There's no need to travel far for a getaway when we have some of the world's best beaches right in our backyard. Sandwiched between Clearwater Beach to the north and St. Pete Beach to the south, Indian Shores beckons with miles of coastline, spectacular sunsets, abundant wildlife and locally-owned restaurants. Discover the best of this Gulf Coast destination with our itinerary for the perfect weekend away.
Like Longboat Key, Indian Shores is primarily residential. You won't find huge hotels and resorts here. Rather, the coastline is a mix of cozy beach cottages, vacation rentals and condos.
If you're just planning to stay for a few nights, check out local vacation rentals like The New Hotel Indian Shores, which offers condo rentals with amenities like two communal beachfront pools. For my recent trip, my family and I booked a beachfront vacation home through TurnKey. It was so nice having all of the comforts of home with the flexibility to cook meals instead of dining out each night. Plus, we didn't have to bring any beach gear since our rental had beach chairs, umbrellas, toys and even a beach wagon.
For a longer stay, check out Sarah's Seaside (7-night minimum) in nearby Indian Rocks Beach. This beachfront property is home to several adorable cottages ranging in size from 1 to 3 bedrooms.
You're at the beach, so the first order of business is soaking up the sun! Because Indian Shores is so residential, the beach is much more low-key than larger, more popular nearby beaches like Clearwater Beach.
The beach is also wonderful for walking in the morning and at sunset. As you stroll, you may come across roped off areas protecting colonies of black skimmers, which commonly nest on Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach. These shorebirds are entertaining to watch as they skim the water with their bills open to catch fish. Keep your eyes out for other wildlife including manatees, dolphins and schools of stingrays, all of which I spotted during my stay.
Feel like changing up the scenery? Head north to Sand Key Beach and Indian Rocks Beach, or travel south to Madeira Beach, home to the lively John's Pass Village & Boardwalk.
No beach vacation is complete without at least one round of mini golf. Enjoy a playful date at this 18-hole, pirate themed course, which is surprisingly challenging. If you're lucky enough to get a hole in one, you'll get to roll a dice after completing the course. If the number you roll corresponds to the hole on which you got the hole in one, you'll win a free game. You can also buy beer and wine onsite.
For a sunset cruise with a twist, head to nearby Madeira Beach where you can hop on a private boozy sunset cruise with Florida Tiki Tours. These floating tikis can accommodate groups of up to 4 or 6. All tours are private, and you're allowed to bring your own alcohol on board to sip during the 90-minute cruise. Keep your eyes out for dolphins! Pricing starts at $149.99 for daytime tours and $169.99 for sunset.
If you're interested in learning more about the local wildlife, and birds in particular, visit the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, a beachfront wildlife rehabilitation facility. Admission is free! The small 3-acre facility is home to an assortment of resident birds, as observation tower, education center and more.
You'll feel like you're in a secret garden while sipping your morning coffee at this local coffee shop. Lush plants enclose the outdoor patio, where mismatched iron tables and chairs invite you to stay awhile. Choose from a handful of signature lattes to pair with fresh baked pastries (the muffins are delicious!) or a breakfast sandwich on fresh ciabatta bread.
For a laid-back lunch, head to Indian Rocks Beach to this fast-casual taco joint. Brightly colored tables and chairs give the space a cheery feel. Fuel up with house specials like grouper tacos (topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, citrus chili sauce and cilantro sour cream), Mexican street corn, and specialty burritos. Or build your own tacos, burritos and bowls. We also gobbled up an order of fried Mexican street corn, corn fritters topped with cotija cheese and cilantro.
Margaritas come in an assortment of unique flavors including blood orange, Thai basil and pepper, hibiscus, Bloody Maria and more.
Dinner at this local restaurant was, hands down, the best meal we ate during our trip. The adorable patio out back has a secluded feel, with twinkle lights, umbrellas and plants surrounding the space. Surfboard tables enhance the beachy vibe. Jim, the owner, has put so much passion and care into this labor of love, which is evident through the attentive and friendly service, beautifully plated food, and welcoming atmosphere.
We started with fried green tomatoes and an order of the drunken shrimp to share, and I ordered the strawberry grouper special with black beans, rice and plantains as an entree. The dessert options are equally delectable, including the must-try tres leches cake. There were no leftovers in sight! As an added bonus, a lot of the menu options can be adapted to be vegan and vegetarian friendly.
This is a popular spot, so call ahead to make a reservation, especially if you want to sit outside.
A stop for homemade ice cream is a must for any beach trip. Located just a short drive down Gulf Blvd from Indian Shores, Haze is a family-owned ice cream shop serving up dozens of homemade flavors. There's also an impressive selection of dairy-free and vegan flavors made with coconut milk. I loved the cookie monster, although be warned — it'll turn your mouth blue!
- Aloha to Go for authentic Hawaiian BBQ (perfect for takeout!)
- Salt Rock Grill for seafood and a waterfront setting
- Kooky Coconut (Indian Rocks Beach) for Cuban sandwiches and other goodies
- Slyce Pizza Bar (Indian Rocks Beach) or Original Pizza for pizza night
All photos by Stephanie Patterson