Pass-a-Grille Beach is a standout among beaches. There are four miles of powder-soft sand on the beach, enough for every beachgoer to spread out a blanket and enjoy the view. Though the laid-back beach town is technically a part of St. Pete Beach, it couldn’t be more different than the rest of Long Key.
Pass-a-Grille is unique among Florida beach communities in that there are almost no buildings directly on the sand, with the exception of the Paradise Grille, where you can enjoy a casual meal or snack while overlooking the Gulf.
The neighborhood, which first hosted a resort as far back 1857, was incorporated into St. Petersburg Beach in 1957. The old town is now a historical district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Its unusual name is a subject of debate even among locals, but the common tale is that the area is allegedly named after the French phrase Passe Aux Grilleurs — “the passageway of the grillers” — after the fisherman who used the key as a camp.
There are no hotels or ritzy resorts here on the beach itself here, just sea oats. It’s like the pink palace that is the Don CeSar is a bulwark shielding the south end of St. Pete Beach from the tall hotels and busy traffic of the north end.
A series of mom-and-pop hotels are lined up across the street from the beach in the downtown area at the southern tip of the island. None of them have more than 12 rooms and none are more than three stories tall.
You can ditch the car once you get there because the heart of Pass-a-Grille is really only one large block wide, and about a couple dozen blocks long. Less is more here, but you’ll still find great restaurants, eclectic shops and a charming, old-fashioned vibe.
The powdery white sand here is family friendly, especially on the northern end near Hurley Park on 15th Avenue, where there is a large public restroom, picnic pavilion (available for rent), playground and basketball and tennis courts.
Pass-a-Grille Park on 9th Avenue features a collection of shuffleboard courts that is used by a seniors club in the winter months.
Most of the time you will see small clusters of beach towels or umbrellas, as the folks who come here generally like to be away from the condo canyons and glitzier resorts.
The livelier party scene can be found by the concession stand at 900 Gulf Way, Paradise Grille. They sell beer, wine, a great breakfast and reasonably priced sandwiches, salads and fish platters. That’s also where you can rent beach cabanas and watersports equipment.
For dog lovers, there is a a small strip of sand south of the Merry Pier, between First and Third avenues on Pass-a-Grille Way. There’s not much room, but it’s enough for Fido to get his feet wet and dig in the sand a bit. It’s away from all the real action, unless taking your dog out is the sole objective. The caveat is that the dogs need to stay on a leash.
More Things to do
The downtown area of Pass-a-Grille is charming and easily walkable. The historic 8th Avenue is a pastel-colored artsy haven, grounded by the renowned Evander Preston Gallery. More local art can be found at Galene’s Paradise and A Little Room for Art. Beachwear can also be found at Bamboozle, Dody Beach Boutique, and Paradiso. A short walk away, on 10th Avenue, the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum offers a closer look at Pass-a-Old Grille’s Florida roots through historic pictures and relics.
Gulf Beaches Historical Museum
Find archives and artifacts displayed inside the historic building that housed the town’s first church. Lovingly cared for, the Victorian building and grounds look like something out of a fairy tale. It has free admission, a cute gift shop and they also supply a self-guided walking tour.
Suntan Art Center
The nonprofit offers a variety of art classes and even wellness and yoga sessions while also exhibiting the work of local artists.
This channelside location is a center of boating and fishing activity. The shop sells bait, and you can rent a rod and tackle to catch your dinner. There’s also a fish market there if you don’t have any luck. This is also where you can rent a bicycle and find out about boat excursions and fishing charters.
Sunset cruises, dolphin-watching tours and snorkeling trips head out from Pass-a-Grille on what the company calls limousine-like pontoon boats.
Speedboat Adventure Tour
You can take the wheel with this company, which lets you drive and navigate your own speedboat. Prices start at $59 per person.
Food & Drink
The tallest building on Pass-a-Grille is this landmark restaurant, featuring top-notch grouper and a rooftop Hurricane Watch bar that’s ideal for sunsets. The Hurricane is famous for its rooftop bar for revelers at sunset, but the locals head to the city’s concession stand at 10th Avenue and Gulf Way, the only place you can have some wine or beer on the beach itself and witness the ritual sunset bell ringing every day. There’s even a “Head Ding-Dong” who doles out the privilege of ringing the bell 15 times (five to call the birds home, five for the guest ringer, five for the town tradition). The ringer is invited to share their story in a guestbook. Some ring in honor of a lost loved one or to celebrate an anniversary or the birth of a child. This quaint ritual has been going on since 1999 and the guest books are kept at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, and worth perusing.
The stunning and sophisticated Eighth Avenue newcomer made the Tampa Bay Times list of the top 50 restaurants in Tampa Bay in 2018. And with good reason. With playful photos of underwater dogs on the walls and cocktails named after local Pass-a-Grille pets, it’s a fun atmosphere with serious food. If the higher prices put you off, check out the nightly happy hour from 4-6 p.m. where they offer seven appetizers for $7 each so you can share a plate of lamb sliders, lobster escargot or grouper fritters.
Speaking of happy hour, this is the very definition of a dive bar (in the best sense) with cheap beers, generous space and pool tables.
The Brass Monkey
This PAG staple has a balcony with one of the best views of the beach and bowing to its owners’ Maryland roots, seriously good crab cakes called Monkey Balls.
Sea Critters Cafe
Did you get lucky on your fishing trip? Bring in the fish you just caught and for $8.99 they will cook it for you any way you want and give you two sides. Take the kids out back to feed their leftovers to the swarm of catfish that roam the docks. It’s not on the menu but ask for the local favorite, Seafood Boil, for a pile of crab legs, clams, mussels, lobster tail, corn, onions and potatoes.
One of the best-kept secrets of this shop is its terrific coffee, especially the “Pass-a-Chino.” That’s espresso and your choice of ice cream blended into a cool coffee drink.
This breakfast haunt is a historic restaurant, established in 1938, and a local favorite. It’s famous for its blueberry pancakes, corned beef hash and its decor of kitsch and old Florida nostalgia.
Tampa Bay is served by two airports, Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Hillsborough County and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) in Pinellas County. Multiple carriers service TPA, while most flights to and from PIE are run by Allegiant. There are many ground transportation options at both airports.
A rental car would be useful if you’re looking to explore, but you could easily spend an entire short trip in Pass-a-Grille. Ride-sharing services are very useful here, but wait times can be long if there are no drivers nearby, or it’s exceptionally busy.
You can reach Long Key via three bridges — one from Treasure Island, one from South Pasadena called the Corey Causeway, and one from far southern St. Petersburg, a toll road called the Pinellas Bayway that’s accessible from Interstate 275. Those last two are drawbridges, which can lead to backups when someone wants to take their sailboat out for the day.
Pass-a-Grille really begins south of the Pinellas Bayway, when State Road 699 (Gulf Boulevard) ends past the Don CeSar and becomes Pass-a-Grille Way.
There are enough public transportation options to get to other attractions relatively easily, especially compared to some of the barrier Island communities more isolated from the mainland. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority offers three routes on the island along the main traffic arteries.
The Central Avenue Trolley runs a loop from Pass-a-Grille north to Corey Avenue, then across the Intracoastal Waterway to downtown St. Petersburg on the other side of the county. More information is here.
The Suncoast Beach Trolley then runs north from Corey Avenue all the way to downtown Clearwater. A schedule and details are here.
Another option is to call freebeachride.com, which runs as far north as Clearwater Beach. When they say free they mean it; just tip the driver upon arrival at your destination.
Finally, the Route 90 PSTA bus runs a loop from Corey Avenue to the Pinellas Bayway, then through southern and western St. Petersburg. Learn more here.