Hoards of spring breakers are already clogging the causeways and filling the beaches, just as they do every year. But 2019 is different: It’s poised to be the busiest spring break yet, with the area’s airports expecting to see 20,000 more people than on a typical day.

Related: Brutal winter brings spring breakers to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater in droves

We wondered: Is any beach safe? Does the steady stream of vacationers mean that we have to give up our own time in the sun? Where are we supposed to go on our staycations, if not the beach?

We asked our readers to weigh in. Here are their tips (plus a few of our own) in the Tampa Bay local’s guide to surviving spring break.

Spring breakers visit Clearwater Beach on Friday, March 18, 2011, around noon. Traffic heading to the beach was backed up all the way to the intersection of Hillcrest and Court St. on the mainland. Times (2011)
Spring breakers visit Clearwater Beach on Friday, March 18, 2011, around noon. Traffic heading to the beach was backed up all the way to the intersection of Hillcrest and Court St. on the mainland. Times (2011)

If you must visit the beach right now, here’s how to do it:

Thinking about going to Clearwater Beach? You may want to pick another beach. This is one of the most popular spots for tourists, especially since it was recently crowned TripAdvisor’s best beach in the country for the third time in the past four years. St. Pete Beach is another bustling area to avoid until the stream of visitors dies down.

The easiest way to escape the chaos of spring break is to avoid the beaches entirely. But if you’re still keen on enjoying the sun and sand, head to less crowded spots. Our readers suggested Fred Howard Park, Egmont Key State Park, Bunce’s Pass, Sunset Beach and the northern point of Longboat Key. You might also have some luck at Shell Key Preserve or Caladesi Island State Park, which can only be accessed by the public ferry or a private boat or kayak.

Once you pick a less popular beach, avoid peak visiting times (mid-morning to early afternoon is the worst time period to go). Aim for sunrise or sunset to find relief from the hottest parts of the day as well as the biggest crowds.

“I go to the beach after 4 p.m. during the summer,” said Times web producer Martha Asencio-Rhine. “People are usually leaving by then. There’s parking, open sand, a lovely afternoon light that is not blinding, a gorgeous breeze, and the best part is you cruise right into sunset. Grab food and have a picnic dinner.“

Traffic backed up between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge and Clearwater Beach is a typical scene on most weekend days for commuters going to and coming from the beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Traffic backed up between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge and Clearwater Beach is a typical scene on most weekend days for commuters going to and coming from the beach. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

Brace yourself for traffic

If you thought it’d be hard to find a place to spread your beach towel, wait until you have to hunt down a parking spot. The roads. Will. Be. Disastrous.

Consider taking an Uber or Lyft to avoid dealing with the hell that is beach parking. You might experience price surges during peak times, but you’d probably have to pay for beach parking anyway.

If you do decide to take your chances at Clearwater Beach, the Clearwater Ferry is the best way to skip stop-and-go traffic on the causeway. Park for free on the mainland and enjoy a ride to and from the beach. It only costs $4 for an adult to ride each way, and you can book your ticket ahead of time.

Even if you aren’t planning on having a day of fun in the sun, you still will probably feel the impact from all of the visitors on the roads.

“Avoid Courtney B. Campbell Causeway and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard if possible," recommends Times reporter Charlie Frago. "If not, prepare for incredibly dumb driving and daily crashes, almost always with out-of-state plates (NY, looking at you.)”

Here are more tips from our readers on Facebook:

  • Sondra Slider: “Stay home, keep doors and car locked! This too shall pass!”
  • Mary Ann Tharpe-riskus: “Stay away from Clearwater Beach.”
  • Teresa Clark: “STAY HOME and off any beach-bound roads like 60, west bound....”
  • Angel Torres: “If you’re gonna drive slow please stay off the left lane.”
  • Ken Gibson: “Avoid driving near Spectrum Field when the Phillies are playing.”

Avoid the beaches altogether and enjoy some of Tampa Bay’s other attractions

This is a view of Howard Solomon's castle. The wall gets their shiny look from the use of old metal metal printing plates. Solomon calls his work a hobby that got out of hand, speaking of the castle, museum and restaurant he built in the middle of nowhere, which is part studio and part bizarre tourist attraction in Ona, Florida. [PHIL SHEFFIELD | Times]
This is a view of Howard Solomon's castle. The wall gets their shiny look from the use of old metal metal printing plates. Solomon calls his work a hobby that got out of hand, speaking of the castle, museum and restaurant he built in the middle of nowhere, which is part studio and part bizarre tourist attraction in Ona, Florida. [PHIL SHEFFIELD | Times]

Let’s say you’ve decided the beaches are more trouble than they’re worth. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy living where others vacation.

“This time of year is a great time to visit the amazing city and county parks in Tampa Bay,” said Kristen Hare, the author of 100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die. “Stroll through Lettuce Leaf Park in Tampa, climb the temple mound at Emerson Point Preserve in Palmetto, or head to Medard Park in Plant City and see the above-ground root jungle.”

Big Cat Rescue offers tours of its animal sanctuary that include feedings, enrichment with toys and more. [Photo from Big Cat Rescue]
Big Cat Rescue offers tours of its animal sanctuary that include feedings, enrichment with toys and more. [Photo from Big Cat Rescue]

“Winter (the world-famous dolphin featured in two theatrical movies) will be getting tons of love in Clearwater, so instead, take the kids to see the wild cats at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and the wild birds at Seaside Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores,” said Hare, who reports for Poynter in St. Petersburg as well as the Tampa Bay Times. “And if you want to get out of town, it’s perfect weather for a day at beautiful Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, or a tour into the wonderfully bizarre at Solomon’s Castle in Ona.”

Are you getting hungry? “Try for the restaurants and bars that tourists will likely miss, like the restaurant/proper tea room at The Chattaway in St. Pete, the award-winning Leaven Brewing Company in Riverview, and the monument to taxidermy at Linger Lodge in Bradenton,” Hare said.

Jaidyn Beckom, of Newnan, Georgia, claims her chair for lunch at Chattaway. Times (2009)
Jaidyn Beckom, of Newnan, Georgia, claims her chair for lunch at Chattaway. Times (2009)

Here are more beach alternatives:

What other tips do you have for braving spring break in Tampa Bay? Let us know in the comments.