I don’t know about you but I usually start daydreaming about the beach and the sun right after the first of the year. The holidays are over and we are in the thick of winter here in Vermont. I don’t like the cold and having grown up in Southern California, I don’t think I will ever get used to Vermont winters.
I am a beach person and since calling Vermont home for the last 9 years, I have to find other ways of getting my beach fix in every year. My husband is not a beach person which used to cause a problem when deciding on destinations for vacations. We each ended up compromising too much and no one ended up being happy.
Three years ago we decided on a Florida vacation with our toddler. We figured it would be inexpensive, easy and a nice way to unwind and soak in some sun. On my list of must haves was a nice beach with powdery sand and my husband required a nice pool and other things to do other than beach and pool. I did a lot of research and we ended up on Lido Key for five nights at the end of April.
While this vacation wasn’t great (weather was unusually cold and rainy), the best thing about it was that it helped narrow our must haves for our future vacations.
Since then we choose a different spot on Florida’s Gulf coast each year. Our priorities are: within 30-45 minutes to an airport, nice beach with powdery sand for me and a nice heated pool for my husband. Our daughter loves to swim and will spend hours in the pool or at the beach. We realized that we didn’t really need other things to do as we have really been able to relax and unwind with this simple list.
I am not a travel professional but I have spent a lot of time on various travel boards researching beach towns on Florida’s Gulf coast so I decided to do a write up as a guide for those who may be considering this area for a family vacation.
Florida’s Gulf Coast is made up of several regions. My research has focused on the Central Gulf Coast and South Central Gulf Coast.
Central Gulf Coast
Home to the world famous Clearwater Beach, this area is the most visited along Florida’s Gulf Coast and is probably the busiest. The nearest airport is Tampa and there are several other family friendly attractions in the area.
Clearwater Beach is often rated as one of the best beaches in the US. This walkable beach town with pristine white sand beaches offers great shopping, good family friendly restaurants and a ton of water activities such as parasailing, jet-ski rentals, boat tours, fishing charters and “pirate ship cruises.” Non water activities include mini golf and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The Sandpearl Resort offers luxury, family friendly beachfront accommodations. This area offers several other full service hotels as well as condo rentals.
Other areas to consider in the Central Gulf Coast are St. Pete Beach which is about 20 miles south of Clearwater Beach and several beach towns in between including Indian Rocks, Indian Shores and North Redington Beach.
Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach offer bigger resort style accommodations whereas the smaller beach towns offer more condo rentals and are more laid back and less crowded.
In addition to the beautiful beaches, the greater Tampa Bay area also offers a ton of family friendly activities including:
- Adventure Island Water Park
- Florida Aquarium, rated as one of the best in the country
- Busch Gardens Theme Park
- Lowry Park Zoo
- New York Yankees spring training
- Salvador Dali Museum
South Central Gulf Coast
This area is home to several family friendly islands and beach communities all relatively close to Sarasota and Fort Myers airports. This region offers beckoning family-friendly beaches with calm surf great for little kids.
Some popular areas to explore are:
World famous for shelling, this little island is a paradise for families with young kids. Its lack of high rise hotels and condos gives the island an old Florida feel which offers a beautiful mix of nature, wildlife and tourist destination.
There is a great mix of full service hotels and vacation rentals to choose from. In addition to great restaurants, shopping and golf, the island offers a ton of family friendly activities such as:
- J.N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge
- The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
- Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens
- Sanibel lighthouse
Anna Maria Island
Another top destination for families with young kids Anna Maria Island is conveniently located 17 miles from Sarasota Airport. Known for its sugar-white sand and emerald Gulf waters Anna Maria Island attracts tourists from all over the world. The island is just 7 miles long and home to 3 cities: Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria.
Although the island does not have many full service resort type accommodations, there is a great selection of hotels, motels, cottages, villas, private homes and condos to choose from. The island also offers the most on the water dining options on the Gulf Coast and a free trolley that goes all the around the island!
Anna Maria Island also offers mini golf, the Mote Marine Aquarium and the Ringling Museum as well as great restaurants and shopping.
The beach at Siesta Key is often rated in the top 10 family beaches in the country. An island with luxurious amenities and a relaxing vibe, Siesta Key is more developed than Sanibel and Anna Maria Island and offers many options for full service accommodations as well as high rise condo rentals. The island is 8 miles long and has 4 main areas, Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach and Siesta Key Village.