One of the perks of living in the Tampa Bay is our surplus of water adventures and islands off the coast to explore!
You may think you need a boat or money to travel to all of these *exotic* islands – or make boat friends – but they are much more accessible than one may think!
Read along to find out the best islands to explore and the best ways to get there to have your own island adventure!
John’s Pass Sand Bar
We’ll start off with my favorite sand bar, the John’s Pass Sand bar. I’ve written about this sand bar before – which shows you how big of a fan I am – but it is worth another mention.
John’s Pass sand bar is a large sand bar with a collection of smaller sand bars, nestled right on the inter-coastal side of John’s Pass and only a stones throw away from Johns Pass boardwalk.
The John’s Pass sand bar is the family-friendly party sand bar – perfect for anyone looking to relax, drink, and even grill up some burgers while soaking your feet in the warm, gulf waters. This sand bar is full of families, dogs, and day drinkers; everyone can have a fun day at the John’s Pass sand bar.
This sand bar is a favorite among locals due to the calm waters of the inter-coastal, the easy accessibility from the northern towns on the barrier island and peninsula, and close proximity to John’s Pass.
Due to this sand bars close proximity to John’s Pass and the beach side of the island, you can get to this sand bar by almost every apparatus – you can take a jet ski, boat, kayak or paddle board from the beach – if these options are not available to you, you can either rent a jet ski or a boat from John’s Pass and take the short trip and post up at the sand bar. Just be wary of tide heights since this sand bar does disappear with higher tides.
If you’re looking to take along all of your friends and drink the day away, you can even take a tiki bar to the sand bar!
Pro tip: Check Facebook post COVID-19, there will definitely be some sand bar concerts once it is safe again!
Next on the list is Egmont Key, a state park, a blue water photo op, and a highly visited island by locals and tourists.
If you look closely while crossing the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge you can see this key where the gulf meets the bay.
This key is one of the most secluded and furthest islands to visit while in the Tampa Bay; most visit by boat – it is accessible by jet skis but be sure to fuel up before you travel out far and watch for weather conditions! If neither of these options are available to you but you’re looking to have a day exploring the key or taking the most Instagrammable photos in the blue waters, you can take the ferry from Fort De Soto to Egmont Key. Be sure to plan ahead since the days and times shift in the fall and winter months!
While its size may be small, Egmont Key has something for everyone. It is full of day drinkers every weekend, trails to go bird watching and discover the inner parts of the island, white sand beaches, a lighthouse, and remnants of an old fort that have created a little artificial coral reef to go snorkeling in, where you can find a variety of fish, reef creatures, and we even spotted a sea sponge!
Fort De Soto
Close to Egmont Key, and a great launching point, Fort De Soto, is a nationally ranked beach and a great spot for anyone looking to have a day filled with outdoor fun.
Looking out, off of the beach of Fort De Soto, you will see snorklers, people swim training, sea planes, kiteboarders, kayakers, and you may even be lucky enough to spot some powered paragliders.
While Fort De Soto isn’t really a key or sand bar, it is an island in the Tampa Bay with jet ski and boat ramps and docks for anyone visit. If you don’t have a boat or jet ski, you can just drive south -all the way past gulf blvd – and right to the island.
If you’re into islands but not so much the water part, you can still explore the fort, hike some trails, visit the museum, set a picnic, bring your furry friend to the dog park, or take a bike ride around the entire island. There is no shortage of activities to do at Fort De Soto.
Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island
If you’re looking to stay in northern Pinellas, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island are the perfect getaway.
Often mentioned in reference with each other, the two separate islands – and state parks – are in eye sight of each other and are connected with a ferry launching from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island.
While Honeymoon Island has a road directly to the island with parking ($8 a day) Caladesi ($6 per boat) is only accessible by water route!
Honeymoon Island is the perfect spot in the northern waters of the Tampa Bay region on the gulf side while Caladesi Island is perfect for more of a cardiovascular workout type of day full of nature trail explorations and kayaking through mangroves.
Both islands hosts amenities including restrooms, cafes, and exhibits throughout the islands.
Passage Key is the place for nudists to come to get their tan-line-free tan. An island between the edges of Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key, Passage Key offers a secluded paradise for people to forgo the swimsuit requirements of the surrounding beaches.
The key is also a wildlife refuge and is only accessible by waterway. It is a little over a mile from Anna Maria Island, so you can launch a kayak if you have a strong paddle through open water.
Beer Can Island
Along the eastern side of the bay lies Beer Can Island – a local hangout spot.
Despite it’s name, Beer Can Island (formally known as Pine Key) is an extremely clean and pristine island filled with Tampa Bay partiers.
The island is privately owned and sports a bar, beaches, and camping grounds.
Open to the public through boating and their own shuttle; they also offer memberships of varying levels to unlock more wonders of their island.
Back along the gulf waters are the white sand beaches of Shell Key. The key is home to preserve full of beaches, mangroves, kayakers, and birds of the like.
The Key is accessible by boat, jet ski, shuttle, or kayak from close by Tierra Verde or Fort De Soto.
When pulling up by boat or jet ski, be wary of the wavy waters due to the crowded island and influx of boaters on good boating days.
The key is not developed and is a completely untouched preserve helping to protect the birds that call this island home.
The best way to explore this preserve is by taking a tour with Get Up And Go Kayaking and taking advantage of their clear kayaks to get a glimpse of life below the surface of the blue waters.
And remember, if you find a shell with a hole in it, hang it on the shell tree for good luck!
Along the inter-coastal, you will find a number of uninhabited (besides the horseshoe crabs) islands dotting the channel. Most of them are kayak and jet ski stops for people living along the inter-coastal, but if you see one that looks fun, don’t be afraid to stop!
There are so many islands to discover and spots destined to become favorites in and around the waters of the Tampa Bay. Let me know in the comments below where you’ll be exploring and your favorite spots to hit!
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