First off, Why elope?
Like most couples, halfway through planning our own relatively traditional wedding, we looked at each other and thought, I wish we had decided to elope. Sure, planning a wedding of any sort, including an elopement, takes time and energy, but we felt burnt out.
Now don't get us wrong, we LOVED our wedding day! We were surrounded by 125 of our loved ones and spent a majority of the night talking to everyone and dancing our butts off! But the one thing that I wish we could've had more of was time together. Time together where we weren't being herded like cattle from table to table to say "thank you for coming" or having someone clink their glass for us to kiss right when we're trying to take our first bite of food.
That is one thing that has always really appealed to me when it comes to eloping, in general it is so much more laid back and it really allows the newlyweds to soak in every moment, I feel like that's much harder to do at a larger scale wedding.
With eloping - or an intimate wedding, you forego the big parties, toasts, and more likely than not higher expenses. It's just the two of you, and those closest to you. A simple soire where it can be classy and perfect with a much smaller budget and a lot less stress!
This guide will cover where to elope on the beach in Florida, with a focus on the greater Tampa Bay Area.
That includes, mainly: St. Pete, Clearwater, Sarasota, and Bradenton elopement locations.
There’s just too many places in this great peninsula to mention all in one go, and limiting it to this coast seems like a no-brainer. We have wedding, couple, and elopement photography experience at these locations, plus we live here and one of us grew up here! And, just to throw a little shade at the other coast - we have great sunsets over water on this coast, and we make our Cuban sandwiches the right way!
Where should we elope?
First and foremost, Choose a location that means something to you!
Deciding where to tie the knot is a truly personal decision. Many opt to do it in a backyard, others opt for the beach. The important thing is to choose a location you'll treasure forever. Perhaps a place you can visit again for an anniversary. Or a place that you've always dreamed of going together! In cases like that the trip to elope could basically have a built in honeymoon!👍🏼
Also, from a photographers standpoint - pick some place BEAUTIFUL. It's absolutely okay to get married at a courthouse, but it's nearly just as easy to get married at sunset on a beautiful white sand beach. To us the endless location possibilities is one of the most exciting parts about an elopement, so why not take advantage of all the options!?
Finding the perfect beach to elope on
OK, now This is the hardest part
Always keep in mind - an elopement is 100% STILL A WEDDING! Sure, you may be looking into the elopement option because you're having to reschedule the larger scale wedding you had planned, but your elopement should be something you'll never forget.
..................................For anyone looking into eloping that may want to make it a destination elopement, but not anything too crazy, Florida is the perfect choice! Part of the appeal of Florida is the beautiful beaches. This makes planning something intimate... more challenging.
It's hard to get a private location on a public beach. Especially at certain times of the year when thousands of families from around the country flock to all of the prettiest spots.
Tampa Bay Area beach elopement options
Clearwater is THE most touristy beach around. It's constantly voted the #1 beach in America and for good reason. It's an endless stretch of soft, white sand with awesome dunes - and lots of hotels and restaurants. Most hotels offer elopement packages - and most of the hotels are a great place to stay on the main beach. The biggest downside to Clearwater is the crowds but, time it right and you might just have an awesome onlooker hype team.
St. Pete is home to a ton of diverse beaches. Not only can you find rocky turain right along some beaches, but it's a great place to see famous landmark buildings like the Don Cesar - aka unique hotels. There's even a state park (Fort Desoto) which has an old fort and is often much more private. There are a few St. Pete Beach locations that are somewhat private. Crowds can still be expected, especially on the weekends.
Bradenton has less selection for beaches, bust most are smaller. They tend to be crowded, but have a beautiful turquoise hue to the water. Some Bradenton Beaches fall into county jurisdiction and permitting is different - Coquina Beach, for example touches Bradenton Beach, but is part of the Manatee County Parks Department and has different rules. Coquina is slightly less crowded than Bradenton, but even more beautiful.
Sarasota covers a huge area with a bunch of great Beach spots. It's quite a long drive from Tampa, but From Longboat Key to Manasota Key, there's no shortage of great beaches. Many of these are less crowded than a lot of the other options, but that doesn't mean they're any less beautiful.
Despite the drive, eloping to any of the beaches in Sarasota would be well worth it - and with so much to do, it would be an amazing adventure elopement day.
Clearwater Beach is stunning
This is the type of place families travel from Iowa to visit. Never ending white sand, with gentle crashing waves, and warm gulf waters. And like the entire west coast of Florida - the beach faces the sunset. Heck, even the name "Clearwater" sounds inviting. The downside to this is: It's not a secret. Everybody knows about Clearwater beach. Hundreds of families from around the country flock here, and the endless white beach soon becomes full of endless sunbathing tourists.
However; It has a unique, very Florida vibe. It's certainly a one of a kind place, and a top contender for tying the knot. The Clearwater parks department permits activities between Avalon Street and the Opal Sands resort. Weddings and "Intimate Ceremonies require a permit. You would also need a permit if you have over 25 guests, a small arch, or amplified sound for any other event. Luckily, the permit fee is only $100 and covers 4 hours. Permit applications and fees are due 30 days prior to event date.
Check out our detailed guide on Eloping in Clearwater Beach.
Where to stay:
One of the nicest features about Clearwater beach is the walkability. The beach is close, food is close, and there's airbnbs and hotels abound. Having a home base to head back to once you tie the knot is probably ideal. It will also give you a great place to get ready, and to park and make your elopement just a little more special.
Here's a curated list of AirBNB's
Here's some hotels:
SAINT PETE BEACH
Pinellas County Beaches
Pinellas County is full of Beaches. Technically, this includes Clearwater, but there's so many others it's crazy. Every beach in Pinellas County is a little different and has its own charm and characteristics. Unfortunately, most beaches here are dotted with large hotels, which makes privacy for an intimate ceremony a little tough to come by. A lot of the beaches fall into different jurisdictions, so permitting prices are hard to determine - but range from $50-$150.
Fort Desoto is a beautiful place to elope. It's located on a group of small keys connected by bridges, and is naturally preserved. It's not so different than it was hundreds of years ago. The 1800s fort is obviously no longer used by the military, but does make a great backdrop for photos. There is quite a lot of beachfront and it's easier to find a private place. Permits are $50.
St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach covers a large area - not much of it is private, but they're all some of the nicest beaches around. One of our favorite spots is Treasure Island, which has beautiful turquoise water. Still, expect a lot of people swimming and a lot of fisherman. Permits are $100
Fred Howard Park
Fred Howard Park is a county park right in Tarpon Springs. The entrance betrays its beachfront beauty. The beach area is actually pretty small - and so is the parking lot. However; it does have a beautiful rocky section, and it is easy to find a somewhat private location. Permits are $50.
St Pete Beach
This was shot at Madeira Beach, which is one of the Saint Pete Beaches. There are several to choose from, and they all have their own unique appearances, but are all pretty consistent with white sand. These two rented an AirBnB and tied the knot on the beach only a few footsteps away!
See more pictures and learn more about their day here!
Fred Howard Park
This was taken at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs.
There's a few other locations, but this little park has a little bit of everything, and some really fun and unique rock formations!
Fort Desoto is a gigantic sprawling park near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the tip of Saint Petersburg. It's actually way further out than it seems like it is, and is an incredible look at historic Florida and a great place to tie the knot.
Where to stay
Clearwater is a little more dense, so it's more obvious to know where to stay. St. Pete still has fantastic places to stay, but some locations (e.g. Ft.Desoto and Other parks) don't have onsite locations, and it might make less sense to stay somewhere specific for those places.
Beautiful Bradenton beaches
Bradenton is a little more off the beaten path. About an hour from the Tampa international airport. It's smaller with tiny one lane roads throughout - but it mostly appeals to locals.
Most parts of Bradenton Beaches are typical beaches that can be really overcrowded. A lot of the more unique and beautiful beaches belong to the Manatee Parks Department.
One of our favorite locations is Coquina Beach. It's extremely unique with a train-track style jetty, and beautiful light blue water. Unfortunately, everyone knows how unique this place is and it isn't very private either. But there's ample room to make an elopement work. Permits are $150
WHERE TO STAY
This really depends on your location. There are tons of boutique hotels and AirBnBs near the beach, but if you’re okay with driving, there’s a lot of hotels nearby.
This video was taken at Coquina Beach in Bradenton
Eloping on one of the many beaches in Sarasota
Unfortunately, we don't get down here too often and don't have much knowledge on these types of elopements. But if you're craving adventure, Sarasota has Myakka River State Park and tons of world class beaches. The beaches around Venice are famous for the amount of sharks teeth around, and they have a certain... tropical feel. If you're looking for an all day fun adventure - Sarasota might be the way to go.
The most popular locations are Siesta Key and Lido Beach. Permits are required for all weddings that have decorations. An elopement without decorations would not require a permit.
Longboat key is primarily private beaches. It's gorgeous, but you'll definitely need to work with a venue to tie the knot here. This is best for actual weddings.
Better than just the show. Siesta Key is an idyllic location to say, “I do”. With peaceful grassy areas, and drop-dead gorgeous blue water.
Tampa Area Beaches/Hillsborough County Beaches.
Most people don't know there are any beaches at all in Tampa. But, there are a few, though they aren't quite as spectacular as the beaches in our neighboring counties.
Still, they may be a great option for an elopement spot.
Cypress Point Park
This actually might be a super great elopement spot for your circumstances. It's semi-secretive, and it's practically walking distance from Tampa International Airport. There are several hotels in the area, and it has a great view of the bay. It is in the landing path of the airport, so planes will be flying pretty low overhead.
Picnic Island Park
This is a great little beachfront park with some semi-private alcove areas that could be great for an elopement. It's deep in the heart of South Tampa, and near MacDill Air Force Base. Great views of Downtown St. Pete, and plenty of white sand beachfront!
Ben T. Davis Beach
This is a pretty narrow strip of beach, but it could work. This is nearby the airport and on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. This does tend to be crowded, but has a pretty look down the bay.
Don't let the power plants smoke stacks fool you. There's a really lovely nature preserve in Apollo Beach that has a great view of the Tampa Bay, with visibility of MacDill Airforce Base, South Tampa, Downtown Tampa, and Downtown St. Pete. This beach also has some unique rocks, inlets, white sand, and amazing cattail sawgrass.