Between the brick-paved streets, sea grape canopies, old school eateries like the Seahorse Restaurant, and of course, the pristine stretch of sandy shores — Pass-a-Grille may just be the best slice of the Gulf Beaches.
The 32-block long area was first (and long) occupied by Native Americans — the last group being the Tocobagas, according to the Historical Marker Database. Spanish explorers laid their sights on Pass-a-Grille in the 1500s, said Chris Core, vice president of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum.
But where did the little beachside district get its name?
The name “Pass-a-Grille” comes from the stretch at the end of the island called “Passage of the Grillers” after the fisherman that camped out on the beaches and “grill[ed] their fish on land because of the fresh water (from the wells),” Core said.
Toward the mid-19th century, travelers began coming to the area, and hotels began going up, Core said. And in 1886, Zephaniah Phillips built the first home in Pass-a-Grille (and you can still visit the small house today).
Pass-a-Grille was incorporated into St. Pete Beach in 1957 — and today there’s a mix of residential and hotels, said Maggie LeBlanc, owner of Visitpassagrille.com and the Coconut Inn.
“We’re kind of all the way at the end of all the Gulf Beaches,” she explained. “So it’s kind of this little enclave that just feels really cozy and safe, which it is, and just an easy place to be.”
Even as Tampa Bay has modernized and rapidly grown into a major metropolis, Pass-a-Grille retains much of its charm.
“You’ll hear lots of people say, ‘oh, it’s changed so much. It’s not the same’,” LeBlanc said. “But, speaking to my guests, who are first timers, they still see it as this wonderful, magical place that is very walking friendly/biking friendly. There’s no high-rise hotels or buildings. And it still has that quaint Florida charm.”
There’s still vestiges of the area’s history all over town. Folks still dangle their legs over the ledge of the Castle Hotel (the area’s oldest hotel), the town’s old school house is now a home, and the once Pass-a-Grille Community Church is now the town’s historical museum.
The next time you head past the Don toward the historic district, take time to walk alongside and read the historical markers, take a virtual tour. Or, better yet, visit the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum (it’s open Fridays to Sundays).