When it is time to escape a blustery north or just enjoy some time on a sunny white-sand beach, it’s hard to beat St. Petersburg Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s in the Tampa Bay area, with a straight shot from the airport to the Interstate highway exit, so it’s easy to get to from multiple cities in the USA, Canada, and even direct from parts of Europe.
Nearby is downtown St. Petersburg, where you’ve got great museums, interesting shops, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball, and more brewpubs than you can sample. But this is the best area to stay in St. Petersburg, Florida if you want a relaxing vacation on the warm Gulf of Mexico waters.
There are a few high-rise hotels here, but they are not jammed up right next to each other, so the wide and miles-long beach seldom feels crowded, even in the height of tourist season. You have options from budget motels to time-share conglomerate members to luxury resorts, plus there are a couple terrific choices for families. Here are Hotel Scoop’s picks for the best hotels and resorts on St. Pete Beach.
The Don CeSar
This long-established queen of the beach opened in 1928, when the rich tycoons getting away from the cold north would come down for weeks or months. It has been an on-again, off-again affair since then but has been in continuous operation as a luxury hotel since the 1970s. It has flirted with different chains, most recently being a Loews hotel, but is now operating independently again except for being a member of Historic Hotels of America.
It’s an impressive property inside and out, with a wide range of amenities, and has the most luxurious suites in the area. See details and rates here.
This well-run, stylish resort is your best St. Pete Beach bet if you care about boutique hotel service and modern aesthetics and it even has a place to recharge your Tesla at night. It’s not right on the beach, but it has a terrific sunset view of the water from the roof deck with bar and it’s a short walk to the sand from across the street. Alas, it’s no longer a Kimpton property, so no more earning loyalty points for your stay on this beach with very few chain hotels.
There’s a nice pool complex and an excellent restaurant on site, plus you’re a short walk from others. Half the rooms face toward the sea, but the ones facing the Intercoastal waterway are quieter and get the sunrise. See our detailed review of Hotel Zamora here.
Sirata Beach Resort
If you’re looking for a place with an all-inclusive plan, or conversely you want a place with a kitchen, Sirata Beach Resort might be the best option. They offer a variety of plans from everything included to a la carte. This hodge-podge of buildings won’t win any design awards and it can come off as a bit tired, but overall it’s a solid operation with what you hope for in a beach vacation. You’ve got easy access to the sand, a big beach bar, lounge chairs by multiple pools, and hammocks for lounging.
Parking is ample here if you’re driving in. There are two open-air places to eat facing the beach and a more upscale one inside that’s air-conditioned. See our detailed review of Sirata Beach Resort.
Tradewinds Island Grand Resort
If you let your kids pick the place to stay on St. Petersburg Beach, you’re going to end up at Tradewinds. This place has all kinds of fun activities, including a sort of floating water park out in the Gulf with big slides. You’ll pay dearly for it though: there’s a $50+ “resort fee” you have to add to the daily room rate listed online to get the real price. Anything listed as “free” in the amenities really isn’t included in the rates.
They also have a 5-night minimum stay, which puts this resort out of the running for a long holiday weekend. If you’re doing a shorter getaway, consider the partner Rumfish Beach Resort that’s next on this list. See Tradewinds rates here.
RumFish Beach Resort (Formerly Guy Harvey Outpost)
Facing a wide stretch of white sand St. Pete beach, this is a colorful resort with a strong aquatic theme and there’s a giant aquarium in the main restaurant. Overall this is an attractive resort that parents will love as much as the kids, with outdoor lounging areas, fire pits, good bars, and great views from the rooms.
Kids will love all the fun activities here and at partner Tradewinds. Rates appear lower here online than at Tradewinds, but you get to use the same facilities and as a result you’ll get socked with the same hefty $50+ per night extra fee for this privilege. The parent company has apparently been taking lessons from the airlines, so have a calculator handy when figuring out the real rate. The good news is, they don’t have a minimum stay rule, so you can do a short beach break here and still thrill the little ones. See our full review of RumFish Beach Resort.
Postcard Inn on St. Petersburg Beach
If you’re looking for the place where the cool people hang out, Postcard Inn on the Beach is where you need to go. This property is a great example of how to take an old motel from less demanding times and turn it into something hip that a new generation of travelers will embrace. Although there are seldom waves on the Gulf of Mexico coast, it’s got a surfer vibe going—which sometimes means a full-wall photo mural behind the bed. The restaurant here is good and fun and the beach bar goes well beyond Corona and rum punch. Even if you’re staying elsewhere, it’s worth swinging by this fun and stylish small resort at the end of the day for a drink.
See info and rates here for Postcard Inn and note that they have caught the “resort fee” gotcha bug too—that’s an extra $33 for what you get in the rates normally at most hotels, like internet, a coffee maker, the safe, “use of the fitness center…”
Other Hotels on Saint Pete Beach
Many of the other resorts on St. Pete beach have inconsistent reviews on TripAdvisor and other sites and that’s usually because…they’re inconsistent. Your room and service may be great at Grand Plaza, Alden Suites, or Plaza Beach Hotel. Or your stay may be god-awful. You’re increasingly likely to get stuck with a dreaded resort fee either way these days. Alden Suites is one of the few that doesn’t charge one.
One of the problems this area has now is it’s almost too popular for its own good. There used to be a relatively long low season between mid-August through Autumn (when there’s a hurricane risk), but not anymore. These resorts are packed out most of the time whether they do a great job or not, so there’s not much time for renovations and staff training. With unemployment in this area being quite low by national standards, the labor pool got strained after four years of anti-immigration policy.
When you start heading north from Guy Harvey Outpost, you’ll still be in Saint Petersburg for a while, but then although everything looks the same, the names will change to Treasure Island, Madeira, Redington, Indian Shores, and Indian Rocks. The beach is still nice in most of these areas too, so if you have a line on a friend’s condo on one of these Tampa Bay beaches, by all means take it. A few beach hotels are scattered along the way too.
Otherwise, apart from a collection of restaurants and shops called St. John’s Pass, there are generally more dining and drinking options in St. Pete Beach, plus you’re across the peninsula from the MLB Rays baseball stadium, the Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection Glass Works museum, and a great collection of microbreweries. Get the Tampa City Pass if you’ll have some time to explore the area.
Review and photos by Tampa Bay resident Tim Leffel, who has been hosted at some of these resorts while reviewing local hotels for The Telegraph UK.