Palm-lined beaches border the Gulf Coast of Florida, creating a picture-perfect backdrop for family vacations and couples’ adventures. Life at the Gulf Coast is relaxed and easygoing, so you can leave stress behind and settle in for a fun trip. As you choose from Gulf Coast vacation rentals, book a stay at one of many properties situated nearby these fantastic attractions.

1. Visit Siesta Beach

Although there are stunning beaches within a short drive of most Gulf Coast vacation rentals, the sugar-soft white sand at Siesta Beach consistently wins top marks. When you’re done swimming in the crystal-clear water, get your heart racing with a parasailing trip or Jet Ski rental from Siesta Key Watersports, which operates right on the beach.

2. Swim With Sharks at the Florida Aquarium

Become part of the attractions at the magnificent Florida Aquarium with a swim in the facility’s 500,000-gallon Coral Reef tank. During your adventure, you can float next to lobsters, sharks, sting rays, sea turtles, and more, all as visitors watch from the massive gallery window. After your swim, explore the aquarium to meet the alligators and touch a starfish.

3. Explore the Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Feed the flamingos out of your hand at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Pet a baby alligator, hold tropical birds, and get wrapped up by a massive jungle snake. Animal keepers host daily shows, and the facility welcomes kids of all ages.

4. Kayak Through the Everglades

See the wild side of Everglades National Park with a guided kayak tour from Everglades Kayak Company. Explore mangrove tunnels, watch alligators on the shore, and listen to the otherworldly call of the green heron. If you’re an experienced paddler, the company also rents kayaks for self-guided trips.

5. Learn About History at the Florida Holocaust Museum

Step into the past at the Florida Holocaust Museum. Check out the sobering Boxcar #113 069-5, which sits on tracks from the Treblinka Killing Center. In the History, Heritage and Hope area, read stories from survivors, see artifacts from concentration camps, and learn what it was like to be a Jew during Hilter’s reign.

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6. Watch Manatees in Apollo Beach

In the winter, head to the Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center to watch groups of manatees as they relax in the comfort of the power plant’s warm-water discharge canal. Learn about these gentle animals in the environmental education building, then head outdoors to climb the 50-foot tower for a great view of the canal.

7. Go Shelling on Sanibel Island

Join in a favorite Gulf Coast pastime with an afternoon of shelling on Sanibel Island, which was voted by Travel & Leisure Magazine as the best shelling spot in North America. Pick up a snack from the Lazy Flamingo and head to Bowman’s Beach during low tide, when the beach is covered with stunning pastel shells. Search for a horse conch or lightning whelk to take home as souvenirs.

8. Explore a Historic Sugar Mill

Walk among the remains of a historic sugar plantation at Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park in Homosassa. Once an integral part of the state’s sugar industry during the Civil War, the plant is now a collection of stone walls and enormous mechanical components. Interpretive signs introduce you to each section, including the awe-inspiring 40-foot limestone masonry chimney.

9. Feel Like a Pilot at the National Aviation Museum

Watch the legendary Blue Angels practice their flight drills at the National Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Next, head into the museum, where you can see a historic airship ladder, climb into a cockpit trainer, and feel what it’s like to fly a fighter jet in the flight simulator.

10. Play 18 Holes

Feel like a PGA professional at Innisbrook’s renowned Copperhead Golf Club in Palm Harbor. Featuring fairways lined with pine trees and gentle, rolling greens, the course is beautiful and challenging. As you play, keep an eye out for the alligators and bald eagles that make their home in the surrounding wilderness.

11. Ride the Roller Coasters in Tampa

Get your heart pounding as you take a 360-degree loop on the Scorpion, a wild roller coaster at Busch Gardens in Tampa. A favorite among locals and visitors, this fun-packed theme park has a ride for everyone. Afterward, head to the park’s onsite zoo, where you can see giraffes and antelope from the Serengeti Express train.

12. Try Scalloping in Steinhatchee

Get off the beaten path with a day of scalloping in relaxed Steinhatchee. During the summer scallop season, pick up fins and snorkel gear from the dive shop at Sea Hag Marina. After you purchase a scalloping license, head into the bay to collect delicious scallops from the sea floor.

13. Play in the Water at Adventure Island

Feel weightless as you drop down the twists and turns aboard the Colossal Curl at Adventure Island water park in Tampa Bay. Then, join your family in a raft on the Wahoo Run water flume, or slow down on the Rambling Bayou river. If you want to beat the lines, book a Quick Queue ticket for faster boarding.

14. Take a Pirate Cruise in Panama City Beach

Sail the high seas aboard a Sea Dragon pirate cruise in Panama City Beach. As you ride a pirate ship through St. Andrews Bay, look out for dolphins and enjoy the antics of the lively crew. The cruise is great for families; kids can have a sword fight, swab the deck, and hunt for sunken treasure.

15. Watch the Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs

Watch mermaids frolic in the submerged auditorium at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill. The live mermaid shows, which feature musical numbers and underwater eating and drinking, are a fantastic family event. Your admission ticket to the park also includes entry to the Buccaneer Bay water park, a wildlife show, and a river boat ride.

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