Florida’s Gulf Coast has long been a favorite vacation spot for residents of the Orange State and for well-informed out of towners as well. This area of the state is comprised of different sets of beach communities with distinct personalities and various things to do. The Gulf Coast is much more than Panama City Beach and Tampa and we encourage you to explore the area as much as possible.

Most Popular Gulf Coast Destinations

1. Clearwater

Clearwater is a lively beach town that is located just west of Tampa. The town of Clearwater has a great deal of entertainment options for families and singles alike including Pier 60, nightly music festivals, and daily street performances. Clearwater also hosts Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the annual jazz music fest. One of the more popular destinations for those visiting Clearwater is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium but other highlights include:

  • Kayaking & Canoeing
  • Sand Key Park
  • Philippe Park
  • Jack Russell Memorial Stadium

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2. Destin

Known for its snow white sandy beaches and beautiful emerald green waters, Destin is a highly popular destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The sand of Destin’s beaches comes from the Appalachian Mountains and is made of ground quartz crystal which gives it its appearance of sugar, which is quite the sight! Destin has a great deal of hotels, condos, and shopping centers and is a very popular family destination. Some of the more popular things to see and do in Destin include:

  • Henderson Beach State Park
  • Big Kahuna’s
  • Fort Walton Mound
  • Grayton Beach State Park
  • Destin History & Fishing Museum

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3. Sarasota

Long known as one of Florida’s most popular Gulf Cities, Sarasota has it all from fine arts, restaurants, hotels, shopping and of course beautiful beaches. While there, families can pay a visit to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art which is a dedication to the Ringling family, the founders of the famous circus institution. Visitors can also tour Ca’ d’Zan Mansion which is a 56 room Venetian Gothic palace and the Ringling’s old family home. Some other fun options include:

  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
  • Legacy Trail
  • Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

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4. Naples

Located on The Gulf of Mexico, the beach city of Naples is renown for its high end shopping and five start dining options, and of course its beautiful beaches. Visitors can enjoy its Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South where most of these high end restaurants, art galleries, and clothing boutiques are located. Some family oriented activities to do and see in Naples include:

  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Barefoot Preserve Park
  • Naples Zoo
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

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5. Panama City Beach

Well known for its spring break shenanigans, Panama City Beach is approximately 27 miles of white sandy beach and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Although it is well known for spring break, PCB has a great deal of family oriented institutions and activities that are meant for a great time including State Parks, waterfront restaurants, amusement parks, historical landmarks, and shopping centers. Some of the more popular things to do include

  • Pier Park
  • Gulf World Marine Park
  • Shipwreck Island
  • St. Andrews State Park
  • Camp Helen State Park
  • Man in the Sea Museum
  • Miracle Street Amusement Park

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6. Fort Myers

Most folks don’t know that two of the most legendary U.S. inventors and business leaders used to live in Fort Myers: Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Fort Myers is a popular destination for families looking for beaches, fishing, and shopping. Both Ford and Edison owned winter estates in Fort Myers and now the estates serve as museums that honor both gentlemen. The more popular things to do in Fort Myers include:

  • Imaginarium Hands-On Museum
  • Lakes Regional Park
  • Hammond Stadium
  • Estero Bay Reserve Park

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7. Tampa

The Gulf Coast’s premier city, Tampa is very easy to get to with numerous cities having directing flights. With its rich history, various neighborhoods, amusement parks, beautiful beaches, and various major league sports franchises, the city is a great getaway for those that want more out of their vacation than simply sitting on a beach. Apart from heading to a sports game at the homes of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers (NFL), Tampa Bay Devil Rays (MLB), and Tampa Bay Lighting (NHL), there are various family oriented things to do in Tampa including:

  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Amusement Park
  • Museum of Science & Industry
  • Glazer Children’s Museum
  • Florida Aquarium
  • Adventure Island
  • Lowry Park Zoo
  • Henry B. Plant Museum

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8. Bradenton

Bradenton is a quirky old Floridian city with great cultural institutions like museums, parks, and preserves. Tourists are able to visit Bradenton’s RiverWalk as well as the DeSoto National Musuem Park. A collection of old restored buildings, courthouse, and old schoolhouse make up the city’s downtown area. Others establishments to visit include:

  • Village of the Arts
  • Robinson Preserve
  • Cortez Fishing Village
  • South Florida Museum
  • McKechnie Field

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9. Siesta Key

Located very close to downtown Sarasota, Siesta Key has one of the nation’s best beaches in Siesta Public Beach. The eight mile island offers a great deal of beach amenities as well as shopping, fine dining, and a lively nightlife. Siesta Key is perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation as you can lay on the beach or snorkel. Other fun beaches located on the island are Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach.

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10. Bonita Springs

Located between Fort Myers and Naples, Bonita Springs is a beautiful beach community that is home to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center. Due to its beautiful beaches and surrounding waters, fishing and outdoor activities are the most popular on Bonita Springs. In addition, the community is famous for its Lovers Key State Park – a place rightly named because of its seclusion and privacy. Some of the more popular things to do in Bonita Springs include:

  • Parasailing & Paragliding
  • Little Hickory Beach Park
  • Dolphin & Whale Watching
  • Everglades Wonder Garden

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11. Cocoa Beach

Long known as a surfer’s haven, Cocoa Beach has something for the entire family. Visitors can surf the waves, visit the world’s largest surf shop, visit the surrounding nature preserves, or visit NASA’s launch headquarters. Other activities to do while visiting include:

  • Historic Cocoa Village
  • Lori Wilson Park
  • Kayaking & Canoeing

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Florida’s Gulf Coast is truly a marvelous place comprised of unique and beautiful beach communities. For those suffering through harsh winters, remember that you don’t even to leave the country to enjoy warm tropical waters.

Check Out the Best Beaches along Florida's Gulf!

This article was written by Walter Godinez.