Pass-a-Grille, Florida, on the southernmost tip of St. Pete’s Beach, near Tampa and St Petersburg is a venture back in time to the era of Pez containers, pink flamingos, and colorful kitschy surfboards. It’s a glimpse of old Florida in a time gone by.
This tiny piece of Paradise makes a charming get-a-way for those wishing to disappear, a romantic nook for lovers and a beach goer’s dream. Its glistening white-sugar-sand beach leads to the serene and azure waves of the Gulf of Mexico.
On the other side of the narrow peninsula is the Boca Ciego Bay, where a bizarre array of pelicans, herons, and egrets prune themselves on aged pillars or walk among fisherman trying their luck on the weathered pier.
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Men sit on pastel wooden beach chairs smoking fine cigars along the mini downtown section of 8th Ave., as women pop in and out of eclectic boutiques and art galleries.
The Inn on the Beach – Pass-a-Grille, Florida
I was delighted to be hosted by the management of the charming Inn on the Beach who allowed me to discover this delightful seaside community. As soon as my shuttle driver dropped me off, I knew it would be a perfect place to chill, regroup and unwind. Life had been stressful lately and I was looking forward to spending my short 3-day stay walking, breathing in the healing sea air and observing the laid-back lifestyle of Floridians who know how to enjoy it.
The Inn’s assistant manager Dace “Dee” Norbergs, born in Latvia, cheerfully greeted and escorted me to my room, called “The Blue Heron.” As I walked in, I saw a fluffy white bed, light-filled windows, a convenient kitchenette, and a tastefully tiled bathroom. A doorway opened up to a sundeck with Capri blue wooden beach chairs and a view of the Gulf. It was clear this would be “home.”
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I had arrived after a 5:55 am Southwest flight from LA and wanted to rest for an hour to decide how to make the most of my 3 days as a solo-woman-traveler. I enjoy having time to myself and was looking forward to doing “my own thing” without distraction.
The Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg areas are spread out so I chose to focus only on Pass-a-Grille and St. Pete’s Beach. It’s rich in history, slightly offbeat and a walker and biker’s paradise.
The colorful Suncoast Beach Trolley passes by every 15 minutes running from Pass-a-Grille – St. Petersburg and all the way to Clearwater. Five bucks will get you an all-day pass.
The weather was overcast when I arrived (early January) but the temperature was in the 50’s and comfortable. I had come from an almost-freezing holiday season in Los Angeles. El Nino had begun to drop a fury of rain, flooding the streets so I was glad to have missed the deluge.
I walked down the street to find dinner before it got dark. As I approached 8th Ave., I caught sight of the Victorian era Hurricane Restaurant, which stood out on the street.
It had originally been a bathhouse called Page’s Pavilion, built in 1912 (although some documents say it was established in 1903) and then the Casa Bonita Hotel. Part of the hotel was torn down in the 1960s and what remained became a restaurant in 1977. It’s the centerpiece of downtown Pass-a-Grille and looked like fun. I couldn’t resist trying a Rumrunner, one of their specialty drinks. After devouring a tasty plate of fresh grilled grouper and vegetables, I went back to my room to rest up for the next day.
What I particularly enjoyed about Pass-a-Grille is how easy and accessible it is to walk around. Slim and trim residents, many of them Baby Boomers, ran, walked their dogs or rode bikes, breathing in the healthy breeze of the Gulf and Bay.
The next morning I had an omelet and coffee at The Seahorse, a deep-wooded-sea-faring eatery decorated with a collection of kitsch and old Florida nostalgia. A friendly waitress wearing a tropical shirt and jeans eagerly refilled my cup.
Afterward, I bought a day pass on the trolley and headed towards the elegant pink Don CeSar Hotel. It stands majestically on the northernmost end of St. Pete’s Beach. The hotel also called “The Pink Palace.” or “Pink Lady,” was built in 1928 during the Gatsby era. It’s a historic landmark where notables like F.Scott Fitzgerald, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Capone played and did business. During WWII, it was transformed into a military hospital and eventually fell into disrepair. It was restored in 1968 to its former glory and remains a popular and elegant sight-seeing stop.
Although I could have spent the entire day on the trolley going up and down the beach, I decided to go back to Pass-a-Grille to take in more of its relaxed and charming atmosphere. On the way, I stopped and had a lovely fresh grouper lunch at Sea Critter’s Café with a view of the Bay.
Back downtown, I walked past the old Merry Pier on the bay end of 8th Ave built in 1902. There you can rent boats, take a sunset cruise or fish.
The Gulf Beaches Historical Museum is at 9th Ave. It’s housed in what was once the first church in Pass-a-Grille. Inside, there are photographs and memorabilia depicting the history of the beaches in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.
After a day of walking and taking pictures, I made my way back to my cozy room at the Inn on the Beach to rest my 62-year-old feet. The intimate atmosphere at the Inn was peaceful as opposed to the bluster of a larger resort.
I had dinner that night at The Brass Monkey and ordered a plate of humongous steamed shrimp, French onion soup, and a pomegranate martini. The upstairs restaurant overlooks the beach.
The next day, (my last) was warm and sunny after an early morning rain and was postcard perfect. I went to The Seahorse again and tried their crunchy pecan pancakes.
My flight wasn’t supposed to take off until the late afternoon and my shuttle was scheduled to arrive at 2 pm. but Dee graciously allowed me to keep my room until I had to leave. I had picked up a brochure at the museum that laid out a walking tour of turn-of-the-century homes and buildings in the area and decided to spend my remaining time following the trail.
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After my walk, I had lunch on the beach at The Paradise Grille. It’s a colorful outdoor beach café. Vendors were selling their wares and young women strolled in bikinis. Not bad for early January. After finishing up a Gulf shrimp Caesar salad and a Heineken, I reluctantly jumped on the shuttle to head back to the Tampa Bay airport.
I could easily see myself living in Pass-a-Grille, especially since I spent my high school and college years near Newport Beach.
If you’re visiting the Tampa Bay area, I recommend staying at Inn on the Beach for an easy-going, laid-back beach experience. It’s affordable, comfortable, immaculate and centrally located. View some of their other rooms by clicking on the images below.
Inn on the Beach is a small property but fits in perfectly with the quintessential charm that is Pass-a-Grille, Florida.
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Note: There are stairs to climb at the Inn if you stay in their “view” rooms that may not be ideal for those with disabilities.
Disclaimer: The Inn on the Beach offered me 2 complimentary nights for this review but my opinion is my own.
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What’s your favorite place to stay at the beach in the U.S.? Please leave a comment below.