Florida’s sunny western coast has an ideal setting along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, a beach-perfect subtropical climate, incredible sand and surf, and plenty of activities to keep every traveler happy. Check out these 5 great destinations on the peaceful and affordable Gulf Coast portion of western Florida for a perfect beach vacation.
Sugar white beaches along the warm Gulf of Mexico waters are the big draw in St. Petersburg, including Fort DeSoto Park, often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. When you’re ready to take a break from sun and surf, be sure to visit the new Salvador Dali Museum downtown, the largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain.
The snow white soft sand beaches of Clearwater are amazing. Don’t believe us? Ask Dr. Beach, Stephen Leatherman, who has named Caladesi State Park in Clearwater among the top beaches in the entire country more than once. In addition to incredible beaches, there’s another big draw in Clearwater: Inspirational dolphin Winter, star of the movie Dolphin Tale, who’s prosthetic tail has made him the main attraction at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Be sure to watch for the green flash of light that marks the magnificent sunsets here (there’s actually a nightly sunset festival at Pier 66) as you settle in for the night.
Ringling Brothers Circus once called Sarasota their winter home, so circus lore is a big draw and the FSU Ringling Museum of the Arts a must-stop here. Of course, there’s great beaches, too, including the ones on the many barrier islands that comprise the area. Kids will especially like Venice Beach, known as the best spot to find shark teeth (!) in the country, but, happily, not actual sharks.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Shelling extraordinaire is what the interconnected islands of Sanibel and Captiva are known for; grab a bucket and wander along the calm coastline to look amidst the nearly 200 species of gorgeous shells that lie in scintillating piles along the shore. Take a break from the marine bounty for a meal at the Bubble Room, a fun local attraction where seafood, decadent desserts, and tropical drinks are served by “bubble scouts” in a setting best described as Santa’s workshop meets kitschy throw-back Florida.
There’s lots on offer to make Naples a top Gulf Coast destination: fantastic beaches, top resorts, plenty of water sports, and a plethora of activities including The Naples Museum of Art with incredible, gravity-defying glass displays by Dale Chihuly and a performing arts center that’s home to the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Equally enticing here is the wild allure of the Everglades, which start just at the edge of the sophisticated beach town’s borders. Options to explore the prehistoric-feeling national park include swamp buggy and airboat tours where alligators are sure to make an appearance.