There are so many amazing things to do on the Florida West Coast, making an old-fashioned road trip to hit the highlights on the Gulf Coast the perfect solution.
Beaches, restaurants, outdoor adventures, family-friendly activities, and more await you here. We had a blast on our trip and cannot wait to share the details with you!
We’ve put together this itinerary for the west coast of Florida that is sure to make you smile.
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In Tampa Bay you’ll find a sparkling waterfront, world-class chefs, family fun, and a century of Cuban culture!
THINGS TO DO IN TAMPA
- Rent two bikes from a bike share location and ride along the Riverwalk, or if you’d rather view downtown FROM the water, book a kayak or stand up paddleboard from Urban Kai.
- For thrill seekers, nearby Busch Gardens has the largest number of roller coasters in Florida. Our friends at Trekaroo have the scoop on the best things to do in Tampa Bay with Kids.
- On a rainy day, you can still get in a round at nearby Topgolf. Take a break and try the buffalo cauliflower and the injectable donut holes (or fun with food as I like to call them).
WHERE TO EAT
Because you’re in Tampa, you need a Cuban while you’re here! The award-winning Cuban from Hemingway’s at the Armature Works is a no brainer.
WHERE TO STAY
The hip Aloft Tampa is right on the waterfront with a pool that overlooks the river. Plan your trip at the right time and you can meet local artists in the lobby.
Skip the grab-and-go breakfast at the hotel and head across the bridge to Oxford Exchange, one of Tampa’s most Instagram-able spots (and breakfast to die for).
Stay Here: Aloft Tampa Downtown
Clearwater Beach not only features impeccable beaches and inviting waters, but also an inviting, small-town atmosphere.
THINGS TO DO IN CLEARWATER
Have your name engraved on a grain of rice, then clap along with the buskers as they perform feats of amazing proportions. You can do it all nightly at Pier 60 as you watch the sunset on the beach. Afterward, take a moonlit dip in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
WHERE TO EAT
When in Clearwater, at least one meal needs to be at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, located right on the beach. Grab a seat at the rail for sunset, order a rum-runner and the garlic crab fries while you listen to live music.
WHERE TO STAY
The Wyndham Grand at Clearwater Beach is a perfect home base right on the beach. There is much to love about this hotel, but our favorite was dinner at Ocean Hai. We ordered the Kaiseki, the chef’s tasting menu.
My teen son and I both enjoyed this culinary experience that was truly beyond words. We tried new things, talked non-stop in-between courses about school, friends, sunburn and what might come out next. The dishes were beautifully presented and delicious.
Stay Here: Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach
In St. Petersburg you’ll find award-winning beaches, awesome museums, and plenty of outdoor fun.
THINGS TO DO IN ST. PETERSBURG
- Don’t miss the Avant-Garden at the Dali Museum with its melting clocks, mustached birds and wishing tree!
- The Dale Chihuly permanent collection at the Morean Arts Center is as wonderful as you’d expect. Plan your visit ahead of time and book a glass blowing workshop afterward, or just watch the glass-making demonstration.
- Make time for a walking tour of downtown murals with Florida CraftArt.
- Visit the beautiful St. Pete Beach.
WHERE TO EAT IN ST. PETERSBURG
Bodega on Central is a little Latin American-inspired street side café with outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong with any sandwich or plate, but make sure you also get a side of jicama slaw. Seriously, it’s to die for!
WHERE TO STAY IN ST. PETE
Located in Saint Petersburg city center, Hollander Hotel is a boutique hotel that features an on-site restaurant and heated outdoor pool with a poolside bar, and free WiFi.
After a long day at the Saint Pete Beach, guests can return to the independently-owned Harmony Eco Hair Spa massage, salt therapy, and aromatherapy services with organic products.
The Tap House and Grill and Bar offers their specialty, a grouper sandwich, and 21 craft beers on tap with a wide selection of spirits. Coffee, cappuccino, and desserts are offered at the Common Grounds Coffee Shop.
Stay Here: Hollander Hotel – Downtown St. Petersburg
Sarasota — the culture capital of Florida — is also home to great beaches, amazing restaurants, and awesome shopping.
THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA
- There is so much to do in Sarasota you’ll likely need a few days, but if you only have one, spend the day on Lido Key.
- Learn about the ways African American residents in Sarasota contributed to the Civil Rights movement with a tour from Newtown Alive.
- Two of the most popular beaches near Sarasota are Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island. They are worth a visit!
WHERE TO EAT IN SARASOTA
If you stay at Art Ovation Hotel (more below), you’ll also be a few blocks from Sage, located in an historic building that once housed the local newspaper. Put your name in for the restaurant before heading up to the rooftop bar. Everything is excellent at Sage, so go hungry.
WHERE TO STAY IN SARASOTA
Although you’ll be out at the beach during the day, stay in Downtown Sarasota at the Art Ovation Hotel, one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever visited.
The rooftop pool and bar offers a fantastic view of the city, and the location is walking distance to shops, art galleries, and several theaters.
Stay Here: Art Ovation Hotel
You’ll find 14 miles of white-sand beaches from Casey Key to Manasota Key, and plenty of recreational opportunities in Venice.
THINGS TO DO IN VENICE, FLORIDA
- Catch an Atlanta Braves spring training game at CoolToday Park. Take a walk around the field, grab a beer at the Tomahawk Tiki Bar, watch kids roll down the grassy hill at Coca-Cola Corner.
- If it isn’t baseball season, discover the 15 miles of trails at the urban oasis that is Oscar Scherer State Park. Oscar Scherer is a little quieter than nearby (and better known) Myyaka River State Park.
WHERE TO EAT IN VENICE, FLORIDA
Head down a dirt road to Snook Haven, a restaurant where you’ll find BBQ, live music and boat tours of the Myyaka River.
For something a little less casual, venture to Venice’s adorable and historic downtown to Made in Italy. The homemade pasta dishes are out of this world.
WHERE TO STAY IN VENICE, FLORIDA
Offering a garden, Venice Beach Villas features an outdoor pool and free private parking on-site.
Free use of bicycles is available at the property and the area is popular for cycling.
Stay Here: Venice Beach Villas
Beaches, fishing, and shopping are just some of the fun things to do in Fort Myers.
WHAT TO DO IN FORT MYERS
- Visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.
- At JetBlue Park, you’ll find the Boston Red Sox during spring training.
- Lee County’s Manatee Park is one of the best destinations in the state for those who want to see wild manatees in action.
- For a fun detour, take the Key West Express from Fort Myers to Key West for a day or two, then resume your road trip!
WHERE TO EAT IN FORT MYERS
Along the beautiful McGregor Avenue is the shaded patio of the McGregor Café. Your order: Lobster cake salad with an ice tea in a Mason jar, and Key lime pie for dessert. You can thank me later!
WHERE TO STAY IN FORT MYERS
Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa enjoys a privileged location, facing Sanibel and Captiva Islands, surrounded by lush vegetation. Facilities include a spa with jacuzzi, sauna and massage, a tennis court and a well-equipped gym.
Guests can choose among different restaurant options, from seafood to steakhouse and tapas; from contemporary American cuisine to deli bakery pastries.
The resort also features a 100-foot private yacht, 5 swimming possibilities, a private fishing pier and the family-friendly kid’s club.
Stay Here: Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa
SANIBEL AND CAPTIVA ISLAND
Just a short drive from Fort Myers, you’ll find Sanibel Island — the perfect place for sunset-watching and shelling.
WHAT TO DO IN SANIBEL ISLAND
We love Florida’s west coast beaches, especially Sanibel Island. One of the best things about Sanibel and nearby Captiva Island is that it isn’t one of those overdeveloped beach towns, but there are still tons of things to do.
Our favorite? Kayaking the mangroves of Tarpon Bay. Rent a kayak through Tarpon Bay Explorers and head out on your own, or go on a guided tour.
WHERE TO EAT IN SANIBEL ISLAND
For a casual lunch, head to local favorite Doc Ford’s for some Yucatan shrimp tacos.
WHERE TO STAY IN SANIBEL ISLAND
The Island Inn is located right on the beach and has five different hotel room types, as well as cottages. The best part of our cottage was a huge screened porch and plenty of room to spread out. Make sure you sign up for the beach walk led by a scientist from the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum.
Pensacola Beach is one of Florida’s West Coast barrier islands, and a one of the best gulf coast beaches.
WHAT TO DO IN PENSACOLA
- Go fishing off one of their two fishing piers.
- Take part in one of their many amazing water activities, like parasailing, swimming, surfing, diving, snorkeling, or stand up paddle boarding.
- The Pensacola Children’s Museum is the perfect place for your kids to explore!
- With over 800 animals on 50 acres, the Gulf Breeze Zoo has a lot to experience.
WHERE TO EAT IN PENSACOLA
WHERE TO STAY IN PENSACOLA
Holiday Inn Pensacola Beach is a beachfront hotel that boasts an outdoor swimming pool with a cascading waterfall, two hot tubs, and a 250-foot heated seasonal lazy river.
A Gulf-front sun terrace with a fire pit is offered on site. The fitness center has a beach view. Seasonal children’s activities, including poolside movies and pirate and mermaid shows are available.
Riptides Sports Grill and Beachfront Tiki Bar serves casual American cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as cocktails.
Stay Here: Holiday Inn Pensacola Beach
HONEYMOON ISLAND STATE PARK
One of Florida’s best-loved state parks, Honeymoon Island State Park has more than four miles of beach to explore, along with a three-mile trail through one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests.
When looking skyward, eagles, osprey and great horned owls can be seen, while ground animals include gopher tortoises, raccoons and armadillos.
Marco Island, just a short ride from the Florida Everglades and close to Naples, is the largest and only developed land in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands.
This Gulf Coast retreat offers luxury resorts, beautiful beaches and unspoiled parks. Marco Island’s tropical climate and proximity to the ocean are huge lures.
WEEKEND GETAWAYS IN FLORIDA (printable)
Download this 1-page checklist of Weekend Getaways in Florida to print at home or your local print shop. Perfect to keep in a binder, bring on your adventure or just put on the refrigerator!
(PS. You can find out more in our article, 33 Sensational Weekend Getaways in Florida.)
Format: PDF, US Letter Size, Portrait (8.5”x11”)
You will receive one PDF file. File will be emailed and available for download up to three times upon payment. No physical item will be shipped.
FLORIDA WEST COAST FAQ
Which is better? The East or West Coast of Florida?
When it comes to debating if the east or west coast of Florida is better, we’re only talking about beaches. The answer is: depends! It depends on what you want to do. The east coast has the Atlantic Ocean, which has better waves and more water sports activities. The west coast on the Gulf of Mexico features white sandy beaches and calmer waters.
Is Tampa considered to be on the west coast of Florida?
Yes, Tampa is on the Florida west coast! This fun town is full of things to do for everyone in your group.
Which side of Florida is warmer?
The west coast side of Florida is warmer. The west coast is usually about 5 degrees warmer than the east coast side of the state.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA:
- YOUR FLORIDA VACATION
- GULF COAST ROAD TRIP: Florida Gulf Coast Road Trip Itinerary: beaches, manatees and pristine waters
- TAMPA: 41 Amazingly Fun Things To Do In Tampa, Florida
- NAPLES: 14 Things To Do In Naples, Florida You Can’t Miss
- SPORTS COAST: 3 Things Every Family Must Do In Florida’s Sports Coast
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