Let’s be real: Everyone comes to Tampa for the beaches. And everyone is right to do so. The Gulf of Mexico is famous for its powdery white sand and warm waters that make for some of the very best beaches in Florida. But with so much coastline and so little time (to do anything but lounge around on the sand), you may not be able to hit every single beach in the area, so here’s a handy guide to get you onto the best beaches near Tampa.
The Best Beaches in Tampa
For those interested in spending time bumming on the best Tampa beaches, here are your choices.
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Ben T. Davis Beach, Tampa, Florida
Ben T. Davis Beach is Tampa’s best and largest public beach. Adjacent to the four-mile Courtney Campbell Trail, it’s also Tampa’s closest beach to the airport, making it convenient for those who don’t want to waste much time getting to the water. With white powdery sand that’s characteristic of the Gulf of Mexico, picnic areas, and great sunset-watching spots, you haven’t come to Tampa if you haven’t been to Ben T. Davis Beach.
Sand Key Park, Clearwater, Florida
Easily one of the best beaches near Tampa, Sand Key Park, part of Florida’s Sand Key barrier island, is a hidden gem that locals would prefer to keep secret. Come here to avoid Clearwater Beach’s high-season crowds, and for a quieter, more peaceful experience. Collect seashells, rent a cabana, or enjoy surfing.
Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida
Honeymoon Island State Park is Florida’s most visited state park, as well as one of the best beaches near Tampa. Boasting four miles of perfect beaches, picnic areas, and eating facilities, this romantically named spot is also the home of the Osprey Trail, along which you can see endangered forest ecosystems. Rent a bike or a kayak to explore this gorgeous island, or simply get a beach chair and umbrella and relax under the sun.
Sunset Beach, Tarpon Springs, Florida
With a name like Sunset Beach and a location on Treasure Island, you can count on this being one of the best beaches near Tampa. Sunset Beach tends to be tranquil and low-key—perfect for a beach picnic during which you can watch for wild dolphins without much disturbance. The beach has a boardwalk set over its dunes, which visitors are welcome to walk through. Pro tip: Get to the dunes in the late afternoon to catch one of the best sunsets of your life.
Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida
Caladesi Island State Park provides a beach experience for true nature enthusiasts who want to get in the midst of everything, which makes this one of the best beaches near Tampa. This state park delivers on the Gulf of Mexico’s white-sand promise, and adds to it a three-mile hiking trail, as well as a three-mile kayaking trail. See the mangroves’ beauty up close, and spot wildlife on one of the region’s few completely natural islands.
Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater Beach is an extremely popular destination and not just one of the best beaches near Tampa, but also, legitimately, one of the best beaches in the world. Besides gorgeous sunsets and miles of soft white sand, Clearwater offers beachgoers a wide selection of shopping venues, restaurants, and high-end resorts. Sunsets at Pier 60 are events during which visitors can enjoy performances and activities as they watch the colors magically change. Also available here: Many watersports and activities like parasailing, jet skiing, and boat tours. You can even take a “pirate cruise” to fulfill your childhood fantasies. And of course, the nightlife thrives.
Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, Apollo Beach, Florida
Some people love everything about the sea except, well, going in the water. If you happen to be one of these people, Apollo Beach Nature Preserve calls your name. With not one but two beautiful beaches, this nature preserve has recently undergone major restorations, reaffirming its status as one of the best beaches near Tampa. You can enjoy lying in the sand, fishing, or spotting wildlife. Bird watching is very popular, but locals also love to come here to see the manatees. Apollo Beach is dog-friendly, too.
Beer Can Island, Big Pine Key, Florida
This island’s real name is Big Pine Key, but locals prefer its more interesting nickname, “Beer Can Island,” which came from boaters’ knack for kicking back a few while docking here. Its beaches, including Bahia Honda State Park and Beach, certainly qualify as being among the best beaches near Tampa. Though it was recently purchased by the owners of a floating tiki bar, the entrepreneurs have promised to keep the laid-back atmosphere while adding some commodities like trashcans, restrooms, and yes, a bar. At least for now, this local favorite remains one of the best beaches in Tampa.
Davis Island Dog Beach, Tampa, Florida
Want to enjoy beach and sun but don’t feel like driving to do so? Head to Downtown Tampa’s very own Davis Island Dog Beach. Its convenient location makes it one of the best beaches in Tampa, and it’s very popular with locals who live or work around the area. Tourists love it as well, since it can provide a needed beach break while sightseeing. It’s not great for swimming, but that’s not always what the beach is for. And yes, there are joyful pups frolicking everywhere.
Madeira Beach, Madeira Beach, Florida
Madeira Beach, or “Mad Beach,” as the locals call it, has everything you need for a fun yet chill beach escape, making it one of the best beaches near Tampa. Don’t worry about doing anything except working on that tan, swimming off the heat, and enjoying the fresh seafood.
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– Original reporting by Mariana Zapata
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.