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South beaches, Pinellas' paradise

The southern end of Pinellas' beaches is home to the crown jewel of sandy shores. Fort DeSoto Beach [3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde], named America's best beach in 2005, offers 7 miles of waterfront and almost 3 miles of white, sandy beach. The park includes two fishing piers with snack bars and live bait, kayak and bike rentals and a 7-mile paved path for cycling and skating. There's a $5 cash-only entry fee, which includes parking. When you leave the beach stop by Billy's Stonecrab [1 Collany Road, Tierra Verde; (727) 866-2115], where they offer a free boat tour of waterways. It departs just before sunset Wednesdays through Saturdays, weather permitting.

Pass-a-Grille is about one block wide and 31 blocks long, bordering the Gulf of Mexico. You'll find white sand and boutiques, galleries and restaurants, including the Hurricane [807 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-9558], a local institution famous for grouper sandwiches and a rooftop view of the sunset. The Brass Monkey [709 Gulf Way, Suite 200, St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-7620] has the best combination of crass and class. Relax on lounge chairs and enjoy Maryland-style crab cakes (called Monkey Balls).

The Loews Don CeSar Hotel [3400 Gulf Blvd.; (727) 360-1881] presides over St. Pete Beach in all its pink glory, a landmark visible for miles. The Don is known locally for dining, on its seaside terraces or in the acclaimed Maritana Grille. A favorite is the King Charles Room Sunday brunch, with more than 100 items. Behind the TradeWinds Island Resort [5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-6461], is the Splash Island Water Park, a 15,750-square-foot floating park and a giant inflatable slide. Beachgoers can also cruise the coastline on water scooters or take a Dolphin Watch cruise [4737 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-7411].

Treasure Island is still old Florida in many ways, with a funky, laid-back vibe and genuine beach bums. Caddy's on the Beach [9000 W Gulf Blvd.; (727) 360-4993] draws crowds at Sunset Beach for fried fare that's served on picnic tables on the beach with your toes in the sand. For an upscale meal, the Pearl Restaurant [163 107th Ave., Treasure Island; (727) 360-9151] features Mediterranean cuisine.

South beaches, Pinellas' paradise 08/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 5:03pm]

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