The Tampa Bay Area Beach Scene
By Michelle Jolly
Holmes Beach/Anna Maria Island
Holmes Beach is located at the western end of Route 64 where Manatee Avenue meets the Gulf of Mexico. It's a 900' wide public beach that offers free parking (get there early), picnic tables, public restrooms with showers and a beachside casual restaurant you can enjoy barefoot. And there's a lifeguard on duty. The gentle surf is hypnotic and peaceful.
Beachside Cafe: Sidle up to the counter in your swimsuit and grab a hot dog, burger and a cold beer. There's even a corny gift shop that you can browse. They make great Sunday morning pancakes, and offer live music on some evenings.
The Playground: There's a well-equipped playground directly on the beach your kids will enjoy and some benches for the parents. My club organized a beach outing a while back - a busload of baby boomers ready to bask in the sun, do some people watching, and play a wicked game of volleyball.
Even a Trolley: Operated by MCAT, the Holmes Beach Trolley runs north on Marina Drive and South on Gulf Drive. For just $.75 you can catch the Longboat Key Trolley from Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island to downtown Sarasota, with stops on Longboat Key and St. Armand’s Circle. Daily service runs from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every 30 minutes. For schedule info visit http://www.rvafl.com/trolley/documents/013010_RG_Rt_AMI.pdf
For more information call Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department at 941-742-5923.
Fred Howard Park
Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Fred Howard Park is well known among Tampa beaches for its easily accessible sandy expanses, fantastic campgrounds, pristine picnic areas and fun recreational facilities. The beach itself is characterized by powdery white sand and incredible sunset views, and visitors are likely to catch glimpses of exotic wildlife, including nesting ospreys and eagles as well as dolphins and manatees. Be sure to call ahead to reserve camping space. (727-943-4081)
Davis Islands Beach
One of the Tampa Bay beaches closer to downtown, Davis Island sees a lot of traffic from local anglers, picnickers and beachcombers. The park itself is slightly over one acre, and although it's best known for being dog friendly, the isolated strand of beach is ideal for sunning and lounging, too. It's a popular anchor spot for sport fishermen so swimming is trickier here, but there's plenty of sightseeing to be done throughout the island. (813-931-2121)
Ben T. Davis Beach
If you're vacationing in Tampa and are looking for a beach close-by that offers powdery white sand for lounging, calm water for cooling off and shelters for picnics, then Davis Beach is for you. This is the closest beach to downtown Tampa and the locals' favorite tailgate spot. Davis offers ideal proximity to the airport for travelers who value efficiency. Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings see the beach populated by local volleyball players. This is one of the best spots in town to watch the sunset and is located adjacent to the new Courtney Campbell Trail, a four-mile biking and pedestrian bridge. (813-282-2909)
Sand Key Park
If you're searching for tranquil, family-friendly Tampa Bay beaches, head towards Clearwater and explore Sand Key Park. Whether you're in the market for cabana rentals or are just looking to swim and sunbathe, this is the ideal location. Situated on a barrier island between the Gulf and the Florida mainland, the park offers plenty of free parking space, picnic shelters, shower and restroom facilities and a playground for the kids. (727-588-4852)
Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi State Park is one of a few Tampa beaches that are part of a natural island off of the Gulf Coast shore. This is a popular launching point for fishing charters and private anglers, so be sure and call ahead for schedules and any fees associated with boating. It's also an ideal spot for beachcombers and day-trippers, boasting amenities and facilities sure to impress, from BBQ grills and nature trails to concession stands. (727-469-5918)