Let’s face it: 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 land west Florida beaches at the top of list after list every year. But with so much coastline and so little time (to do anything but lounge around the sand), you won’t have time to hit every beach.
The Best Beaches in Tampa
To make sure you only spend time beach-bumming on the best beaches in Tampa, here’s a list to narrow down your choices.
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Ben T. Davis Beach
Ben T. Davis beach is the largest and best public beach within Tampa City limits. It’s next to the four-mile Courtney Campbell Trail, and is the closest beach to the airport, making it convenient for those who don’t want to waste 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
Part of the Sand Key barrier island, this beach is a hidden gem locals want to keep secret. Come here to avoid the high-season crowds of Clearwater Beach for a quieter, more peaceful experience. Collect seashells, rent a cabana, or enjoy surfing.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Honeymoon Island is the most visited state park in the entire state of Florida, boasting four miles of perfect beaches, picnic areas, and two eating facilities. It also has the Osprey Nature Trail, where you can see the endangered ecosystem of the Virgin Slash Pine Florida Forest. Rent a bike or a kayak to explore this gorgeous island, or simply get a beach chair and umbrella and relax under the sun.
With a name like Sunset Beach and a location in Treasure Island, you can count on it being one of the best beaches in Tampa. Sunset Beach tends to be tranquil and low-key. It is perfect for a beach picnic where you can watch for wild dolphins without much noise and disturbances. The beach has a boardwalk over its dunes, which visitors are more than welcome to walk through. Pro tip: Get to the dunes in the later afternoon to catch one of the best sunsets of your life.
Caladesi Island State Park
A beach experience for true nature enthusiasts who want to get in the midst of everything, this state park delivers on the white sand promises of the Gulf of Mexico, and adds to it a three-mile hiking trail and a three-mile kayaking trail. See the beauty of the mangroves up close, and spot wildlife in one of the few completely natural islands of the region.
Clearwater is an extremely popular destination and indisputably one of the best beaches in Tampa (and, legitimately, one of the top 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 an event where visitors can enjoy a number of performances and activities as they watch the colors change. Add to that a number of water sports and activities like parasailing, jet skiing, and boat tours. You can even take a “Pirate Ship” cruise to fulfill your childhood fantasies. Of course, the nightlife is thriving.
Apollo Beach Nature Preserve
Some people love everything about the sea except, well, going in the water. If you’re one of these people, Apollo Beach Nature Preserve calls your name. With not one but two beautiful beaches, this nature preserve has recently undergone large restorations. You can enjoy laying in the sand, fishing, or wildlife watching. Bird watching is very popular, but locals also love coming here for manatee spotting. It’s dog-friendly, too.
Beer Can Island
The island’s real name is Pine Key, but locals prefer its more interesting nickname, Beer Can Island, which came from boaters’ knack for kicking back a few beers while docking here. 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 trash cans, restrooms, and a bar. At least for now, this local favorite remains one of the best beaches in Tampa.
Davis Island Beach
Want to enjoy beach and sun but don’t feel like driving to do so? Head to Downtown Tampa’s very own Davis Island 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.
Madeira Beach, or Mad Beach, has everything you need for a fun yet chill beach escape. 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