A Guide to Florida’s Gulf Coast Beaches

Florida's Gulf Coast has long been a destination for the spring break set, but even if you're not interesting in being part of an MTV special, the state's left coast still has plenty to offer. The Gulf Coast is perfect for families, thanks to the calm, flat beaches, but it's also home to some top sport-fishing, water sports, nature reserves, and a vibrant creative culture. Here are some of its top beach destinations.

1. Fort Myers Beach

View from Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa.

View from Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa.

Located a 35-minute drive from the town of the same name, Fort Myers Beach is nestled on the north end of Estero Island. The sugar-sand beach is seven miles of almost uninterrupted coastline with shallow, calm water. There are plenty of state parks and nature preserves to get your fill of Mother Earth, but you can also visit the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center to interact with wildlife.

A Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick:

2. Anna Maria Island

View from Bridgewalk, a Landmark Resort.

View from Bridgewalk, a Landmark Resort.

Quaint Anna Maria Island is one of the Gulf Coast’s barrier islands, which means there are beautiful broad beaches with tranquil surf. The island is home to abundant wildlife, ranging from sea turtles (who nest May through October) and bottlenose dolphins to bald eagles and other birds. If nature isn’t your thing, Pine Avenue, the town’s main drag, hosts numerous shops, galleries, and eateries. 

A Historic Hotel Pick:

3. Clearwater Beach

View from Sandpearl Resort.

View from Sandpearl Resort.

Aptly named Clearwater Beach’s sandy stretches are frequently ranked as some of the best in the state -- if not the country. The beach’s southern strip is anchored by Beach Walk, an expansive promenade surrounded by resorts, white sand, artwork, and of course, stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico. 

A Romantic Hotel Pick:

4. Destin

View from TOPS'L Beach and Racquet Resort Tides

View from TOPS'L Beach and Racquet Resort Tides

Yet another beach with sand so fine you’ll think it’s sugar, Destin is a good choice for both the Olympic sunbather and the sportsman, as it's a particularly good destination for anglers. Fishing out of Destin offers sportsman the opportunity to catch everything ranging from Amberjack to Marlin. 

A Value Hotel Pick:

5. Marco Island

View from Marco Island Marriott Resort Golf Club and Spa.

View from Marco Island Marriott Resort Golf Club and Spa.

The more subdued beachgoer will love Marco Island, the largest in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands chain. Home to several beautiful beachfront properties, the Marco Island scene is more likely to attract retirees and empty nesters as opposed to the rowdy vacationers of some other Gulf Coast destinations. (And the shell-hunting here is among the best in the world!)

A Luxury Hotel Pick:

6. Panama City Beach

View from Majestic Beach Towers.

View from Majestic Beach Towers.

Formerly known as state’s most popular “party” beach, Panama City Beach (and its 27 miles of coastline) has tamed itself with a series of new liquor laws. While you can still imbibe at restaurants and bars, there's much more to do here. Looking for nature? PCB is home to two state parks. The 3,000-acre Panama City Beach Conservation Park is more than three times the size of New York's Central Park, with ample opportunity for hiking, biking, or running. 

A Kid-Friendly Hotel Pick:

7. Naples

View from the Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

View from the Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

Laid-back travelers who are just looking for sand and surf will love Naples, where the coastlines are completely free of retail shops or restaurants. Instead, the Naples coast is flanked by houses, parks, and even nature preserves. The peaceful experience makes sunset-watching from one of the many piers -- a Naples tradition -- extra special.

A Luxury Hotel Pick:

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