Treasure Island, known for its long stretches of beach and retro architecture – as well as its liberal open-container laws – is both a sleepy beach town and a bustling tourist destination. Treasure Island is now a popular vacation and beach home destination, with beachfront condos, luxury homes, and single-family residential communities with boat docks.
Between Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island is a 3.8-mile barrier island that incorporates five separate islands into one city, and includes three distinct beaches. There’s Sunshine Beach to the north and Sunset Beach to the south, but in the middle is the Municipal Beach, but it is owned and maintained by the City of St. Petersburg. The island is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on its west side and Boca Ciega Bay on the east side.
Treasure Island was settled in the early 1900s after the state sold the land to a developer in 1908 for $1.25 an acre. The first hotel was built in 1915, and there’s been no looking back.
The island got its name in 1918, when (depending on the account) a hotelier or investor who held an option to purchase the island came up with the gimmick of burying and then digging up one or more faux treasure chests filled with lead to encourage the sale. It worked: the land was sold and the name stuck.
In many ways, Treasure Island still maintains a midcentury Florida vibe. Incorporated in 1955, the town still has many of the hotels opened during a post-war building boom. These independent and mom-and-pop hotels and motels give the island an air of nostalgia, and limit the number of chain hotels.
The beaches cater to a wide range of vacationers – both families and LGBTQ visitors are welcome – with some raucous spots but also quiet and peaceful stretches.
Treasure Island Beaches
The main stretch of sand between Sunshine and Sunset beaches, including the City of St. Petersburg’s Municipal Beach is notable for being extremely wide. Walking to the shoreline can take more than five minutes in the middle of the main island.
The sand itself is quite shelly, so if your feet are sensitive, keep those flip-flops on. The beach is loaded with sand dunes growing wispy sea oats, waxy sea grapes, cabbage palms and bright yellow dune sunflowers.
The Gulf of Mexico along the barrier island is usually blue and green and fairly clear, depending on the time of year. It ranges from flat and glassy to slightly choppy, with moderate waves, making it perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, boogie boarding and skimboarding. It also stays shallow for a long stretch, so you’re able to go out pretty far without the water getting too deep.
Be aware that the shore is home to a wide variety of sea life, including stingrays, which like to lie on the bottom, often covered with sand. It’s wise to shuffle your feet when entering the water to warn the stingrays and avoid getting stung. Read more in our visitor information section here.
Like any barrier island, beach erosion is a big problem here. The beaches frequently need to be renourished, so you may want to check the town’s website to see if there are any large amounts of sand being pumped onto the place you’d rather be sunbathing. Such projects are usually announced months in advance.
Here you’ll find everyone from families with kids frolicking in the water, to college kids on spring break blasting music and throwing a football, to couples having a picnic, to retirees collecting shells along the shore. Kids will shriek with delight for the chance to ride down a huge inflatable waterslide or to go airborne on a bungee trampoline that’s found on the beach directly in front of Gulf Front Park at 104th Avenue. Every Sunday evening at sunset, a large drum circle forms on the beach in this same area.
The Treasure Island Beach Trail is a paved walkway directly behind a mile of beachfront hotels. It’s wide enough that people can bike, skate or walk, and is the only area of the beach where dogs are permitted. A low wall runs along it, which makes for a nice to place to sit and people-watch or catch the live music from an outdoor hotel bar.
There are public restrooms and showers at Sunset Beach Pavilion, 8000 W Gulf Blvd.; Gulf Front Park, 104th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard; and the City of St. Petersburg Municipal Beach Lot at 112th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.
The city’s beach rules and regulations are available here.
The northernmost beach goes on for about seven blocks, starting just south of the John’s Pass Bridge. The north end of the island features a concrete walkway dotted with benches along the rocky pass, leading to a jetty in the Gulf of Mexico.
A few Australian Pines make for a shady stroll along the walkway, which is a prime spot for watching boats go to and fro through John’s Pass. The sand is softer and deeper here, but the expanse is much narrower, making it easier to schlep your gear out to the water. It’s a much less populated stretch of beach, more residential than commercial, so you’ll see more couples and retirees than families with small children or teenagers.
Pretty close to the center of Treasure Island, the City of St. Petersburg owns and maintains a portion of the beach. You can enter it at 11260 Gulf Blvd., where there’s a parking lot and a snack bar.
As you walk through the retro snack bar, you’ll find they sell all your beach needs right there, including towels, floats, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. In addition to the usual fare, the snack bar also offers sangria and mimosas. There’s a playground there for kids to enjoy, and volleyball nets are available.
The expanse of beach here is the widest of the island.
The beach at the southern end of Treasure Island starts after the intersection of Gulf Boulevard and 1st Street Southeast, making a right turn from the main drag to become West Gulf Boulevard (Gulf Boulevard crosses Blind Pass to St. Pete Beach and becomes Blind Pass Road).
Sunset Beach is mostly between two rocky jetties, and the expanse of sand narrows significantly, so much so that on crowded days it can be hard to stake a claim. Because of the jetties, when winds are high, the waves swell and it’s not uncommon to see surfers. A boardwalk is a lovely stroll providing great photo-ops of the beach.
Sunset Beach is also largely residential, making the area practically its own island on an island. Its inhabitants tend to be of the “island-life” mentality and accept guests of all lifestyles, making it popular with the LGBTQ community.
The hotel’s iconic neon sign greets you as soon as you arrive on Gulf Boulevard from 107th Avenue. The gulfside resort is directly on the beach and has been there since 1957. It features rooms with kitchenettes and incredible views, two pools and a jacuzzi.
A retro–style hotel with affordable rooms directly on the beach. This one features a kids’ pool and, true to its Florida roots, a shuffleboard court.
TREASURE ISLAND BEACH RESORT
This high-end resort opened in 2016 and offers luxury amenities, including poolside food and beverage services.
SUNSET INN AND COTTAGES
A recently renovated Old Florida motel that’s steps from Sunset Beach. There are six rooms and a penthouse suite, all stylishly designed and furnished.
Food & Drink
VIP LOUNGE AND MEXICAN RESTAURANT
This full liquor dive bar serving Mexican-American eats is extremely popular with local and tourists, but has limited seating, so be prepared to wait.
A sports bar and grill with plenty of TV screens, bar food with a seafood slant and live music. It’s a gathering place for bikers, but think motorcycle clubs, not gangs. They also offer brunch.
Possibly the best Cuban sandwiches this side of Ybor City, along with black bean soup, deviled crab and papas rellenas. The Old Florida-style restaurant has a porch for dining, but the sandwiches are perfect for a picnic on the beach.
A Mediterranean/Moroccan fine dining restaurant with an emphasis on seafood and an extensive wine list. Open for dinner only.
IKKI WOO WOOS TIKI HUT
The tiny drink stand on the pool deck of the Thunderbird Resort features authentic Tiki drinks like the Zombie (be careful) and a wide variety of frozen concoctions. Grab a seat and enjoy live music and beach views.
CADDY’S ON THE BEACH
The Sunset Beach landmark is directly on the sand and offers free lounge chairs and umbrellas while you enjoy drinks, food and live music. Please refer to the beach drinking section to see why it’s so popular.
SEA DOG BREWING COMPANY
Enjoy craft beer, burgers, seafood and pub favorites while enjoying the view of the Blind Pass waterway at this chain location.
Getting to Treasure Island
Tampa Bay is served by two airports. Tampa International Airport (TPA) St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). All of the major airlines fly in and out of TPA, while Allegiant is the sole large commercial carrier to and from PIE. Ground transportation, including shuttles, rental cars and cabs, is available at both airports.
Treasure Island can be accessed from St. Petersburg via Central Avenue. Take Interstate 275’s Fifth Avenue North exit and cut over to Central Ave., or use U.S. Highway 19 to reach Central, then follow it all the way to Treasure Island. Note that Central becomes the Treasure Island Causeway as it leaves St. Petersburg, then becomes 107th Avenue as it ends on State Road 699, a.k.a. Gulf Boulevard. There is no toll on the causeway’s drawbridge, but it does frequently open for passing boats.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority offers a few routes to Gulf Boulevard that get you close to Treasure Island. The Central Avenue Trolley from downtown St. Petersburg goes to St. Pete Beach to the south, while bus route 68 goes from St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square Mall to John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach, just north of Treasure Island. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority operates its Suncoast Beach Trolley service along the length of Gulf Boulevard, with stops clearly marked. A schedule is here.
Since Treasure Island is only 3.8 miles long, it’s easy to get around by walking, biking or taking the Suncoast Trolley that runs up and down the beach daily. Uber and Lyft also are available, as are taxi services, but remember that you are quite literally on an island out here, so waits may be longer during off-peak times. A Free Beach Ride service operates similar to Uber or Lyft and runs from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Drivers work on tips only.
Treasure Island is only a 15 minute drive from the galleries, museums and restaurants of downtown St. Petersburg. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Central Avenue Trolley runs from St. Pete Beach to downtown St. Petersburg daily, although the trip does take an hour.
The Tampa Bay Ferry and Taxi lets you tour Treasure Island and Madeira Beach by boat via Boca Ciega Bay, and also takes you to the mainland at St. Petersburg’s Jungle Prada neighborhood.