Gulf Coast Beaches

woman enjoying herself on the beach

About 90 miles west of the Orlando area, lies the Gulf of Mexico known for its warm, calm waters and great shelling. There are lots of watersport opportunities as well as natural wildlife viewing.

map of west coast beaches

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is named as such for, you guessed it, its clear, shallow water and white powdery sand. Just 20 minutes from Tampa (1 hour, 59 minutes. From Orlando) it is considered to be Florida’s perfect beach.  Finding parking can be challenging at this popular beach so plan before you go.  

Rentals of chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas are available.

Be sure to spend some time on Pier 60 fishing, playing in the playground, grabbing something to eat or viewing the famous sunset.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail from Dolphin Tale.


John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk at Madeira Beach

This turn of the century fishing village and boardwalk has over 100 unique retail shops and restaurants, and lots of water sports opportunities.

The Pirate Ship at John’s Pass offers daily two-hour cruises that are sure to please the whole family. Enjoy water gun battles, pirates’ games and stories, and treasure hunts.  For the over 21 crowd, beer and wine are available.

Also enjoy fishing excursions and dolphin watches as well. Street parking and a multi-level parking garage are easy to find.

Treasure Island

driving time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Treasure Island was a perfect spot for pirates to hide their goods.  In the early 1900’s a group of business men got the idea to spread the word that treasure was found to help promote the area.  One of the hotel owners had buried the treasure and the business men later “found” it.  The name stuck.

This is home to famous Annual Sanding Ovations Master’s Cup held each November.  Here ten master sculptors return to Treasure Island for the Annual Sanding Ovations Master’s Cup Competition and Music Festival. Live music, food, a craft market, and a children’s area featuring sand sculpting lessons are available. The event is free to the public.

To find your slice of paradise, beach accesses are marked with distinctive blue and orange seagull signs. The signs also indicate where there are beach parking, handicapped access, and other amenities.

Be sure to visit Sea Dog Brewing Co while there.

Flickr Photo by Elisa Self Creative Commons license

St Pete Beach

Voted as Trip Advisors number 3 beach in the US for 2016, the beach has the longest undeveloped stretch of public beach in the country known as Pass-a-Grille Beach. This beach is home to The Don CeSar Hotel known for its 5-star Gatsby-like atmosphere. Plan a special dinner here.

Away from the beach is the Corey Avenue District that has lots of options of restaurants and specialty retail. If the adults in your party plan a stay for the evening, go where the locals go- to the Drunken Clam- a small beach bar that serves wings and cocktails!

Nearby is the Salvador Dali Museum.


Fort De Soto Park

Attention Prison Break Fans! You might recognize this park from the famous TV series.  The Fort was used in several episodes as a backdrop for the country Panama.

The Fort was built for the Spanish-American War, however, it wasn’t finished until after the war ended. Not a single hostile shot was ever fired from here!

The park is made up of five separate islands, known as keys, and is best suited for those looking to be active.

Many varieties of wildlife (pelicans, egrets, sea turtles, dolphins) call the park home.  Ride, skate or jog on the paved trail or kayak/ canoe thru the mangroves. Explore the canons and jail cells of the old fort. Fish from the piers or picnic along the beaches.

Because of its location, the water is a lagoon type pool ideal for young swimmers. Maybe you will even see someone famous filming here!
driving time: 2 hours, 3 minutes


Anna Maria Island

Pelican at Anna Maria Island Florida
The pelican in this picture was diving for his afternoon snack and he didn’t mind us photographing him at all.

Furthest from the Orlando area is an easy drive to Anna Maria Island.   Holmes Beach is our favorite for a quick lunch and a walk along the beach to collect shells and watch the pelicans.  Holmes Beach is the largest of the three communities on the island. You will not find any drive thru or high rises here! The public beach access (Manatee Public Beach) is located at the end of Manatee Avenue however, parking can be limited.

The Anna Maria Island Beach café offers breakfast, lunches, and dinners.  They have the best fish sandwich on the island! Be sure to stop by the gift shop for a new trinket.

driving time: 2 hours, 17 minutes.