Florida’s Gulf Coast is truly a wonderful place to vacation. Here is a list of 10 ideas for things to do on the west side of the sunshine state.
10 Florida Gulf Coast Ideas
|1 —||Go to the beach|
|2 —||Cruise the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway|
|3 —||Don Pedro Island|
|4 —||Myakka River State Park|
|5 —||Clearwater Marine Aquarium|
|6 —||Busch Gardens Theme Park|
|7 —||Explore Boca Grande|
|8 —||Bike around Siesta Key|
|9 —||Play golf|
|10||Watch a sunset|
1. Hit the beach!
Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches are truly beautiful with their soft-sand and generally calm waters. Up and down the coast from Destin to Clearwater, Sarasota to Fort Myers, you’ll find awesome beaches.
Hunt for shark teeth near Venice
For some added beach fun, head to a beach near Venice, Florida for some shark teeth hunting. This area is known as the shark tooth capitol of the world!
My family has spent endless hours hunting for fossilized shark teeth. It’s easy, really. Just wade in the water where the waves break, then scoop up some wet sand and sift through to find them.
Besides Venice beach, other beaches that we’ve had great luck with in finding shark teeth include:
- Caspersen Beach
- Casey Key
- Manasota Key
- Englewood Beach
Go shelling near Sanibel and Captiva
If hunting for the coolest sea shells – rather than shark’s teeth – sounds like more fun, then for sure head to the beaches of Sanibel Island and Captiva. Those islands rank among the top in the world for shelling.
2. Cruise the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
For a truly unforgettable day, rent a pontoon, fishing boat, or jet ski and cruise Florida’s Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. These inland waters are a great place to boat because they are protected by land, so much calmer than out in the Gulf of Mexico.
Where to rent a boat
The Intracoastal runs for several hundred miles, so there are boat rental places all up and down the coast. If you happen to be near Englewood, my family has had great experiences renting from both Allure Boat Rentals and Bay Breeze.
In particular, these places have been helpful explaining the markers found in the waterways and how best to navigate them.
What to do during your boat cruise
Most boat rentals are 4, 6 or 8 hours (jet ski rentals are by the hour) and there is plenty to do during that time. For example, it’s very likely you’ll spot dolphins or manatees as they love these calmer waters.
There are also amazing sandbars to pull up on and explore. Be sure to ask your boat rental guides for a map and best places to stop on your day on the water.
3. Kayak or paddleboard to Don Pedro Island
One of my favorite activities in Florida is renting a kayak or paddleboard and exploring the Intracoastal that way. Again, there are lots of rental places but I’ve been thrilled with a place at Stump Pass Beach State Park called Hooked on SUP in Englewood.
This is a half-day activity that is sure to be a highlight of your vacation. You can take a guided tour or go out on your own.
From Stump Pass, you’ll head a short distance to a beautiful lagoon which is only accessible by paddling through a mangrove tunnel. It’s really neat and you are sure to see lots of cool sponges, starfish, and other small sea creatures.
Next, paddle to Don Pedro Island. Access to this island and state park is only by car ferry or boat. It has a gorgeous beach! The sheltered pavilion is a great place for a picnic, and the restrooms there are a bonus, too.
4. Myakka River State Park
If you run into a day with not-so-great weather, or just need a break from the beach, Myakka River State Park in Sarasota is a fun place to visit. As one of Florida’s largest parks, you can easily spend an entire day here.
Wildlife Boat and Tram Tours
First, take a wildlife boat tour where you’re sure to see tons of bird and you’ll get up close to alligators. Or, you can take a tram tour that takes you throughout the park. The tours last about an hour and are available throughout the day.
Next, head to the unique Canopy Walkway. Opened in 2000, it’s famous for being the first public treetop trail in North America. Suspended 25 feet above the ground, it’s a cool way to explore the park.
Be sure to save your energy for the climb of the 74-foot tower.
The hike up is worth it when you see the spectacular view over the treetops.
5. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
A daytrip to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a must-do. Much more than just an aquarium, this place is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals. Recently, it completed a multi-million dollar expansion.
Made famous by the movies, Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, the rescued dolphin “Winter” brought worldwide attention to the aquarium after injuries caused the loss of her tail, and she was fitted for a prosthetic tail.
Sadly, after 16 years at the aquarium Winter died in November 2021.
If you’re a big fan of the Dolphin Tale movies, you can even visit a few of the sets while at Clearwater Marine Aquarium as some scenes were shot there.
6. Busch Gardens Theme Park
Also near Clearwater is Busch Gardens Theme Park located in Tampa. Certainly, the theme parks in Orlando top them all. But, Busch Gardens exceeded my family’s expectations and so I would highly recommend it.
We loved seeing all of the wide variety of animals at this park.
Plus, the rides are really awesome.
And, the grounds are beautiful. We visited close to Christmas and, wow, was it lit up for the season!
7. Explore Boca Grande
Not too terribly far from Fort Myers is Boca Grande. This idyllic, “Old Florida-feel,” small town on Gasparilla Island is a wonderful place to spend a day.
Besides the beautiful beaches in Gasparilla Island State Park, there are two picturesque lighthouses, one of which you can tour – the Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum (located at the tip of the island). Or, take a stroll through the historical downtown area past quaint homes, churches and stores.
Additionally, there’s a 6.5 mile bike and golf-cart path (rentals available) that runs the length of the island. And finally, I’d recommend lunch at the elite Gasparilla Inn dining room and Pink Elephant Restaurant to experience a place that hosts presidents and celebrities. (Just a heads up: there is a dress code).
Lastly, consider a guided fishing tour off the shores of Boca Grande.
8. Bike around Siesta Key
Named one of the best beaches in Florida year after year is Siesta Key. In fact, in 2020 it was ranked #1 in the U.S. and #11 in the world by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards. It sits just a short drive from downtown Sarasota.
There is lots to do on Siesta Key, but one fun way to see this 8-mile long island is by bike. Rental places offer regular or electric bikes, or you could rent a scooter or scooter car.
9. Play golf
If you’re a fan of golf, then you’re a fan of Florida. There are 1,300 courses, which is more than any other state!
A few I would recommend are:
- Sarasota National (Venice)
- Rotunda Golf & Country Club (Rotunda West)
- Riverwood Golf Course (Port Charlotte)
- Heron Creek (North Port)
- (I’ll add more as I play them!)
The Cove in Port Charlotte is a unique course in that it has lights on nine of its holes, and so it’s open until 9 or 10 p.m. most nights. It’s not a very challenging course, so good for all skill levels.
10. Watch a sunset on Florida’s Gulf Coast
A vacation to Florida’s Gulf Coast would truly not be complete without at least one night of watching a sunset. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, it just never gets old.
The sun sets slowly at first, and then seemingly, it disappears in a matter of moments as if it dropped into the water. Such a magical, awe-inspiring experience!
Grab your loved ones, a beach chair, and soak up God’s beauty on full display!
I hope and pray the memories you make on Florida’s Gulf Coast last a lifetime.
Pin these ideas for later!
More ideas for Florida’s Gulf Coast vacation.
What do YOU recommend on Florida’s Gulf Coast? An airboat tour through the Everglades, perhaps? Please include your tips in the comments section below!
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