Best of St Pete Beach



Fort Desoto Park

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Above: Egmont Key and Gulf Pier as viewed from atop the fort.

Where: Located off 54th Avenue South in St. Petersburg. From Interstate 275 take the 54th Ave South exit, just north of the Skyway Bridge. From St. Pete Beach, take the Pinellas Bayway S.R. 682 (at the Don Cesar) east. Turn south on S.R. 679 and drive south for about 5 miles to Fort Desoto County Park. There is a 50 cent toll on the Bayway, and another 35 cent toll to get to the park. 

Entrance Fee: There is a $5 per car entrance fee. An annual parking pass is available. Cars with a valid disabled perking permit or tag do not have to pay the entrance fee. Pedestrians and bicycles entering the park do not have to pay the entrance fee.

Parking: Plenty of FREE parking inside the park.

Hours: Park is open 7am until dark. The fishing piers are open 7 am to 11 pm and admission is free.

Beach Facilities: Restrooms, outdoor showers to rinse off, food concession, 2 fishing piers, cool fort with cannons, hiking trails, canoe and kayak rental, bike rentals, beautiful waterfront campground, boat launch ramp with lots of parking, ferry to Egmont Key, hundreds of picnic tables, historic stuff, nature stuff.

Lifeguards: Sometimes has a lifeguard on East Beach and on North Beach. Not always.

Food concession: Yes, there is a food concession right next to the Gulf pier, and another one just north of the Fort, near the bike rentals.

Trolley Stop: Unfortunately, no. You'll need a car to get here from St. Pete Beach or St. Petersburg.

Surfing hot-spot: Forget about it.

Fort Desoto is the largest park in the Pinellas County Park system and comprises 5 islands totalling 1,136 acres of land: Mullet Key, Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, and Bonne Fortune Key. The main island is Mullet Key. The park is named after the fort built on the islands in the late 1900's to guard the entrance to Tampa Bay. The island is undeveloped (meaning no houses or commercial buildings). Pinellas County tries to remove invasive plant species and preserve the native vegetation so that the park appears much as it would have in the days of Hernando Desoto and Ponce de Leon. More than one writer has remarked on the strangeness that in the densely populated Pinellas County, such a beautiful and natural park can be reached with just a short drive.

There are sidewalks connecting all areas of the park. The sidewalks are wide and are used by hikers, bikes, in-line skaters, and raccoons. Spring and Summer weekends bring significant crowds to the park. Plan to arrive by 10am on weekends and holidays or expect heavy traffic.

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Above: miles of sidewalks in Fort Desoto Park.

Fort Desoto Beaches

East Beach

After you enter Fort Desoto Park you will come to a crossroads with the Park Headquarters (marked by a gigantic American Flag) right in front of you. East beach is to your left just a short distance. The parking lot is huge, the picnic area is huge and shaded and has several picnic pavillions. Lifeguards are on duty during posted hours. There is playground equipment for kids.

east beach at fort desoto park.jpg

This beach is located on Tampa Bay, and is really not a Gulf Beach. So there is no surf here. This beach is heavily used, but more by people having picnics. It's great for a family gathering. There is plenty of grassy and palm trees (great for kids that like to run around). You can see the Skyway Bridge from the beach. The beach is nice for sunbathing or taking a walk, but I don't care for swimming here in the bay. I'd rather swim in the Gulf.

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Above: lots of picnic pavilions and shaded tables at east beach and north beach.

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Above: a typical parking lot at Fort Desoto Park.

Bay Pier Beach

The Bay Pier Beach is west of Park Headquarters. The focal point of this beach is the 500 foot Bay Fishing Pier. There is a sandy beach on both sides of the pier, but signs warn against swimming because of strong water currents. It's a great place to fish, and you will find people fishing 24 hours a day.

bay pier at fort desoto park.jpg

If you are looking for a place to sunbathe during winter day with a cold north wind, this is a south-facing beach and would be sheltered from the wind. It is also close to Dog Beach, so you might encounter dogs on the beach (although they should be on a leash). Walk out on the pier and you may get lucky and see some playful dolphins. They frequently visit the pier.

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Dog Beach

Dog Beach is just north of the Bay Pier and features a fenced doggy playground where Snoopy can run around without a leash. Doggies really love the beach, and you can bring them out onto the beach and take them for a swim.

Gulf Pier to North Beach

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Above: the view from atop the fort.

This is one of the most popular stretches of beach. Long and crescent shaped with lots of sea oats and other vegetation on the upper beach, it is popular with sunbathers and people walking up and down the beach.  A lot of people swim here, but signs prohibit swimming because of strong currents. I like strolling this section of beach because there are often live shells here. It can be a great place to find live olive shells. They are so beautiful and shiny when living.

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Above: living Lettered Olive shell on Fort Desoto Beach.

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Above: The Fort Desoto Fishing Pier reaches 1,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico.

North Beach

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Above: a quiet evening on North Beach.

North Beach is where most people go. There is a designated swim area with a lifeguard, lots of wooded areas with picnic tables, restrooms, grassy areas, and a gigantic paved parking area. There is an inland tidal lagoon with oyster beds, mangroves, and tidal flats. This supports a wide variety of plants and animals.

On the Gulf side, you can walk north to Bunces Pass where you can see Shell Key on the other side of the pass.

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Above: the North Beach designated swim area.

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Above: just in case you were wondering...

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Above: the beach facilities at North Beach.

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Above: between Gulf Pier and North Beach. Lots of beach to walk. This is my favorite beach on Fort Desoto.

Bird's-eye 360 panorama of Fort Desoto Park on the Bay News 9 website.


 See my review of the Sharkwater documentary film on my Best Florida Beaches blog



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