I remember when I first came to Florida it took about 2 years until I met someone who had access to a boat. It was so simple but one of my favorite Florida memories – Go out to the sandbar with some good company, bring some drinks & snacks, get some sun and listen to some good music.
A year or two went by and I didn’t have any other time on the water besides a few sunset cruises. One day me and my friend decided to rent some paddleboards down by Shell Key. As it was both our first times, we’re paddling and trying to get balanced on our knees. Just as I started getting the hang of it some guy ripped by in a boat with two good looking girls and left us bouncing in his wake. That is when I decided I gotta get in on this boat action.
For the past 5 years or so I’ve had a boat club membership at Freedom Boat Club that’s allowed me to explore different parts of Tampa Bay. They have something like 20+ marinas in the area so it makes it easy to pick one, jump on and go explore a new area. There’s everything from party spots to hidden lagoons, nature trails to historic war ruins, sandbars to bird preserves where people get naked. With all these options, you can imagine that boating in Florida is unlike anywhere else. If you’re in the market for a waterfront home in the St. Pete area feel free to call or text me at 727-307-1111 and I’d be happy to get you started with your search!
With that said, here’s my top 7 places to go boating at near St. Pete, Florida as well as embedded Google maps to show you where they’re all at.
7. Johns Pass Sandbar
This place can be an entirely different experience depending on when you go. If you decide to go in the middle of the week and find yourself out there with a few other boats, it can be pretty pleasant and relaxing. If you go on the weekend it’s a bit more rowdy. If you go during one of the planned events that you see happen there it’s a sh*tshow. Here’s a local Facebook group that puts on events at John’s Pass.
I did one of those events once and it was super stressful trying to find a spot to anchor with hundreds of boats coming and going. It’s also an entirely different experience if you’re the one captaining the boat or if you’re just along for the ride. No matter when you go, it’s likely someone will be blasting their terrible music and there’s nothing you can do about it. For that reason John’s Pass is not my number one favorite place to go.
6. Passage Key (Naked Island)
I have a couple of weird stories from my experience here however in the interest of me writing this on my work website I’ll refrain. Or maybe I won’t cause I know you perverts want to hear what really goes down here. When I first went here with my lady friend we decided to anchor off to the side and observe the weirdness from a distance. Passage Key is actually a bird preserve and you can’t go on the island but people get naked in the water. In my experience it’s mostly the people you don’t want to see naked but hey I’m not a fitness model either and I went for it.
We start wading through the water and encounter this older couple about our parents age. Everyone is wearing their swimsuits and everything feels normal. Who doesn’t like striking up a conversation with some older folks? They tell us about their kids that are around our age and it’s a seemingly normal interaction. The husband then goes back to their little dingy they had piloted in from their yacht, sits on the side of it, dramatically whips off his swimming shorts and lets it all hang out.
His wife was non-reactive probably thinking “Oh that’s Georgie, always pulling his old man junk out in front of strangers” I’m a weirdo myself but damn I wasn’t mentally prepared to be surprised like that. Not sure why he decided that was the moment to get naked but that’s just part of the experience apparently.
For what it’s worth we saw people of all different ages out there. There’s also a lot of shallow space so plenty of room to spread out if you need to! Can’t lie – it was pretty freeing being out there all naked on the boat. I’ll probably do it again one of these days.
5. Egmont Key
Egmont Key is actually right next to naked island however I figured I’d list naked island first for all you perverts. I don’t know about you but before I moved to Florida, I didn’t realize what kind of crazy history we had down here. Most people tend to think of Florida as vacation home central and only recently developed. You don’t really expect to come across a decommissioned military fort from the Spanish American War a few miles off of shore. Egmont Key has brick paths all around the island, huge concrete remains sitting in the water, decrepit buildings that you can explore and of course the signature lighthouse.
According to Floridastateparks.org “Named for John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont, the Key has had both Spanish conquistadors and nuclear submarines pass its shores. In the 1830s, as shipping increased so did the number of ship groundings leading Congress to authorize funds to construct a lighthouse – the only one between St. Marks and Key West. In 1898 as the Spanish-American War threatened, Fort Dade was built and remained active until 1923.”
You can take your own boat out here and dock near the beach or you can take a ferry there that leaves from Ft. Desoto.
4. Bunces Pass
Speaking of Ft. Desoto, Bunces Pass is the sandbar that borders the north end of that area. I’m gonna have to admit right now – This 7 to 1 countdown doesn’t make any sense because Bunces Pass is my personal favorite.
There’s a few things I like about it. It’s a large lagoon that has a sandbar protecting it from the waves that come in from the Gulf. You definitely have to check the tide before you go park there for a few hours because it’s super shallow and easy to get stuck if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even on a windy day, it can be a nice place to stay protected from the waves.
Most people park right along the sandbar however if you’re like me and don’t want to hear other people’s terrible music, you can find a more secluded spot in the lagoon, anchor it and walk to the sandbar.
It’s the perfect balance – plenty of people there, enough space to spread out, easy to park the boat and not far offshore. I’m actually not a huge fan of loud drunk people so during the week is my preferred time to go.
3. Shell Key – Pass-A-Grille South Channel
This is one of those places I found by accident on my way to Bunces Pass. Shell Key is known for exactly what it sounds like – it’s a great place to find sea shells.
Beyond that it’s a place where you can park your boat in another protected lagoon and believe it or not you can actually camp on their beach and have a bonfire as the sun goes down.
Shell Key as a whole is a great place to walk around but check out the pinpoint on the map above to see the lagoon I’m talking about. You can anchor on the outside of the barrier island no problem but when the ocean is a bit rough you’re better off going towards the protected space.
2. Pine Key – (Beer Can Island)
This is the go to party boat spot for people that live in Tampa. I typically stay on the St. Pete side but I did make it over here one time – on a Tuesday. My friend and I got to explore this beautiful little 11 acre island when it was nice and peaceful.
It’s a privately owned island which is built out to host weddings and private parties. Depending on the day you’re there you may see military aircraft taking off and landing at Macdill AFB, or maybe cruise ships and other large ships coming in and out of Tampa Bay in the dredged canal right near the island.
I’ve never been here when it’s crazy but if you look up their tags on instagram you’ll see the types of debauchery that goes down here. On their website they say regardless of the pictures you see online, you should expect to find a family friendly environment. With a bunch of drunk Tampan’s there I doubt it!!!
1. Weedon Island
Weedon Island is essentially a sandbar right in a residential neighborhood. This is a great place to not only go boating but also kayak and paddleboard in the mangroves. Depending on the time of year you more than likely will see some wildlife including dolphins and manatees roaming around these parts.
It’s in a protected area where you won’t really see boats rip by too fast and it’s also in Tampa Bay so it’s completely protected from the gulf which I would say is more like being on a lake than an unpredictable ocean. If you’re new to boating this might be a great place to start. Word of advice – Check the tide tables before you go out and anchor your boat accordingly at the right depth. Last time I was at Weedon Island we got really close to getting stuck after the tide went down and we were too busy drinking to notice.
Boating is an essential part of living the Florida lifestyle. Whether you buy your own boat, get a boat club membership through Freedom Boat Club or charter a boat with companies like Aqua Sol Adventures, it is necessary to get on the water and explore this beautiful area at least every once in a while.
If you have any questions about boating around here or want to buy a waterfront house to keep your boat, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text me at 727-307-1111. Thanks for reading!