Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Real Treasure Isle

There really is a place called Treasure Island, and it really does claim to have pirates in its history. On a recent Thursday evening, we sat there on a fourth floor balcony and watched a blue sky melt to orange under the influence of the setting sun.

The next two days were spent swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.

And walking on the beach.

And doing whatever else we wanted without a care in the world. It was many people’s idea of the perfect long-weekend getaway, and for me it was also a chance to experience Treasure Island the way tourists do, rather than as just one of the many pieces in the urban puzzle where I grew up.

Treasure Island is one of eleven barrier islands lined up just offshore in the most densely populated county in Florida. From pretty much anywhere in Pinellas County (which includes the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater) all you have to do is drive west and you will eventually find a bridge that takes you across to one of the islands, most of which are linked together by bridges themselves. Situated in the southern half of this chain, Treasure Island is less than four miles long and most of its hot spots are located north of Central Avenue -- in other words, it’s small enough that if you want to walk everywhere and not get back in the car until your trip is over, you can do just that.

As much fun as you can have parasailing and jet skiing here, in my opinion the biggest outdoor attractions are simply being in the water and waking across the beach to get there. The water’s warmth and tranquility make this a superior destination for swimming, and the beach’s soft sand and third-of-a-mile width are enough to make any beach bum drool.

And there is no shortage of places to wine and dine, with Gators claiming to have the longest waterfront bar on earth and The Floridian serving up very satisfying food at very reasonable prices. But Sloppy Joe’s is our favorite, largely because of this Happy Hour special: a 100-ounce beer for $10, served in a tapped tower with floating ice bags to keep it cold. Happy Hour also offers up a fishbowl margarita the size of four regulars, for just $10 as a well drink or $12 as a top-shelf.

Oh, and Sloppy Joe’s also serves food. And it has live music with a small dance floor, which might have been placed there for inebriated adults, but also attracts kids -- which was great for our party of 35, because having the young ones drawn to the dance floor allowed us to have some “grown up time.” And in case you’re wondering, yes, this Sloppy Joe’s is owned by the same folks who own the one in Key West.

On its northern shore, Treasure Island ends at a strait known as John’s Pass, across which sits the island of Madeira Beach. It is worth heading across the short bridge over the pass, because as soon as you reach the other side you will find John’s Pass Village, an eclectic bunch of shops, restaurants, and ice cream parlors centered around a long boardwalk. Once there you can stop by The Friendly Fisherman to eat seafood, and by King’s to buy $10 boogie boards that will come in very handy when the waves are good.

There are plenty of places to stay on Treasure Island but I give my hands-down recommendation to the South Beach Condo Resort, where we and many of our friends have stayed each of the last two years. Its rates are in the ballpark of your average hotel, despite the fact it is much nicer than your average hotel. And because so many of us rent there for our Beach Weekend, the property managers have given us discounts each time, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of coming for a family reunion or wedding or anything else that will bring a crowd.

As you may already know, most beach hotels tend to be worn down and weathered as a result of all that salt spray and wind, but at South Beach every unit is clean and spacious. Plus, each one has a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and an oceanfront balcony. Below are pictures of the one we rented this year: two bedrooms branched off the hallway in the top photo, and at the end of that hallway everything opened up to the living room in the bottom photo.

And finally, what was that I said back at the beginning, about Treasure Island claiming to have pirates in its history? Well, as the story goes, back in the 1800’s the island was bigger and a pirate named John LeVeque stopped here and hid a chest filled with Spanish doubloons and Pieces of Eight. In 1848 he decided to put the dangers of piracy behind him, and so he returned here to recover the loot; however, a hurricane arrived first and split the island in two at the exact spot where the treasure was stashed, washing it away forever. The resulting waterway is the same John’s Pass I mentioned above -- and as you might have guessed, it was named after LeVeque and Treasure Island was named after his missing loot.

How much of that story is true and how much is utter BS, I have no idea. But I do know that regardless of whether you are young or old, married or single, with kids or without them, you are sure to enjoy this place when you come.

Note: The "beer tower" photo was taken by Denise.

Update, 6/27/10: We jut returned from our 2010 Beach Weekend, and I am sad to report that Sloppy Joe's no longer has the 100-ounce beer for $10. But Treasure Island is just as fun without it, and Sloppy Joe's is still a good place to spend Happy Hour, with or without the kids.


  1. I never knew that pirate story and ye know how fond I be of me pirate tales! ARGGGGGH!!!

    Great piece on all the family fun of Treasure Island. It gets my vote, too. It's offers all the same beauty of Clearwater Beach, but much quieter and less tourists.

    Thanks for the credit of the pic, too. ;-)

  2. I see you found your beer tower photo. Should have known Denise would be documenting the trip :). I'm glad the scones made your mouth water...sorry I didn't share :(

  3. Nice blog! I love FL travel too. We might be able to exchange some info or images sometime. Thanks for commenting on mine at BeachBytes. Always good to know someone is out there!

  4. I would love to take my family to Treasure Island, that's for sure! I think my little one will enjoy it.