Beach entrance at sunset on west coast of florida

Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Dr. Shannon Barrett

Choosing the best vacation spot on the west coast of Florida may feel overwhelming, especially with many beautiful places in Florida.

We’ve lived in this area for the past few months and explored the fantastic vacation spots along Florida’s Gulf Coast.  

From my personal experiences, I’ve discovered that this coastline is filled with hidden gems like the Safety Harbor and downtown Dunedin. 

This article provides a roadmap to navigate the best vacation spots on the sunny coast of Florida.

Let’s prepare to get swept off our feet by charming beach towns, majestic wildlife, and artistic downtowns!

Key Takeaways

  • The West Coast of Florida is rich in vacation spots. Each spot has its charm and fun.
  • Tampa Bay, Clearwater Beach, and St. Petersburg are the top places to see on Florida’s west coast.
  • Sarasota has yummy food and beautiful beaches, while Venice wows with lovely sunsets.
  • Other great stops include Fort Myers for history lovers, Sanibel and Captiva Islands for nature fans, Dunedin for a chill vibe, Honeymoon Island State Park for family fun, and Siesta Key, which has some of the best sand in the world!

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Why choose the West Coast of Florida for your vacation

The West Coast of Florida is a dream spot for your vacation.

It’s famous for its stunning white sand beaches and unique charm.

You’ll find world-class beach towns, busy downtown areas, quiet wildlife refuges, and shady mangroves here.

Many cities on Florida’s Gulf Coast make great stops, too.

No matter what time you visit, you can look forward to beautiful landscapes and natural attractions.

So, if you’re considering where to go next, pick the West Coast of Florida.

It has everything you need for a fantastic trip!

Must-Visit Destinations on the West Coast of Florida

Florida’s west coast brims with must-visit destinations. 

  • Tampa Bay 
  • Ybor City
  • Clearwater Beach
  • Safety Harbor
  • Dunedin
  • Honeymoon Island
  • Tarpon Springs
  • St.Petersburg
  • Gulfport
  • Sarasota
  • Siesta Key
  • Venice
  • Port Charlotte
  • Sanibel Island
  • Captiva Island
  • Fort Myers
  • Marco Island

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay is a must-see spot on Florida’s west coast.

It is big, covering 400 square miles!

This area has a large natural harbor and shallow estuary that joins the Gulf of Mexico.

The views are lovely!

Here, you’ll find Busch Gardens.

It’s one of Florida’s main fun spots to visit! Tampa Bay also shines in how it keeps old things new.

There are tons of century-old buildings here, but they look like new!

Check out these cool places when you’re in Tampa Bay for your vacation.

Ybor City

brick warehouse building with Arturo Fuente cigars sign on side
Arturo Fuente Cigars in Ybor City

Ybor City is a historic district located northeast of downtown Tampa, Florida, and is a unique way to experience old Florida. 

Once known as the “Cigar Capital” of the world, Ybor City is now a collection of historic buildings converted into shops, restaurants, bars, and tourist-based endeavors.

They have an outdoor market every Saturday and they are known for chickens which roam the streets.

It’s one of our favorite areas of Tampa and they have some delicious restaurants.

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is a top spot in Florida.

It won the TripAdvisor award for the best U.S. beach in 2018.

You will love its white sand that came from the Appalachian Mountains!

The beach also has a lot of fun things to do.

There’s a play area for kids and even one for dogs.

Plus, if you use a wheelchair, you can still enjoy this beautiful place because it is easy to move around here.

And don’t worry about going into deep water – lifeguards are there to keep everyone safe during summer.

Take your family or furry friend, and have an exciting day at Clearwater Beach!

Safety Harbor

Welcome to Downtown Safety Harbor sign

Safety Harbor is a cozy spot on the west coast of Florida.

Founded in 1823, this town sits on Tampa Bay’s west shore.

It’s a small but charming area, home to the famous Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

This resort has been around since 1925 and is marked as a U.S. Historic Landmark.

This is one of the cutest downtown areas on the Gulf Coast.

We love it here!

There are lots of restaurants with outdoor patios and adorable shops.

You can easily spend a weekend here.

Philippe Park and Safety Harbor Marina Park offer excellent fishing spots at their piers.

I recommend planning a stay so you will be there on a Sunday so you can take advantage of their outdoor Sunday market.


Dunedin holds a charm of its own on Florida’s West Coast.

It treats you to the most beautiful beaches like Honeymoon Island.

You can also access Caladesi Island from here.

You’ll love this place for its untouched nature and quiet beaches.

Going around in Dunedin is fun with the Jolley Trolley.

This ride will also take you to nearby Clearwater.

Food lovers find joy here with lots of tasty food spots.

The city sits near Tampa and north of Clearwater, making travel plans easy.

Make sure to stop by Dunedin on your West Coast Florida trip!

Honeymoon Island State Park

Honeymoon Island State Park is a must-see spot.

Honeymoon Island is not far from Palm Harbor and downtown Dunedin.

This key state park is one of the busiest in Florida for good reasons. 

Bright white sand beaches and clear blue waters pull people to this place.

There’s so much room here.

Four miles of beach means plenty of space to rest or play.

You won’t feel squeezed in at all.

Want more than just the beach?

There is a three-mile trail leads you through a rare slash pine forest – untouched and wild.

Head north from Clearwater over the Dunedin Causeway, and you’re there.

Pop by Honeymoon Island State Park on your trip down the West Coast of Florida.

Tarpon Springs

sailboat with sponges on it

Tarpon Springs is a must-see spot in Florida.

It has a rich Greek history that makes it unique.

Many Greeks came here long ago to dive for sponges.

Now, the Sponge Docks are a big hit with tourists.

The city sits between Lake Tarpon and the Gulf of Mexico.

This means you can enjoy lake views and beach fun all at once.

You will love walking around this town, tasting Greek food, and learning about its past!

St. Petersburg

Downtown St Petersburg with palm trees lining streets
Photo Courtesy of Visit St. Pete Clearwater

St. Petersburg is a must-see on Florida’s west coast.

This city buzzes with art, shopping, and sports events all year round.

Its beaches are some of the best you will find anywhere.

You can spend hours walking in its beautiful waterfront parks downtown.

Some stops include Sunken GardensFort De Soto Park, and The Dalí Museum.

Trust me, this place has it all for a fun vacation.


Gulfport Gecko

Gulfport, Florida (not to be mistaken for Gulfport, MS) is a charming waterfront town with weekly markets and live music.

They have excellent restaurants lining Beach Blvd and a welcoming atmosphere that makes you want to stay longer than your vacation will allow.

You can walk from the beach to downtown within 5 minutes and then dance the night away at the Gulfport Casino. 

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Sarasota is a gem on the west coast of Florida.

You will love its world-class beaches with soft, white sand by the Gulf of Mexico.

This city also has an incredible arts scene to explore.

Many fine dining places here serve yummy meals.

Sarasota even has ties to circus fun from days gone past!

Siesta Key

Siesta Key is a fun spot you will want to take advantage of.

The barrier island is 8 miles long and home to some of the top beaches in the U.S. 

You’ll find great things to do at Siesta Village, from shopping in cute boutiques to eating tasty food at local spots.

If you love water sports, there are many activities here too.

Many people say Siesta Key is one of their favorite places for vacation in all of Florida.


Venice sits along Florida’s Gulf coast, famed for its 14 miles of white sand beaches.

It blends old-world charm with the relaxed pace of a beach town.

Like its namesake in Italy, this Venice offers waterside beauty that will take your breath away.

The old-area part of this city is full of history.

Stroll through downtown Venice and experience the allure firsthand.

There are plenty of things to do here, from excellent shops to world-class eats.

The streets are lined with palm trees, and the people are warm and friendly.

This easy-going vibe makes it one of the best vacation spots on the west coast of Florida.

Port Charlotte

Port Charlotte is an excellent spot on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

It’s known for its waterways and green parks.

Many people love to retire here because of how nice it is.

You can also check out other top places on the coast from Port Charlotte.

So, make sure to take advantage of it when planning your trip. 

Sanibel and Captiva Islands

I love going to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

They are quiet places with blue water and white sand beaches.

You can see many birds there too.

If you seek a place to relax, this is it.

These islands also have gardens that win awards and spots to watch nature.

When visiting Florida’s west coast, any traveler would enjoy the peace of these beautiful beach spots.

Fort Myers

Fort Myers is a place you must see.

It sits on Florida’s Gulf Coast and attracts many people with its top-notch beaches, fishing, and shopping spots.

This city has so much fun to offer! You can spend your days exploring the Edison and Ford Estates or going to Estero Island.

If you love seeing animals up close, Manatee Park is for you too.

No matter what kind of vacationer you are, Fort Myers has something exciting waiting just for you.

Marco Island

Marco Island is a must-see spot in Florida.

It’s the most significant island of the Ten Thousand Islands of Florida.

You’ll find it on the west coast, just south of Naples.

Get ready to feel soft white sand on six miles of uninterrupted beaches.

The Tigertail Beach area shows off some tremendous natural beauty, too.

Marco Island has abundant palm trees and a unique coastal scene that will leave you in awe.

Where to Eat on the West Coast of Florida

group of friends eating dinner on dock

I’ve savored a host of mouthwatering meals at the West Coast’s top restaurants – from Tampa Bay to Clearwater Beach, and I’ll share my favorites and recommend local dishes you won’t want to miss.

So, if you’re a foodie like me, keep reading.

Top restaurants in each destination

I have found some great places to eat on the West Coast of Florida.

Each spot has its own unique taste. Here are some of them:

In Tampa Bay, Ulele stands out for its native-inspired food and drinks.

Ulele restaurant table with horse statue in middle
Photo courtesy of Ulele Restaurant

Clearwater Beach is home to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, known for their crab fries and grouper sandwiches.

frenchys grill beachside gill with chairs on beach
Frenchys Grill in Clearwater Beach

The St. Petersburg area boasts Cassis, an American Brasserie with delicious food and cocktails.  

Cassis restaurant outside with large glass windows and trees
Cassis Restaurant in St. Petersburg

Sarasota’s Indigenous is famed for using local food in their dishes.

Indigenous restaurant outdoor patio with large table and plants
Photo courtesy of Indigenous Restaurant

Venice’s Dockside Waterfront Grill offers fresh seafood with a view.

Dockside Waterfront Grill at sunset with string lighting and outdoor tables
Photo courtesy of Dockside Waterfront Grill

Fort Myers features The Veranda, an old Florida classic serving southern cuisine since 1978.

Verandas Courtyard with brick courtyard and iron tables
Photo Courtesy of The Veranda Restaurant

On Sanibel Island, Traders offers up delicious dishes in a cozy setting.

Traders restaurant outside with stairs and ramps
Photo courtesy of Traders restaurant

Honeymoon Island State Park visitors enjoy beachside snacks and drinks from the South Beach Pavillon Cafe. 

South Beach Pavillon Cafe outside structure and sign
Photo courtesy of South Beach Pavillon Cafe

Marco Island’s Fin Bistro provides patrons with fresh fish dishes inspired by global flavors.

Must-try local dishes

I want to share some tasty food you must try on the West Coast of Florida.

Dishes that will make your mouth water.

  1. Cuban Coffee: It’s a robust and sweet shot of caffeine.
  2. Key Lime Pie: A sweet and tart classic dessert in Florida.
  3. Spiny Lobster: A local seafood favorite, usually served with butter.
  4. Gator Tails: Yes, this is real alligator meat! It’s often fried and tastes like chicken.
  5. Key West Pinks: These pink shrimp live up to their name with their bright color.
  6. Florida Seafood: Fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, it doesn’t get any fresher than this.
  7. Fusion dishes from Caribbean, Latin American, and Southern cuisines: You’ll find new tastes in every part of West Coast Florida.

Where to Stay on the West Coast of Florida

The West Coast of Florida offers many accommodation options, from luxury beachfront resorts to cozy vacation rentals.

Dive into the details as we explore the best stays that offer stunning water views and easy access to local attractions.

More awaits on your perfect Florida vacation!

Hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals

Florida’s West Coast gives you plenty of neat spots to sleep. You will love these places:

Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites

  • This hotel is located on the bay with beautiful views.
  • Guests love the pool and pool bar.
  • It is walkable to all the great restaurants and shops in Clearwater Beach

St. Pete Beach, The Saint Hotel

  • Only a 4 minute walk to beautiful St. Pete Beach
  • Free Parking
  • Outdoor swimming pool
  • All rooms have fridge, coffee makers and microwave

Dunedin, Sunny Side Cottages

Activities and Attractions on the West Coast of Florida

The West Coast of Florida is a treasure trove of fun-filled activities and scenic attractions, from golden beaches to parks, water sports, and cultural sites.

Cultural and historical sites

The West Coast of Florida is rich in cultural and historical sites.

These spots tell the region’s unique story.

Here are some you should add to your vacation plan:

  1. Spanish Colonial landmarks: With ten sites, they give a peek into Florida’s past.
  2. Miss Potter’s Place: A great place to learn about local plants and herbs. It is located in Fort Myers, Florida. 
  3. Old Florida towns: Nine charming towns offer an authentic look at old-time Florida life.
  4. St Petersburg’s Central Avenue: Home to many local art galleries and museums.
  5. Tampa Bay’s historic district: Houses buildings that date back to the 19th century. Visit Ybor City, where you can take a trip to Cuba but leave your passport at home. 
  6. Nature Trails in Sarasota County: Where you can discover indigenous trees and plants.

Recommended Road Trip Itinerary for Exploring the West Coast of Florida

Begin in vibrant Tampa, then drive to St. Petersburg for stunning beaches and a world-class arts scene.

Then head to Gulfport, explore its adorable waterfront, and grab a bite downtown.

Next, head south to Sarasota, renowned for its cultural attractions and historic districts.

Continue your journey to relaxed, sunny Venice; the next stop is Fort Myers, with its beautiful nature preserves and historic sites.

Do not miss Sanibel Island’s shell-filled shores.

If you prefer to head North from Tampa, you can visit the beautiful shores of Clearwater Beach.

Then, head north to Dunedin for a delicious meal and walk through the picturesque downtown.

It is a short drive from Dunedin to see the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs.

Make sure to quickly stop in the storybook Safety Harbor located just across from Clearwater on the Old Tampa Bay. 

Top spots to visit and activities to do

Family sitting on picnic blanket in park

Let’s talk about the top spots to visit on the West Coast of Florida. 

  1. Tampa has many fun theme parks. You can see great shows and take advantage of cool rides.
  2. St. Petersburg has an artsy vibe and unique museums worth a look.
  3. Clearwater ranks high as a beach destination on the Gulf Coast.
  4. Sarasota boasts beautiful parks and charming art galleries.
  5. Fort Myers houses Thomas Edison’s winter home.
  6. Downtown areas offer shopping and food delights.
  7. Wildlife refuges bring you close to nature’s wonders.
  8. Mangroves in Everglades National Park give a wild adventure ride.

Estimated travel time and distance

When planning your road trip through the West Coast of Florida, it’s essential to consider the estimated travel time and distance between your chosen destinations.

Use the chart below as a guide to help you plan your itinerary.

DestinationNext StopEstimated Travel TimeApproximate Distance
Fort Lauderdale Naples 90 minutes 100 miles

Ft. Myers 45 minutes 44 miles
Ft. Myers
Sarasota 90 minutes 77.3 miles
Sarasota Tampa Bay 60 minutes 61.2 miles
Tampa Bay Clearwater 30 minutes 23.1 miles
Clearwater Honeymoon Island State Park 20 minutes 9.1 miles

Also, if you’d love to add national parks to your travel list, consider the ultimate one-week itinerary for the Florida National Parks, including Everglades and Biscayne.

Both are within a few hours’ drive from most of the spots on the West Coast.

Tips for Planning a West Coast Florida Vacation

Consider visiting during the off-peak season for fewer crowds.

We stayed here from September through November, a great time to visit.

The weather is warm but not too hot.

The ocean is still warm enough so you can swim.

We are not in the high season, so restaurants and beaches are not too crowded.  

Make sure to book flights and accommodation in advance due to high demand—pack essentials like beachwear, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

If you plan to hit the highway, remember a road map in case GPS service fails.

Stay on top of weather updates, as Florida’s west coast can be prone to sudden rainfall or storms.

Try local cuisines for an authentic Florida experience!

When is the Best time to visit?

The best time to visit varies depending on who you ask.

March through May is a good time to come to Florida.

The weather during these months is warm but not too hot.

Also, there are fewer people here then.

Another good time to go here is between September and November.

This is when we lived here, and it is when I recommend planning your stay! 

Avoid peak tourist times to make your trip more fun with fewer crowds. 

How to get to the Gulf Coast

First, fly into one of the following airports: 

Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW)

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE)

From the airport, you can rent a car for your road trip

You need a car to see all the sights along the Gulf Coast.

There are also Greyhound buses if you prefer to avoid driving.

If you’re near Florida, think about driving from home, too.

It might save some money and time.

As digital nomads, we drive all over Florida to live in different beach towns.

It allows us the flexibility to stay as long as we want at each place.

We can also explore the smaller cities that may not have bus services. 

Packing essentials

Packing for a trip to the West Coast of Florida requires careful thought.

Here’s a suggested packing list:

  1. Bathing suits for beach fun.
  2. Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the bright sun.
  3. Proper clothes for the warm weather, like shorts and light shirts.
  4. Sandals for walking on hot sand.
  5. Sanitizing items such as hand gel and wipes to keep clean.
  6. Bring your passport and visa, if needed.
  7. Have your travel insurance info ready.
  8. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.
  9. Debit and credit cards for visiting shops or eating out.
  10. U.S. dollars in cash, just in case.
  11. Bug protection, like bug spray, is useful.
  12. Sun protection like hats or suncream are also important.
  13. A collapsible water bottle saves space when not in use.
  14. A beach bag holds all your goodies while at the beach.
  15. Mesh seashell bags are great for collecting shells with kids.
  16. Cooling towels provide relief during hot days at the beach or parks.
  17. A portable phone charger keeps your phone powered up on long day trips out and about.
  18. Portable fans can be a lifesaver on hot days.
  19. Portable Beach canopy to provide shade while enjoying the beach. 

Recommended Itinerary for a 1-Week Florida Gulf Coast Road Trip

Let’s hit the road and set out on a one-week adventure through the magnificent landscapes of Florida’s Gulf Coast, detailing day-by-day activities at prime locations from Tampa Bay to Fort Myers.

Detailed daily itinerary

I am thrilled to share my 1-week Florida Gulf Coast road trip plan with you.

Must-see attractions and activities

You will love the things to do and see on the West Coast of Florida.

Here’s what you can’t miss:

  1. Go beach hopping. Explore world-class beaches such as Clearwater Beach, Siesta Key Beach, and Fort Myers Beach.
  2. Visit the Tampa Bay Area. It is a dynamic city with a lot of fun places.
  3. Try water sports in St Petersburg. You will have fun jet-skiing or parasailing.
  4. Take a boat tour on Sanibel Island or Captiva Islands to explore their natural beauty.
  5. Visit JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife, where you’ll see many birds and wild animals.
  6. Take nature trails at Honeymoon Island State Park for an up-close view of local wildlife.
  7. Stop by Sarasota to enjoy its art scene and famous street art.
  8. If you’re into golf, hit some rounds at Port Charlotte’s world-class golf courses.

Insider Tips and Hidden Gems on the West Coast of Florida

Uncover local favorites and hidden gems like exploring the vibrant street art scene in downtown St. Petersburg, enjoying authentic Greek cuisine at Tarpon Springs, or lounging on a private beach in Marco Island that only locals know about.

Local favorite spots and activities

I am a big fan of the West Coast of Florida.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the area.

Here are some local spots and activities I love:

  1. Sunbathing on Sanibel Island: This island is known for its beautiful beaches.
  2. Hiking in state parks: There are many parks here. They offer trails through forests full of wildlife.
  3. Snorkeling and swimming along Clearwater Beach in the crystal-clear water
  4. Sailing around Captiva Island: You can rent a boat for the day and tour around this lovely island.
  5. Walking through historic sites: Florida has a rich history that you can learn about at these places.
  6. Finding hidden gems: Off-the-beaten-path spots such as Safety Harbor.

Places to escape the crowds

I have a list of quiet spots in Florida.

These places let you enjoy the beauty with fewer people around.

  1. Honeymoon Island – This location is less well known but still has fantastic white sandy beaches.
  2. Sarasota County Barrier Islands – There are six barrier islands along Sarasota County. Many refer to these islands as “keys.” Fewer visitors mean you can make the most of your time here in peace. I recommend Lido Key and Casey Key as they are the quietest, although all are lovely.  
  3. Largo Central Park Nature Preserve – Few tourists visit this preserve, so that you won’t feel crowded here.
  4. Fort Myers Beach in Southwest Florida, come early or late in the day to avoid large groups of people.
  5. JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – visit during off-peak hours for the best experience with fewer folks around.

Why The West Coast of Florida is the Perfect Vacation Destination

The West Coast of Florida is a dream spot for vacations.

There are so many different things to do and see.

Pick from fabulous beachesfun towns, or wild nature spots.

Your perfect trip waits for you in sunny Florida!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some of the best beaches on the west coast of Florida?

Some of the best Gulf Coast beaches in Florida include St Pete Beach, Anna Maria Island, and Lido Key, known for their very beautiful white sand beaches.

What cities should I visit on the West Coast of Florida?

Cities like Dunedin, Clearwater Beach, and Gulfport are my favorite places on the West Coast of Florida.

Are there unique places to stay near these beaches?

Yes, you can easily find world-class boutique hotels within walking distance from any beach along the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian/Travel Writer/Digital Nomad

Dr. Shannon Barrett is a veterinarian and digital nomad. She owned a housecall practice, Island Veterinary Care, for over a decade and now travels full time. She lives in different beach towns and then writes travel guides based on her time there. If you’re looking for resources on travel destinations or how to become a digital nomad, then you’ve come to the right place! Love to bring your pets with you? Even better!

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