Wherever you are in Tampa Bay, you're less than an hour from a gulf shore. Spontaneous beaching happens.
You may wind up on an unplanned outing to one of the shores without your bikini or trunks. Or, you're already there with vacationing friends who invite you to stay for dinner and cocktails — but you've got nothing on except a sandy swimsuit and short shorts. And let's not forget that a wardrobe malfunction — a broken sandal strap, a revealing rip — can happen any time.
Whether unprepared, overexposed or hobbling on one foot, you sometimes need somewhere to shop for clothing on the beach — stat.
From Pass-a-Grille to Clearwater Beach, a surprising variety of independent shops are selling clothes that won't make you look like you blend in with the patio furniture. Forgo the neon tourist chain stores and opt for a local shop that's walking distance from the Gulf of Mexico. Most of them offer a discount for locals and surprisingly sweet deals.
Dody Beach Boutique: A cool shop in its own right and fashion go-to in quaint, historical Pass-a-Grille, Dody's has a trendy selection of swimwear and more. Women after a two-piece swimsuit that doesn't look like the same ol' string bikini should check out the selection here. 107 Eighth Ave., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-4589; dodyboutique.com.
The Swim Boutique: A family-owned retail outlet with a long history on the beaches, Swim Boutique has locations in both St. Pete Beach and Indian Shores and provides a stellar variety of suits for plus sizes and larger cup sizes (through F; fittings provided). Men can shop here, too, and there's clothing and toys for the kids. 19501 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores; (727) 596-9944; 6650 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-3500; theswimboutique.com.
Tracey's Treasures: One of the most welcoming and affordable stops on the beach shop hop, Tracey's is a little boutique that's big on charm. Convertible scarves and cover-ups ($22.50) provide a variety of looks — from poncho to off-the-shoulder top to wrap-around skirt — in both prints and solids to go with any bathing suit. Stylish sunglasses with bifocal lenses ($12.50) are indispensable for reading in the midday sun, and a smart beaded clutch with a rhinestone-studded skull clasp ($28.50) adds punk-rock elegance to any ensemble. 10621 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island; (727) 623-4999; facebook.com/traceystreasureswebsite
Nekton Surf Shop: An ideal stop for aquatic athletes, Nekton is personable and accommodating with sales of sandals and apparel for both men and women, and a 10 percent discount for locals. Ladies, look for the Billabong "Happy Place" cotton dress with macrame neckline that works both as a cover-up or a trendy tunic on the town ($44.95). Watches and sporting goods are also available and you can even rent a paddleboard there — $60 for a full day; $35 for 4 hours or $10 per hour (minimum two hours). 1313 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; 727-593-8292; nektonsurf.com.
Splash Boutique: With super-friendly service and a 10 percent locals discount, Splash has some snazzy looks for after-beach fun times. Splash stocks quality beauty products like Bumble and Bumble if you forget your shampoo while staying at the beach. It's also connected to Clever Training, an athletic fashion and sporting goods store owned by the same proprietor. Look for yoga wear in stock at Splash in the near future. 1519 Gulf Blvd, Indian Rocks Beach, (727) 565-4675. thesplashboutique.com.
Shoppes on Sand Key: An entire column could be devoted to this eclectic collection of shops in the center by the Columbia Restaurant, a few hundred feet from the Sheraton and Sand Key Park. Head to Onyx for Audrey Hepburn-style mod fashions, but be prepared to splurge. Jayla, a new boutique on the strip, has a more affordable selection with stylish plus-size sundresses. Star Beach & Sport stocks gorgeous cotton blouses and dresses made in Italy by Tempo, and Poolside has the biggest variety of sophisticated fashion, footwear and swimwear, with an adjacent shop just for men. The Merry Mouse looks like a tacky tourist store at first glance, but carries a surprisingly impressive variety of swim trunks for men for as low as $10. Bonus: You can fuel your shopping trip at the Shoppes with brunch and a mimosa at Shorty's Gourmet Deli, located on the back deck, overlooking the Intracoastal waterway. 1261 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater; (727) 596-8465; sand-key.com/directory.
Freaky Tiki Surf Shack: An extensive selection of trendy, youthful casual wear, some of it made locally. Our shopping experience was somewhat marred by a surly young sales clerk, hopefully an anomaly. Either way, you can find what you need in a fashion emergency at Freaky Tiki. Fun fact: The Clearwater Beach mainstay has been visited by the likes of Bernie Sanders on his last campaign stump and the late, great Robin Williams a few years back. 458 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater; (727) 466-6775; Freaky-Tiki.com.