Many people ask about the best beaches in Tampa.
This question can be confusing because there are technically several beaches in Tampa, but they aren’t what most people expect.
Here’s how the Tampa city government website describes one popular beach in Tampa:
“Who needs to go to Clearwater to find a good beach when you have one in South Tampa? Picnic Island has a beautiful white sand beach featuring tranquil waters and breathtaking sunsets.”
Sounds great, right?
Sorry, but not really. If you were a tourist and planned on visiting this beach, you’d probably be disappointed.
Truthfully, the beaches in Tampa aren’t very nice. They definitely aren’t the sort of beaches you’d want to visit while on vacation.
Instead, most people should probably ask about the best beaches near Tampa, because there are dozens of beautiful, world-class beaches near Tampa, on the Gulf of Mexico.
Still, there are some beaches which are actually in Tampa itself, or around Tampa Bay.
Some are actually quite popular, especially among locals who want water access without making the crazy drive from Tampa to Clearwater.
Sandbars are also very popular. There are a number of beautiful sandbars near Tampa which are a great alternative to beaches if you have a boat, or access to one.
We hope this information may be useful for anyone who is actually looking for beaches in and around Tampa itself, without having to drive to the Gulf of Mexico.
Beaches in Tampa: Important Things to Know
It’s important to know that Tampa sits on a peninsula, so it’s surrounded by the water of Hillsborough Bay, also known as Tampa Bay.
Therefore, all of the beaches in Tampa itself are bay-front, not ocean-front. To reach the ocean, and the dozens of beautiful beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, you must drive.
Clearwater Beach is the closest “nice” beach to Tampa. The drive from Tampa to Clearwater is do-able and is generally worth it, but it can be a painful ordeal for several reasons.
First, The drive from Tampa to Clearwater is deceptively long. Distances around Tampa Bay don’t look very large on a map, but the actual drives are longer than they seem, especially in Pinellas County.
Depending on which beach access you go to, the drive is only about 20-30 miles, but it usually takes anywhere from 45 minutes to well over an hour, each way.
Second, the traffic on this drive is usually horrible. Many drivers in Tampa Bay are aggressive, reckless, and crazy.
Lastly, when you arrive, beach parking can be hard to find, or expensive. This is true for almost all of the beaches in the region, but some are worse than others.
If you’re in Tampa, the drive to the beach will probably be worth the effort. But, be prepared for a possibly stressful and frustrating experience!
If you don’t have time, transportation or the desire to drive to the Gulf of Mexico beaches, there are some beaches near the city of Tampa itself.
But, be warned: they aren’t nearly as nice as the Gulf of Mexico beaches. There are several downsides to the beaches in Tampa.
First and foremost, the water in Tampa Bay is not clean. The problems and severity vary by time of year and other factors, but in general, the water is polluted.
The entire state of Florida has a massive water pollution problem, but obviously the tourist boards, state and local politicians don’t broadcast that to visitors or newcomers.
Tampa Bay struggles with pollution from many sources, including red tide, excessive nutrients from industrial sources and bacteria from the horrible sewage crisis that grips all of Florida.
Most locals don’t swim in the waters of Tampa Bay.
To avoid disappointment, it’s best to think of the beaches near Tampa as waterfront parks, rather than the sort of beach you’d want to visit as a vacation destination.
Water Quality, Safety and Pollution
Before visiting any beaches on Tampa Bay, visitors should check the water quality before swimming, touching the water, or allowing their dogs to swim or access the water.
- Don’t let dogs drink from unknown water sources.
- Visitors should bathe themselves and their dogs thoroughly after touching the water, and watch for signs of unusual behavior or illness.
- Many dogs become sick or injured after contacting polluted water because they ingest pollutants as they lick their fur
- Use this Florida FWC website to check red tide status at Florida beaches
- Use this Florida Department of Public Health site to check beach water quality
Ben T. Davis Beach
Ben T. Davis Beach is a popular public beach near Tampa.
The waterfront beach park has sand beaches, palm trees and other things you’d expect at the beach. It’s a nice place to lay in the sun, watch the sunset, or just spend time near the water
The best part about Ben T. Davis Beach is that it’s the closest beach to Tampa.
It’s convenient to visit, and is only a few minutes away from downtown Tampa and the Tampa International Airport.
You might even see it as you fly into Tampa International Airport, or as you drive away from the airport.
There is a sandy beach, and there are beach rentals available, including SUP paddle boards, kayaks, bicycles and more. Paid parking is usually available at a rate of $0.55 per hour
On the downside, Ben T. Davis Beach is not the most beautiful beach you’ll ever see.
It’s located on the water of Tampa Bay, which is not as nice, clean, clear or inviting as the clear water in the Gulf of Mexico. Most Tampa locals wouldn’t consider Ben T. Davis Beach to be a good beach for swimming.
The beach at Ben T. Davis is narrow, and it isn’t very spacious. It’s also located next to a busy highway, which can be noisy. The sandy beach is not natural, but is brought in via truck.
Egmont Key is an uninhabited island at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Obviously because it’s an island, the beaches of Egmont Key aren’t directly accessible from Tampa, except by boat.
Still, it deserves a spot among Tampa’s Best Beaches for a few reasons.
First, Egmont Key is the only Gulf of Mexico beach that’s technically located in Hillsborough County, where the city of Tampa is located.
Second, Egmont Key is truly beautiful, unlike any of the other beaches in Tampa. The beach, sand and water are all beautiful, clean and clear.
Egmont Key is also one of the best, and only places to snorkel near Tampa.
Besides snorkeling in springs, or with manatees, Egmont Key is the only snorkeling spot anywhere near Tampa where there’s actually something interesting to see.
Many fish and some coral can be seen in underwater ruins of Fort Dade, which have been lost to erosion and reclaimed by the sea.
There are other fascinating parts of the island, too. History lovers are attracted to Egmont Key because of its beautiful old lighthouse and Fort Dade, an awesome and historical military fort which once had its own lively town on the island.
Egmont Key is also beloved by nature lovers because of the beautiful nature and excellent bird watching. It’s also a great place for beach combing and finding seashells.
If you can make your way to the beaches of Egmont Key, do it! It’s a great adventure, and Egmont Key is definitely worth visiting. Nearby Passage Key is also stunningly beautiful, and is just to the south of Egmont Key.
Beer Can Island (Pine Key)
Beer Can Island, also known as Pine Key, is a man-made spoil island in the middle of Tampa Bay.
Beer Can Island is located just offshore of Apollo Beach, and is only reachable by boat.
The island is a very popular destination for boaters, and is a great alternative to beaches in Tampa, for those who can access the island.
Beer Can Island has nice sand beaches, and fairly clear water, depending on the conditions.
Cypress Point Park
Cypress Point Park is a popular waterfront park in Tampa. It used to be a landfill, but has been restored and converted into a natural beach area.
But the waterfront park and beach area have been restored, and are now very nice.
Today the park has a lot to offer, including paved trails and a natural sand dune environment. The restoration happened thanks to support and funds provided by environmental conservation agencies.
As a waterfront park, Cypress Point Park is very nice. As a beach? Okay, but not the best.
The sand is trucked in, and the bay water is not inviting. As with most of the beaches in Tampa, most people don’t feel comfortable swimming in the water because it doesn’t feel clean.
There are nice amenities in Cypress Point Park, including a kayak/canoe launch, restrooms, outdoor showers and covered picnic shelters with grills and trash bins.
There are other fun things to do, including a sand volleyball court, playground, and an 18-hole disc golf course.
Cypress Point Park is a fun place to spend time near the water. Many people like to watch planes fly over as they land at Tampa International Airport, and it’s a nice spot for watching the sun set over Tampa Bay.
But, if you do catch a sunset, beware. Quite a few visitors warn that the on-site security can rush people away immediately at sunset, and are sometimes unnecessarily rude about it.
Picnic Island Park
Picnic Island Park is a very nice, urban beach park. Still, visitors should have realistic expectations to avoid disappointment.
Picnic Island Park sits at the road on a peninsula. To reach it, visitors must drive through a gritty, active industrial port zone.
Generous descriptions call Picnic Island Park a “hidden gem” and an “airy oasis”. Both of these descriptions are a tad optimistic, but they aren’t totally off-base.
Picnic Island Park really does feel like a lush green oasis, compared to the surrounding industrial zone. And, it could be considered a “hidden gem” in the sense that you’d never expect to see a lovely park, or a beach, hidden inside the nearby industrial zone.
For most visitors, the main attraction at Picnic Island Park is the dog beach. It is very popular, and is heavily visited, but it gets some mixed reviews from dog owners.
The water can be nice at times, but at others it may smell like sewage or dead fish. Like other beaches in Tampa, the water at Picnic Island Park has been closed in the past due to various problems, including fecal bacteria and red tide.
The water also has rocks in some areas which may hurt human feet or dogs’ paws. There are also noseeums and mosquitoes, especially at dawn and dusk, and when the wind is light.
On the plus side there are quite a few amenities at Picnic Island Park. It has:
- Picnic and barbeque facilities
- Water fountains for humans and dogs
- A fishing pier and boat ramp
- Kayak and canoe launch
- A playground
- A sand volleyball court
- A disc golf course
There are restroom facilities with running water, an outdoor shower for humans and a water station for rinsing dogs.
Picnic Island Park is open from sunrise to sunset. The boat ramp is open 24-hours.
More information about Picnic Island Park
Davis Islands Beach
Davis Islands Beach is a small waterfront park in Tampa.
It’s located next to a small local airport, the Peter O. Knight Airport and seaplane basin. It’s across the channel from an industrial zone, and cruise ships sometimes sail very close by.
The park is most popular because of its dog park. It is also a popular spot for fishermen and people who just want to spend time near the water.
Davis Islands Beach features a dog park with two separate sections.
One section offers approximately one acre of dry grassy space, without water access.
The second section offers a sand beach with several hundred feet of beach and water access.
Both are fenced, and dogs are allowed to be off-leash in both.
On the downside, the park is relatively small, and can get crowded. There are also not any restroom facilities, or shade trees to escape the sun.
The water is relatively clear, but isn’t necessarily clean. Water access has been closed in the past for various reasons, including incidents of both fecal bacteria and red tide.
Apollo Beach Nature Preserve
Like many of the other beaches in this list, the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is more of a waterfront park than a real beach experience.
Still, it is beautiful. The nature preserve covers 63-acres. Two of the acres are dedicated to a sandy beach which is popular for picnicking and sunbathing, but swimming is not allowed.
Apollo Beach Nature Preserve is a nice place for watching the sunset and spending time near the water.
It is also a good place to see manatees in the wild, especially because it is extremely close to the TECO manatee viewing center.
E.G. Simmons Park
E.G. Simmons Park is a large waterfront park, managed by Hillsborough County.
The park is quite large, and covers several hundred acres. The park has a mixture of open spaces, mangrove shoreline, swamp and other natural ecosystems.
The park has a public beach and has many good picnic spots and shade trees, unlike some other waterfront parks and beaches in Tampa. There park has nice amenities:
- Swimming area
- Volleyball Courts
- Kayak rentals
- Fishing Pier
- Picnic tables and barbeque grills
E.G. Simmons Park also has nice boating facilities, including a mangrove kayak trail, a boat ramp and fishing pier.
There is also an on-site campground in E.G. Simmons Park with 110 campsites. It’s a popular spot, and is one of the few public campgrounds near Tampa.
There are good opportunities for nature viewing in E.G. Simmons Park. Bird watchers are often excited to see bucket-list birds like Bald EAgles, Roseate Spoonbills and others.
It’s also a good place to see manatees because it is near the TECO power plant and the manatee viewing center.
On the downside, mosquitos and noseeums can be bad at E.G. Simmons Park, so come prepared.
The park is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the spring and summer, and from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the fall and winter.
There is a fee to enter E.G. Simmons Park; it costs $2 per vehicle for up to 8 passengers. There is also a $5 fee to use the boat launch, and there are separate fees for camping and rentals.
More information about E.G. Simmons Park
If you’re looking for the best beaches in Tampa, we hope you found this guide helpful. If you’d like more information, this webpage from the City of Tampa outlines their beaches, waterfront parks and amenities.