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Insider’s guide to Treasure Island: About the beach, planning your trip, where to park

Noted for its vast expanse of beach and retro architecture — and generous open-container laws — Treasure Island is at turns a sleepy beach town and a bustling tourist destination.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.

Plan your trip

Tampa Bay is served by two airports: Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Hillsborough and St. Pete/Clearwater Airport in Pinellas (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.

Parking

Like any barrier island community, there is little space to park your car during busy periods, although Treasure Island has more public lots than many other towns.There is some free parking at a few beach access points. Look for the blue and orange signs that say Treasure Island Beach Access and have a P in a green circle. If that symbol has a line through it, you can’t park there at all. Most have meters, but the one at 127th Avenue at Sunshine Beach is free. Otherwise you’ll have to opt for one of the open, uncovered lots across the key that have pay stations or meters that accept credit cards. Parking is $2 per hour, but there is a discount for parking all day.

The city provides several bird-themed beach parking lots on its website:

  • style="font-weight: 400;">Heron Lot, Bay Shore Drive and 75th Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • style="font-weight: 400;">Tern Lot, West Gulf Boulevard at 77th to 79th Avenues, next to Sunset Beach Pavilion
  • style="font-weight: 400;">Ring-Billed Gull Lot, West Gulf Boulevard and 81st Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • style="font-weight: 400;">Black Skimmer Lot, West Gulf and 80th Avenue, across from Sunset Beach Pavilion
  • style="font-weight: 400;">Brown Pelican Lot, West Gulf Boulevard and 88th Avenue, Sunset Beach
  • style="font-weight: 400;">Sandpiper Lot, Gulf Boulevard and 100th Avenue, mid-island
  • style="font-weight: 400;">White Egret Lot, 126th Avenue, Sunshine Beach

There's also public parking in the Community Center lot at 106th Avenue and Park Place (behind the Walgreen's) and the Gulf Front Park lot, at 104th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.

]]>Finally, the Municipal Lot, which is not owned by the city of Treasure Island, is at 112th Avenue & Gulf Boulevard.
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