Over 20 million people visit the Tampa Bay area every year. Most of them are looking to either spend their vacation at the beach or spend their time fishing. Usually, it’s both. The problem is that the easy-to-access beaches and fishing spots can get crowded fast, especially during the snowbird season. Want to escape the crowds in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country? Then you need to head out to the islands near Tampa.
Tampa Bay and the surrounding waters are home to plenty of islands. As long as you have access to a boat, you can find private beaches and pristine fishing waters with ease.
So what are the best Florida islands in the area? Keep reading below to discover both the popular and the secret islands you can access from Tampa. Live south of the bay near Sarasota or Bradenton? Check out these 10 tips for navigating Sarasota Bay.
Boating in Tampa
Before you start dreaming of the island getaways and exotic sand beaches around Tampa, you’ll need to know how you’re getting there. Having the right Marine GPS is the first step in that process. Check out how to choose a marine gps app if you’re just getting started.
From Ft. Desoto through Ancolte, there are islands off almost every coastline. Whether you’re looking for beaches near St. Petersburg, fishing in Dunedin, or boating in Clearwater, Tampa Bay offers it all. And while there are a handful of islands that you can drive to, the best beaches are the ones you’ll need to take a boat to get to. Luckily, the Wavve Boating community is happy to share some of their top spots.
Top Islands Near Tampa
Ready for Tampa’s top oasis destinations? Here are some of the best islands to visit near the bay, with the best beaches, fishing locations, and wildlife that are sure to create some unique memories.
Caladesi Island State Park
The city of Clearwater sits on the northwest end of Old Tampa Bay. Just off the coast of Clearwater is Caldesi Island State Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the state. It offers unspoiled beaches, serene mangrove tunnels, and a nature trail that winds through stands of slash pine and old live oak trees. The park is only accessible by boat, though the adventurous may paddle their way on sea kayaks. There is also a paid ferry for those without their own watercraft. The island is uninhabited, but as a state park, it offers a few amenities. There is a marina, restrooms, and a cafe where you can eat or rent kayaks to explore the mangrove tunnels. The floating docks at the marina offer electrical and water hookups, making it a great place to camp overnight on larger boats.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Honeymoon Island State Park sits just a few hundred yards north of Caladesi Island State Park. While there is a bridge allowing visitors to drive to Honeymoon Island, you’ll need a boat if you want to access the northern portion…home to some of the county’s most pristine beaches. Many people will drive to the south end of Honeymoon Island, then paddle their way up to the northern stretches on kayak or paddle-board. When visiting by boat, beat the traffic and anchor on the north-west side of the island. If winds are too strong out of the west, tuck in on the east side, but don’t stray too far from the northern tip. There’s a no motor zone along the east side, best left to anglers with trolling motors.
With four miles of beaches to explore on the island, there’s plenty of space to get away from it all. Plus, the fishing along the beaches and coves is second to none. You’ll find flounder, seatrout, snook, pompano, Spanish mackerel, and other delicious species.
Three Rooker Island
Not too far north from Honeymoon Island is the crescent-shaped Three Rooker Island. It’s a small island that has only emerged from the gulf within the last 30 years. Erosion on other nearby islands led to sand bar build-up here. Once the sandbar was large enough, vegetation quickly took over, ensuring the stability of the island. This barrier island is accessible only to boaters. It’s a great place to anchor, explore, and fish.
Anclote Key Preserve State Park
To the north of Three Rooker Island is Anclote Key Preserve State Park. It’s comparable in size to Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island, but three miles off the coast, and without a bridge, the only access is by boat. Multiple ferry lines service the island. But private boaters are able to anchor along the sand bar. The blue-green waters that surround the island are mesmerizing and the white, sandy beaches are picturesque and empty. As a wildlife refuge, the island is home to 43 species of birds. Swimming and sunbathing are popular. Snorkeling in the calm, clear water is also enjoyable. Anclote Key Preserve State Park is also a great place to enjoy primitive camping. Bring a tent, food, and freshwater and you’ll get the best view of the stars in the Tampa area. There aren’t any provisions on the island, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient.
For the best place to anchor, we recommend the southernmost tip of Anclote Key. As you come out of the Anclote river channel, the southern tip will be the first thing you see. It is the easiest and quickest to reach. The channel can get busy on the weekends, so get out early and mind the wake!
Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto is the largest park in Pinellas County and sits on the southern end of St Petersburg. It’s made up of five interconnected islands, all of which are accessible by car. The park is popular with beachgoers, anglers, and campers. Fort De Soto campground is one of the most popular RV and tent camping locations in Southwest Florida, with sites available right on the water. With a dog beach, biking trails, and countless beaches to swim and fish from, this place is a must for any visitor to the Tampa area.
When visiting by boat, we recommend anchoring at “The Cove” located to the east of De Soto Point. This area is sheltered from the south and west and makes for easy anchoring. With it’s size and popularity De Soto Park is known to have officials patrolling the water. Avoid an unnecessary ticket and remember that boats can not be tied to mangroves or any other vegetation in the area.
Just north of Fort De Soto, off the coast of beautiful Tierra Verde, is Shell Key Preserve. There aren’t any bridges leading to the island, so the only people who can access it are those with a boat, or those paddling their kayaks from Fort de Soto. There are actually multiple islands that make up Shell Key Preserve, but Shell Key is the largest. It’s undeveloped and a true gem with shallow beaches lined with sand dollars. If you want a truly unique experience, and the chance to wake up to the sound of island waves, primitive camping is available by reservation throughout the year. The north end of Shell Key, near the Pass-a-Grille Channel offers picturesque views and protected beaches. It’s also one of the busier areas of the beach. To escape the crowd, head toward the south channel near Fort De Soto Park.
Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge sits at the mouth of Tampa Bay. It’s a vital location for various species, including nesting sea turtles, gopher tortoises, and tens of thousands of nesting birds. It’s also home to multiple historic sites that played a key role in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, including the Egmont Key Lighthouse. Visitation is open to the public, and there are daily state park employees who can be found around the island.
When exploring around Egmont Key, be sure to mind your tides and depth finders…Especially if you’re visiting from the south, around Passage Key. The shoals extend west off the tip of Egmont Key, and that beautiful shallow water can quickly become a trap.
Weedon Island is located on the north end of St Petersburg, inside the mouth of Tampa Bay. The state preserve is designated an Outstanding Florida Water and is surrounded by numerous small islands and hosts paddling and hiking trails. A small portion of the island is accessible by car and foot traffic, but the bulk of the preserve and sandbar requires a watercraft. Weedon Island is also the top water sports destination in the bay, with sandbars providing the perfect viewing area for locals. As you pull into the protected waters, around the south end of the island, you’ll see sandbars and other great areas to watch the ski boats. We recommend continuing north until you reach Riviera Bay. The water is deep, calm, and protected…the perfect place to raft up with friends and bust out the inflatables!
Fantasy Island is a small island in Hillsborough Bay, the portion of Tampa Bay that is closest to downtown. It’s a popular spot to anchor a boat for a day of sunbathing and swimming, just a short distance from the downtown harbors. Next time you’re boating near downtown Tampa or Davis Island, a quick stop at Fantasy Island keeps you close to the center of town while feeling a million miles away.
The best sand can be found on the north side of the island. Anchor up near the old pier, and you’ll be perfectly placed. Because Fantasy Island isn’t as popular (ie busy) as some of the other islands nearby and there’s a great sandbar, it’s quickly become one of our favorite islands to bring the dogs!
Beer Can Island
Beer Can Island has recently changed its name to Pine Island Tampa Bay. It sits just south of Fantasy Island and is much smaller, at just 11 acres. But what it loses in size, is made up for by the amenities and true island party atmosphere.
Beer Can Island (Pine Island) is privately owned and is equipped with numerous amenities, such as inflatable waterslides, a tiki bar, restrooms, and a dance floor that hosts parties and events throughout the week. The island is only open to members and their guests, but day passes are available on the island. The beach anchoring fills up quickly, so be sure to head out early. The main tiki bar area is on the southern tip of the island. We recommend looking to anchor along the northeast side to avoid the wind and make your return back north (to Tampa) easier.
There’s also another island by the name of Beer Can Island. It’s at the northern tip of Long Boat Key, not too far away near Sarasota. Though, not as built out with amenities, boating in Sarasota can be its own reward. Check out these 10 tips for navigating Sarasota Bay.
Bird Island (Clearwater Bay)
Situated along the Memorial Causeway to Clearwater Beach is a small spoil island often referred to as Bird Island. This tiny patch of sand and trees is a bird sanctuary and is accessible only by boat or kayak. Though small in size, this island is hard to miss on the weekends. Boaters love to anchor along the area, and it’s a great place to connect with friends on the water. Bird Island is one of the sandiest spots to anchor inside the protected waters of the area and it’s a safe place to watch the comings and goings of the busy harbor. The water can get shallow on the north side, so if your boat has more than a 12″ draft, stick to the south side where the water is a bit deeper.
Sitting right in the middle of Clearwater Bay is the smallest island on our list: One-Tree Island. The island is so small, in fact, that the name is accurate. There is only one tree on this island, accompanied by a flagpole and surrounded by plenty of incredible Florida sand. If you want to anchor your boat on a small, empty beach with views of Clearwater and Bellair Beach, this is your spot. At low tide, there’s a great sandbar on the east side of the island, which can expose sand dollars and fresh shells. This area of Clearwater is also home to some of the best dock-and-dine options in Tampa Bay .
Explore Tampa Bay Today
There are many other islands near Tampa, most of which are small and unnamed, however, they are all worth exploring. The best way to explore these beautiful, untouched islands is with a boat.
If you’re visiting the Tampa Bay area, and want to explore these pristine waters at your own pace, download Wavve Boating for routes, reviews, and live tides (available on the Apple Store and Google Play ). Wavve Boating allows you to connect, share, and explore our beautiful waterways. Together, we’re leading the future of marine navigation… all from the comfort of our phones – pretty cool right?