Local Boating Guide for Tampa Bay

If you’re looking for great places to boat near Tampa, this guide can help. Here is everything you need to know about boating in Tampa Bay.

Aerial view of Tampa Bay at dusk, water in forefront

Each year, more than 100 million Americans go boating. Of that group of people, more than half will enjoy it off the coast of beautiful Florida. With spectacular islands, pristine beaches, and countless water activities, it’s no wonder why it’s the most popular state on The Wavve Boating App. In recent years,  Florida’s local bay areas, including Tampa Bay, have become hot spots for water lovers across the nation. 

If you’re planning to boat near St. Petersburg, fish in Tarpon, or hit the beaches on Treasure Island, you’ve come to the right place…We listened to the Wavve Community and crunched the numbers.  We’re proud to share the ultimate guide to boating in Tampa Bay, so keep reading!

Top Islands to Go Boating in Tampa Bay

One of the main reasons that 20 million people flock to Tampa Bay every year is to enjoy the warm weather and relax on the beach.  Believe us, places like Clearwater Beach are definitely tourist hot spots for good reason; but did you know that the real experience starts just offshore? Tampa Bay and the surrounding area are filled with beautiful islands. If you have a boat, and some simple navigation, finding yourself on a private island will be a piece of cake.

For our complete list of the most popular (& some secret) island destinations around Tampa Bay, check out the full article.

Florida Top Islands

Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Island State Park is hailed as one of the most beautiful parks in Florida. It sits just off the coast of Clearwater on the northwest end of Old Tampa Bay. 

It’s advertised as a “truly untouched island offering natural delights.” Here you can find:

  • Serene, unspoiled beaches
  • Beautiful mangrove tunnels
  • Nature trails through old, live oak trees
  • Gopher tortoises burrowing into the beach

The island is uninhabited but includes the level of amenities you’d expect from a state park.  There’s a marina with restrooms, a cafe, kayaks, and snorkel rentals. 

Caladesi Island is only accessible by boat, though the adventurous may paddle their way on sea kayaks. There is also a paid ferry for those without their own watercraft.

Anclote Key Preserve State Park

Further north, about three miles off the coast, sits Anclote Key Preserve State Park (known by the locals as Anclote Island). Anclote Island is only accessible by boat, but there are multiple ferry lines that can bring you to the sand bar from the Downtown Tarpon Springs area. It’s a popular spot for dolphins so keep your cameras handy. 

The crisp, blue-green waters that surround the island make a perfect background to the white, sandy beaches. You’ll think you’re vacationing in a postcard once you get here. We aren’t kidding.  If you do an image search for “boating Tampa Bay” in your favorite browser, we’re willing to bet one of the first photos you’ll see is Anclote Island. This place is the real deal. 

The 11,000+ acre island is home to a whopping 43 species of birds, like the oystercatcher, bald eagle, and piping plover.  Oh, did we mention that there’s a lighthouse from 1887 sits on the southern tip of the island? This is a place you don’t want to miss. Get the full details (and anchoring tips) here.

Egmont Key

Egmont Key is a wildlife refuge that sits at the mouth of Tampa Bay. It makes itself home to several amazing species of animals, including nesting sea turtles, gopher tortoises, and tens of thousands of nesting birds.

For history lovers, you’ll find multiple historic sites that played key roles in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, like camps for captured Seminoles as well as historic Fort Dade.

When exploring around Egmont Key, be sure to mind your tides and depth finders.  Though you may not be able to control the ocean and the tides, save yourself the stress and have your Wavve Boating App open. Wavve’s live tides and real-time routing make navigating new areas a breeze.

BONUS: Beer Can Island

Beer Can Island, more recently known as Pine Island Tampa Bay, is a privately owned island. It’s located right at the mouth of Old Hillsborough Bay.  Whether you’re boating near Apollo Beach, or cruising the river downtown, this spot should be easy to find. 

Beer Can Island has tons of fun amenities, such as inflatable waterslides, a tiki bar, and a dance floor that hosts events throughout the week. This is definitely the type of spot that is centrally located but makes you feel a million miles away. The island is only accessible to members and their guests, but day passes are available once you get there. The beach anchoring fills up quickly, so be sure to head out early.

Explore More Tampa Bay Islands

Hopefully, this list gives you a taste of what the Tampa area has to offer because these islands are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s way more out there for you to explore…including some lesser-known islands that top Wavve boater’s lists. 

If island sands and tropical vibes are speaking your name, check out full list of the Top Islands Near Tampa Bay!  

If you’re like us, you also enjoy fun family day trips where it’s easy to dock up, grill a meal, and catch some fresh air while the kids find a playground. With that in mind, Tampa has some pretty amazing waterfront parks that are accessible by boat. Here’s a few the Wavve Community recommended.


Top Waterfront Parks in Tampa Bay

Waterfront parks are the perfect place to take your boat and dock with your friends and family. For birthday parties and large family gatherings, the amenities and ease of a park make a ton of sense. Parks around the bay area also provide some of the best waterfront views the city has to offer, making it the perfect backdrop for family photos!

If you’re going boating in Florida, look like a hero and know where the best waterfront parks are in Tampa!

Waterfront Parks Tampa Bay

Downtown St. Petersburg

Since 2020, St. Pete has been named one of Conde Nast Traveler’s  “Top 10 Big Cities in the U.S.”, as well as one of the  “Best Street Art Cities in the World” and  “America”s Hottest Cities to Live and Visit.” Needless to say, St Pete has a lot going on.  Being able to enjoy so much of the area by boat makes it a top boating destination in the state. 

There are tons of things to do here after a scenic boat ride, but best of all, there are some great waterfront parks where you can dock your boat and enjoy. Our top recommendation for the area is Demens Landing Park. When it comes to location, Demens Landing really has it all. Located on the south side of the revitalized St. Pete Pier, this park has access to all of the pier’s amenities with easy dock access. Our second recommendation is Coffee Pot Park, located near Snell Isle.  Next time you’re in the area, take a cruise just north of the pier.  You’ll find the park and a great boat ride near Downtown St. Pete.

Check out the full list of Waterfront Parks to Visit in Tampa Bay for more info and docking tips.

Safety Harbor Waterfront Park

This beautiful park is the perfect picnicking spot to enjoy with your family. It has picnic tables, shades, and a pier to soak in the beautiful views. There are also trees, wildlife, and a small shop with souvenirs to remember your trip. With so many restaurants and amenities, this is a popular afternoon boat ramp. If you plan to trailer your boat, we recommend getting out early.

Curtis Hixon Park

This modern park is a popular spot for local activity. It has a large “event space” grass area that’s perfect for local family events, programs, and performances. You can look here for upcoming events happening in Tampa.

Don’t miss the two interactive fountains, the Louver and the Mist, as well as the nearby Tampa Museum of Art.  Curtis Hixon also has the best dog parks in downtown Tampa, so if you love boating with your fur babies like we do, be sure to add this park to the top of your list…did we even mention the incredible downtown riverfront views? 

Because of its central location docking is pretty straightforward…but limited.  You won’t miss the handful of slips in front of the park.

Fort De Soto State Park

Fort De Soto is a huge, 1,136-acre park that spans five interconnected keys in Tampa. Because of it’s size, its technically part park, part beach, and is the largest park in the Tampa Bay area! Truly a boater’s paradise!

There are tons to do here, including:

  • Bird watching: Home to over 328 species of birds
  • Camping on beautiful white-sand beaches
  • Hiking on peaceful trails
  • Playgrounds for children
  • Dog parks
  • Fishing piers
  • Canoe trails

With so many activities to choose from, there will never be a dull moment here. Be sure to check out the Wavve Boating app to help you explore more, and boat like a local.

Discover More Waterfront Parks

Those aren’t the only waterfront parks to be found in Tampa Bay. In fact, if we’re being fully honest, these don’t even cover all of our favorites. Our fellow Wavve Boaters reading this are probably screaming at their phones…”What about Caladesi State Park?”…”What about Honeymoon Island?”. Don’t worry friends, we’ve got your back. If you like what you’re reading and need more options (and maybe a few insider tips), check out this article to discover more beautiful waterfront parks that Tampa Bay has to offer!


Top Dock and Dine Restaurants to Take Your Boat To

After a full day of exploring some of the  islands and waterfront parks of Tampa Bay, you may need to stop somewhere to refill your tank (i.e. stomach). Luckily, there’s countless restaurants with boat docks, so getting in and out of a restaurant while boating is a breeze! In fact, helping boaters simply and safely connect with the places they love is exactly why we built the Wavve Boating App. 

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful, island getaway or a live music venue, you’ll find something for everyone. From Dunedin to South Pinellas, and even the Bay’s East Shore (looking at you Apollo Beach) we’ve got you covered. For the full breakdown of our top spots across the bay, check out our complete list of top Tampa Bay Area Restaurants with Boat Access.

Restaurant Fronts in Tampa Bay

Tampa’s West Shore – Hula Bay Club

This spot has delicious Hawaiian-style food. They’ve got burgers, tacos, and some of the best sushi in town!  You can park your boat, bring your cooler, and enjoy their poolside lounge for an incredible afternoon.  As an added bonus, check out Duke’s Retired Surfer Bar, located underneath the restaurant.  They have live music and happy hour specials.

This is a popular happy hour spot, and there are plenty of free spaces along the floating “L-shaped” dock. 

5210 W Tyson Ave, Tampa, FL 33611

Clearwater Beach – Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe

Frenchy’s is a Tampa classic. There’s a few locations sprinkled around Clearwater Beach, and it’s always at the top of our list when hosting visitors from out of town. Every aspect of this place screams Florida and they’ve become famous for their grouper sandwiches and island time atmosphere. It’s incredibly unique (and delicious) Florida food.

Another reason this place made our list is because the docks are super easy to access and only cost $2 when you show your restaurant receipt. There’s also dock staff out there to help tie up your boat and direct traffic. It really helps take the hassle out of what could be a busy beach docking experience.

419 Poinsettia Ave, Clearwater, FL 33767

South Pinellas – Salt Rock Grill

Salt Rock takes its seafood seriously. This long-standing establishment owns their own fishing boats and serve their catch fresh daily. They also serve stone crab, another local delicacy during season. When you’re cruising the intracoastal looking for waterfront restaurants near Indian Shores or Redington Shores, be sure to check this spot out.

19325 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785

Tarpon Springs – Capt’n Jack’s Bar and Grill

Looking for surf ‘n’ turf, a clean bathroom, and some fuel for your boat? You’ve got to swing by Capt’n Jack’s. The menu is packed with a variety of options, and everything is delicious.

Next time you’re heading back from Anclote Island, park your boat at Jack’s dock and enjoy a great meal.  You can park your boat at the northeast corner of the docks, up against the water-front patio & tiki bar.

21 Oscar Hill Rd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

Port Hudson – Sam’s Beach Bar

An excellent option for shrimp tacos in an open-air environment. The service is excellent, the food is delicious, and the live music is great!  When we spoke to locals from the Wavve Boating community, they recommended the steam pots and huge “Sam”wiches.

The best docking is found at the Hudson Beach Boat ramp. You’ll see the slips on the eastern side as you pass Skeleton Key Marina.

6325 Clark St, Hudson, FL 34667

Nature’s Coast – Crump’s Landing

This restaurant is located at KC Crump on the River, and has an awesome reputation for a reason.  Everything is delicious, the service is fantastic, and there’s a large man-made beach for the family to enjoy!  If you’re looking for a fun place in Homosassa Springs, this is the one.

Bonus: Crump’s Landing is famously pet friendly…so be sure to bring your pup with you on the boat!

11210 W Halls River Rd, Homosassa, FL 34448

More Tampa Bay Restaurants

There are so many amazing Tampa Bay restaurants with boat docks. The Tampa area is thriving with delicious dining options and fantastic boating opportunities. We put together a full guide on Tampa Bay’s most boatable restaurants. Check it out here.


Tampa Bay’s Top Boating Activities

There’s a few boating activities that are “uniquely Florida”.  Places to go and things to do that few places beyond the Sunshine State can offer. We spoke with some local Wavve Boaters and through the app they were able to share their favorite routes, location, and even a few tips. Keep in mind that knowing where to go is only part of a great boating experience. Having the right navigation will make sure you’re set to explore all the bay area has to offer.  Check out how to choose a marine gps app if you’re just getting started.

Boating Activities Florida

Scalloping

Scallops are a mollusk you usually find served at nice restaurants…similar to a clam or oyster. Scalloping is the act of snorkeling, searching the seagrass for live scallops. In order to preserve these animals, this type of fishing is protected and limited to certain areas of the gulf, at certain times of the year…this is know as “Scalloping Season”

Scalloping season is in the summer during July.  Local authorities work with communities to make sure there’s enough left to last each season. Certain areas are only open for a few weeks each year, so make sure you plan ahead if you want to participate in this unique underwater hunt!

Stilt Houses

Just north of Tarpon Springs, and beautiful Anclote Island, are the New Port Richey stilt houses.  Built by fishermen in the area between 1916 and 1918, these old homes have become a popular boating destination along the Adventure Coast. As you can imagine, many have wiped out by hurricanes over the years, but there’s still nine houses left, and they represent a rich history of boating and fishing.  A unique site that is really only enjoyed by boat. 

These homes are also top spots for local fisherman and have been known for attracting dolphins…great photo spot! Read the full article for more boating tips.

Manatee Encounters

Tampa Bay is the ONLY place in North America where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat!  Manatees are a special species and are listed as protected animals.  There are strict rules about what you can and can’t do around them, but you’ll be amazed at how friendly these gentle giants are.  

The best time to visit the manatees is between November and March.  The colder the weather, the more likely you are to see them.  They love to gather along the northern coasts, in places like Crystal River and Homosassa Springs. If you’re lucky, during these cold winter months, you may also see another unique species…the Florida Snow Bird 😂

Seriously though, if you come to Tampa Bay this winter, make sure you add some manatees to your to-do list!


Plan Your Trip Now

There you have it, our boating guide to Tampa Bay. We’ve provided a ton of great activities, locations, and destinations to go to, but we’ve only just scratched the surface. The real experience starts once you get off shore and start boating in Tampa Bay!

Now that you’ve read up, It’s time to start planning your trip!  All of these great spots (and thousands more) are available at your fingertips in the Wavve Boating App (available on the Apple Store and Google Play ).  Wavve Boating allows you to connect, share, and explore our beautiful waterways. Together, we’re leading the future of marine navigation…all from the comfort of our phones – pretty cool right?