The Brass Monkey, 709 Gulf Way #200, Pass-a-Grille. It has a great sunset view.
You’ll find a few other good choices for restaurants searching Yelp or TripAdvisor.
The beach at Pass-a-Grille
The Pass-a-Grille beach has white powdery sand that extends far into the water, which stays shallow for a long ways gradually deepening. The water is clear and emerald colored, with an occasional passing dolphin or, in the shallows, a hermit crab scuttling along.
At the very southern tip, we saw a dozen people stooped over, shelling at a beach on the inlet. It’s also a spot where we saw snorkelers.
There are benches here and a jetty that stretches into the Gulf offering magnificent views.
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 $3.25 an hour.) Parking is rarely easy, however. You can always tell when and where there is parking with the city’s real-time parking map. 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 and hotels on Pass-a-Grille: In addition to the 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 (with classic cabins, some with water views) and Keystone Motel. We’ve stayed in two spots: a vacation rental (here are a few options) and the Sabal Palms Inn, where we were very happy with an efficiency with a patio directly facing the beach.
Day trips from Pass-a-Grille: You can get a shuttle to wild and scenic Shell Key, an island located across the pass south of Pass-a-Grille, right from the Merry Pier, 801 Pass-a-Grille Way. The pier is also the place to rent fishing gear or line up a fishing charter or a sunset cruise.
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.
St. Petersburg: Seven places to find Old Florida is this lively town. The downtown is only 25 minutes away.
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 50-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.
Arts and craft beer: Explore St. Petersburg craft breweries and galleries on a stroll through the charming downtown.
St. Petersburg: City of Arts: Three new art museums in St. Petersburg – each built to house extraordinary private collections – make this city a destination for art lovers.
Egmont Key: Five things to love about this wild island off Fort De Soto Park.
Anna Maria Island: Things to do in Old Florida beach town
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.