The Gulf Coast of Florida boasts some of the most scenic beaches in the world. Picturesque white, sandy beaches and warm, crystalline water make the Western coast of Florida a vacationer’s paradise. From surfing and boating to sunbathing and snorkeling, there’s plenty of fun to be had for visitors of all ages. With so much to do and see in this gorgeous area, choosing a place to call your temporary home isn’t always easy. Here are nine of the best towns and cities to look for Gulf Coast vacation rentals.

1. SARASOTA

building silhouette on sundown
Source: Flickr / Lawrence Lazare

Sarasota is a small, welcoming community with a whole lot to offer. Spend a day exploring Sarasota Bay or the Gulf of Mexico by boat, and then take in some of the city’s highly regarded culture. Options include the Sarasota Opera, the Sarasota Ballet of Florida, and the Asolo Theater. Sarasota has a thriving downtown area with outstanding restaurants, world-class museums, and even an aquarium that has educational programs for the kids. Nature lovers are sure to appreciate the numerous gardens, including the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Enjoy indoor and outdoor fun in beautiful Sarasota.

2. ST. GEORGE ISLAND

beautiful rays of the sun
Source: Flickr / MacroPrudential

One of the country’s most clean and serene beaches, St. George Island is a 22-mile island paradise. The crystal-clear waters are perfect for fishing flounder, trout, and redfish. Take a rental canoe out for a relaxing adventure, then hop in the water to cool off from the hot tropical sun. In addition to the tranquil beaches, this unique island has marshlands where you can see some spectacular wildlife. The island’s state park is a great place for a picnic and some bird watching, and it’s a fantastic place to bring your pet travelers for a walk. While pets are prohibited on the state park’s beach, you can bring your four-legged friends to the other public beaches outside of the state park.

3. DESTIN

magnificent beachwater
Source: Flickr / Rene Rivers

Located on what is often called “The Emerald Coast,” Destin is a destination you must see to believe. With milky white sand and sparkling cerulean waters, Destin is nothing short of majestic. This area is a haven for anyone who loves fishing, with “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” being the city’s unofficial slogan. Charter a boat for a serene fishing excursion, or try your look on the shore. Stash your fishing gear in your vacation rental after you catch dinner, and then the city’s your oyster. Take a walk on the boardwalk, and then cool off at Big Kahuna’s Lost Paradise, a family friendly water park with over 40 attractions.

4. LONGBOAT KEY

swimming pool
Source: Flickr / rosscrawford1

If you want luxury, you’ll find an abundance of it at Longboat Key. Nestled between Sarasota and Manatee counties, Longboat Key is an ideal home base if you want to explore Florida’s Gulf Coast. Whether you want to tee off at a waterfront golf course, play tennis with the locals, indulge in world-class shopping, or treat yourself to fresh-caught seafood at one of the area’s fine dining restaurants, you’re going to find plenty of elegant, upscale offerings in this resort community. This town also has quite a few public parks where you can take it all in at your own pace. Once you take a waterfront stroll along the soft, pure white-sanded beaches and fall asleep in your vacation rental listening to the hypnotizing sound of gently crashing waves, you may never want to leave.

5. VENICE

green seawater
Source: Flickr / Debbie R

Venice is an upscale area, but it’s also very welcoming. This charming city has a unique downtown area that’s called “the island of Venice” due to the man-made canal that separates the area from the rest of the city. The streets are pedestrian-friendly, perfect for enjoying a leisurely stroll exploring the many shops and restaurants that are readily accessible. Take the whole family on a riverboat tour on the Myakka River, where you can spot a variety of wildlife such as turtles, herons, snook, and even alligators. In the mood for an underwater adventure? Head to Caspersen Beach, where you can snorkel for large shark’s teeth. A vacation rental in Venice gives you access to other hot spots, such as Bradenton, Sarasota, and Port Charlotte.

6. MANASOTA KEY

waves at the sea
Source: Flickr / Tommy Wiklind

If you want a vintage Florida feel, Manasota Key is the place for you. Conjuring visions of Old Florida in the 40s and 50s, this charming area offers excellent privacy for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the touristy beaches. There’s plenty of undeveloped lands where you can observe a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. Bring your own bikes and store them at your vacation rental, or rent one locally, and explore the fascinating neighborhoods. Finish the day relaxing by the tiki bar and indulging in exotic cocktails under the moonlight.

7. ENGLEWOOD

flying bird above the ocean
Source: Flickr / n8foto

If you’re looking for a waterfront vacation rental at an affordable rate, Englewood is a great place to look. Don’t let the price fool you though — this is a truly wonderful place to vacation. Much like Manasota Key, Englewood still has that Old Florida vibe. There are two waterways, Lemon Bay and the Myakka River, where you can kayak, canoe, fish, or swim. Head to Dearborn Street for some shopping and dining without the distractions of corporate chain stores. When you want to get away from it all, Englewood is a safe bet.

8. BOCA GRANDE ON GASPARILLA ISLAND

coconut trees in front of the hotel
Source: Flickr / Trish Hartmann

A favorite destination for celebrities, Boca Grande is a luxurious island getaway for those who want seclusion. Explore the island by golf cart, then unwind in one of the area’s famous oak-palm hammocks. This remote area is only accessible by boat, and it’s the ultimate vacation destination for those fortunate enough to be able to afford it.

9. NAPLES

buildings at the pier
Source: Flickr / Kristopher Avila

Another ritzy area for the rich and famous, Naples offers luxury in spades. Head to Naples Pier and swim with the dolphins, then head to Lowdermilk Beach Park for family friendly fun in the sun. With zoos, museums, parks, and many other attractions, you’ll never be bored in Naples.