Stories of Pass-A-Grille, Florida beckoned me during my winter stay in Florida.
Like a mermaid rising from the ocean, I drew up from my blanket on Pass-A-Grille Beach (PAG) on a wintery day in January. Paradise.
From horizon to sea, I saw a blank slate. What could Monet do with this vista I thought!
Located at the southernmost tip of St. Petersburg Beach, this retro beach town could be a Key West-by-way-of-Gulf-Coast haunt for Hemingway. Time slows down and sometimes stops here. It was a weekend getaway during my stay at Clearwater.
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Historic Pass-A-Grille, Florida
Pass-A-Grille, Florida is beach town USA circa 1950s. Drive over to a beachside restaurant for a burger. Buy an ice cream cone. Fish off the pier. Jump in a motor boat. Fly a kite.
But the town dates back centuries. According to the travel bureau, Indians hunted the prairies and fished the waters of what later became Pass-A-Grille for 10,000 years.
“According to legend, it is thought that Pass-A-Grille derives its name from the French Passe aux Grilleurs. In 1857, John Gomez self styled ‘last of the pirates’, began bringing excursionists here from Tampa which gave this area the distinction of perhaps being the oldest resort on Central Florida’s West Coast.”
I did a driving tour of PAG (since I was cold) and no walking tours were offered on this cold January. Stopping continuously on the main drag that parallels the Gulf, I took photos of houses through my window. When I could find a place to park, I jumped out to photograph the homes.
I saw every vintage of house from seaside shack to millionaire’s mansion. This is a Crayola crayon town. Houses are painted foam green, coral and lemon yellow. You walk through a rainbow of abode. The median price is $500,000. A 2-bedroom high rise condo on Gulf Blvd. costs $800,000+.
Pass-a-Grille, Florida is a “walkable” city. I can picture neighbors crisscrossing paths at sunrise and sunset. I suspect a lot of dogs live here. Who wouldn’t want to wake up and rush out to greet the Gulf of Mexico, wave at a pelican and swim with fishes?
And bicycling is BIG in PAG. During my visit, I saw scores of early morning bicyclists, including parents and children. You could safely allow your child to rise her bicycle with training wheels here. Cars brake instead of whooshing by.
I know I would have bicycle every day if I lived here. Because why would I get in my car, when I can feel the wind on my face and fly like an eagle? PAG is definitely Bike Beach Town USA. There is no better way to get around in my opinion.
For those who prefer to exercise their wrist by holding a fish rod, Pass-A-Grille, Florida welcomes fisherfolk. The historic Merry Pier will walk you back in time. Billed as a “world famous fishing and boating destination,” Merry Pier offers such common catches as flounder, snapper, snook, redfish and mackerel.
“Here you’ll find a friendly store, boat excursions, a fresh fish market, and fabulous fishing . . . Both live and frozen bait are available for sale. Rod, tackle and bicycle rentals and sales are available, too. Drop in at the Fresh Fish Market for right-off-the-boat whole and filleted snapper, grouper, shrimp and more.”
Daytime adventures include booking the historic party boat, christened Miss Pass-A-Grille, for half or full day trip. Offshore Hustler is available for private deep sea fishing charters. And Shell Key Shuttle offers excursions to Shell Key Preserve. Book this adventure if you enjoy shelling, bird watching and dolphin watching. You can also reserve sunset cruises.
Gift From The Sea
For me, Pass-A-Grille, Florida was an escape ticket from the stress of city life complicated by the pandemic. I came down here to seek the Gift from the Sea—serenity. Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote the “immitable, beloved classic” during her brief vacation by the sea at Sanibel Island in Florida in 1955. Its truths don’t lie. Lindberg writes:
“The (Sanibel Island) beach is not the place to work, to read, write or thing . . . One is forced against one’s mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the seashores. Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules.”—Anne Morrow Lindberg
Pass-A-Grille Beach Time
Snuggling in my thin ski jacket (as who needs a warm coat in Florida), I sat down on the steps and dug my tennis shoes into the sand. The sea oats flapped in the breeze. Tufts of green held soldier’s pose. Marshmellow clouds billowed in the blue quilt sky. For me, Pass-A-Grille Florida was paradise.
Following a wise woman’s advice, I just told my mind to shut up. Meditating on the waves that lapped up shoreside, I watched their arrival, then departure. I heard a whistling in my ears that might have been the mermaid’s song.
Trip Advisor lists Pass-A-Grill as #2 of things to do in St. Petersburg. Visitors write siren songs to time spent in Pass-A-Grille, especially during the pandemic. “Escape commercialism.” “Laid back, comfortable lifestyle.” “Uncrowded.”
“This is best beach around! Beautiful sand, blue water a few people! So many shells I had to stop collecting. Parking is limited so get there early during spring and summer.”
“If you want a touch of Key West around St Pete, then this beach is the place to go.”
The crisp cold wind blowing across my face in January erased all thoughts of deadlines as I worked remotely in Florida. It also wiped away all warmth, leaving a healthy pink glow on my cheeks.
There is no free parking at Pass-A-Grille Beach so make sure that you bring coins or a credit card. I jumped out of my car several times in the parking lot that fronts the beach. But you can be sure that I jumped right back into the car unless I paid. Meters start at $3.25 an hour. Paystations are strategicall located all down Gulf Way until 1st Avenue.
“Be mindful of their location and how much time you have on the meter!”
The city raised the price due to enhanced cleaning and sanitation efforts due to COVID.
The Don Cesar
Moreover, pink is the dominant color of Pass-A-Grille thanks to its famous neighbor. The Don Cesar Hotel is world-renown . . . and not just for its Pepto pink exterior. This grand dame of Florida’s Gulf Coast opened in 1928 so it’s a Gatsby gal. The countdown is just seven years until its 100th birthday.
Celebrities included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Clarence Darrow stayed at the Pink Palace. The hotel also served in the Great War.
“With a sugar-fine beach, radiant sunsets, a world-class spa, and a vibrant food scene, you really can have it all. More than a landmark, The Don is epic style. Timeless. Majestic. Cool.”
The hotel likes to describe its style of service as dating from “the Great Gatsby era of pampering.” I know that Nick would have enjoyed partying on its rooftop. I could just imagine Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce pulling up at the hotel, although I am sure that they would also have parked Nick’s Dodge.
One day I hope to stay at the “Legendary Pink Palace®” at least for a weekend. I would order a gin rickey. I wonder if they could dye it pink?
Ring The Bell
I missed this featured attraction as I visited Pass-A-Grille, Florida in the morning while enroute to a St. Pete’s city tour. But the nightly sunset bell ringing at Pass-A-Grille is a beloved tradition.
“Over the past decades, thousands of people have joined the Pass-A-Grille tradition to ring the bell and sign the bell’s guest books which are kept at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum on 10th Avenue.”
And now during the 2020-2021 Pandemic, traditions are held even more dear. Weddings, anniversaries, engagements and birthdays are all celebrated in misty-eyed fashion.
Sadly, my two Siamese cats didn’t get to enjoy PAG’s streets or beaches, because they refuse to transform into adventure cats and walk on a lease. But dog lovers should know that “PAT is dog-friendly everywhere with the exception of the beach on the Gulf side.”
Pet parents can bring their dogs to many restaurants in Pass-A-Grille, Florida which offer outdoor pet-friendly seating, including Grace, Berkeley, Sea Critters and Hurricane. According to the city’s travel bureau, “a couple of small inns are also dog-friendly (Coconut Inn, Havana Inn, and Islands End.)