Located just south of St. Petersburg, Fort De Soto Park is the largest park in the Pinellas County Park system, boasting just over 1100 acres of mangrove, beach, and wetlands area, spanning over 5 separate islands. A guard shack at the entrance of the park greatly controls the size of the visiting public into the park. But at just a mere $5 daily parking fee, my family was surprised as to why the beautiful park wasn't more crowded.
Bikers, inline skaters, and jogging enthusiasts can take advantage of a 6.5 mile paved trail that meanders throughout the park. If you forgot to pack a bike or kayak, there are rental locations here. History enthusiasts can explore and take photos of the the massive (4) M 1890-MI breech-loading mortars, or with one of the 2 remaining 40-caliber guns, which remain on display serving as reminders of when the fort served as a military subpost from more than a century ago.
From the 'cannon area' we hopped back into our cars and drove about 2 miles toward the back of the park where we saw signs for 'North Beach' and parked. The parking area was organized and spacious. Walking from the parking lot to the beach area was just a little bit further than what we were used to walking vs. other Florida beach areas we normally visit, but it felt like an adventure so we were excited. There are more than 15 covered picnic shelters there, so we did have to endure the very tempting aromas of barbecue and burgers that filled the tree-lined area as we got to the beach, but it was really nice to see families bonding with one another in this area, and hearing lots of pleasant laughter from each group.
Finding our way to the beach, we were very surprised... sandbars, and lots of them! This was my family's first experience with seeing these semi- / fully- exposed ridges of sand, and it was awesome looking! With most other beaches, once the sand hits the coastline, that's it... time to swim. But here, we saw families settled on the 'first coastline', then water... then, another patch of beach where some more families were... some more water... then more umbrellas with families. There were pockets of sand and water for maybe 100 yards out! The conditions made for our daughters being able to find sand dollars in the water, which made for another first for our family!
There were a lot of people on the beach, but to pandemic-concerns, we never felt 'crowded' or felt that our personal breathing space was being invaded in any way.
Fort De Soto Park is an absolutely beautiful space, and created for an extremely memorable beach day. Apparently, back in 2009 TripAdvisor felt the same when they named Fort De Soto as 'America's Top Beach'. We'd strongly recommend for you to make the family trip out here. Maybe we'll see you out there!