Sand Key Park: The Ultimate Less Touristy Getaway in Clearwater

Theresa Bedford

Sand Key Park

Sand Key Park is a little island off the coast of Clearwater, Florida. Adorned with a canopy of sea oats and dotted with beach meadows, Sand Key is an excellent place for swimming, biking, and spending time with family. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the popular Clearwater Beach to visit Sand Key on your next fun-filled Florida vacation destination.

The History of Sand Key Park

Early Spanish explorers named the island Cayos Arena (Sand Island) for its constantly changing shape with weather shifts. Its coral reefs distinguish it from other Florida beaches.

Following erosion from storms and hurricanes, the area has been reduced to a small patch of sand surrounded by coral reefs. The shape of the island changes, making each trip different and exciting. 

Today, Sand Key is a public beach. It’s home to many condominiums, resorts, and a sailing community with dozens of shops and restaurants to keep everyone entertained.

Getting to Sand Key Park

Sand Key Park offers 95 acres of beautiful beaches, parks, and trails off the Florida coast, stretching Madeira Beach through Redington Shores into Clearwater. It faces the Gulf of Mexico to the West and Intercoastal Waterway to the East. 

The address is 1060 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater, Florida. It’s a short drive over Clearwater Memorial Causeway through Clearwater Beach and the Sand Key Bridge.

Visitors can fly into St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport or Tampa International Airport. The St. Pete-Clearwater option is smaller with limited airline options, while the Tampa option is much larger with 19 airlines.

Tampa International Airport is approximately 20 miles from Sand Key. Take a Taxi, Uber, or Lyft ride to the hotel of your choice, or rent a car for maximum flexibility.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Sand Key Beach?

Sand Key Beach is an affordable family vacation destination. Access to the beach is free. However, there is a $5 parking fee. Annual parking passes are available. 

How Late Is Sand Key Open?

Sand Key is open seven days a week from 7 am to sunset. County parks are closed the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas day, December 25.

When To Go

With warm weather, Sand Key Park is a great destination to visit any time of the year. Visitors looking to maximize their exposure to wildlife should plan a trip for April, May, or June to see sea turtles, stingrays, and migratory birds. Visitors traveling in the Fall will experience less humidity and tourists. 

When traveling, pay attention to all public warnings and beware of frequent rainstorms and the Atlantic hurricane season from July through September.

Where To Stay

Sand Key doesn’t offer places to stay on the island itself. However, visitors will find a spot to stay nearby.

Sheraton Sand Key Resort.

Located in Clearwater, the Sheraton Sand Key Resort is near Sand Key Beach, Pier 60, and other adventures for your trip to Sand Key Park. The beachfront resort offers a private beach, outdoor pools, a fitness center, and outdoor tennis courts. Modern rooms and suites have balconies and amenities like WiFi, flat-screen TVs, and housekeeping. You can enjoy dining at Sheraton Sand Key Resort with four on-site restaurants, cafes, and bars. There’s something for everyone at this resort.

Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key

Located in Clearwater, just 0.4 miles from Sand Key Park, the recently renovated Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites is a great option. The Marriott offers restaurant options, an on-site spa, free WiFi, a gym, and an outdoor pool with a 35-foot waterfall. The hotel also offers complimentary rides to the beach.

Courtyard by Marriott Clearwater Beach

Courtyard Clearwater Beach hotel is located on Clearwater Bay. Its location is close to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Sand Key Park, and the Capitol Theatre. All rooms have WiFi, Smart TVs, a microwave, and a mini-fridge. Pick a room with a balcony for extra relaxation space to take in the sunsets or admire the water. The hotel offers a fitness center, on-site restaurants, and an outdoor pool. 

Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa

This top-of-the-list resort and spa is ideal. Rooms come with kitchenettes or full kitchens, laundry access, WiFi, and flat-screen TVs. The resort is close to fishing, golfing, beachfront playgrounds, and more. In addition, there are four restaurants and a market to satisfy your appetite.

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites

The hotel is a premier waterfront location with beach access in Clearwater Beach. Guests have access to an outdoor heated pool, patio, and kid-friendly pool. There is an on-site restaurant and coffee shop for convenience. All guest rooms include complimentary WiFi, flat-screen HDTVs, and a private balcony (most rooms). The hotel also hosts a Kids’ Zone full of arcade games to entertain children of all ages.

Wildlife at Sand Key Park

Sand Key Park is home to coyotes, owls, and roseate spoonbills. You’ll find various fish, sting rays, and dolphins in the water. And don’t be surprised if you spot a sea turtle, blue heron, or pelican.

Open sand areas on Sand Key Park call for visitors to use caution when walking. You may run into sea turtle eggs buried in the sand or one of more than eight species of beach-nesting birds. Do not feed the wildlife and keep dogs on leashes. Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline if you spot sick, injured, or dead wildlife.

Fun Things To Do on Sand Key

Sand Key is essentially divided into two areas: a sandy beach and a park. However, you’ll find things to do with friends, family, or solo. 

Travel to Sand Key Beach/Sand Key Park

The two names are distinct yet synonymous for many. The park is at the northern end of Sand Key island, surrounded by the beach. You’ll find picnic areas with grills and tables, a playground, a dog park, and a boardwalk. You can rent umbrellas, bicycles, and kayaks. The area also offers nature trails and a salt marsh with exotic wildlife to admire. 

Enjoy Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Located just three miles from Sand Key, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to dolphins, sharks, giant sea turtles, and more. Don’t forget to visit Winter-the-Dolphin, the star of Dolphin Tale, for inspiration while you’re there.

Walk Through Florida Botanical Gardens

This admission-free venue boasts 100 acres of must-see gardens to inspire and educate visitors on natural resources, flora, and fauna. 

Admire the Views at Pier 60

Pier 60 is a great entertainment spot with spectacular views of the pelicans and beautiful sunsets. You’ll also find vendors selling unique local items and souvenirs. At the end of the pier, fishermen will find tranquil areas to fish. 

Visit Moccasin Lake Nature Park

Check out the butterfly garden, turtle pond, and walking trail at Moccasin Lake Nature Park. There are a variety of animals to see, including peacocks, raccoons, turtles, and many birds. 

Cruise in the Original Tiki Boat

Find a floating tiki bar to relax and spend time with friends and family in the water. When the weather is calm, you’ll enjoy the company of dolphins. 

Go Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Get close and personal with the ocean’s wildlife with a snorkeling experience in Sand Key. 

Indulge in a Sightseeing Tour

Check out the unique views while relaxing on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley. The vintage trollies allow you to sit back, relax, and learn about the local attractions, restaurants, and history of Clearwater. 

Take a Helicopter Tour

Take in the stunning views of Clearwater and Sand Key as you zip over some of the most stunning beaches Florida offers.

Enjoy a Dinner Cruise

Climb aboard Calypso Queen for a cruise ship experience filled with a savory meal, dancing, and a sunset you’ll never forget.

Spend Time With the Dolphins

Sand Key is an excellent beach for seeing dolphins. Take a boat tour to get out on the water and see the dolphins.

Float High Above the Water

Take in breathtaking views of Clearwater, Sand Key, and Caladesi from the back of a boat. Stay in the water or take off from the back of the boat–parasailing, paragliding, or jet skiing.

Try Local Foods and Shopping

Sand Key and its sister city Clearwater are full of local restaurants and shops, many within walking distance of the hotels and beach. Just start walking and find something different to try.


Sand Key is friendly to people with disabilities. Sand Key Park offers visitors free wheelchairs to use on the sand or float in the water.

A Clearwater Hidden Gem You Have to Visit

You’re in for a treat with Sand Key. The less touristy area offers pristine white sand beaches, beautiful sunsets, a wildlife paradise, picnic areas, restaurants, and shops to enjoy. 

So pack your bags and get ready to relax, take beautiful photos of the water and the family standing on an iconic pier, and enjoy local food. There’s something for everyone on this hidden Clearwater gem for your next vacation destination. 

This article originally appeared on Savoteur.

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