Walking the Planks: Piers of Southwest Florida

By: David McRee

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What's a beach without a great pier? Whether it's for fishing, dining, shopping, or just looking out to sea, a Florida pier begs for as much attention as the sand and surf do. Take a look at these wonderful piers of southwest Florida, from Clearwater Beach all the way down to Naples.

The wonders of a pier are easy to overlook, but whenever I'm at the beach, if there is a pier nearby, I’m drawn to it.

Why? Piers offer a way for us to transcend the limits of the shoreline without having a boat. Strolling out onto a pier is the closest we'll ever get to walking on water. Piers are a focal point for fishing and sightseeing, for taking photographs, and for passing time and meeting friends. Some piers have bait and tackle shops and many of them sell food and drink. Some may offer little more in the way of comfort than a bench or small shelter to block the noonday sun, but they all have water below and sky above and that's what makes them special.

Have I convinced you that the pier is just as attractive as the beach itself? No? Then come with me on a tour of these southwest Florida piers. Perhaps I can get you off the sand and onto these marvelous structures.

Clearwater Beach: Pier 60
Perfect for: sunsets, families
Highlights: nightly sunset festivals, Fishing – $8 adult, $5.25 children 5-15, Senior $6.75

One of the most popular piers on the west coast of Florida is Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach. This sturdy and modern concrete pier, located at the west end of Highway 60, is the focal point of Clearwater's public beach. It has an eye-catching entrance with a wide sidewalk leading to an information center, a fully-stocked concession and beach supply shop, a playground for children and a covered pavilion for outdoor concerts and other events.

Every evening you'll find people celebrating the completion of another perfect day during “Sunsets at Pier 60,” a daily festival of artists, craftspersons, and street performers, with live music on Friday and Saturday. This daily celebration is free family entertainment at its best.

From April to September, the pier is open 24/7. October through March, the pier is open 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., except Friday and Saturday when it is open around the clock. You can walk on the pier for a mere 50 cents. If you want to fish, it's $8 for adults, $5.25 for children 11 and younger and $6.75 for seniors. Rod rental is $8. Weekly, monthly and yearly passes can be purchased at an attractive discount.


Redington Shores: Redington Long Pier
Perfect for: sunsets, fishing, relaxing
Highlights: private pier, $12 fishing for adults, $9 for children under 10


Just 20 minutes south of Clearwater Beach, Redington Shores is one of many beach communities on Sand Key in Pinellas County. In an area where small mom ‘n pop motels are being overtaken by large, modern condominiums, one wouldn't expect to find a rustic wooden pier with all the sights, sounds and yes, smells, of a real fishing pier. But here is such a pier, extending 1,200 feet into the blue-green Gulf of Mexico.

The Redington Long Pier, located at 175th Avenue in Redington Shores, is an authentic fishing pier. It clomps and creaks under your footsteps and emanates the odors of fish, birds and salt water. It's a private pier and most of the folks on it are here to fish. But don't worry; you can take a walk on the pier without any intention of casting a line.

The Redington Long Pier is a very relaxed, sleepy place most of the time. There aren’t a lot of kids running around or sightseers strolling by, so it's not hard to find a quiet spot to just sit, relax and stare out over the water. You can pay your entry fee—$3 to walk on the pier, $12 to fish ($9 for children under 10)—at the bait and tackle shop on the pier. Considering the price of fish these days, you'd only need to catch one nice fish to earn your money back. Fishing rods are available for rent, if you get the urge to fish but left your gear at home.

St. Petersburg: Gulf Pier and Bay Pier, Fort DeSoto County Park

Perfect for: fishing, sightseeing, ship watching
Highlights: free entrance and fishing, dolphin sightings, ferry to Egmont Key State Park, dog park

While I must admit I'm partial to creaky wooden piers, I'm not about to knock a great pier just because it's made of concrete.

Located within sight of the old Fort DeSoto on Mullet Key, the sturdy concrete Gulf Pier at Fort DeSoto Park reaches out toward the deep Egmont shipping channel where some of the largest and tastiest fish in the Gulf go swimming by. In addition to having a prime location for catching fish, the pier has five artificial reefs within 60 feet of its structure, attracting a variety of fish species. When the bait fish are thick and predatory fish like mackerel and large jacks are being hooked and pulled in, this is a really exciting place to be whether you’re fishing or just watching.

The Gulf Pier has a fully stocked tackle shop and food concession located at its entrance. Covered shelters, fish cleaning tables and running water are provided for the convenience of the many fishermen on the pier day and night. 

Just a half-mile or so west of the Gulf Pier, the T-shaped Bay Pier extends a short distance into Tampa Bay on the south side of Mullet Key. Although this pier is much shorter than the Gulf Pier, it features a wooden catwalk that allows you to descend close to the water level. The Fort DeSoto Ferry docks alongside this pier and makes daily trips to Egmont Key State Park where remnants of Fort Dade, a working lighthouse, an old brick road and an island filled with nature awaits.

The Bay Pier also offers a great view of huge ships passing beneath the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which, at five-and-a-half miles in length, is the longest bridge in the world with a cable-stayed main span. Cargo and passenger ships pass very close to both piers on the way to the open Gulf.

Nearly every post and pavilion rooftop seems to have a heron or pelican perched on it, and I can't remember a time when I didn't see dolphins playing around these two piers.

Located next to the Bay Pier is Paw Playground, with a fenced area where people can bring their dogs to play. Dogs are also allowed to play on the beach adjacent to Paw Playground.

Entrance to the piers and fishing are both free.


Anna Maria Island: Rod & Reel Pier, Anna Maria City Pier, Bradenton Beach City Pier
Perfect for: fishing, dining, relaxing, sunrises
Highlights: free, historic, restaurants on the piers

The Rod & Reel Pier at 875 North Shore Dr. is almost at the northern tip of Anna Maria Island. This is a short pier because the deep water is only a short reach from dry sand. It's a low wooden structure with a somewhat ramshackle-looking double-decker bait shop, bar and cheeseburger-in-paradise restaurant at the end of the pier.

Entrance to the pier is free, but there is a $2 fee to fish. Children under age eight can fish for free, and children eight to 12 cost $1.

About a mile south is the wooden Anna Maria City Pier, built in 1912 to provide a place for ships sailing from St. Petersburg and Tampa to dock for loading and unloading. Located at the east end of Pine Avenue in the City of Anna Maria, this not-so-tall pier extends over 700 feet into the bay. I spent quite a few days in my youth fishing from the City Pier, so visiting this historic landmark always brings back fond memories. The end of the pier is home to the bait shop and the City Pier Restaurant which has a full menu, cold drinks and goodies just for kids. Entrance to the pier is free, and there is no fee to fish.

To me, nothing says “Florida” like a hot summer afternoon sitting on this pier with a cold drink, watching the clouds roll by, waiting for that late afternoon rumble of thunder.

In 1921, a wooden bridge was constructed for cars to drive from the fishing village of Cortez to Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island. For years, this bridge brought traffic and trade to Bridge Street in the heart of this quaint island city. My parents have often told me of the days when they used to drive out to the island on the wooden bridge. When the modern concrete bridge was built to the north of Bridge Street, the original wooden bridge was torn down except for a few hundred feet of the westernmost part of the bridge, which became the Bradenton Beach City Pier

A $2.2 million renovation has greatly improved the City Pier facilities while allowing the historic wooden structure to retain its authentic look and character. As always, pier entry and fishing are free.   

Rotten Ralph's, a long-standing restaurant on Anna Maria, now offers a full restaurant menu to pier visitors. How about some baby back ribs or a grilled grouper sandwich?

I highly recommend arriving in time for a quiet sunrise over the bay with your breakfast.  

Venice Pier
Perfect for: fishing, sunsets, dining, scenery
Highlights: Sharky's on the Pier Restaurant, sharks’ teeth on beach, free

The fishing pier at Venice's Brohard Park is nearly inseparable from the restaurant at its entrance. Sharky's on the Pier restaurant sits right at the foot of the 700-foot long pier, which was completely rebuilt in 2004. In fact, to walk out on the pier you almost have to walk through the outdoor tables filled with diners. As part of the rebuild, the pier was increased from 12 feet in height to 20 feet. The new pier looks like a wooden deck supported by concrete pilings, but the planks are actually made from a composite of recycled plastic and wood material that is becoming popular in Florida for boardwalks and piers.

The fishing pier is open 24/7.There is no fee to enter the pier or to fish, and no fishing license is required. If you get hungry or thirsty, you need go no further than the foot of the pier to find yourself at Sharky's with a full menu and a longstanding reputation for tasty indoor and outdoor dining.

What I find particularly enjoyable about the Venice Fishing Pier is its location. Standing on the pier, looking up the coast in either direction, provides a view mostly filled with greenery and quiet beaches. I like that.

Although I’m trying to sell you the pier here, I must mention that the dark sand beaches of Venice are famous for having lots of fossilized sharks’ teeth. So be sure to take a walk on the beach and take a close look at the sand. You just might find a shark's tooth!

Fort Myers Beach Pier
Perfect for: fishing, sightseeing, sunsets
Highlights: free, popular beach, nearby restaurants

This wooden pier is known affectionately as the Pelican Pier, and for good reason—the resident pelicans seem to be tamer and more abundant on this pier than on most. And the bait shop, at the halfway point on the pier, is named Pelican's Pitstop (but it's for humans, not birds). The end of the pier has a covered pavilion and dozens of friendly pelicans. Look off to the east for a fantastic view of Estero Island. Sanibel Island lies across the water to the northwest.

The Pelican Pier is located at the corner of Old San Carlos Blvd. and Estero Blvd. in the Times Square section of Fort Myers Beach, adjacent to the beautiful Lynn Hall Memorial Park public beach access. It's free to walk on the pier and to fish.

This pier is right smack in the middle of the action on Fort Myers Beach. Just to the north of the pier, the wide beach is covered with beach blankets and umbrellas from the water's edge to the dunes. On the south side of the pier, the beach is lined with beach bars and restaurants including the Beach Pierside Grill, right on the water, and a Dairy Queen. You aren't going to go hungry or thirsty around here. Most restaurants around the pier have plenty of outdoor seating, with coconut palms everywhere to provide a very tropical ambiance.

A tip: If the beach parking lots are full, drive down Old San Carlos Blvd. and there are several private lots. Drive all the way down Old San Carlos and turn toward the bridge and there are parking spaces underneath the bridge as well.

Naples Pier
Perfect for: fishing, sunsets, sightseeing
Highlights: free, historic, scenic view

This beautiful wooden pier on 12th Ave. South and Gulf Shore Blvd. in Naples is surrounded by thick green tropical foliage, graceful coconut palms, multi-million dollar beachfront homes, and is just a few blocks from the shops and restaurants of Naples' Downtown Main Street on 5th Avenue South. The original pier structure was built in 1888 as a working pier and once was home to the Naples post office. Not much work takes place on the pier nowadays. It is purely for fun and relaxation.

Fishing is taken seriously on the Naples Pier, and passersby are often treated to the sight of a large mackerel or other tasty fish being fought and landed. A bait shop and food concession meet you halfway out on the pier, and the end of the structure provides benches and shade. You won’t pay a dime for entrance or fishing at this pier, but there is a fee for parking.

This roughly 1,000-foot-long pier provides an incredible panoramic view of Naples beach. In fact, enjoying the view is my favorite activity on this historic structure. The beach on both sides is very popular and is one of the most tropical-looking beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast. From pier to beach, and beach to pier, hundreds of very relaxed visitors get the most of their visit to Naples by experiencing the pier.

Did I mention the sunsets? Oh yes, the Naples Pier is a premier spot for watching Florida's magnificent sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

So go ahead, take a walk on a pier. I think you'll find that it adds a new dimension to your enjoyment of the beaches and islands of Florida.

More By David McRee

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