Florida Family Beach Vacations; The Florida Gulf Coast
Maybe it’s because I live here that I’m a bit biased about our beautiful Gulf Coast. There is truly something for everyone here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. From bustling, entertainment family vacation beaches, to quiet nature retreats with the kids, and sleepy beach towns to explore, to exclusive condo and resort beach towns. The white sands and warm waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast will lure you in and the friendly people will make you want to stay here for every family beach vacation.
Both kids and adults will love the white pristine sands on the west coast of Florida, from the northern nature around Honeymoon Island to the southern sands of Marco Island it’s a wonder to behold. The sunsets alone will ensure a family vacation you won’t soon forget.
Starting at the northern end of the Florida Gulf Coast is Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island near the city of Dunedin. Honeymoon Island State Park is a typical Gulf Coast barrier island with white sand beaches on the gulf side and mangrove swamps on the bay side. It contains one of the few remaining south Florida virgin slash pine stands along the island’s northern loop trail, as well as seagrass beds, salt marshes, tidal flats, sand dunes, a multitude of shore birds, and over 208 species of plants. Awesome for a Florida family beach vacation that only involves the beach.
“This beautiful beach has great sand, little or no trash, does not get overcrowded and the small cafe even serves pancakes for breakfast on either Sat. or Sun. (maybe both, I can’t remember.) You have to pay, but you get a cleaner, less crowded beach and the fee keeps away the bag ladies, drunks, boom box playing partiers and other sometimes unpleasant types you run into on popular beaches. If you want a quiet family beach in the area this is the one. Take the ferry to the island for an even quieter beach. If you are willing to walk a bit, you can basically have the beach to yourself on Caladesi Island State Park which also has a nice selection of shells.”
Next, we move a little south to Clearwater Beach which is a major tourist destination known the world over, and is great for those looking for a lot of things to see and do on your Florida family vacation. I’ve heard Clearwater is completely renovating its beachfront and the improvements should remarkable. The bustling area includes tons of shopping, restuarants and things to do. Some of the surrounding beaches include; Sand Key, Indian Rocks Beach, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach (a mostly upscale community with tons of tall private condos), Madeira Beach (at the southern tip of Sand Key, right on John’s Pass) and of course Treasure Island which sits a bit more south.
Treasure Island is part of the Clearwater/Tampa bay area, which is heavily developed and very busy island with businesses and condos. Treasure Island has the widest beaches on the Gulf coast, although the Marco Island beaches are heavy competition for this title after their re-nourishment. A really cool part of Treasure Island is “Sunset Beach.” at the southern end of the island. Sunset Beach has a nice public access and pavilion where you can eat hang out, have a lunch or a big party on your Florida family beach vacation. See the Treasure Island post for more about this area. For kids, this is a fun place with lots of ‘piratey’ things to see and do.
St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille are largely residential, but both have a beautiful stretch of beach and reasonable accommodations. Pass-a-Grille is really a laid-back but up-to-date community. For more detailed information on going to St Pete Beach on your Florida family beach vacation, you can visit these posts on Clearwater Beach area and Treasure Island areas.
Fort Desoto Park is the next stop south and perfect for nature lovers, It even won Dr. Beach’s # 1 beach spot in the nation in 2005. It is a huge county park with no homes or businesses. Just a boat ride away lie Egmont and Shell Islands that are a beauty to behold. They are completely undeveloped and can only be reached by boat. They are two of my favorite islands where you’ll be surrounded by warm turquoise water and soft white sands, with many opportunities for birdwatchers and beach goers to experience Florida’s Gulf Coast at it’s finest. Also at Fort Desoto, you can rent bikes or kayaks, camp right on the water at a shady campsite, walk or roller-blade on the several miles of sidewalks throughout the park, go fishing on either of two great piers, or just hang out and relax, it’s a gorgeous place and definitely one of my faves, one your family will love for a Florida family vacation.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, spans Tampa Bay and goes from the St. Petersburg -Ft. Desoto area to the more central-southern beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast, including Anna Maria Island, Bradenton beach and Sarasota county’s amazing beaches like Siesta. Compared to Pinellas County beaches, the central-southern islands and beaches are much less developed (with a few exceptions). Beaches include: Longboat Key which has lots of upscale shopping and restaurants ( and is a very exclusive and upscale community with very limited beach access unless you are renting a condo). Close by are Lido and not far from that is the world famousSiesta Keywhere the locals of Sarasota go to the beach (and much of the rest of the world as well). There is really something for everyone in Sarasota from night life, restaurants, cultural attractions and phenomenal white powdered quartz crystal beaches. If you are planning a vacation on Siesta Key, be sure to check out the Siesta Key post so you can pick just the right area for your Florida family beach vacation. If you ask me, Siesta is the prime spot for a Florida family beach vacation as it’s perfect for both kids and adults.
South of Sarasota lies, Venice, Manasota Key, and Casey Key beaches where the nightlife is almost non-existent and the pace slows to a crawl, but the beaches and communities are much less populated and the people are friendly. The beaches are just as beautiful, though not as snow white as Siesta, but since there are far less people, it’s easier to find some quiet time here. It gets even slower on Palm Island (Little Gasparilla) with boat-only access, so if that’s what you’re into, enjoy it while it lasts, because Florida is always building and growing so it won’t be long before even these less populated areas are as big as Tampa.
Still heading south from Little Gasparilla along Florida’s Gulf Coast you’ll find more gorgeous beaches including: the big island of Gasparilla -also called Boca Grande, (which is famous for its Tarpon fishing, and as a private refuge to the old-money elite), as well as Cayo Costa Island across Boca Pass, Cayo Costa Island State Park (most likely the largest undeveloped island on Florida’s Gulf coast ) and if you are into primitive camping, this place has the best. The shells are great here too, but finding places to stay are a bit more difficult than the more northern Gulf Coast beaches of Florida.
Just south of Cayo Costa (and west of Ft. Myers) lies North Captiva, Captiva, and Sanibel Islands which are world famous for their island charm, shelling, and really getting away from it all. Sanibel and Captiva Islands are the perfect getaways for a lovely Florida family beach vacation, especially for those who enjoy combing the beach for shells, in fact, the most common sight on these islands is the “Sanibel Stoop”. Read all about Sanibel & Captiva here. If the quiet beach days arent’ for you, Fort Myers Beach may be more your style as it picks up the pace with its almost “Key-West atmosphere” and throngs of people. There are a ton of hotels on Fort Myers Beach, and the beach is beautiful. Lots of coconut palms, calm (but not so clear) water, and long stretches of wide white sandy beaches make this island a major attraction. There is plenty to see and do for families in the area if you like attractions, shopping, beaches and nightlife.
Lover’s Key is a State Park made up of several mangrove fringed islands, just south of Estero Island (Ft. Myers Beach). You can always find a quiet beach here, especially during the weekdays. Rent a kayak, do some fishing, or explore the nature trails. There is a food concession and restrooms at Lover’s Key.
South of there lie more beautiful Gulf Coast beaches like; Bonita and Barefoot Beach Preserve which offer lush landscapes with good beach access between huge beachfront estates. Barefoot Beach Preserve provides a mile and a half of undeveloped beach bordering Wiggins Pass. This is a beautiful green area. The beaches have lots of shells and are decidedly upscale. And still moving south along the Florida Gulf Coast, next comes Naples, known for its older and mostly retired wealthy that inhabit the city for the most part, but they’ve not forgotten the importance of a beautiful garden and landscape, and every beach and home is lush with tropical foliage and coconut palms. Also,there is plenty of beach access and the sunsets in Naples are spectacular. Read this post on Naples and surrounding area for more info on Naples and Marco Island for your Florida family beach vacation. The Gulf is shallow and calm around Marco, and bird watching opportunities are excellent, especially at Tigertail Beach.
Kid-Friendly RESTAURANTS on Florida’s Gulf Coast
There are so many amazing restaurants on Florida’s Gulf Coast that it would be impossible to list them all but I did find a few very handy websites that give you a glimpse into what is available in specific areas. See the beachdirectory.com . And metrodine.com .
Here are a few of my favorite nice restaurants on the Gulf Coast:
Euphemia Haye Restaurant & The Haye Loft- 70 reviews – Place page www.euphemiahaye.com – 5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, FL – (941) 383-3633 (ok, not really a perfect kid restaurant, but still gorgeous and wonderful food)
The BeachHouse Restaurant- 200 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach, FL – (941) 779-2222
Colony Dining Room- beautiful and excellent food, a bit ritzy for some
Caddy’s On The Beach, great for kids and right on the beach!
Sharky’s On the Pier probably the most famous beach restaurant in Venice, Florida, one that everyone who visits will remember for the fossilized shark’s teeth found on the beaches nearby.
Bubble Room my favorite restaurant when visiting Sanibel & Captiva Islands, fun and the kids will love it.
Click here for more restaurants along Florida’s Gulf Coast that are kid friendly.
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