A drive to Johns Pass Boardwalk and Village makes for a great day trip from Sarasota. If you’ve never been there or even heard of it you’re going to be in for a treat.
Depending upon the time of
year you go, in season or after season, will govern the size of the
crowds, but it is a popular place north of St. Petersburg in the town of
Madeira Beach, Florida.
It's easily one of the top Florida tourist attractions on the gulf coast.
What is it?
It’s a recreational spot and tourist attraction along the waterfront of the intracoastal waterway in Madeira Beach, the waterway that leads out to the open Gulf of Mexico.
Johns Pass has not only street shops and restaurants in the Village, which I didn’t explore at all (saving it for the next trip), but the big attraction which is the elevated waterside boardwalk.
It’s kind of like a “Fisherman’s Warf” you may have visited in other places, but its own unique one.
I really enjoyed my time there the day after New Year’s Day. It was
crowded but not smothering, kind of easy, really, and good for
people-watching. There were lots of friendly people milling along the
By the way, if you’re hesitant because it’s elevated don’t be because there is a ramp for access to the elevated level for anyone who may be in a wheel chair or using a walker. My party of five had someone along in a wheel chair and it was fine.
There are also elevators in a couple of locations toward and at the west end of the boardwalk. They go up to rooftop restaurants and down into a parking garage; more on that later.
Johns Pass is a delightful place to stroll along the boardwalk which is filled with specialty shops, cafes and restaurants, a downstairs club with live music, watering holes, a restaurant sitting right over the water plus its own private beach.
If you’re looking for fun activities this is the place.
They have a rather large fishing charter boat to accommodate lots of fisherman, they have a Pirate Ship that takes you out on the intracoastal for site-seeing and pirate adventures for the kids, they have Jet Ski rentals, para-sailing and more.
There’s lots of wild life to see nearby, too. From pelicans to egrets to nearby dolphins you’re bound to spot something that will make you oooh and ahhhh!
Plus the boardwalk is a great vantage point from which to watch the raising and lowering of the nearby draw bridge over the causeway that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico.
There are souvenir and trinket shops along with restaurants and places along the boardwalk where you can sit down and have a beer or eat.
The number of restaurants is about a dozen plus there are some ice
cream places and a place that makes chocolate for those with a sweet
One thing you’ll most probably notice as you stroll along the boardwalk is all the wonderful aromas wafting through the open air; aromas of food, fresh warm chocolate, the salty air from the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
I found it all a delightful and memorable experience.
One of the key factors involved in a day trip to Johns Pass, like almost everything in Florida, is weather. I was there in early January when the weather was mild and pleasant, from mostly cloudy to partly cloudy. So it was not an extreme weather day with temperatures only from the upper 60s to low 70s.
But at other times of the year you will want to be prepared for high heat and humidity and exposure to the sun in an open air area.
While we strolled along the Johns Pass boardwalk we also surveyed all the restaurants. All of them looked like places our party of five would have liked to have stopped at to have lunch. But the one we chose was….(drum roll, please!)…Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company!
Though Bubba Gump’s is a chain it is a small chain with only 43
locations world-wide at this writing, 15 of them are outside the U.S.A.
So, we thought we try it.
Of course, Bubba Gump’s is a takeoff from the movie Forrest Gump. In 1995 the film won Best Picture, Director and Actor Academy Awards and several others.
The restaurant is built around the movie theme and is covered with
movie memorabilia (there’s even a gift shop with memorabilia from the
movie for sale) , nicely laid out and furnished, with a bar and a large
menu, mostly of shrimp and seafood specialties, but we were also
delighted to find baby back ribs plus a selection of sandwiches for the
non-seafood lover, like ½ lb. All-American
Burgers & Fries, Texas Cajun Chicken Sandwich, Veggie Mushroom Burger, Certified Angus Top Sirloin and Dixie Style Baby Back Ribs!
For the shrimp and seafood lover it’s really a difficult job to make a
selection because the menu is so wide and varied with specialties. Here
are just a few of the shrimp and seafood menu items:
Salmon & Veggie Skillet, Lt. Dan’s Surf & Turf, Captain’s Fish & Chips, Jambalaya, Forrest’s Seafood Feast, Shrimp & Veggie Skewers, Shrimper’s Heaven, Shrimp Po’ Boy, Shrimp New Orleans, Scampi and many more selections.
There are also soups and salads and appetizers like Shrimp Shack Mac & Cheese
or the appetizer that our party ordered for five of us: The Run Across America Sampler which came with Bubba’s Far Out Dip and Chips, Chilled Peel ‘n’ Eat Shrimp, spicy Chicken Strips, Hush Pups, and Mama Blue’s Fried Shrimp for $14.99.
Prices run the range from low to high, as seafood places are generally higher priced, but you can get a cup of Old Fashioned New England Clam Chowder for $4.99 or a Soup & Salad Combo for $9.99 to the Net Catch Entrée for $20.79 or what I ordered: Lt. Dan’s Surf & Turf, which is Dixie Style Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Shrimp with Fries for $23.49.
On the higher end there's also Forrest’s Surf & Turf, a 9 oz. tender
USDA Certified Angus Top Sirloin and succulent Grilled Shrimp, Mashed
Potatoes and Frizzled Onions for $27.49.
All in all, the atmosphere, service and quality of food at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company made this a “top score” of our day trip to Johns Pass in Madeira Beach, Florida.
(I don't mean to be a spoiler here, but be prepared to know some Forrest Gump movie trivia. Your server may quiz you on the movie! Ours did. We knew most of the answers!)
After our lunch break we made our way back down the boardwalk to the furthest end where there were another couple of restaurants, a sandwich shop and an ice cream stand.
Quaint and historic within a picturesque setting, wonderful views and
aromas, boat rides, fishing charters, Jet Skis, restaurants and more, it
would be hard to beat a day spent on the boardwalk at Johns Pass in
Madeira Beach, Florida. And we didn’t even explore the street-side shops
and restaurants of Johns Pass Village! Next time, perhaps.
Logistics: There is a large, multi-story parking garage at the far end of the boardwalk. Parking there was $20.
We found offsite parking in a nearby grassy lot for just $10. There are numerous “private” lots around the area.
There are also elevators in the parking garage and other ones nearby at the west end of the boardwalk, ground level. They may be hard to spot unless you’ve been here before so you may have to ask someone on-site to point them out if you have need for an elevator.
Hours: Open daily 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Driving time: It’s about an hour’s drive from the Sarasota area.
Directions: Follow I-75 North in Sarasota to I-275 N. Take I-275 N to 31st St S in Saint Petersburg. Take exit 20 from I-275 N 45 min (34.6 mi) Take 1st Ave N and Central Ave N to FL-699 N/Gulf Blvd in Madeira Beach. There's a small toll charge to go over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
For your GPS: John's Pass Village and Boardwalk is at 12901 Gulf Boulevard, Madeira Beach, FL 33708.