Florida tops the list as a vacation destination for many families, but there are so many fun places to choose from — how can you pick? Sure Orlando has enough to offer to stay a month, St. Augustine has its history, and Amelia Island is a perfect blend of Florida with southern hospitality. But I’m still a sucker for Florida Gulf Coast vacations with those white sand beaches and calm gulf waters.
Florida’s gulf coast covers over 5,000 miles, so it is still a lot of ground to cover and each community has a different personality and attracts a different style of visitors. So unless you have a couple of months to spend exploring the coast, you will need to pick and choose. Of course, you can also be like us and pick a new destination to explore each time.
Favorite Florida Gulf Coast Vacations
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Here are our favorite Florida gulf coast vacations, with everything from the best Gulf Coast beaches to the nicest resorts and most family-friendly towns.
Florida Gulf Coast Map
1. Marco Island
Located just over one hour south of the Southwest Florida Airport in Fort Myers, Marco Island is also a popular destination for South Floridians that cut across Alligator Alley to enjoy the west coast. This beach resort offers wide beaches of white sand and is popular for dolphin watching, kayaking, and other water sports.
Because of its proximity to the Everglades, Marco Island is also a great jumping-off point for exploring the natural ecosystem and local history. An airboat or swamp tour makes for a great day trip! See other things to do in Marco Island.
Where to stay on Marco Island: JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
If you are looking for an upscale destination that offers fine dining and plenty of activities and entertainment, Naples is the place. Located an hour south of Fort Myers airport, Naples is a popular destination for snowbirds, vacationers, and year-round residents. There is also great shopping in Naples if you are looking for some retail therapy.
It is also a great location for spotting dolphins and catching gorgeous sunsets from the Naples Pier. See more things to do in Naples.
3. Bonita Springs
If you are looking for a resort destination for relaxation and fun, head to Bonita Springs, just north of Naples. Whether you swim or kayak at Lover’s Key State Park or enjoy the waterslides at the Hyatt Regency resort.
Bonita Springs is home to theConservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center. Dog lovers will also want to bring Fido to Dog Beach Park, one of Florida’s only no-leash beaches.
Where to stay in Bonita Springs: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point
4. Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Sanibel and Captivaare two islands connected to the mainland and Fort Myers by the Sanibel Causeway, making it a great destination when you want to hit the beach as soon as you land. Combined, the islands have 15 miles of beaches, 25 miles of bike paths, andzero traffic lights.
Both islands are best known for the best shelling on the coast. Home to a nature preserve, it is also easy to spot dolphins and manatees, especially when kayaking through the mangroves.
Where to stay in Captiva Island: Seven Seas Island Resort
5. Cape Coral
Located on the mainland on a peninsula across from Fort Myers and protected by the barrier islands, Cape Coral is ideal for families looking for an active vacation. There are over 400 miles of canals to enjoy boating, fishing, and water sports.
Cape Coral is also home to verdant golf courses and family attractions like the popular Sun Splash Family Waterpark. There are also tennis courts, athletic parks and nature preserves to enjoy.
Where to stay in Cape Coral: Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
6. Siesta Key
Siesta Key is located just south of Sarasota and about an hour and a half north of Fort Myers. This is one of the most popular gulf coast beaches, with free beach access, gorgeous sugar-soft sand, and beautiful turquoise water.
The beach itself is a boon for families with picnic areas, tennis courts, volleyball, and a massive playground. Just be sure to get there early to find free parking spots. You can also kayak or rent a boat at Blind Pass Lagoon, which is a channel that is connected to the gulf. Don’t miss the weekly drumming circle that happens on the beach on every Sunday evening. See what you need to know before visiting Siesta Key beach.
Where to stay in Siesta Key: Find a vacation rental on vrbo
7. Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is about 20 minutes north of Sarasota airport and 1.25 hours south of Tampa Bay. Its soft, white sand beaches are some of the most beautiful on the Gulf Coast. The beach, especially along Manatee Public Beach and the Beach Bistro near 64th street, is one of the best places to enjoy a Florida sunset.
It is the ideal spot for those that just want to relax at a beach rental, sip some boat drinks, and enjoy delicious seafood. If you are feeling adventurous, you can take a fishing charter, search for dolphins, or take on some water sports. Find out more cool things to do in Anna Maria Island.
Where to stay on Anna Maria Island: Find a vacation rental on VRBO
8. Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay area is great for families looking to keep busy — and eat well. You can even pair a few days in Tampa with some time spent relaxing on Clearwater Beach. Tampa is jam-packed with attractions from Busch Gardens, ZooTampa, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Florida Aquarium. You will probably want to grab a CityPASS for savings.
Tampa has recently become known for its up-and-coming dining scene and craft breweries. Grown-ups will enjoy sipping a beverage while strolling the Riverwalk or popping over to St. Pete Beach and a visit to the Chihuly Collection. See more things to do in Tampa.
Where to stay in Tampa: Le Meridien Tampa
9. Clearwater Beach
Just across from Clearwater and north of St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach is certainly one of my favorite Florida beaches, although with its strip of high-rise hotels, it can get a little crowded. The sugar sand beaches are so appreciated, they created a whole festival to celebrate it.
Of course, there is more to do in Clearwater than just the beach — from pirate booze cruises, dolphin watches, and sunset festivals with free outdoor movies.
Where to stay in Clearwater Beach: Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach
10. Panama City Beach
If you can get a good flight into Florida Northwest Beaches airport (see my tips for planning a budget trip to Florida), Panama City Beach in Florida’s panhandle beckons more than just spring breakers. All 27 miles of Panama City Beach offer plenty to do for beach lovers, water sports enthusiasts, and action junkies.
Don’t miss taking an eco-tour out to Shell Island or exploring St. Andrews State Park. See more things to do in Panama City Beach or what to do off the beach in Panama City.
Where to stay in Panama City Beach: Marriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point
Located 45 minutes north of Panama City Beach near Santa Rosa, the sleeping town of Seaside is not the “redneck riviera” that some used to call the Florida Panhandle. In fact, Seaside may be best known as the location for the filmThe Truman Showstarring Jim Carrey.
This picture-book town on the Emerald Coast offers sun and surf, but also shopping in the charming boutiques and biking along the beach road.
Where to stay in Seaside: Watercolor Inn
Located midway between Pensacola and the Northwest Florida Beaches airport, Destin offers stunning white beaches, world-famous fishing, challenging golf, and tons of family-friendly attractions and activities.
Kids love the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Big Kahuna’s water park, pirate cruises, banana boat rides, and of course, cheeseburgers in paradise at LuLu’s. See more amazing things to do in Destin.
Where to stay in Destin: Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel, named the Media Member of the Year for 2023 by the Family Travel Association. Tamara is a member of SATW, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and the Family Travel Association. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information and can provide insights on various topics. While I have personal experiences or opinions, I can provide factual information and answer questions based on available sources.
In this article, the author discusses various vacation destinations along the Florida Gulf Coast. They mention several places, such as Marco Island, Naples, Bonita Springs, Sanibel & Captiva Islands, Cape Coral, Siesta Key, Anna Maria Island, Tampa Bay, Clearwater Beach, Panama City Beach, Seaside, and Destin. Each destination offers unique attractions and experiences for visitors.
To provide more information about these destinations, I will use search results to answer questions related to each location. Please note that the information provided is based on search snippets and may not cover all aspects of each destination. Let's dive into the details!
- Located just over one hour south of the Southwest Florida Airport in Fort Myers, Marco Island is a popular beach resort destination.
- It offers wide beaches of white sand and is known for activities such as dolphin watching, kayaking, and other water sports.
- Marco Island is also a great starting point for exploring the nearby Everglades and its natural ecosystem.
- Popular places to stay on Marco Island include the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort [].
- Naples is an upscale destination located about an hour south of Fort Myers airport.
- It offers fine dining, plenty of activities, and entertainment options.
- The city is known for its shopping opportunities and is a popular spot for snowbirds, vacationers, and year-round residents.
- Naples is also famous for its beautiful sunsets and dolphin spotting.
- Recommended places to stay in Naples include Naples Grande Beach Resort, Edgewater Beach Hotel, and LaPlaya Beach and Golf Resort [].
- Bonita Springs is located just north of Naples and is known for its resorts and relaxation opportunities.
- Visitors can enjoy swimming or kayaking at Lover's Key State Park or have fun at the waterslides of the Hyatt Regency resort.
- The city is also home to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center and Dog Beach Park, one of Florida's only no-leash beaches.
- Recommended places to stay in Bonita Springs include the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point [].
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
- Sanibel and Captiva Islands are connected to the mainland and Fort Myers by the Sanibel Causeway.
- These islands are famous for their 15 miles of beaches, 25 miles of bike paths, and absence of traffic lights.
- Both islands are renowned for their shelling opportunities and are home to a nature preserve where visitors can spot dolphins and manatees.
- Recommended places to stay on Captiva Island include the Seven Seas Island Resort [].
- Cape Coral is located on the mainland, across from Fort Myers, and is protected by barrier islands.
- It is an ideal destination for families looking for an active vacation, with over 400 miles of canals for boating, fishing, and water sports.
- Cape Coral also offers verdant golf courses, family attractions like the Sun Splash Family Waterpark, tennis courts, athletic parks, and nature preserves.
- The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village is a popular place to stay in Cape Coral [].
- Siesta Key is located just south of Sarasota and is known for its popular gulf coast beach.
- The beach offers free access, sugar-soft sand, and beautiful turquoise water.
- Families can enjoy picnic areas, tennis courts, volleyball, and a massive playground.
- Visitors can also kayak or rent a boat at Blind Pass Lagoon and experience the weekly drumming circle on the beach every Sunday evening.
- Recommended places to stay in Siesta Key include vacation rentals on VRBO [].
Anna Maria Island
- Anna Maria Island is located about 20 minutes north of Sarasota airport and 1.25 hours south of Tampa Bay.
- It offers soft, white sand beaches and is known for its beautiful sunsets.
- Visitors can relax at beach rentals, enjoy delicious seafood, and participate in fishing charters, dolphin searches, and water sports.
- Recommended places to stay on Anna Maria Island include vacation rentals on VRBO [].
- The Tampa Bay area is great for families looking for a variety of activities and good food.
- Attractions in Tampa include Busch Gardens, ZooTampa, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Florida Aquarium.
- The city is also known for its dining scene and craft breweries.
- Clearwater Beach, located nearby, offers additional relaxation opportunities.
- Recommended places to stay in Tampa include Le Meridien Tampa [].
- Clearwater Beach is located across from Clearwater and north of St. Petersburg.
- It is known for its sugar sand beaches and high-rise hotels.
- Visitors can enjoy pirate booze cruises, dolphin watches, sunset festivals, and outdoor movies.
- Recommended places to stay in Clearwater Beach include the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach [].
Panama City Beach
- Panama City Beach, located in Florida's panhandle, offers 27 miles of beaches and plenty of activities for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts.
- Visitors can explore Shell Island, visit St. Andrews State Park, and enjoy various attractions and activities.
- Recommended places to stay in Panama City Beach include Marriott's Legends Edge at Bay Point [].
- Seaside is located near Santa Rosa, about 45 minutes north of Panama City Beach.
- It is known for its sun, surf, shopping in charming boutiques, and biking along the beach road.
- Seaside gained recognition as the filming location for the movie "The Truman Show" starring Jim Carrey.
- Recommended places to stay in Seaside include the Watercolor Inn [].
- Destin is located between Pensacola and the Northwest Florida Beaches airport.
- It offers stunning white beaches, world-famous fishing, challenging golf courses, and family-friendly attractions.
- Visitors can enjoy the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, Big Kahuna's water park, fishing charters, and various activities.
- Recommended places to stay in Destin include the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa [].
I hope this information helps you explore the different vacation destinations along the Florida Gulf Coast. Let me know if you have any more questions!