With nearly 800 miles of beaches stretching from the western tip of the Panhandle to the southernmost Keys, Florida's Gulf Coast is known for its natural beauty, pristine white beaches, and calm, jewel-toned waters. With several non-stop flights to the region's many airports from points like Chicago and New York City and easy highway access from Southern cities ranging from Atlanta to Birmingham, the state's Gulf beaches are just a few hours away from most points on the East Coast.
From the artsy Grayton Beach to the remote natural paradise of Garden Key and quintessential beach town of Venice, learn more about the Florida Gulf Coast's best beach getaways.
Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park
Located west of the Florida Keys, this remote island is accessible only via boat or seaplane from Key West and is the second largest in the Dry Tortugas National Park. The 14-acre key is home to the 19th-century Fort Jefferson and boasts some of the state's best snorkeling and swimming. Key spots for getting up close with tropical fish, coral heads, sea urchins include the Windjammer shipwreck, the Historic Coaling Pier Pilings, and the Little Africa Reef. The area is also popular with kayakers and paddleboarders, but note there are no rentals on the island. Campgrounds are available overnight but must be rented on a first-come, first-served basis in advance. Note there are limited facilities on the island, so bring your own snacks, sunscreen, water, and other essential supplies.
Siesta Key Beach
Located southwest of Sarasota, this expansive, 8-mile-long Gulf beach is comprised of more than 99 percent pure quartz, deposited from the Appalachian mountains more than a million years ago. The sand's composition means it stays cool even on the hottest of summer days, making it an ideal beach for lounging, walking, or shell-hunting. With year-round lifeguards, tennis courts, parasailing, sand sculpture artists, and a playground, the barrier island is also an excellent getaway for families with children. For those planning an adults-only trip, Siesta Key has a thriving dining and nightlife scene. Highlights include waterfront dining at Turtle Beach Grill and karaoke and tropical drinks at Captain Curt's.
Fort De Soto State Park
This sprawling, 1,136-acre park—comprised of five interconnected islands—is home to three miles of pristine white beaches, scenic recreational trails, and diverse animal and plant life. Kayak or canoe through mangroves and wetlands dotted with herons and other wildlife, cycle along the multi-use path between North and East Beaches, swim in the clear waters at North Beach Swim Center or tour the historic Fort De Soto Batteries, whose overlook offers sweeping views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The park also has a campsite with facilities, playgrounds, picnic areas, fishing piers with bait and concessions, and a designated dog park.
For a low-key getaway, head to Grayton Beach, located along the Gulf of Mexico halfway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach. The small, artsy village boasts a mile of emerald green coastline and funky art galleries, laid-back bars, and plenty of outdoor activities. Hike sandy trails or paddleboard or kayak at Western Lake in nearby Grayton Beach Park, or rent a bike to pedal through 4 miles of coastal pines. For a close-up of marine life, scuba dive at the Underwater Museum of Art, an underwater sculpture garden located 58 feet below the Gulf shore. Wind down with live music, Gulf Coast oysters, and cold drinks at local haunt AJ’s.
Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin
One of the Gulf coast's remaining unspoiled islands, Caladesi Island State Park is accessible via ferry from nearby Honeymoon Island State Park or a 4.5-mile walk from Clearwater Beach. Once on the island, kayak or paddle via a winding trail through a mangrove forest and grass flats and spot local wildlife, like osprey, blue herons, colorful fish, and the occasional dolphin. On land, stroll the pristine white beaches, swim in the azure waters, or hike the 3-mile nature trail. The park also has a playground, shower facilities, picnic areas, a concession stand, and cabins and campsites for overnight rentals. Note that dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the beach.
With clear and shallow waters, kid-friendly activities, accommodations in all price ranges, and a laid back vibe, there's a reason Clearwater Beach is often cited as the state's best beach town. By day, cycle or rollerblade along the beachfront promenade, paddleboard or parasail in the tranquil waters, or enjoy the sun and the sand. At night, dine by the water at Sea-Guini—a casual lounge with fresh seafood and Italian fare—or Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, then head to Pier 60 to watch nightly street performers and hear live music while the sun sets over the water.
Dubbed "the Shelling Capital of the World," Sanibel Island is one of the state's most scenic and tranquil getaways. Spend your days scouring the 15 miles of coastline for unique, pastel-hued shells or pedaling through 25 miles of biking paths—the island has no traffic lights. The calm waters are ideal for snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and other water-based activities, while the town also offers land-based options: three 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, outdoor dining, and several local boutiques to outfit you for your beach stay.
Located on the barrier island of Santa Rosa south of Pensacola, this beach offers the Gulf's signature white-sandy beaches and deep green waters. Head to the beach's namesake boardwalk for local boutiques, restaurants, and bars, like the lively Bamboo Willie’s, which serves up tropical cocktails, seafood classics, and regular live music. Premier Adventure Park, which offers go-karting, parasailing, and jet ski rentals, is located directly adjacent to the boardwalk. Or explore the island's unique ecology at 29 stops along the 8.5-mile Footprints in the Sand Eco-Trail, where you can spot local wildlife like sea turtles, coastal seabirds, crabs, and even dolphins.
St. George Island
For a tranquil, remote getaway, opt for the 28-mile St. George Island. Located south of Apalachicola, the barrier island boasts miles of unspoiled beachfront for quiet strolls, shell-seeking, or sunning, and its calm Gulf waters are perfect for swimming, fishing, and other aquatic activities. Pedal the 17 miles of paved bike paths, take a guided dolphin charter tour, or climb the 92 stairs to the top of the island's iconic lighthouse. The pet-friendly St. George Island State Park has campgrounds, paved bike paths, hiking trails, canoe, kayak rentals, and beachfront access to observe natural wildlife, including 300 different bird species.
Panama City Beach
Yes, Panama City Beach is popular with the spring break crowd, but its 27 miles of coastline offer plenty of activities for families and older travelers as well. The area has no shortage of water-based fun, from snorkeling and scuba diving to surfing, swimming, and sailing. Looking to stay on dry land? Shop, eat, or ride the SkyWheel at Pier Park, or visit local amusement parks like Shipwreck Island Waterpark and Coconut Creek Family Fun Park. For a quieter outing, try St. Andrews State Park, a 1,200-acre nature preserve along the Gulf, which has campgrounds, beach access, hiking trails, surfacing, snorkeling, kayak rentals, and wildlife viewing overlooks.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
While close enough to enjoy amenities like high-end shopping and world-class golf courses in nearby Naples, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is less developed than the area's other beaches. Located on a barrier island, the park is an ideal day trip for those seeking outdoor adventures. Hike and watch for local birds like eagles and owls along the nature trail to an observation tower on the island's northern shores, rent a kayak or canoe to paddle through the bay, or snorkel or scuba dive through colorful reefs. Delnor-Wiggins also has picnic tables, grills, indoor restrooms and outdoor showers, and accessible boardwalks.
This quintessential beach town in Sarasota County has it all: sand and surf, local shops and restaurants, and family-friendly activities. Located a mile from downtown Venice, the beach offers pristine warm, clear waters and white sands, known for their large troves of prehistoric shark teeth. Bike the Venetian Waterway Trail, fish from the iconic pier, or learn about the town's history at the Venice Museum downtown.